92 games. Break even. What is that? That’s what the Cubs have done now. They’ve played their last 92 games at 46-46. Just under halfway through that stretch, the Cubs made a series of trades, sending away arguably their top four relievers of the first four months of the season. The Cubs are actually 28-26 since they made those trades. It’s a pretty remarkable accomplishment. Someone might have to dust off Miguel Montero’s #wearegood hashtag if this keeps rolling.
I’m not sure I’ve adequately done it, so I’m doing it tonight. I’m tipping the cap to the front office. I don’t know what percentage of this is luck and what percentage of it was design. Things seem to be coming together nicely for this organization right now. I made some comments about this being different than 2015. That’s definitely true. I certainly haven’t been this giddy since 2016. But yeah, this is different.
In 2015, just about all of the key players on the eventual championship team were already there. The only prospect who hadn’t yet surfaced was Willson Contreras. Ben Zobrist, John Lackey and Jason Heyward hadn’t been signed yet. Otherwise, you might say all the pieces were in place.
This 2022 Cubs team is different. Only Christopher Morel has truly broken through as a prospect. With all due respect to Morel, who has been quite a spark for this club at times, he was never really regarded as one of the organizational top prospects despite his very strong tools. Certainly Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson broke out as significant contributors. But they were already here for parts of last year. And still, neither of them was ever really popping the charts as a top prospect.
A host of problems have slowed top prospects from recent years like Miguel Amaya, Brailyn Marquez and Brennen Davis. All three have uncertain futures. Recent number one pick Ed Howard is similarly stalled by injuries. From our own Josh Timmers’ preseason top 20, only Caleb Kilian, Nelson Velázquez, and Morel have seen any time.
Josh would caution you to pump the brakes even faster than I would. But the flip side of that coin is that many of the people on Josh’s very well crafted top 20 did have good seasons. They are still on the way. Alexander Canario had a 36 homer season. Pete Crow-Armstrong is a breathtaking prospect. I wouldn’t do it justice, but there are some real prospects still out there on the horizon. Then there are the intriguing people who haven’t appeared on most prospect lists, like Matt Mervis who also had a 36 homer season.
It takes a lot to make the jump from prospect to major leaguer and from major leaguer to star. Thompson, Steele, Brandon Hughes, and Morel are just a handful of guys to come out of the Cubs system and show a possibility of checking all of those boxes. It’s hard to do it once, but repeating success is harder again. But all will be trying to do that next year. And there should be more graduations from the system like Canario and Mervis.
I don’t know if this team will hit its stride in 2023. I do know the organization is shaping up as one with a contention window opening again. The players feel it. Guys like Adbert Alzolay, Adrian Sampson and Hayden Wesneski who have appeared in games down the stretch have talked about that, talked about nothing being guaranteed to them, about having to fight for it, about wanting to be a part of the next great Cubs team. About not being overly concerned about what their role is. Of course all of them want to start. But even more, they all want to win.
A nice 92-game stretch is just that, nice. Now they’ll have to improve on it and lengthen it. Then they’ll look to sustain that for more than a fleeting season. But the pieces certainly appear to be lining up. Can’t wait.
Let’s get to the three stars from another defeat of the playoff hopeful Phillies. In the top spot today, I go with Brandon Hughes. I don’t usually tap a reliever without multiple innings or a perfect inning. But Hughes notched the last two outs of the eighth inning (via strikeout) and then after a leadoff single in the ninth struck out former MVP Bryce Harper. Three big outs, the last representing the tying run.
In the second spot, I have to go with Christopher Morel for providing the key offense in the form of a three-run homer. That ended up being the game winner.
I considered Esteban Quiroz (two hits) and Manuel Rodriguez (two batters/two outs/save) for the last spot. But I’m going with Hayden Wesneski. The trade deadline acquisition has been nothing short of brilliant down the stretch for the Cubs. He threw five plus innings, allowed six hits, two walks and a hit batter. Certainly a step down from what he’s been doing. But this was a big step up in competition and he battled through it, only allowing a single run.
Now let’s take a look at the Heroes and Goats from this one.
Game 154, September 28: Cubs 4, Phillies 2 (69-86)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Christopher Morel (.234). 1-3, HR, 3RBI, R, K
- Hero: Brandon Hughes (.137). IP (4 batters), H, 3K
- Sidekick: Hayden Wesneski (.090). 5IP (24 batters), 6H, 2BB, R, 3K, HBP (W 3-1)
- Billy Goat: Ian Happ (-.058). 0-4
- Goat: Zach McKinstry (-.053). 0-4, 2K
- Kid: Yan Gomes/Willson Contreras (-.047). Gomes: 0-3, RBI, R, K; Contreras: 0-4, K
WPA Play of the Game: Christopher Morel’s fifth inning two-out, three-run homer off Aaron Nola was the big blow of the game. (.267)
*Phillies Play of the Game: With no outs and a runner on second in the seventh, the Phillies trading 4-1, Rhys Hoskins singled off of Mark Leiter Jr. (.087)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 5/Bottom 5)
The award is named for Anthony Rizzo, who finished first in this category three of the first four years it was in existence and four times overall. He also recorded the highest season total ever at +65.5. The point scale is three points for a Superhero down to negative three points for a Billy Goat.
- David Robertson +22.5
- Christopher Morel +21
- Scott Effross +17
- Nico Hoerner/Patrick Wisdom +12.5
- Frank Schwindel/Daniel Norris/Alfonso Rivas -9.5
- Nelson Velazquez -11
- Rafael Ortega -11.5
- Yan Gomes -14.5
- Jason Heyward -15.5
Up Next: The third and final game of the series. The Phillies will be looking to avoid losing all six games to the Cubs. Javier Assad (1-2, 4.28) will look to bounce back from a couple of rough outings. He’ll face Ranger Suarez (10-5, 3.38). The Cubs will have their work cutout pursuing the sweep. But win or lose, they’ve really pushed these Phillies to their limits.