It certainly isn’t a new phenomenon that good pitching is contagious. This has been observed as long as I’ve watched baseball. In reality, there are surely some good explanations that go with it. Some really good scouting/game planning against a particular team, catching a team at just the right time, or just being a particularly good matchup. Those are some possible explanations. Whatever the case, the Cubs have allowed one run over the first 18 innings against the Rays. If they’d have allowed even one more run in either game, the game would have at least seen the bottom of the ninth and possibly extra innings.
This is what winning looks like to the Cubs. Heading into Tuesday night’s game, the Cubs sported a 1.57 ERA in their wins stemming from a .492 OPS allowed. Surely that number is buoyed by a BABIP of .201. That isn’t to suggest that they are getting lucky in those games, though all of those numbers are exceptional. When things are going good, the Cubs are inducing a lot of weak contact.
For comparison, they have pitched to a 10.38 ERA with a 1.051 opponent OPS in losses. That BABIP sits at .404. Those numbers are strikingly dissimilar. Is some of that intuitive? Of course, this is one of the most cherry picked splits you’ll ever fine. That is, how did things look when things were going right and how do they look when they are going badly.
I think it would be shocking if there weren’t a fair bit of difference between these numbers. Still, is this a bit outlandish? Strangely, not quite as outlandish as I would have guessed. Across all major league teams, ERA is 1.87 in wins, 8.48 in losses. OPS is .547 in wins and .970 in losses. So, the Cubs have been a bit better in their wins and a bit worse in their losses than league average.
I did some further digging and these trends are consistent across the years. The biggest change is that the difference between the two numbers has been increasing through the years. Going back to 1969, the difference in OPS was only about .300 points between wins and losses. The ERA is less than a full 5 point gap. Going all of the way to 1927 sees an OPS gap of about .250 and an ERA difference less than a full four-point gap.
We escape from the rabbit hole, finding that this isn’t an unusual phenomenon. We’d expect a disparity between the wins and the losses, but over time this trend is more and more extreme. This isn’t unique to the Cubs, though it is a bit more acute for the Cubs than league average. Just for kicks, let’s look across the diamond. The Rays have allowed a .523 OPS in wins and .975 in losses. An ERA of 1.79 in wins and 8.94 in losses. So the Cubs have been a bit better in their wins than the baseline and a bit worse in the losses.
So what does any of this say? I think more than anything, it says what we know about the pitching. When they are on, they are on. When they are off, they are off. The Cubs only have four wins in games where they have allowed more than two runs. The starters are setting the tone and the game pretty well follows. Counting tonight’s win, the Cubs are 20-3 when allowing two or fewer runs and 4-27 when they allow more. That’s a really thin margin of error.
And yet, the pitching has been more capable of it than not. 23 games already of two or fewer is very good. For comparison, the Rays are now 20-4 in those two or fewer runs allowed games. But they are 19-14 in those other games. That is carried a bit by a 7-1 record in games where they have allowed three and 3-1 at four runs allowed. As the best team early on, the Rays have a winning record all of the way up to five runs allowed. Oddly, they are 4-0 when they allow seven runs and 1-0 when they allow 10. So there are some quirks and oddities in their numbers.
What’s behind that? A really potent offense. This was just the 13th time they’ve been held to two or fewer. The Cubs own two of those, so kudos to the pitchers, coaches and scouts involved in the effort for these two games. At every level of runs scored three or better, the Rays have a ,500 or better record.
Let’s turn our attention to the results of this game. First, we look at the three top performances in this one.
- Adbert Alzolay gets the top spot. Tampa Bay is a high-scoring team. Alzolay faced six hitters and retired them all. Adbert remains an intriguing leverage reliever. Tonight he was on and he was amped up. He struck out four of the six batters he faced.
- Mike Tauchman had a pair of singles, one drove in a run, and he also walked. He is making quite the case to hang around with this team even after Cody Bellinger returns. If he could sustain some of this production, he has a .345/.459/.379 (wRC+ 141) line over 37 plate appearances now. The power has been intermittent across a career that spans only 704 plate appearances. He did have a 13-homer season with the Yankees in 2019 that looks an awful lot like an aberration.
- Ian Happ had been struggling a bit lately. But Tuesday night he had a single, a double, a walk and a run scored. I think the Cubs best deployment at the top of the order might be Happ/Dansby Swanson/Seiya Suzuki in the top three spots. The trick for this team is getting more consistent production out of the other six spots in the lineup.
Game 54, May 30: Cubs 2, Rays 1 (24-30)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Adbert Alzolay (.279). 2IP, 6 batters, 4K
- Hero: Mike Tauchman (.178). 2-3, BB, RBI
- Sidekick: Kyle Hendricks (.141). 5IP, 22 batters, 6H, 3BB, R, 3K
- Billy Goat: Trey Mancini (-.171). 0-4, 2K, DP
- Goat: Patrick Wisdom (-.116). 0-4
- Kid: Yan Gomes (-.068). 0-3, 2K
WPA Play of the Game: With the game tied in the sixth inning, Mike Tauchman batted with a runner on third and two outs. He came through with an RBI single and provided the margin of victory. (.159)
*Rays Play of the Game: With runners on first and second with two outs in the fifth, the Cubs were up one when Randy Arozarena faced Kyle Hendricks. He singled, tying the game. (.142)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Ian Happ (2-3, 2B, BB, R)
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Winner: Marcus Stroman — 196 out of 197 votes (Superhero is 37-16)
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 +16
- Justin Steele +10
- Mark Leiter Jr. +9.5
- Dansby Swanson +8.5
- Mike Tauchman +8
- Patrick Wisdom -9.5
- Michael Fulmer/Jameson Taillon -10
- Nico Hoerner -11.5
- Trey Mancini -13
Up Next: Amazingly, the Cubs go for a three game sweep of the Rays. That would bring them to five wins on this homestand. The Cubs will send Justin Steele (6-2, 2.77, 65 IP) to the mound. The lefty is coming off of a rough start last time, allowing five runs in 3⅔ innings and taking the loss. He’s lost two of his last three starts and has allowed 10 runs in 15⅔ innings. He’ll be looking to get back on track and put those rough starts behind him.
The Rays send Zach Eflin (7-1, 3.17, 54 IP) to the hill. The 29-year-old out of Orlando, Florida was originally selected by the Padres with the 33rd overall pick in 2012. Elfin has won each of his last three starts, throwing at least six innings in each game, a total of 20 innings. He’s allowed eight runs over that time. So he is not untouchable. Many of the Cubs are, of course, familiar with Eflin from his time with the Phillies from 2016 to 2022. During that time, Elfin made 115 starts and 127 overall appearances.