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2023 Cubs Heroes and Goats: Game 20

Cubs pitching finally breaks down against the Dodgers in a 9-4 loss

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

I’m not sure I’m ready to fully commit to it, but definitely the glass half empty, glass half full style of writing speaks to me. On Saturday, there was plenty of the glass half full. Hayden Wesneski just wasn’t good enough, yet again. To be fair, the Dodgers are a tall task for even experienced pitchers on their good days. In his call up last September, things really clicked for him and we could see the pitcher that he can be. He carried a lot of that over to spring training. I’m sure the Cubs were prepared to go with the safe choice in Adrian Sampson, who was a big part of the Cubs stretch run recovery last year. But Wesneski seized the day and snatched the job. The decision was just as easy the other way by the time spring training was ending.

Now, Sampson is hurt. Jameson Taillon is hurt. Javier Assad isn’t fully built up yet. Also, with being sent out after his start Thursday, he can’t come back for almost two weeks without another injury. Depth is a crazy thing. It appeared just a few days ago that there were a plethora of options. But it isn’t entirely clear who will take Taillon’s spot the next time through. My best guess is that one of two struggling relievers, Julian Merryweather or Michael Fulmer, could be heading for an injury stint while they try to work out their struggles.

Suddenly, the worst possible scenario could be emerging for Kyle Hendricks’ rehab. The Cubs appear to be good. They look to have some offensive chops if the pitching can keep them competitive. After the rotation carried the Cubs over the last two months of last year, right here, right now it looks a little over matched. No offense to Marcus Stroman or Justin Steele, who both look like guys interested in pitching in the All-Star game. For that matter, no offense to Drew Smyly who made a strong bid for the best start by a Cub in 2023. Where you would have loved to take your time and be cautious with Hendricks, maybe some urgency is emerging.

To make matters worse, Wesneski only allowed three runs. The Cubs offense plated four and so if the bullpen could have held, this was a winnable game. Mark Leiter Jr. allowed a pair of runs and Brad Boxberger allowed three of them. Brandon Hughes allowed one. Three of the team’s top relievers were all scored on. To be fair, the Dodgers have been doing this to most teams for a number of years. But this was certainly a frustrating afternoon.

This doesn’t mean the cup is empty though. That glass is still at least half full. The Cubs finished their first 20-game stretch at 12-8. If they come through every 20 that way, they’ll win at least 96 games. That would be amazing. Most of us would be thrilled at 86. So I’m not going to get caught up in what isn’t perfect. This team has work to do. But it also flashes the potential to hang around until the end in the playoff hunt.

You can’t dismiss Stroman, Steele and Smyly, the three S’s. Headlining a special rotation. Many teams that have gone very deep with three dependable pitchers and spare parts. Taillon will return and we can’t forget that many thought he could be the Cubs best starter this year.

Hendricks will return as well. What will he bring to the table? I mean, other than a guy who has started and pitched in championship games? Without being a dominant force anymore, Hendricks found himself working in the offseason with the Cubs pitching experts. The Cubs have had good success with pitchers in the middle to end of their career helping to coax some life out of their pitches. Could he benefit?

When the Cubs five veterans are healthy, Wesneski, Assad and Sampson are all depth. A luxury to have given the tolls the marathon season brings bumps, bruises, double headers and long stretches without a day off. If the Cubs can get all five vets going in the right direction, these three will get to take their big league experience and work to be their best in Iowa. Could one or more of them help down the stretch out of the pen? One can’t know where the season will take us.

The Cubs offense was largely stifled Saturday afternoon. But I’m going to go half full here too. The Cubs got five hits, five walks and a hit batter. They plated four runs. Included were two more stolen bases. Those two came from Ian Happ and Cody Bellinger, stalwarts of the middle of the Cubs order. The team got two extra base hits. One of those was a homer from Nico Hoerner, the leadoff man.

The Cubs are built on contact and aggressiveness on the basepaths. That formula has been working well for them. To be sure, it’s unlikely that Patrick Wisdom will hit 70+ homers that he is on pace for. Also, it’s unlikely Dansby Swanson’s power vanished when he signed with the Cubs. Dansby has had a decent start to the season, but like Ian Happ’s 2022 season, the long ball has been absent. Certainly Ian is a cautionary tale that these kinds of things can linger, but I’m not buying it. Dansby has made a lot of solid contact, just not the kind that leaves the yard. Like Hoerner who started hot but hadn’t left the park until homering in the last two games, I believe it’s only a matter of time before Swanson’s power stroke returns to balance out the lineup.

Seiya Suzuki is also still working his way back. I don’t think we’ve seen everything this lineup can be. I’m less anxious than some to grind the roster. But there is little question that at some point the offense will get an infusion from Matt Mervis and Christopher Morel.

