Game thread word. Game thread word. Game thread word.
I’m not sure that accurately sums it up. I’m glad I don’t have the job of recapping this one. But holy cow, when you pull the lens back from the close up shot, the wide angle ain’t pretty either. That the Cubs once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory comes as no great surprise to a fandom used to disappointment. But even as someone who thought this team was only going to win about 75 games, I’m stunned at how bad this team is right now.
I am getting tired of reading from many of the prime voices of Cubs Twitter that the Cubs are a good team underperforming. I don’t know how this team can be framed that way. Nothing is ever permanent and things can definitely turn around. But this team is a bad team that overperformed in April. And it overperformed despite a roster that everyone following the team knew was patched together with beer goggles or a whole lot of wishful thinking.
This team was put together with no viable depth. Who knows if that might have been different earlier in the season if the team had opted for players like Christopher Morel, Matt Mervis and Nelson Velázquez. Instead they opted for the ghost of Eric Hosmer and two players in Edwin Rios and Luis Torrens who, even if they were talented, the organization never felt comfortable enough to give them any meaningful playing time.
Then they balanced the lack of offensive depth with the lack of any proven reliever. To be fair, this exact strategy has worked over and over for this front office. They stack the big league team and Iowa with a number of retread major leaguers and some waiver wire pickups with great stuff looking to harness it. The recent vintage has added some organizational prospects. Without any question, this organization has been good at doing this.
But if you roll the dice over and over again, you eventually roll craps. Can they still pull this together? Maybe. But none of the experienced guys appear to be any good at this. And everyone who has pitched in high leverage situations has buckled under the job. This is vaguely reminiscent of the leadoff spot between the time Dexter Fowler left and Nico Hoerner taking over the spot. That is, a lot of guys try it. A few have occasional success, but ultimately none of them appear able to rise to the occasion.
Of course, 43 games is not an enormous sample size. But this team has given away at least half a dozen games already this season. With different choices would they all be wins? We can’t know. Sequencing changes and can have a profound effect. But David Ross is on a jaw dropping run of every decision he makes in tight ballgames fails. The law of averages would suggest you’d occasionally be right.
With the loss tonight, the Cubs are 2-9 in one-run games. They are also 2-5 in two-run games. A strong bullpen is the surest way to stealing close games. Having a deep bench that might give you the advantage in a game late can help too. Both of those things are useful if you aren’t the defending world champions and loaded with talent on both sides of the equation. Even there, the Astros used one pinch hitter in this game. He drew the walk that finished the night of Keegan Thompson.
This sucks. I’m tired of excuses for poor play. There is still way too much deadweight on this team and there doesn’t see to be any quick and easy way to fix it.
Who’s sense of humor created this schedule? The Cubs get an off day Thursday as they travel to Philadelphia to face the other team in the World Series. I mean, this is comical. Maybe they should do it to every team. The World Series challenge. After that series, there are homes series with the Mets, Reds and Rays. Amusingly enough, the Phillies and Mets are both under .500. But the Cubs have now helped what ailed the Cardinals and the Astros. Maybe the two NL East teams are next? For the record, if you have a friend who is a Cardinals fan and you tap danced on the grave of the Cardinals, know that they are now only 1½ games behind the Cubs. Odds are they will finish a long way ahead of the Cubs. Again.
Rant over. For now. Let’s talk about some positives in a game that actually had some.
- Hopefully you’ve read about Seiya Suzuki’s incredible accomplishments. Homers in consecutive at bats is some pretty rare air. Reaching base five times is a different and also fabulous accomplishment. For everyone who was ready to give up Seiya after a rough start, he now has a line of .286/.372/.491 (wRC+ 135). If Morel is emerging as the most productive player on this team, Seiya is bidding for the second spot.
- Speaking of Morel, he had three hits and a walk in six plate appearances. One of the hits was a homer. He now has five of them across his first eight games of the season. He’s entering some record books as well with his blazing start. That’s eight games with at least one hit and eight games with at least one run. Sure, he struck out once and now has 14 strikeouts in only 36 plate appearances. But also 10 runs driven in on a team struggling to score runs consistently. If you were part of the decision to keep Morel off of this team, you are in a painfully difficult spot. The more he dominates, the stupider you look. So what, you either take the L or you root against your team’s hottest player. For the video game craziness of it, Morel’s line is .371/.389/.857 (wRC+ 233). He has a slug higher than all of his teammates except Patrick Wisdom and Ian Happ have OPS.
- Arguably, I’ve done Drew Smyly a disservice by placing him down here. Drew should have picked up a win for allowing four hits, no walks and one run against a very talented offensive team in six innings of work. I just can’t bring myself to start the conversation of players who might have value in trades come July.
Game 43, May 17: Astros 7, Cubs 6 (19-24)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Seiya Suzuki (.191). 3-3, 2HR, 2BB, 3RBI, 2R
- Hero: Drew Smyly (.123). 6IP, 22 batters, 4H, R, 8K
- Sidekick: Dansby Swanson (.097). 1-6, 3B, RBI, R, K
- Billy Goat: Brandon Hughes (-.674). ⅓ IP, 4 batters, 2H, BB, R (L 0-2)
*This is the second-largest negative WPA score of the year for the Cubs.
- Goat: Keegan Thompson (-.288). 3 batters, 2H, BB, 3R
- Kid: Patrick Wisdom (-.033). 1-5, 2B, 3K
WPA Play of the Game: Kyle Tucker faced Brandon Hughes with the bases loaded and one out, the Astros down one in the bottom of the ninth. On a two-strike pitch, he looped a ball into centerfield and two runs scored to walk it off for the Astros. (.469)
*Cubs Play of the Game: One batter earlier, Yordan Alvarez grounded to Miles Mastrobuoni who threw home to get the first out of the inning. (.206)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Christopher Morel (3-5, HR, BB, RBI, 2R)
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Winner: Matt Mervis (Superhero is 29-13)
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.
- Ian Happ +11
- Justin Steele +10
- Mark Leiter Jr. +9.5
- Marcus Stroman +8
- Drew Smyly +6
- Michael Rucker/Nick Madrigal -5
- Nico Hoerner -6.5
- Michael Fulmer/Jameson Taillon -7
- Trey Mancini -8
Up Next: As noted above, the Cubs have an off day Thursday. They then travel to Philadelphia to face the Phillies in a three-game weekend series. The Phillies sit at 20-23. Marcus Stroman starts for the Cubs. The Cubs righty is 2-4 despite a 3.24 ERA in 50 innings of work. Last time out he was shelled by the Twins, allowing six runs while recording only eight outs. I know pitcher wins aren’t a great stat, but Stroman hasn’t won since April 7 when he made his second start of the season.
The Phillies will have left Ranger Suarez making just his second start of the season. The last one was four innings of work in Colorado. He allowed three runs on seven hits and a walk. He has 113 lifetime appearances, 45 of them starts, and he has a 3.18 career ERA. The Cubs are 8-5 against lefties in one of the few remaining splits that remains positive for the team.