That headline doesn’t work for some new Chicago law firm. Instead, it refers to one of baseball’s least known star pitchers, a catcher experiencing a renaissance in his career and one of baseball’s hottest hitters. They certainly had a bit of help, particularly from some patient Chicago hitters and some effective Cubs defense along the way. But those three were the stars in another win on the north side of Chicago. Though in fairness, this only brings the Cubs to dead even, 7-7, at home. Their early season success has occurred largely on the road.
We tackle the stars in order. Tonight, I’ll cover my narrative and my three stars simultaneously. The first star was Justin Steele. You might find it hyperbole when I call him one of baseball’s unknown star pitchers. I can’t know how long it will last. But Steele has been fantastic dating back to last summer. If you watched the Cubs TV broadcast, you’ll probably have seen that Justin now has 12 consecutive starts with two or fewer runs allowed. Only Max Fried has a longer active streak, sitting at 13. For Justin, he’ll probably have to continue this a few more months before he starts writing any history, even recent history, because of the phenomenon that was Jake Arrieta as a Cub.
To some extent, Justin Steele had expectations. Certainly, the Cubs had to think highly of Yan Gomes to let Willson Contreras walk. But I’m not sure Cubs fans thought much of Gomes beyond an experienced veteran known for his handling of a pitching staff. There had to be some question as to if we’d see a ton of Yan as technically the short side of platoon at bats. But his bat has been strangely special in the early going. With four hits Tuesday night, he is up to a .309 batting average and an .898 OPS. Those numbers would obliterate career highs and I suspect he’s unlikely to hit 35+ homers that he’s currently on pace for. Regression is inevitable. Probably most in his insane ISO that was .235 before a four-hit game with a home run Tuesday. Then against, he only had a BABIP of .220 before Tuesday’s game that is low even for a slow-footed catcher.
Nico Hoerner was actually having a rough night at the plate before the eighth inning (remember that when you read the numbers below). After being hitless in four at bats, he came up with the bases loaded in the eighth, his 19-game streak reaching base on the line. The Padres were caught in a tough spot. Typically effective reliever Steven Wilson made his 35th pitch walking Nelson Velazquez. It’s not a limit strongly applied at the major league level, but if you follow the Cubs in the minor leagues, they have a strict rule about pulling pitchers after 35 pitches in an inning. The Padres had been warming lefty Ray Kerr, likely to face Dansby Swanson. But with the very long at bat, they brought in the lefty to face Hoerner. Hoerner made Wilson pay for his three walks in the inning with a three-run triple.
This was as fun a Cubs game as I’ve watched in a while that wasn’t boosted by a comeback. The Nelson Velazquez game was fantastic with a come from way behind to win. But, this was the Cubs getting off the mat and taking it to a good Padres team that is just starting to get healthy and back to full strength. You have to love Steele holding the line on what was clearly a difficult night to pitch (13 walks and a hit batter). He set the tone and five Cubs combined to strike out 10 of 37 batters they faced. Combined with a strong defense, it’s hard to sustain a lot of offense against the Cubs.
The offense was patient, working a lot of long counts and drawing eight walks. Three of those walks came around to score and thus the Cubs were able to turn seven hits into six runs. Only five of 38 Cubs batters struck out. Aside from the Gomes homer, the Cubs weren’t exactly crushing the ball. By just getting the ball into play, they found some holes and created enough offense to not have to sweat the ninth inning too badly.
Again, this was just what the doctor ordered after a rough weekend. To be sure, the Padres are not playing their best baseball here in April. But there is every reason to believe that team will be in the hunt and a likely participant in the postseason after their run to the NLCS last year.
Game 22, April 25: Cubs 6, Padres 0 (13-9)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Justin Steele (.294). 5⅓ IP, 20 batters, 3H, 2BB, 5K (W 4-0)
- Hero: Yan Gomes (.260). 4-4, HR, 3RBI, 2R
- Sidekick: Keegan Thompson (.072). IP, 5 batters, 2BB, K
- Billy Goat: Seiya Suzuki (-.078). 0-4
- Goat: Nico Hoerner (-.060). 1-5, 3B, 3RBI
- Kid: Eric Hosmer (-.059). 0-4, 2K
WPA Play of the Game: Yan Gomes batted with a runner on first and one out in the second inning. He homered, breaking a scoreless tie. (.185)
*Padres Play of the Game: Fernando Tatis Jr. batted with a runner on first and one out in the third inning, the Cubs up by two. Tatis drew a walk.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Sunday’s Player of the Game: Yan Gomes (Superhero is 14-7)
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.
- Justin Steele +10
- Marcus Stroman/Ian Happ/Keegan Thompson +8
- Mark Leiter, Jr./Dansby Swanson +4.5
- Hayden Wesneski/Luis Torens -4
- Julian Merryweather -4.5
- Trey Mancini/Yan Gomes -5
- Michael Fulmer -8
Up Next: Game two of the three game set Wednesday evening. The Cubs will send lefty Drew Smyly (2-1, 3.13, 23 IP) to the hill. Drew is, of course, coming off of one of the best starts of his entire career. He’ll look to continue that against the Padres. One can imagine he’ll want Gomes behind the plate again even after that unfortunate collision last Friday.
The Padres will start Michael Wacha. Wacha has one of the weirder early season lines you’ll see. He is 2-1 while sporting a 7.08 ERA over 20⅓ IP. He has had two back-to-back rough starts. In a start in Arizona, he allowed five runs in four innings. The start before that, the Brewers came to San Diego and dropped 11 on him in just 4⅓ innings. In reality, he’s had three bad starts in four tries, with the one bright spot a start in Atlanta the second week of the season when he held them to two hits and no runs in six innings. Wacha has a 4.10 ERA in almost 1,200 innings of major league work. He doesn’t have too many stretches worse than this in that career. At only 32 years of age, there is no reason to think he is done. He was terrific for the Red Sox last year (11-2, 3.32 in 23 starts). So one might expect the former first round pick to bounce back. Let’s just hope the bounce waits at least one more week.