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2023 Cubs Heroes and Goats: Game 52

Bring on the Rays! Oh dear.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Chicago Cubs David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

I do love Willie Harris action shots for my cover photo. Silly me, I had imagined a summer with a lot of them. Along with a slew of Cubs wins. I didn’t expect these moments to feel like an oasis while we are wandering around in the desert.

To be fair, I ought to be offering the classic psychologist couch for many of you. You see, I had the Cubs winning 75 games. Through Sunday’s game, they are on pace for 69 wins. A far cry short of what I had them winning. But I sympathize with all of you who had them winning 80-85 games. I know there were a lot of you. For all of you who posted somewhere on this site that you thought they’d win that many games, I offer kudos. I applaud first guessers. You stick yourself out there and you aren’t afraid to be wrong. All too many sports fans pile on after the fact about all of the things they “knew” all along. Some of them are always right. On every issue. Defies probability. You know?

So this being the place where people come to celebrate the afterglow of winning is out. So I’m back to trying to talk as many of you off of the ledge as I can. So here come the pearls of wisdom. No team is ever as good as they look when they are in a sustained winning streak. Also no team is ever as bad as they look when they are in a sustained losing streak. As much as I didn’t think this team would be very good, I have watched enough this year, I’ve digested enough baseball in my life, I can tell you that this team is much better than they’ve been these last 34 games.

It’s been 34 games since that sweep of the A’s. 34 games and 11 wins. 11 wins and 23 losses. That’s a .324 winning percentage. I always like to translate to a 162 game win total for reference. In this instance, they have played to a 52-win pace over their last 34 games. In 2021, both the Orioles and the Diamondbacks finished with 52 wins. So not completely unprecedented. But certainly not an every year occurrence.

So what made me think this team was going to win 75 games? Inertia, maybe. A thing I’ve observed through the years in professional sports is that they don’t follow anyone’s schedule for when they will break out. This was one of the reasons I wrote often as the season was winding down last year to remember that the road to the top isn’t linear. There is no standard progression. The Cubs won 71 and 74 games the last two years. One could have made a “safe” guess that they might win 77 this year.

That’s IF it were a linear progression. But it just doesn’t work that way. There isn’t any paying your dues, being due or learning to win. Those things are all things that a sportswriter or radio talk host sold you on. Oh, that isn’t to say sometimes one of those things doesn’t happen. There is sometimes an amount of learning to win. Pitchers settling into routines. Players learning to deal with the pressure of close games. There can be players learning to deal with a few extra sportswriters and radio talk show hosts hanging around.

Sometimes a team just knocks the door down. I told you the Orioles won 52 games in 2021. They won 83 the next year, finishing fourth place in what is generally the toughest division in baseball. This year, they have the second best record in baseball as the calendar gets ready to turn to June and a full third of the season has been played by many teams.

So I felt safe imagining that the Cubs wouldn’t follow the script. I’ve done this a long time. Sure, adding Dansby Swanson and Jameson Taillon felt awesome. I would have also bet that Michael Fulmer and Brad Boxberger would be leading another solid bullpen. Either a big part of a newly competitive Cubs team or at least good trade fodder as so many relievers have been in recent years.

Much has been made through the years of the Midas touch. There’s less talk about the opposite effect. Recently, everything the front offices touches turns to game thread word. This too shall pass. I want to assign everyone homework. There’s no game on Thursday. Figure out something to do to take your mind off of this. You have other hobbies. That friend you haven’t seen in a while. Take your significant other out for dinner. Go see a movie. Binge a series on one of the streaming services. Check out completely for the day.

Come back recharged this coming weekend. For better or for worse, the Cubs have more than 100 games left after this series. This team is supposed to be an escape from inflation, wars and pandemics. Bad politics, your boss, the customers who are rude, that fight you had with your spouse. We have to work together on this. We can spend the last 100 plus games ticked off.

Come back for the weekend and bring me your energy. We’re going to focus even harder on the good and dwell even less on the bad. If I have to write 1,000 words on the guy who got the only hit or the only pitcher that had a scoreless appearance, I’m going to do it. We’re going to be excited about kids getting a chance. We’re going to be excited that the future looks bright, the present be damned. Josh gets to have all of the fun, covering the part where the good things happen. But that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate the development going on.

In that vein, let’s find three positives from Sunday’s sweep completing loss.

  1. Credit where it’s due. He’s been ice cold for a while, but Patrick Wisdom drove in all five runs with a pair of homers. He also drew a walk. Seiya Suzuki has been closing in, but Wisdom still has the Cubs’ highest OPS among qualified hitters.
  2. Always hard for me not to have a three-hit game land in the top spot. But they were only singles. He scored a run. Fun with small sample sizes: Mike Tauchman has a .333/.467/.375 (wRC+ 147) in 30 plate appearances. If you are like me, you wondered what his history is with three-hit games. This was number nine and the first since April 28, 2021 for the Giants. He’s never had a four-hit game.
  3. Trey Mancini continues to take plate appearances from Matt Mervis. At least on Sunday he made the most of it with a single, a double, a walk, a run and an RBI, I know it isn’t positivity, but Matt Mervis needs to be in the lineup virtually every day. He needs a chance to break in at this level. It isn’t pretty, but we’ve got to know if the Cubs eventually need to upgrade at 1B/DH.

Game 52, May 28: Reds 8, at Cubs 5 (22-30)

Fangraphs

Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.

THREE HEROES:

  • Superhero: Patrick Wisdom (.321). 2-3, 2HR, BB, 5RBI, 2R, K
  • Hero: Mike Tauchman (.117). 3-4, R
  • Sidekick: Dansby Swanson (.099). 2-4, BB

THREE GOATS:

  • Billy Goat: Jeremiah Estrada (-.273). 3 batters, H, 2 BB
  • Goat: Nico Hoerner (-.183). 0-5, K
  • Kid: Ian Happ (-.134). 0-5, 3K

WPA Play of the Game: Patrick Wisdom batted with runners at the corners with two outs, the Cubs down two in the second. Wisdom hit the first of his two homers and gave the Cubs the lead. (.291)

*Reds Play of the Game: T.J. Friedl also batted with runners at the corners. There were two outs in the fifth inning when he doubled, still, only one run scored. I don’t know if you noticed, but the Reds scored just shy of one million runs with two outs this weekend. (.152)

Poll

Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?

This poll is closed

  • 98%
    Patrick Wisdom
    (105 votes)
  • 1%
    Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
    (2 votes)
107 votes total Vote Now

Yesterday’s Winner: Dansby Swanson (Superhero is 35-16)

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.

  • Marcus Stroman +13
  • Justin Steele +10
  • Mark Leiter Jr. +9.5
  • Dansby Swanson +7.5
  • 3 players tied with +6
  • Patrick Wisdom -7.5
  • Michael Fulmer/Trey Mancini/Jameson Taillon -10
  • Nico Hoerner -11.5

Up Next: The Cubs open a series with the Tampa Bay Rays. Tampa Bay continues to pace the league with its 39-16 record. Marcus Stroman (4-4, 2.95 in 64 innings) will try to shut down a potent offense. The Rays counter with Taj Bradley (3-1, 4.44 in 24⅓ innings). The 22-year-old righthander will be making just his sixth career start. Last time out, he allowed four runs on nine hits in four innings. He did strike out seven.