For the second time in the last three days, the Cubs played a close game and lost. I’ll make the same comment again. These were the kinds of things that are within a normal large distribution of games. On Saturday, it was the bullpen letting a game get away, in part because a reliever couldn’t throw strikes when a batter was trying to give up an out to a bunt. Monday night, the Cubs lost in part because they sent someone up to bunt who has little experience bunting. Both situations were a little novel. Both broke against the Cubs in the early going here. It’s an exaggeration, of course, but it sure felt like everything that could go right down the stretch did.
I said as it was happening last year to enjoy the ride, but to be careful not to assume that just because the arrow was pointing up in August and September that it would carry over. Now, we are only four games into the season. All outcomes are possible. The Cubs could rip off a long streak of winning from here. If they did, these games would only be remembered as the ones that got away in a spot when they could have ran away with the division early.
Or, the daunting early schedule could bury them early and they could wish they had pulled these two out and had some confidence heading into that stretch of games that is upcoming. But without over complicating things, the Cubs are 1-1 when they get a good start and 0-2 when they get a bad one. The Cubs won down the stretch with dominating pitching. The more baseball changes, the more it stays the same.
I think there were two inflection points in this game. Undoubtedly, they’ll be talked about in depth in Al’s recap. Then there will be some debate in the comments. I’ll weigh in here with what I thought about each at the time it happened. Drew Smyly was left in the game to face 26 batters. My first guess on this was to let him give it a go. The Cubs used multiple relievers on Sunday and Cincinnati can be a place where a lot of runs are scored. After the fact, I revise my first guess though. If there is a scenario in your head where Keegan Thompson throws 3⅓ innings, granted there was a seven-pitch inning in there and it was only 11 hitters, then I’m bringing him in after Stephenson’s single in the fifth. We’ve basically given up on pitcher wins as a stat, so you don’t leave your guy in to get a win. You nail down the games where you have a lead.
The other was having Patrick Wisdom attempt to bunt with a sore wrist. You also know that he has just two sacrifices in over 1,000 career plate appearances at the major league level. If I include the minors, I count another seven in about 3,500 plate appearances. By comparison, he was a prolific bunter in college with three in a bit under 500 plate appearances. I felt at the time that you had to either let him swing, or if he wasn’t healthy enough to do so, you need to pinch hit. Interestingly, in that spot, you could probably burn a starting pitcher to bunt if you felt that bunting was the strategy. Fernando Cruz was facing his third batter and could not have been lifted if you sent a left handed hitter to the plate.
Saturday and Monday both it felt like David Ross was managing a team that he either believes is a 90-win team or a 90-loss team. One that is comfortably in or out of the playoffs. If you believed you had a team that was going to be between 75-85 and a handful of games might decide the difference between in or out, you manage with a bit more urgency. I could say a similar thing, to a much smaller extent, Sunday when Julian Merryweather was allowed to face nine batters while he was allowing five hits and two walks. The Brewers were seeing him REAL well. Even if much of the contact was light to medium, it was contact.
In the long run, I don’t care. Is it frustrating? Yep. Did I think there was much chance of this being a playoff team? Nope. The difference between 70 wins and 80 is a better chance in the draft lottery and some extra international spending limit. It would be the earliest baseball decision ever to start looking at draft position on a mediocre team. I’m just saying I’m not losing sleep over it.
I’ve moved on and I’m moving on. Let’s look at three positives.
- Keegan Thompson was surrounded by questions all spring. After a real breakout season in 2022, it looked like he might not be ready at the opening bell. He’s looked good through his first two outings of 2023. On Monday, as I noted, he faced 11 batters and recorded 10 outs. That’s efficient. Keegan can be a real weapon out of the pen.
- Dansby Swanson is a man possessed. He collected his third three-hit game of the season on April 3. I haven’t looked at them yet, but I’ll assume he is setting records for the first four games in any uniform, but certainly a Cub one. Three more hits, one a double and two runs scored.
- Eric Hosmer could easily slot into either of the two spots above. He had three hits of his own, including a double and two runs batted in. Those two RBI put the Cubs ahead 6-4, though the lead did not last long.
And now, the Heroes and Goats from Monday’s game.
Game 4, April 3: Reds 7, Cubs 6 (1-3)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Eric Hosmer (.209). 3-5, 2B, 2RBI, K
- Hero: Keegan Thompson (.148). 3⅓ IP (11 batters), H, 3K
- Sidekick: Dansby Swanson (.097). 3-5, 2B, 2R, K
- Billy Goat: Drew Smyly (-.535). 4⅔ IP (26 batters), 9H, 2BB, 3K, 2HBP (L 0-1)
(In 2022, this would have been the sixth largest negative WPA of the season)
- Goat: Miles Mastrobuoni (-.147). 0-1
- Kid: Yan Gomes (-.141). 0-1, K
WPA Play of the Game: With two on and two out in the fifth, the Reds were trailing by two when Jason Vosler hit a three-run homer that ended up being the game winner. (.371)
*Cubs Play of the Game: With runners at the corners and two outs in the fifth, Eric Hosmer doubled and two runs scored, giving the Cubs a 6-4 lead. (.229)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Someone else (leave a suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Player of the Game: Patrick Wisdom (through three games, voting and Superhero have matched a perfect three for three)
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 3/Bottom 3)
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.
- Dansby Swanson +5
- Marcus Stroman/Justin Steele/Patrick Wisdom +3
- Julian Merryweather/Drew Smyly/Yan Gomes -3
- Cody Bellinger -7
Up Next: Game two of the three-game set with the Reds. The Cubs will look to even the series at one game each. They’ll be looking to Hayden Wesneski to get things back on track for the pitching staff after a couple of rough games. The Reds will start right-hander Luis Cessa. Cessa made 10 starts for the Reds a year ago among 46 appearances with a 4.57 ERA. This is definitely a matchup where you really feel like the Cubs have the upper hand. Let’s see if it’s enough to get the team back in the win column.