Saturday night’s Cubs game was pitched and defended well on both sides. There were some spectacular defensive plays and also some excellence of execution by the pitchers on both sides. The nature of the closer’s job is that they get an inordinate amount of blame for when they don’t nail down the win after eight innings of hard work. Similarly, the manager’s decision-making gets blown up and micro-analyzed when the team loses a close one.
I’ll never say that Michael Fulmer is without blame in this or that David Ross doesn’t make some questionable decisions with his substitutions and bullpen usage. But I will say that at least as important as Fulmer’s ninth is the eighth inning when Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki failed to add to the Cubs lead after having the bases loaded and one out. Hat tip there to Dodgers reliever Caleb Ferguson for an excellent job shutting the door.
These losses always sting so I’m not going to belabor it this morning in a thousand words. Al’s recap has shared all the gory details. You certainly hate to lose a game that you were leading after eight innings. There’s no question. Ross and Fulmer, Happ and Suzuki. I don’t have to go looking for their postgame interviews to know that they all spent their waking and their resting hours after last night’s game shaking their head about that one. They all want to be better in those spots. But collectively, they couldn’t nail it down last night.
I’m going to take a different line in this space. The Cubs won the first game in Los Angeles and led the other one with two outs in the ninth inning. There was some worry that the Cubs would go west and get buzzsawed. That’s not at all what’s happened. If anything, the Dodgers have been on the wrong end of this one. For 17 innings of this series, it has been advantage Cubs.
On Saturday, they lost in large part because they couldn’t add on when they had the lead. But the offense has largely been good. I don’t know where this season is going and that’s a good thing. By this time last year, the team had lost five of seven and had seen .500 for the last time. We were all pretty sure where that was going. Many of us may expect that this season is going to end with a similar record to last year, but we can’t know for certain. I was definitely in that boat. I may well be right, but I’m far from confident that I was right about that.
Some of us certainly were saying this team would be a fringe playoff contender. If that was your impression of this team before the season, then you haven’t really seen anything to discourage you from that thought. The best that this team can be has been displayed through the early going. Certainly, they are no juggernaut. They are going to lose some of these tight games. Their offense is not elite and is going to get shutdown at times by good pitching. The pitching is good, but the bullpen hasn’t come together yet. Even when it does, there is no one down there who strikes terror in the hearts and minds of the opposition.
But this team through a small sample of 13 games has shown that it can compete. They haven’t looked overmatched save for maybe a few innings in one of the losses to the Brewers in the season opening series. They’ve been good enough that the questions aren’t about how they close the talent gap against better teams, but rather about how different decision making might have this team at least two or three games more into the win column.
Close games can break either way, but if you’d have told me that with a couple of good plays here and there that this team might have started with nine or 10 wins out of its first 13, I wouldn’t have bought it. That they didn’t doesn’t shock me. But that they had that chance does surprise me a little. I’m certainly looking forward to the ride, because it definitely gives the appearance that this team can be a fair bit better than I thought it would be.
Let’s find three positive performances out of Saturday’s loss.
- Jameson Taillon looked like the pitcher that the Cubs were excited to add to the mix in the offseason. Would I have liked him to get a little deeper than five innings? For sure, but this is so often how modern teams approach a game. He allowed two hits, two walks and struck out seven. Yes, please.
- Patrick Wisdom has to get the second spot here. The Cubs only had four hits n the game, though they did draw six walks. Patrick’s was the only extra-base hit. His homer could have been the sole run in a 1-0 win
- I try not to do a lot of package entries, but in a night when WPA gave me not one but two ties for the podium, I’m going to go ahead and package Mark Leiter Jr. and Keegan Thompson here. The setup guys faced 11 batters in tossing three scoreless innings against one of the best offenses in baseball. One walk, one hit batter. If the Cubs had won, the bullpen would have been one of the largest reasons why.
And now we turn our attention to the Heroes and Goats.
Game 13, April 15: Dodgers 2, Cubs 1 (7-6)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Jameson Taillon (.282). 5IP (19 batters), 2H, 2BB, 7K
- Hero: Keegan Thompson (.242). 2IP (7 batters), BB, 2K
- Sidekick: (tie) Mark Leiter Jr. and Patrick Wisdom (.086). Leiter: IP (4 batters), 3K, HBP; Wisdom 1-4, HR, RBI, R
- Billy Goat: Michael Fulmer (-.810). ⅔ IP (5 batters), 3H, 2R (L 0-1)
*This was the largest negative WPA for a Cub since Craig Kimbrel’s -.813 on July 3, 2019.
- Goat/Kid: (tie) Seiya Suzuki and Eric Hosmer (-.132). Suzuki: 1-4, 3K; Hosmer 0-2
WPA Play of the Game: David Peralta’s two-out, two-run, game-winning single. (.764)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Patrick Wisdom’s two out homer in the fifth inning broke a scoreless tie. (.158)
Who was the Cubs player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Mark Leiter Jr.
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Winner: Justin Steele (Superhero is 9-3)
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.
- Marcus Stroman/Justin Steele +8
- Ian Happ/Keegan Thompson +7
- Patrick Wisdom +3.5
- 4 tied at -3
- Cody Bellinger -4
- Hayden Wesneski/Michael Fulmer -5
- Yan Gomes -8
Up Next: The third and final game of the series between these two clubs. Each will be looking for the series win. Lefty Drew Smyly (0-1, 6.52, 9⅔ innings) will start for the Cubs. Drew’s second start was very good. He’ll be looking to build upon that performance. On the other side of a lefty/lefty pitching matchup is Julio Urias (3-0, 1.50, 18 innings). Urias’ numbers show that he’s been one of the best pitchers in baseball in the early going. For his career, he’s made 140 appearances, 104 of them starts. He has a 52-17 record and a 2.78 ERA. Quite simply, it’s nothing new that he’s one of the best in the business. When he first reached the majors in 2016 at the age of 20, he was already dazzling. The last two-plus years, he has been phenomenal.