Time for me to flip the script and change my equation. Normally, I start you with Tom’s rant and then circle back to three positives. I’m going to reverse that today. The simple reason is that the things that were good in this game outweigh my bigger picture look. So let’s get right at the positives.
- Matt Mervis had a huge day at the plate. A two-run homer, an RBI single, a walk, a pair of runs scored and the one out looked to me to be struck fairly well with just a bit too much carry to reach the centerfielder instead of dropping in for a third hit. This is the kind of game that feels like Matt is settling in. Let’s hope. If he can provide the kind of production that he did through the minor league system, it provides a bit more pop to the lineup and makes it a bit more formidable.
- Jeremiah Estrada was thrown into a really rough spot. He inherited the bases loaded with no outs. The Cubs had a nice cushion, but that was the kind of situation that could really have gotten the Mets back into the game. He retired all three batters he faced, allowing just one inherited runner to score. The kids need to see leverage opportunities and not just pick up innings in lopsided games. That was a big performance. Hopefully, he has earned another spot in a bigger situation.
- Drew Smyly gets my third spot despite a host of candidates for that position. Drew wasn’t as sharp as he’s been at times this year. And yet, five innings, four hits, two walks, two runs, five strikeouts. He’s somewhat quietly having a fantastic season.
- Seiya Suzuki continued his power surge with an early homer. With his sixth homer, his line is up to .283/.370/.496 (wRC+ 135). Talk about lengthening the lineup!
- Christopher Morel had a walk and came around to score. Oh yeah, and hit his ninth homer in 12 games. Obligatory reminder, that’s a 12 game hitting streak and 12 games with a run scored. If I recall, that ties a modern Cubs record. Five straight with a homer, that ties the team record. One of four players ever with nine homers in their first 12 games of a season. Last Cub with a stretch like that at any time: Aramis Ramirez. Everyone who writes about the Cubs currently has to have an obligatory Morel paragraph every day until further notice.
- Mike Tauchman with a double, a walk and a run scored as he continues to fill in for the injured Cody Bellinger, who isn’t swinging a bat yet.
- Mark Leiter Jr. with a big strikeout as he inherited two runners against a tough hitter to strikeout in Jeff McNeil. He then stuck around for a tidy eighth inning, slamming the door on this one.
- Virtually no leverage, but Michael Fulmer strikes out one in a scoreless ninth. All effective innings by relievers are a story right now for this team.
So here’s my rant. I’ve said it before, these aren’t the games that are going to win me over as a Cub fan. This feels like about the third time they’ve had what could feel like a statement game for them. Only these games aren’t the statement. There is a weird phenomenon with this team wherein they are really good at piling on. I remember back in the day Sammy Sosa was accused of piling on all of his numbers in games that were lopsided one way or the other. (I assure you that if you dissect Sammy’s career, that statement is patently false.)
The Cubs expected win loss, their statistics with runners in scoring percentage, basically all of their numbers are propped up by the lopsided games. I study the statistics of baseball, so I can’t dismiss the simple equation that teams that tend to allow few runs win baseball games. Teams that score a lot of runs tend to win a lot of baseball games. Teams that excel in both categories are elite and often make deep runs in the playoffs. This Cubs team tends to be in the upper tier of both of those measures. The Cubs are either a bad team that occasionally puts together a strong performance or they are a maddeningly inconsistent team that has a chance to be very good. If you are being honest, you aren’t sure which one.
So today is the day to lay out the stats on scoring and preventing runs. When the Cubs score five or more runs, they are 14-4 (at four, they are 18-8). 18 times in 47 games, more than a third of the time they’ve been high scoring and they win 77.7 percent of the time. When the Cubs allow two runs or fewer, they are 17-3. That’s over 40 percent of the time they are allowing two or less and winning at 85 percent.
