I can’t speak for the rest of the people who write about and blog about baseball, but nothing brings me more joy then when I make a “negative” point and the next game makes me look silly. I am a fan first. I want the Cubs to win way more than I want to look like the smartest guy in the room. I go down some rabbit holes. Some of them are dead ends and some of them bring about some decent analysis.
If I had a thesis yesterday, it would have been that with the Cubs’ talent level, they should a) win a larger share of the games when they score four runs and b) win a larger share of games when they allow three runs. They are good enough at scoring and good enough at run prevention to be above average in both spots. So it is with great delight that I’m blogging about them winning a game where they scored four runs. If they want to win 6-3 tomorrow, and net one in each column, I’ll certainly take it.
Of course, the larger picture is that anyone who is analyzing the Cubs is looking at their records in games decided by one and two runs. They are 2-11 in one-run games and haven’t won one of those since April 16. In two run games, the Cubs are now 3-5 in two-run games. Naturally, all of that tracks with a bullpen that hasn’t been dependable. One of the most dependable ways to “steal” a game in modern baseball is with a dominant bullpen. Conversely, one of the easiest way to bobble away a game is with a poor bullpen.
Certainly, none of that is news. The Cubs went so far as to publicly acknowledge that the bullpen has been a disappointment. It’s probably at least a little arbitrary, but the Cubs bullpen has surrendered no runs over five innings since that public comment. There weren’t any major personnel changes and the one that was made was due to illness and not performance. So it isn’t like there has been a great change. Can these two games be the start of a little mental transformation? Confidence can be an incredible boost to performance, so I wouldn’t say that it can’t be a boost in the right direction.
Of course, the two best ways to support your bullpen are scoring a lot of runs and having your starter go deep. They accomplished one Tuesday and the other Wednesday. So that’s going to lead right into my first positive performance. Clearly, the top spot goes to Marcus Stroman, who did everything one could ask him to do. He was efficient and effective with his pitches. He limited the damage and he contributed defensively. This was a top-tier performance. It was his league-leading ninth quality start, his second straight win and the record is at 4-4. His ERA dips to 2.95. Steele is the headline grabber, but Stroman and Drew Smyly have been terrific. Teams win with three dominant starters.
I like Mike Tauchman for the second spot He and Ian Happ were the only two Cubs with two hits. Tauchman had an RBI as well. He’s hitting .364 over his first 14 plate appearances and has a wRC+ of 174. When you are “a guy” and not part of the core of the team, you look for places to contribute. So far so good. The roster will get tight as people get healthy. All you can do is try to make the decision hard to send you back. Getting to do this for a team he grew up a fan of? Priceless, no doubt.
Give me Nico Hoerner for the third spot. The conditions weren’t really conducive to a lot of offense, but he found a way to get one out of the park. He also drew a walk as part of the early patient approach of the Cubs. He scored both times — 27 runs scored in 40 games this year. His injury could make it tight for a bid for 100 runs. But there’s lots of baseball in warm weather ahead.
- Miles Mastrobuoni - I rolled my eyes at him batting second, but he was part of that patient approach, drawing two walks.
- Ian Happ two hits.
- Seiya Suzuki stays hot with a double, an RBI, a run and a walk.
- Christopher Morel was quiet, but extends his hitting streak to 13 games.
- Mark Leiter Jr., three up and three down for his second save in two tries. His strikeout of Francisco Lindor is one for the scrapbook.
Game 48, May 24: Cubs 4, Mets 2 (22-26)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Marcus Stroman (.270). 8IP, 27 batters, 4H, 2BB, 2R, 3K (W 4-4)
- Hero: Mike Tauchman (.132). 2-4, RBI, 2K
- Sidekick: Seiya Suzuki (.103). 1-3, 2B, BB, RBI, R
- Billy Goat: Miles Mastrobuoni (-.078). 0-3, 2BB
- Goat: Christopher Morel (-.065). 1-4, 2K
- Kid: Tucker Barnhart (-.023). 0-3, BB, K
WPA Play of the Game: With a runner on first and one out in the third inning, Francisco Alvarez went deep driving in the first two runs of the game. (.198)
*Cubs Play of the Game: With runners on first and third in the eighth inning, there was one out and Alvarez stepped in again against Stroman, the Cubs now leading by two. Stroman coaxed a ground ball to short and the Cubs turned two to get Marcus through the eighth inning unscathed. (.176)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Winner: Matt Mervis (Superhero is 32-15
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/Marcus Stroman +13
- 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 look for their second sweep of the year and first at home. The Cubs welcome back Kyle Hendricks. Kyle has a career record of 87-61 with a 3.46 ERA in 1,312⅔ innings. Of course, it’s easy to suggest those stats are misleading. Kyle has pitched to a 4.77 and a 4.80 ERA the last two seasons, covering 48 starts. That’s a lot of work with an ERA more than a full point higher than that career norm. That said, on August 6, 2021, he was 13-4 with a 3.68 ERA. His FIP was almost a full run higher, but FIP hasn’t always adored Kyle.
The promising thing is that Kyle said he feels good after five starts for Iowa this year. Kyle hadn’t been there since 2014 and surely imagined he’d never be back. But there he was compiling a 2-1 record and a 5.75 ERA. The last three of those starts were very good. What can we discern from results against Triple-A players? Not a ton. But the lines over those last three games looked like vintage Kyle.
We know that he worked with the Cubs in the offseason and then worked on a deliberate build up program aiming for here and now. He got Cy Young cotes as recently as 2020. He has a mountain of useful information. I’m prepared to give him a chance to see if he can recapture some past glory. There is no longer pressure to anchor the rotation. Can he be an effective fourth starter? Can he be a guy who’s effective twice through the order? I’m not betting against him.
The Mets start Carlos Carrasco. A scary name from the past in his own right. An owner of a 104-87 and 3.93 ERA career record over 287 games and 1,466⅔ innings. It’s a body of work without the pinnacle of a World Series championship, but that otherwise eclipses Hendricks. And he was very good for the Mets last year at 15-7 and 3.97 in 152 innings. But this year has been rough. He was knocked around in his first two starts this year and went on the injured list after the third. He’s made one start since returning, against the Guardians last Friday. He allowed five earned runs in only five innings. The result? He’s 0-2 with an 8.68 ERA so far.
The Cubs have seen a few of these formerly top and second tier pitchers who are struggling in 2023. The results haven’t been great. But maybe this 36-year-old right hander just doesn’t have much left in the tank. Or maybe he can figure it out in June.