Small personal accomplishment: I bowled a 530 series Friday night. That’s the highest series I’ve had since my fusion in September. I bowled a 543 the week before the surgery and so I guess I feel like I’m almost all of the way back. After taking off the fall and bowling one league in the spring, I’m back to two for the summer. Baby steps and progress!
And this came at a time when I don’t really need a paragraph of filler. While I was getting into a pretty good rhythm Friday night, so were the Cubs. And they did it on both sides of the ball. I’m not going to be obtuse about it. This was a strong game with a lot of good things, things that can be built on and lead this team forward.
At the same time, I’m not ready to throw a parade. I felt this way a few weeks ago when they Cubs came home after a disastrously bad road trip to Miami and Washington with a solid win. Over the first 44 games of the season, the Cubs are like a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde team. They can look so good at times and so bad at others.
The story is well known by now. The starting pitching has been fantastic. Teams that have starting pitching as good as what the Cubs have featured to date are generally playoff teams. There have been a couple of clunkers over the last week or so. but by and large the most dependable part of this Cubs team has been their starting pitching.
After that, it gets more and more dicey. The offense has been statistically one of the best in baseball. Interestingly much of that was put up before Christopher Morel joined the team. He has been hands down the best player on the team since he joined it 10 days ago. Of course, some of that is offset by the torrid April of Patrick Wisdom. Wisdom has fallen off in May and not long after, Morel arrived.
But the offense has been maddeningly inconsistent. The old habits of striking out all too often and struggling with runners on base have reared their head increasingly. Amusingly, when you sort out the numbers, the Cubs are 12th in total team strikeouts, not all that much higher than league average. Even though it feels like they’ve grounded into a million double plays, they’ve actually been below average at that.
It has certainly been frustrating to watch the offense be so good one night and come up empty the next. Still, they have legitimately been one of the top 10 offenses in baseball. Even with the inconsistency, you can live with the work being done by the lineup.
The real frustrating things for this team are the performance in high leverage situations. When you search splits on Baseball Reference, you can find a statistic called Clutch and another called cClutch. I’ve not studied the methodology to have any impression on the effectiveness of the stat. But I don’t imagine anyone here is going to fall over in shock that the Cubs stand last in both (and I have little doubt that the two measures more or less measure the same thing with a little different methodology). Actually, my impression is that the Cubs are an extreme outlier for the statistic. For what it’s worth, in that eye it is even more impressive that the Cubs remain one of the highest scoring teams.
Of course, we know exactly why that is. The Cubs have scored in bunches and they’ve had a lot of high scoring games. This is already their eighth double-digit scoring game. They have an eight and five sixes in addition. So the combination of relaxing at the plate and perhaps seeing a lot of “B” team relievers has led to some stratified results (though this team has not been shutout yet).
On the other side of the ball, the Cubs relievers. For what it’s worth, those Clutch and cClutch numbers show up again. Once again, the Cubs find themselves near the bottom. They are 29th in both, ahead of only the Cardinals. The Cubs are 22nd in reliever ERA. They are 29th in saves (though in fairness, 30th in opportunities). Their bullpen has 13 losses, most in baseball.
Interestingly, the overall WHIP is 12th at 1.26 and the opponent batting average is 14th at .234. So the overall reliever numbers aren’t horrible. Certainly Mark Leiter Jr. has helped to prop these numbers. But, using MLB.com and their definition of late/close, in those situations the Cubs drop to 1.56 and .291. The WHIP is 22nd and the opponent batting average is 29th.
Put another way, the Cubs check in with the highest team OPS when the team is ahead and the second lowest team batting average. This team is fantastic when ahead. So you’ll pardon me if I don’t fall head over heels for this team when they jump out to a lead and keep it. Granted, that Wednesday game was a gut punch. But that’s more the exception than the rule. This team usually just keeps pouring on.
This team needs to learn how to battle through the competitive games. They can’t run with the big boys until they do. Let’s look at three positives from this one.
- Nico Hoerner checks in to the top spot. He had three hits and drove in four runs. In case you haven’t picked up on the oddity yet, Nico moves into the team lead in RBI (tied with Patrick Wisdom), despite spending 10 days on the injured list. Two of his four hits were doubles. Welcome back. We certainly missed you.
- Marcus Stroman hadn’t won since April 7. Glad to see that put to rest. Six innings, three hits, two walks, one run. He struck out four. There were games in that stretch that he probably should have won. This time he got it done. He picked up his eighth quality start to move into the major league lead.
- Julian Merryweather faced six batters and retired all six. He struck out two. So he had that garish first appearance against the Brewers. Since then? 16 games, 17 innings, 13 hits, four walks, five runs, 18 strikeouts. Of course, the Cubs are 5-11 in those 16 games. he has been one of those “B” team relievers. He gets some work here in a lopsided win and he does excellent with it.
- Today I’m going four deep. Why? Because I’m gonna just keep banging the Christopher Morel drum. He homered for the sixth time in nine games. That moves him into a tie for third on the team. He will catch Cody Bellinger for the second spot before Cody returns. With the homer, Morel has had a hit and scored a run in every game. He has 12 RBI and 12 runs in nine games. That would be a pace for 216 RBI and runs over 162 games. Clearly, it can’t last, but this is an amazing run. HIs BA dropped to .359, his OBP rose to .390 and SLG up to .872. That’s a wRC+ of 234.
Game 44, May 19: Cubs 10, at Phillies 1 (20-24)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Nick Madrigal (.129). 2-4, BB, 2RBI, 2R, K
- Hero: Marcus Stroman (.111). 6IP, 24 batters, 3H, 2BB, R, 4K (W 3-4)
- Sidekick: Christopher Morel (.104). 1-4, HR, BB, 2RBI, 3R, K
- Billy Goat: Patrick Wisdom (-.068). 0-2, 2K
- Goat: Matt Mervis (-.030). 0-2, BB, R, 2K
- Kid: Ian Happ (-.024). 1-4, HBP, 3K
WPA Play of the Game: With the bases loaded and no outs in the second inning, the Cubs trailed 1-0 when Nick Madrigal delivered a two-run single. (.141)
*Phillies Play of the Game: Bryce Harper had a one out double with a runner on first in the first inning. (.082)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Nico Hoerner (3-6, 2-2B, 4RBI)
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Wednesday’s Winner: Seiya Suzuki (Superhero is 30-13)
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/Justin Steele/Marcus Stroman +10
- Mark Leiter Jr. +9.5
- Marcus Stroman +8
- Drew Smyly +6
- Nico Hoerner -6.5
- Michael Fulmer/Jameson Taillon -7
- Patrick Wisdom -7.5
- Trey Mancini -8
Up Next: Game two of a three-game set. Jameson will make his seventh start of the year seeking his first Cubs win. He has a 6.66 ERA over 24⅓ innings. He almost made it five innings in his last start, coming one out short. He did allow four runs. They were all earned because there is no error charged on a ball misplayed in left field that would have avoided all of the damage.
On the other side, veteran right hander Aaron Nola (3-3, 4.53, 55⅔ IP) will start. Nola is coming off of a loss in Colorado last Sunday. He pitched seven innings in that one, but allowed four runs. Nola hasn’t been totally dominant since 2018. But, he did have a 3.25 ERA last year in 205 innings for a Phillies team that reached the World Series. In the early going his strikeouts per nine innings pitched is a little over three lower than where it sits. Paired with that, he’s allowing a little more homers than he has. Long story short, in the early going Nola hasn’t been quite as impactful as we historically expect. Still, at 29, there is no reason to believe he’s washed up. Let’s hope he doesn’t find himself until after the Cubs leave town.