Unless you happen to be born into a fandom for one of the best of the best franchises (see Yankees, Canadiens, Celtics, Lakers, Patriots), being a sports fan is hard. Winning seasons are no guarantee to begin with. So winning any individual game is far from a given. Particularly if you are a baseball fan where winning even 60 percent of the time is fairly elite. Right now, as of May 7, Fangraphs projects two MLB teams to win 60 percent of their games (Rays, Braves). In fact, the next two teams are seven games worse at just under 56 percent of their games (Blue Jays, Dodgers). As a side note, if you had the Rays and Blue Jays in an exacta bet, you are looking surprisingly good.
Those numbers tell us that yes indeed Mr. Meatloaf, two out of three ain’t bad. Even if the meatloaf you were just served is over cooked and served with no red sauce topping at all. As a side note, if you aren’t topping your meatloaf with some red sauce topper, you are doing it wrong. From ketchup, to tomato paste, to barbecue sauce, that should be the hero of your dish.
This Sunday game is definitely some shoe leathery meatloaf. I think losing two out of three was fairly palatable when the reigning Cy Young just shoved on you and threw one of the better pitched games of the 2023 season. Player gonna play. But once you score two in the ninth on him, you feel like the sweep is there for the taking.
Alas, the Cubs left a runner on second in the ninth. Then allowed a run in the tenth. Then scored to tie it. Then left runners on second and third with the team’s two best hitters. Then they left runners at first and third in the 11th (after having second and third with one out). Then they left a runner on third in the 12th. They allowed a run in the 13th, but tied it in the bottom of the inning. They left runners on first and second. Then Adbert Alzolay committed a balk with a runner on third.
What? They called a balk? He must have done something really obvious, right? I never want to over-represent anything. I umpired for several years. Like many good decisions I made early in life, I did it for a while, turned out to be pretty good at it and then quit doing it. My boss did a lot of HS work in many of the major north suburban leagues. Just as he was pulling me in that direction, I walked away. Even as someone who caught, I flinched too much on really good pitching. Anyway, I feel like I know the rule book pretty well. I have no idea what Alzolay did.
I frankly don’t care what the explanation was. You can’t call a balk in that spot. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s a game in May. If either of these teams miss the playoffs by one game, they should have done more. I know the players and the teams don’t love marathon games. That is without doubt the driving reason behind the automatic runner. A tie, a coin flip, a game of rock-paper-scissors and a longest drive contest are all better ways to end a game than one of the more obscure rules in baseball being the deciding play.
Make me baseball commissioner for one day and most of the balk rule will be gone. The only balks should be the really, really obvious one. As far as I’m concerned, if it’s a balk, then every experienced baseball person in attendance and watching on TV should be screaming balk. If there is any dispute, any question at all, it wasn’t a balk. This wasn’t a balk.
So they ruined the meatloaf. Whatever. As frustrated as I was with this team a few days ago, I’m not losing any sleep over this one. To the contrary, I’m more excited that they came off of the mat three times. There’s value in that. Call it winning some battles and losing the war. For one day at least. The bigger campaign has many battles and wars still to be played.
As is often the case in these marathon games, my concern goes to guys like Mark Leiter Jr. and Adbert Alzolay throwing more than they have been being asked to do. Both were attempting to make it as starters as recently as last year. But, this was only the second time this year that Mark has been asked to record more than three outs. This is the second time Adbert has faced 10 batters this year, but the first time he’s faced as many as six since April 16. His last multi-inning game was April 11.
Let’s find some positive performances in the loss.
- I’m going with Cody Bellinger in the top spot. Two hits, one a double, an RBI, a run, two stolen bases. The man can fill up a box score. Through 34 games, he’s got seven homers, 28 runs, 19 RBI, nine steals and a .300/.368/.567 (wRC+ 149). The man is back at All-Star level. We’ve got about a week before the quarter post, but do some shorthand math and multiply those rate numbers by four. 28 homers, 112 runs, 76 RBI, 36 steals. So you’re talking about a potential 30/30 season with over 100 runs scored? What a delight.
- Hayden Wesneski continues to straighten things out after a rough start to the season. Certainly in those first couple starts, he had trouble stopping things when they got sideways. He’ll have more rough games, so that’ll be something to watch. Circling the wagons and limiting the damage is a real talent. Today he was very good. Five hits, no walks, one run. Six strikeouts. That’ll play.
- Embattled relievers. Julian Merryweather and Michael Fulmer each faced three batters and retired them all. I saw someone talk about on Twitter. One of the skills of the Cubs is turning a pitcher around quickly. Both guys had some early season struggles. Both are now stringing strong appearances together.
Game 34, May 7: Marlins 5, at Cubs 4 (17-17)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Cody Bellinger (.285). 2-5, 2B, BB, RBI, R, 2SB, K
- Hero: Mark Leiter Jr. (.247). 2IP, 7 batters, H, R (0ER), 2K
- Sidekick: Adbert Alzolay (.186); 3IP, 10 batters, H, 2R (0ER), BK (L 1-2)
- Billy Goat: Matt Mervis (-.333). 2-6, R, K
- Goat: Trey Mancini (-.317). 0-2
- Kid: Dansby Swanson (-.268). 0-6, 3K
WPA Play of the Game: Cody Bellinger’s one-out double in the ninth came with a runner on first and one out, the Cubs down two. A run scored and cut the deficit to one, with Bellinger moving to third on the throw. (.306)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Joey Wendle led off the 10th inning with an RBI triple. Typing those words will never fail to sound crazy. (.284)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Mark Leiter Jr.
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Winner: Nick Madrigal (Superhero 23-10)
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.
Up Next: The Cardinals (11-24) make their first visit of the season to Wrigley Field. One of those teams that “expects” to win a lot of games year in and year out finds itself in last place. Marcus Stroman (2-2, 2.18, 41⅓ IP) will start for the Cubs. Stroman has a very nice career mark of 69-69. He pitched twice on the most recent road trip and received no decisions in each (both team losses). He hasn’t won since his second start of the year when he won his second game of the year. So career win number 70 have been pretty elusive for a pitcher otherwise getting very strong results.
The Cardinals start a familiar face in Miles Mikolas (1-1, 5.79, 37⅓ IP). Miles is no Adam Wainwright by any stretch, but it does feel like he’s started about a thousand games against the Cubs (and won most of them). He allowed three over 5⅔ at home against the Angels last time. Before that, it was a win in San Francisco with 6⅓ scoreless. So he’s down, but not out by any means.