Let’s be clear on this. Teams that score that many runs that consistently tend to be very good teams. Teams that are that good at shutting down the other team tend to be very good. This is why your favorite Cubs writer/blogger keeps suggesting that all of the indicators say this team is much better than its results to date. Basically, either this team should stop having such outrageous performance because they aren’t yet a good team. Or, they are in fact a good team that has woefully underperformed as a whole.
Those flip side numbers are garish. When the Cubs fail to score at least four runs, they are 3-17. They are losing 85 percent of the time in these situations. Don’t get me wrong, most teams are bad in games where they score three or less. But the number of games in this category is fairly high for a “good” team at this point. The other number is terrifying. When the Cubs allow more than two runs they are 4-23. This is extremely reflective of the strong work by the Cubs starters and a full indictment of the work of the bullpen.
At the equivalent of a quality start, applied to the whole game, with three runs allowed, the Cubs are 1-3. 1-3 at each of four and five runs allowed. 15 times they’ve allowed more than five runs and they have one win. Again, at the extremes, most teams are terrible. The issue is the number of games. In almost a third of their games, the Cubs have allowed more than five runs and essentially have no chance to win.
It’s a razor-thin margin to have to allow two runs or fewer to feel like you can win a ball game. And needing five runs to win is a high bar. The last time I spent time looking at these numbers, normal was about four runs or more for the offense and three runs or less for the pitching staff. The Cubs have to start grabbing some of those middling games. That’s what is missing from their record. Thus the question: Is the putrid record in one and two run games a short run fluke or is it indicative of some combination of flaws between the roster makeup and the decision making?
We turn our attention to the Heroes and Goats from the homecoming win.
Game 47, May 23: Cubs 7, Mets 2 (21-26)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Matt Mervis (.194). 2-3, HR, BB, 3RBI, 2R
- Hero: Jeremiah Estrada (.106). IP, 3 batters
- Sidekick: Seiya Suzuki (.096). 1-4, HR, BB, RBI, R, K
- Billy Goat: Patrick Wisdom (-.084). 0-4, 4K
- Goat: Nico Hoerner (-.028). 1-5
- Kid: Ian Happ (-.015). 0-3, 2BB, 2K
WPA Play of the Game: The Cubs were already up two when Matt Mervis stepped to the plate in the second inning with a runner on first and two outs. He struck his second homer of the season and the rout was on. (.135)
*Mets Play of the Game: Brandon Nimmo started the game well for the Mets with a rulebook double. That was the high water mark for the Mets in the game with a 56 percent chance of winning right then. (.060)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Christopher Morel (1-3, HR, BB, RBI, 2R)
Mark Leiter Jr. (1⅓ IP, 4 batters, 2K)
Drew Smyly (5 IP, 21 batters, 4H, 2BB, 2R, 5K, W)
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Sunday’s Winner: Justin Steele (Superhero is 31-15)
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
- Marcus Stroman +10
- Mark Leiter Jr. +9.5
- Ian Happ +7
- Drew Smyly +6
- Michael Fulmer -7
- Trey Mancini -8
- Jameson Taillon -10
- Patrick Wisdom/Nico Hoerner -10.5
Up Next: The Cubs will look for a second straight night. Marcus Stroman (3-4, 3.05, 56 IP) will start for the Cubs. Marcus has notched eight quality starts out of his first 10 starts. Last time out, he finally picked up his third win after allowing one run over six innings in Philadelphia. Marcus is trending a little the wrong way as over his last seven starts, he has 4.03 ERA. Let’s see if he can make it back-to-back strong starts.
Kodai Senga was pushed back a day to start this one. As noted previously:
The Mets will have 30-year-old right hander Kodai Senga on the mound. Senga is 4-2 with a 3.77 in eight starts and 43 innings. Last time out, he held the Rays to just three hits, three walks and one run over six innings. He struck out 12. Senga is an MLB rookie after a successful career in Japan. He’s got a little bit of a walk issue (26 in those 43 innings), but has been fantastic at striking out hitters (55). The Cubs will have to be patient, but understand there will probably be a ton of strikeouts.