There are some times where I think baseball is so predictable and I feel that even if I don’t know exactly what is going to happen, that I have a feeling for largely what will happen. I assure you none of those things that I know or even feel, no hunch, nothing that said that the Cubs would not only sweep this September series from the Phillies, but the entire season series.
Granted, the Cubs played very well against the Brewers, winning 10 of 19 games against the team that was the odds-on favorite to win the NL Central when the season started. But if the Phillies miss the playoffs I don’t see how they don’t look back on six games against the Cubs with zero wins. That’s one heck of a dent in a team’s playoff hopes. Effectively, it’s a five-game swing in the standings based off of the team’s record against the Cubs.
This win is so much the same as the story has been throughout the post All-Star break schedule. The Cubs got another strong start and strong pitching in general. They got just enough offense and they notched a win. Things have swung dramatically enough that I’m no longer sure that adding pitching is the top priority for this team. Right now, I think adding a couple of bats has to be near the top of the wish list. We can expect that the pitching will actually be less good than it has been in this last part of the season and so we know we’ll need to add some thump to the lineup.
A healthy Nick Madrigal could add something to this team. It’s a giant unknown at this time whether Willson Contreras will be a part of next year’s team. Certainly, for the first two -hirds of this season he was one of the most productive bats in the lineup. I’ve said it before and my opinion hasn’t changed. The Cubs appear to have most of the “depth” part of a roster put together, the glue that holds the team together. But they don’t presently appear to have any star hitters. If Nico Hoerner can keep progressing, maybe he ascends to that point. But it’s always going to be hard to really star offensively without legit power. Ian Happ made an All-Star team. Maybe he could continue to progress. Maybe he even holds most of the same but some of his 40-plus doubles become homers.
Most likely, thought, they are going to need to add a couple of bats. I think you can hope that at least one of those comes internally from the trio of Alexander Canario, Matt Mervis and Brennen Davis. Of course, they could have your cup run over and they could all make it, causing the great problem of trying to find the right way to keep everyone playing when healthy.
Certainly, one can dream on Kyle Hendricks rising like a phoenix next year and being the star that he once was. I’m certainly nervous about the trajectory he was on the last couple of years, but I’m also not counting him out. I love to think that with Kyle healthy and the guys that performed so well down the stretch that the pitching staff can be decent. But I think you always have to be adding pitching. I think you have to add another arm to push Marcus Stroman at the top of the rotation and someone who can work at the back of the bullpen with some experience.
Every team fills out its pitching roster with journeyman relievers and the Cubs have recently been among the better teams at finding relievers and getting some success out of them. I don’t see any reason why you stop doing that, though an overcrowded 40-man roster is probably the answer to that question. But I still think you bring in some veteran arms to battle with all of these developing arms. Even there, you look internally some. You’d have to at least consider keeping Mark Leiter Jr. and Adrian Sampson around.
This is all to say that it’s become quite apparent that the cupboard isn’t empty. As I talked about yesterday, this team has started winning even before it really started seriously graduating top prospects. There is help on the way internally and after a few years of watching dollars, there should be a lot of money available to make strategic adds to a developing roster. Along the way to their last championship they signed Dexter Fowler and then Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and John Lackey in the lead up. All were some level of star when they came here and all made memorable contributions to the title run.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think the arrow would be pointing up as strongly as it is right now. This has none of the feel of a Mike Quade dead-cat bounce. There are no smoke and mirrors or over reliance on aging vets. By and large the contributions down the stretch have come from guys under team control at least for next year and often well beyond. I can’t say enough that there are no guarantees and progress isn’t always linear. But without a doubt, this team is positioning itself to open another contention window.
Let’s take a look at my three stars from Thursday’s win. My top star has to be Seiya Suzuki in this one. WPA is not going to be in love with the performance, but he had a single, a triple, drew a walk and scored both of the runs in this one. WPA most specifically rewards runs driven in, but table setters are important.
For my second spot, I have to go with Michal Rucker. Michael has had an up and down season in his first extended look in the majors. But he had a big time outing in this one. After starter Javier Assad allowed a hit and a walk to start the inning, Rucker was summoned and he retired three straight to preserve the Cubs 2-0 lead.
With a hat tip to Assad and Keegan Thompson who combined for eight scoreless innings in this one, I have to go with Patrick Wisdom for the third spot. Patrick had a pair of doubles and drew a walk. He drove in one of the two runs. Patrick is finishing strong, he’s certainly a depth possibility at the corners for next year. He’s strong against lefties and doesn’t embarrass himself against righties. I’m not sure I want to see another 500 plate appearances out of him, but I wouldn’t mind him being in the lineup against all of the lefties and being a weapon off the bench and to fill in for injuries the rest of the time.
Now we turn our attention to the Heroes and Goats from the series ending sweep of the Phillies.
Game 156, September 29: Cubs 2, Phillies 0 (70-96)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Keegan Thompson (.213). 3IP (12 batters), H, 2BB, 3K (Sv 1)
- Hero: Michael Rucker (.202). IP (3 batters), K
- Sidekick: Patrick Wisdom (.155). 2-3, 2-2B, RBI, BB, K
- Billy Goat: Nico Hoerner (-.147). 0-4
- Goat: Franmil Reyes (-.055). 0-3, BB
- Kid: Nelson Velazquez (-.052). 0-3, BB, 2K
WPA Play of the Game: With one out and runners at first and second in the first inning, Patrick Wisdom put the first run on the board with an RBI double. (.138)
*Phillies Play of the Game: On the play immediately in front of Wisdom’s double, Ian Happ batted with runners at the corner with no outs. He grounded into a fielder’s choice with the out being recorded at the plate, preserving the scoreless game a little longer. (.087)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Seiya Suzuki (2-3, 3B, 2R, BB)
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
- Patrick Wisdom +12.5
- Drew Smyly/Justin Steele/Keegan Thompson +10
- Frank Schwindel/Daniel Norris/Alfonso Rivas -9.5
- Rafael Ortega -11.5
- Yan Gomes -14.5
- Jason Heyward -15.5
Up Next: The final stretch of games for the season begins. The Cubs finish with six straight games against the Reds, three at Wrigley and then three in Cincinnati. The Cubs have won seven of 13 to date against the Reds (60-96). The Reds would need to win four of six to avoid losing 100. Similarly, the Cubs will be looking to win three to avoid losing 90.
Adrian Sampson (3-5, 3.23) has been outstanding down the stretch for the Cubs. He’ll face Reds righthander Graham Ashcraft (5-4, 4.18).