Full disclaimer: I didn’t read any recaps on the game and was out on a boat and then at a family dinner during the game. I followed it and know what happened, but I’m not “read in” on the vibe. Instead, I’m going to do one of those things that sportswriters do that everyone loves. I’m going to tell you what I think you should think. I’m going to use one of my favorite themes to do it too.
The glass is half empty. By my count, and I think generally accepted perception, the Cubs have let three of their first 14 games get away. Put more simply, perception is that there were moves the Cubs could have made that might have won them three more games. As an aside, does anyone track the number of games that the Cubs should probably have lost? And where do we account for Cody Bellinger literally stealing two runs from the Dodgers? Which, of course, if they’d had, the game never would have seen the bottom of the ninth on Saturday.
The point stands. David Ross has made some interesting choices at times with his bench and his bullpen. If you haven’t caught on, I’m going to disagree with the half-empty people. But. I’m absolutely going to give you the point that some of the substituting, both hitting and pitching has been questionable. Also, I’m now going to recite the list of all of the managers I’m aware of who have never done anything questionable: None. If there are any, they probably only managed a game or two. They all make weird decisions. The standard isn’t that we agree with all of them, just way more than not.
Where do I fall on Ross? I never liked the hire. And I’ve not seen anything in three years that said I was way wrong on that. Also, he seems like a fairly ordinary manager. Not excellent, not bad. The overall grade has to almost entirely fall on things he does out of game. In game, he’s just ordinary. So if he’s adding value, it’s in something off the field.
The glass is half full. Are you kidding me? This team is 8-6 and there are three more games this team could have won? You’re suggesting this team could have been 11-3? Maybe one of those games they fix the instant problem and lose later. 10-4? Whoa. I’d have been flat out bowled over by that outcome. So that’s our fine point, right? This team could have been elite? And they are just over average?
I understand you might be someone who “knew” Michael Fulmer and Julian Merryweather are terrible and always will be no matter what. First, please put that note somewhere where you are locked into it and you can’t change that view. Because if one or both of those guys end up being solid contributors to this team, there are going to be a lot more guys who “knew” they just needed a chance to shine and the right opportunity and a scarcity of people who thought they were terrible. Second, please make a list of other players past and present who you “knew” about. Were they all right? I mean if they are, you should really circulate your resume and look into scouting jobs at least.
Hey, I’ve circulated at least once in this space that somewhere around his age 30 season I dismissed Randy Johnson as a fluke and that he wouldn’t be able to sustain excellence. I mean, yeah, I was repeating stuff that scouts and sportswriters regurgitated about a tall, gangly left-hander who couldn’t keep himself healthy. Never mind that by the time I spouted that opinion he’d already been good for a few years and his injury issues were largely behind him.
If you think you know better than they do, at least put it out there and then admit sometimes you are wrong, sometimes spectacularly. You know who’s been pretty good at evaluating relief pitchers? The Cubs front office. For a number of years now. By a host of metrics they are one of the teams that is consistently good out of the pen. The knock, and it is a fair one, is that they never have an elite pen. But they also haven’t really ever ended up with a clunker.
This team is going to get its bullpen right. Will Fulmer be the closer? I don’t know. Maybe not. Does that mean he doesn’t have value? I don’t know that either. I had never seen him pitch prior to this year. And I think I’ve gotten a good look at him once this year. I’m not going to pretend to equivocally say what his relative value is. They liked him. They’ve been right more often than not. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.
I don’t exactly advocate for give everyone a shot. At the same time, I don’t think scouting is first, last, and everything between. Sometimes you’ve got to just put a guy in the line of fire and see how it works out. Allowing two runs in an inning doesn’t tell me to give up Fulmer any more than one today does Adbert Alzolay. What role should each have on a contending team come September? I can’t tell you today.
So yeah, my glass is half full. I suspected this team would be a 75-win team, give or take. Can we know that I’m wrong through 14 games? No. Has this team looked like a 75-win team through 14 games? No. So I’m pleasantly surprised. Fully healthy, this team is probably good enough to get into the 85-90 range. That’s good enough for playoff contention. In a weird year, it could even win a division.
The thing is, teams are rarely fully healthy for long. Down here in Tampa, a dominant early season Rays team has already lost one of its key starting pitchers for what looks like months. The nature of baseball that the measure of a team is how it looks on a Sunday afternoon in July when it’s looking at it’s 8th starter, some key position player is out of the lineup, a couple of relievers are down due to arm fatigue and depth is called into question. Can the Cubs compete in that environment? I have my questions.
Also, this team has already exceeded my initial expectations. So I can’t say they won’t rise to the challenge. We certainly know that this team has things like “winners,” “leadership,” and “intangibles.” Are any of those measurable? Do teams win without some of these ingredients all of the time? Absolutely. These guys get along well. Some championship teams aren’t really close. If there was a magic chemistry equation, teams would be created in a lab. Also, every few years there is a team that far exceeds the sum of its parts because they had a great clubhouse.
Am I willing to say that this team can’t be one of those? Not a chance. Let’s look at three key performances from Sunday’s win.
- For my money, I have to put Patrick Wisdom in the top spot. He had a pair of hits and one of those was a homer for the third straight game. It gave the Cubs a 2-1 lead.
- Dansby Swanson was having a truly awful weekend. But he bounced back on Sunday and had three hits, one a double. This Dodgers pitching staff is no joke. That’s a big game.
- Cody Bellinger added a home run that ended up being the decisive run. He also stole a base and scored two runs.
Honorable mention: Michael Fulmer did exactly what a successful reliever has to do. He bounced back from a rough outing with a three up, three down inning.
Game 14, April 16: Cubs 3 at Dodgers 2 (8-6)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Brad Boxberger (.191). IP (4 batters), H, 3K (Sv 1)
- Hero: Mark Leiter Jr. (.187). ⅔ IP (3 batters), H, 2K
- Sidekick: Drew Smyly (.186). 5⅔ IP (22 batters), 4H, 2BB, R, 3K (W 1-1)
- Billy Goat: Adbert Alzolay (-.212). ⅔ IP (6 batters), 2H, 2BB, R, 2K
- Goat: Ian Happ (-.176). 1-5, 2K
- Kid: Trey Mancini (-.121). 0-4, 2K
WPA Play of the Game: Patrick Wisdom’s homer with two outs in the sixth inning gave the Cubs a lead they never relinquished. (.186)
*Dodgers Play of the Game: Chris Taylor homered leading off the third inning for the first run of the game. (.121)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Mark Leiter Jr.
Patrick Wisdom (2-4, HR, RBI, R)
Dansby Swanson (3-5, 2B, SB)
Cody Bellinger (1-4, HR, RBI, 2R, SB)
Somebody else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Winner: Jameson Taillon (Superhero is 10-3)
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
- Keegan Thompson +7
- Ian Happ +5
- Patrick Wisdom/Mark Leiter, Jr. +3.5
- Cody Bellinger/Trey Mancini -4
- Hayden Wesneski/Michael Fulmer -5
- Yan Gomes -8
Up Next: The Cubs travel up the coast to Oakland. There the Cubs will face an A’s team that has started out 3-13. Hayden Wesneski (0-0, 7.50 ERA, 6 IP) has had two very rough starts to open the season. Lefty Kyle Muller (0-0, 5.52, 14⅔ IP) is already making his fourth start of the season. He was hit pretty hard in a start at Baltimore his last time out. The second-round pick of the Braves in 2016 has made 15 career major league appearances, all but one was a start. He allowed 11 runs in only 12⅓ innings for the Braves last year.