There are definitely some deficiencies on this roster. There’s nothing like six games in nine days against the Dodgers to show you those problems. Hand in hand with that, it’s always challenging to have a stretch of 10 or more games without a day off. Having the first one start in Pacific time for six days adds an extra element of difficulty. Still, through those six games, the Cubs have split with the Dodgers and like you’d want in a playoff series, you’ve got Marcus Stroman heading to the hill for the decisive game. My glass is definitely half full.

Let’s look at three positives from Saturday’s lopsided loss.

  1. Nico Hoerner has to get the top spot for me. He was the only Cub with two hits and one of those was a homer. He scored twice and drove in two. Understanding the risk of buying too much into paces, Nico is on pace for more than 250 hits, 40 doubles, 90 RBI, 150 runs and 70 plus steals. He’s operating at a 147 wRC+. That’s an MVP-caliber season.
  2. Ian Happ has quietly become a rock in the middle of the Cubs lineup. He had a single and two walks on Saturday. Ian tops Nico’s wRC+ at 153. In large part, that has to do with a pace for 120+ walks. He’d also challenge 100 runs, 100 RBI and 30 steals on his pace.
  3. The third choice is a little tougher than I’ve had in recent days. I’ll give the nod to Michael Rucker, who didn’t walk anyone or allow any runs of his own (he did allow an inherited runner to score). He faced three batters, struck out two and allowed a hit. Rucker is just quietly going about his business. So far, he’s faced 35 batters, allowed seven hits, two walks and three runs. He’s struck out a nifty 13 of them. He’s got a half full/half empty thing all by himself. He’s stranding almost 80 percent of his runners, perhaps a bit high. But also allowed one homer in four fly balls. If those two numbers balance as the season wears on and regression occurs, his 2.89 ERA might not be a mirage. The Cubs think very highly of him. Might he be the next pitcher to emerge?

Game 20, April 22: Dodgers 9, at Cubs 4 (12-8)


Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.


  • Superhero: Ian Happ (.222). 1-2, 2BB, SB, K
  • Hero: Eric Hosmer (.112). 1-2, 2B, RBI, K
  • Sidekick: Nico Hoerner (.089). 2-5, HR, 2RBI, 2R, K


  • Billy Goat: Patrick Wisdom (-.229). 0-4, 2K
  • Goat: Hayden Wesneski (-.147). 4⅓ IP, 19 batters, 5H, BB, 3R, K
  • Kid: Trey Mancini (-.125). 0-4, 2K

WPA Play of the Game: Eric Hosmer batted with a runner on first and two outs in the fourth, the Cubs down two. He doubled and a run scored, cutting the deficit to one. (.131)

*Dodgers Play of the Game: There were runners on first and second with one out in the sixth, the Cubs down one. Miguel Vargas singled, and a run scored. (.108)


Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Ian Happ
    (10 votes)
  • 4%
    Eric Hosmer
    (5 votes)
  • 84%
    Nico Hoerner
    (90 votes)
  • 0%
    Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
    (1 vote)
106 votes total Vote Now

Yesterday’s Player of the Game: Drew Smyly received 228 of 230 votes (Superhero is 13-6)

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 +11
  • Ian Happ +8
  • Keegan Thompson/Justin Steele +7
  • Mark Leiter, Jr./Dansby Swanson +4.5
  • Hayden Wesneski -4
  • Julian Merryweather -4.5
  • Trey Mancini -7
  • Michael Fulmer -8
  • Yan Gomes -10

Up Next: The Cubs will look to salvage a split of the four game series and to win the seven game season series. Marcus Stroman (2-1, 0.75, 24 IP) will look to work into the seventh inning for the first time this year. Marcus has allowed a run in just one of the 24 innings he’s thrown to date.

The Dodgers counter with Clayton Kershaw (3-1, 2.52, 25 IP) throws for the Dodgers. Clayton has 26 strikeouts in 25 innings of work and with 19 hits and four walks allowed, he’s keeping the bases pretty clear. At 35, the Dodgers lefty hasn’t lost it yet. He’s already picked up his 200th career win and now he’ll work towards his 3,000th strikeout which could come late this year if he can stay healthy. Despite the fact that Clayton hasn’t made 30+ starts since 2015, I still think he’s a Hall of Famer when he is done. There won’t be many more 200 win pitchers and eventually 3000 strikeouts, he’s got the counting stats. As for hardware, three Cy Youngs, an MVP, eight trips to the All-Star Game, He’s won a World Series and pitched really, really well in that series. He won the only Wild Card series game he pitched in (2020) and threw eight scoreless in that game. Those two performances make what is a subpar postseason history a bit better.