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2023 Cubs Heroes and Goats: Game 24

The Cubs finish the homestand on a high note with a 5-2 win.

San Diego Padres v Chicago Cubs Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

I’ve had to think on this a bit. I really like the glass half empty/glass half full writing. I didn’t want it to become too much of a crutch or forced. What I’ve landed on is that I’m going to do it at the end of a homestand or road trip. I’ve always tried to take the 10,000 feet view. Al gets the recaps and the pace of games generally keeps him pretty focused on the minutia of the game. He might devote a paragraph or two to the larger picture, but he’s going to bring you that granular focus. So I like to look bigger.

So I’m going to bring you some point/counterpoint what is usually going to be every week or 10 days. What I’m going to do to boost discussion is add a second poll to these when I do them. You can tell you where your glass is and if you think things are pointing up or down. As with the Player of the Game polls, I want to invite you to bring your takes on some omens you are seeing as to which direction the team is pointing. As always, I’m going to remind you we aren’t looking for personal attacks. If you want to say that the Cubs have had trouble closing out games, great. I’m never inviting you to throw, for instance, Michael Fulmer under the bus. (For the record, I’m going to continue to point out that so far he’s been very good when he’s not facing the Dodgers).

So, without placing blame on any one player, the glass half empty has to look at the bullpen. It would take a lot of selective watching to ignore the struggles the bullpen has had as a whole. Just to confuse things, the one pitcher who really has been dominant out of the pen, Keegan Thompson, allowed a hit (just his third) and a run (just his second) Thursday. Keegan has now faced 58 batters. He has been fantastic even with 11 walks allowed.

The rest of the pen? It’s been pretty uneven. On Thursday, the Cubs bullpen allowed one run over four innings of work. If your pen had a 2.25 ERA across all of their innings, you’d be in pretty solid shape. However, heading into Thursday’s game, Cubs relievers had combined for a 4.24 ERA in 85 innings. They had also converted only two saves. Let’s place a bookmark right here and I’m going to point counter point this very issue. You can tell me if it is a symptom of a bigger problem or an aberration.

Individually, Julian Merryweather has really struggled, allowing nine runs in just 9⅔ innings of work. Hayden Wesneski among starters has also struggled. Even with five strong innings Thursday, he’s allowed 13 earned runs (15 total runs) in 22⅓ innings. Michael Fulmer has allowed nine runs in 10⅓ innings.

Offensively, the primary 1B/DH duo of Eric Hosmer and Trey Mancini both have OPS under .700. For positions that are often offense -irst, this isn’t really good enough. Mancini can at least say he just had a strong homestand with a couple of homers and a double. Hosmer did homer in the finale, but with Matt Mervis and Christopher Morel raking for Iowa, the roar is increasing seemingly daily. I have been one preaching patience, but at some point, those two are really forcing the issue. It’s getting harder all of the time to argue that at least one of the two should be plugged into the lineup immediately.

Nick Madrigal is the only one of the bench players with any production at all. That’s striking as we watch Nelson Velázquez come up, plug into the lineup and have his own success in his limited time. If you aren’t going to bring one of Morel and Mervis, I’m having trouble arguing that you shouldn’t keep Velázquez here when Cody Bellinger surely returns for the road trip. Patrick Wisdom, emergency outfielder, I can definitely get behind. I do not want to see Mancini out there again nor demoted infielder/outfielder Miles Mastrobuoni.

So the Cubs are a team right now with only four starting pitchers, a bullpen that has struggled, particularly in the biggest moments and only has about seven guys creating its offense. I’m being charitable and including Dansby Swanson in that list. After collecting a number of hits over the first week of the season, Dansby has been pretty quiet notwithstanding a nice finish to the home stand that included his first homer.

The glass is totally half full. Nico Hoerner has a look of a player who not only has his sights set on starting the All-Star game but on being an MVP candidate. The season is long and there are screaming small sample size caveats. But even with a lukewarm homestand, Nico has 36 hits, 21 runs and 10 steals in 12 games. He also has a line of .336/.377/.458. The next stretch of games is a little bit of a step down in competition. It’ll be interesting to see if he can get back to blazing hot.

Justin Steele also has the look of a pitcher who isn’t willing to just settle for a spot on the All-Star team but also one who will receive Cy Young votes. At 4-0 with a 1.19 ERA, he is going to be in the conversation for NL Pitcher of the Month. My guess is that he doesn’t win it, but he certainly wouldn’t be a bad choice if he did.

I’ve mentioned the excellence of Keegan Thompson. I haven’t discussed Mark Leiter Jr. who is an absolute revelation as a reliever. He has faced 45 batters and been charged with two runs. He’s also struck out 16 of them. Completing a trio of talented relievers is Michael Rucker. Michael is just starting to ease into a little more leverage and he’s earned it. He’s faced 41 batters, allowing eight hits, three walks and three runs. He’s struck out 14.

