Alternative title for this piece is the good, the bad and the ugly of Christopher Morel. After all, his night largely encapsulates the night of the Cubs. The good? A three-run, game-tying homer in the fourth inning off of an excellent pitcher. For Morel, it is a six-game MLB hitting streak (all six games of his MLB season to date). Incidentally, he’s also scored in all six games. He’s homered in four of them. A jolt in the arm for an offense that has been stagnating.
The bad? He also struck out four times. That’s 10 strikeouts in 26 plate appearances. A 38.5 percent K rate might look great on a pitcher’s line. But not so much for a major league hitter. It appears that Morel has unlocked prodigious power. An elevated K rate is frustrating, but you can certainly live with it for a slugger.
I don’t know where Morel will settle out, but he has an .846 slug in the early going of his season. Earlier this year for Iowa, it was .730. Last year in Tennessee, it was .565. Last year at the MLB level if was .433. So where does it land? Between last year’s number and the one at Tennessee seems feasible. So far this year, Yan Gomes and Patrick Wisdom have maintained a SLG over .500. Cody Bellinger is hovering right in the neighborhood. Production somewhere between Bellinger and Wisdom feels possible. He feels a little more slugger than Bellinger, but maybe less extreme than Wisdom.
The ugly? Morel, a man without a natural position, started in left field. With two outs in the first, Jose Abreu hit a fly ball to left that maybe some left fielders catch. Morel was not one of them and it landed for a double. A single and another double later, it was 4-0 Astros. A touch more frustrating when you aren’t talking about a hypothetical outfielder. Cub Ian Happ was a Gold Glove outfielder just last year. There are certainly no guarantees, but one does wonder if the quirky left field in Houston was the spot to have Ian at designated hitter.
I can spout clichés with the best of them. A team is never as bad as they look when things are going bad. Just because something is happening right now, doesn’t mean it’s permanent. But underneath the clichés, I have to say this. This team isn’t good. I’m not qualifying it either. I don’t mean they weren’t good tonight. I mean they weren’t. They struck out 16 more times and they allowed six more runs.
No I’m saying, no qualifier. This team isn’t good. So I’ll circle back to what is happening now isn’t necessarily permanent. I feel confident in saying this team isn’t good. Through three innings I was prepared to recycle an old line I’ve seen. I had intended to say that the Cubs didn’t get anyone out tonight. But they made up for it by not hitting. But then the fourth inning happened and so instead of this one being a blowout, the Cubs lose another close one.
Starter Jameson Taillon was the victim of the ball that wasn’t caught in left field. A potential inning ending fly ball turns into four runs and Taillon only recorded two outs in the fifth. Four runs in less than five innings is pretty rough. Taillon wasn’t alone though. After a string of positive starts, Michael Fulmer has been touched for runs in consecutive appearances.
The last core of the Cubs received all kinds of criticism for relying all too much on the long ball and ending up being a three true outcome team. There is a trend developing for this team that is three true outcomes all right. That is, a strikeout, a walk or a single. At least that team it was a homer. This team doesn’t really hit a lot of homers. Particularly outside of one barrage of homers previously by Patrick Wisdom and the recent one of Christopher Morel, there really haven’t been all that many.
Tonight, the noted sluggers Nick Madrigal and Miles Mastrobuoni were among those struck out. Nico Hoerner can’t return soon enough. The Astros were playing Madrigal last night like the last kid in the order in a little league game. With the outfield collapsed in, it becomes even more difficult for a line drive hitter to get a hit, taking away the shallow liner that falls in. At least to some extent.
Meanwhile, Astros players were scalding the baseball all the way to the last out. Line drives and deep fly balls all over the park. They weren’t all hits, but they did collect 11 of them. And then they are another team that has just loaded up on pitchers with crazy stuff. Five Astros relievers threw an inning each. They allowed a combined one hit and one walk while striking out eight batters.
The enigma continues with this team. They looked overmatched. Like a scrimmage game between the major league club against its Triple-A affiliate. And yet, with that Morel three-run homer, they were in the game to the end. Things might get better for this team. Certainly Hoerner is a big piece of this team. The Cubs don’t have the roster strength that the Astros do. They are also without their star second baseman. But they sit at 22-19 and are hanging in a few games out of first place while they wait for key players to return from injury.
Let’s look at three positive performances.
- Dansby Swanson was the only Cub with multiple hits. He had a pair of singles and stole a base.
- Jeremiah Estrada had the look of a pitcher that didn’t really know where the ball was going when he released it. He needed six batters to record four outs. So it wasn’t a work of art. But, three of the six batters he faced were struck out. The guys who follow the prospects have been raving about his stuff. I could certainly see why.
- Adbert Alzolay was a little less flashy, but on the back of a double play ball, only needed three batters to record three outs in his inning of work.
Game 41, May 15: Astros 6, Cubs 4 (19-22)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Christopher Morel (.223). 1-5, HR, 3RBI, R, 4K
- Hero: Adbert Alzolay (.074). IP, 3 batters, H, K
- Sidekick: Brandon Hughes (.046). ⅓ IP, 1 batter
- Billy Goat: Michael Fulmer (-.297). ⅔ IP, 5 batters, 2H, BB, 2R, K (L 0-3)
- Goat: Jameson Taillon (-.196). 4⅔ IP, 21 batters, 7H, BB, 4R, K
- Kid: Seiya Suzuki (-.165). 0-4, 2K
WPA Play of the Game: Alex Bregman faced Michael Fulmer with a runner on first and two outs in a seventh inning tie game. His two-run homer crushed the Cub hopes of a come from behind win. (.336)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Christopher Morel batted with runners on first and second with two outs. The Cubs were down three and Morel tied it with one swing. (.283)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Jeremiah Estrada (1 ⅓ IP, 6 batters, H, BB, 3K)
Dansby Swanson (2-4, SB)
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Winner: Christopher Morel by two votes over Keegan Thompson (Superhero is 27-13)
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 +13
- Ian Happ +11
- Mark Leiter Jr. +9.5
- Marcus Stroman +8
- Keegan Thompson +7
- Michael Rucker -5
- Nico Hoerner -6.5
- Michael Fulmer/Jameson Taillon -7
- Trey Mancini -8
Up Next: Game two of the three-game set in Houston. Justin Steele (6-0, 1.82, 49⅓ IP) will start for the Cubs. Steele continues to be among the game’s best pitchers, but he’ll have a talk task trying to tame these Astros hitters. He’s won his last two starts, allowing four runs over 13 innings.
The Astros will have Cristian Javier (3-1, 3.47, 46⅔ IP) on the mound. The 26-year-old right hander out of the Dominican Republic will be making his 53rd career start and has a career ERA of 3.10 in 351 total innings. He’s a tough opponent.