I promised point/counterpoint directly on the bullpen. The team has struggled in high leverage positions. You tell me, bad luck, bad pitching or a little of both? In high leverage situations (as defined by Baseball Reference), the Cubs entered Thursday’s game allowing a line of .281/.370/.460. That line it striking because in all other situations, that line is in the vicinity of .200/.270/.328. But, the Cubs have allowed a .347 BABIP in high leverage situations. Again, striking next to about .255 the rest of the time.

High BABIP can, particularly around smaller samples, be indicative of bad luck. It can and often is an indication of poor performance. I’d keep an eye on this though for another 20-25 games. There could be some smallish sample noise/bad luck dragging this down. If that were the case, we’d definitely expect progression to the mean.

I went scurrying for the numbers after Wednesday’s loss. The numbers I was looking for were Dansby Swanson. Mentally, my hypothesis is that he’s gotten a strikingly wide berth for someone who has by and large started very slowly. The Cubs did not pay what they did for a .280 hitting glove first shortstop. The power has to come and hopefully a little bit of speed on the basepaths. I’ve looked though and Swanson’s career numbers look a little bell curve like. His best month is usually June and his worst ones April and September. So this isn’t unusual and don’t be surprised, for a variety of reasons, if he breaks out over this next stretch of games.

Offensively, the Cubs are producing in just about every situation. Even after calling out the first base platoon, the Cubs have a line of .273/.312/.455 out of their first basemen. Not too shabby at all. Some interesting notes, the Cubs have an OPS of .828 when they take the first pitch and a .687 when they swing at the first one. All 17 Cubs who had a last recoded count of 3-0 count walked (as an example, no 3-0 pop ups) and Cubs have an OPS of 1.439 after they reach 3-0.

The Cubs are only 8-8 at home. They’ve made up for it by starting out 6-2 on the road. The “expected” win/loss numbers have them even higher at 16-8, best in the division.


As the Cubs leave for a road trip, how are you feeling?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    Glass is half empty (needle pointing down)
    (11 votes)
  • 95%
    Glass is half full (needle pointing up)
    (239 votes)
250 votes total Vote Now

A quick look at three positives for Thursday’s win:

  1. Dansby Swanson had a pair of hits including his first Cubs homer. Hopefully, the start of a hot streak.
  2. Hayden Wesneski allowed four hits, one walk and one run over five. I thought he looked confident, something that had lacked at times over his first four starts.
  3. Ian Happ had a couple more hits, including an RBI-single.

Game 24, April 27: Cubs 5, Padres 2 (14-10)


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


  • Superhero: Hayden Wesneski (.150). 5IP, 20 batters, 4H, BB, R, 3K (W 2-1)
  • Hero: Nelson Velazquez (.099). 1-3, HR, RBI, R
  • Sidekick: Eric Hosmer (.093). 1-4, HR, RBI, R, 2K


  • Billy Goat: Seiya Suzuki (-.071). 1-4, 2B, CS
  • Goat: Trey Mancini (-.058). 0-4, K
  • Kid: Nico Hoerner (-.026). 1-4, R

WPA Play of the Game: Eric Hosmer homered with two outs in the second inning and the Cubs down one. (.116)

*Padres Play of the Game: Manny Machado homered with one out in the top of the second for the game’s first run. (.110)


Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?

This poll is closed

  • 57%
    Hayden Wesneski
    (106 votes)
  • 20%
    Nelson Velazquez
    (37 votes)
  • 5%
    Eric Hosmer
    (10 votes)
  • 9%
    Ian Happ (2-4, RBI)
    (18 votes)
  • 7%
    Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
    (13 votes)
184 votes total Vote Now

Yesterday’s Player of the Game: Trey Mancini (Superhero is 15-8)

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
  • Nelson Velazquez +5
  • Hayden Wesneski/Luis Torens/Trey Mancini -4
  • Julian Merryweather -4.5
  • Yan Gomes -5
  • Michael Fulmer -8

Up Next: The Cubs head to Miami (13-13). The Marlins have split their last 10 games and are one over at home and one under on the road. A decidedly break-even team. Well, unless you are buying what “expected” win/loss is suggesting. That number is 9-17. By that metric, the Cubs would be expected to win two of three. Let’s hope that’s right.

Marcus Stroman (2-2, 2.17, 29 IP). Marcus is coming off of his worst start of the year, allowing five runs in five innings against the Dodgers. Life is good when you allow five in five to raise your ERA all of the way to 2.17. Marcus has 30 strikeouts in his 29 innings of work.

The Marlins will start lefty Jesus Luzardo (2-1, 3.62, 27⅓ IP) as the Cubs continue to run into lefties. Luzardo was a third round pick by the Nationals out of Stoneman-Douglas High in Florida (also Anthony Rizzo’s school). Luzardo first reached the majors in 2019 and has made 50 career starts with a 4.50 ERA overall (includes 16 relief appearances). Last time out, Jesus lost when he allowed four earned runs in just 4⅓ innings in a start in Cleveland. In fact, after allowing one run over seven in his season debut, he has allowed 10 runs in 14⅔ innings.