Some of you might not remember, but when your team wins back-to-back games, that’s called a winning streak. Yeah, it’s not really that long. Somehow, they won two straight against the Rays. I mean, not really just “somehow.” This team basically has one way it wins games: A dominant pitching performance. They got one Saturday and they won.
As I said yesterday, all of the issues that are facing this team are still there. You don’t bad mouth the deceased at a funeral, the bride is the most beautiful person in the room at a wedding. I’m not the right person for this thought. Whatever the basic social courtesies are, there are rules. Your mileage may vary, but I’ll say you don’t nitpick your team when they win. Particularly when it is a satisfying win. This fixes nothing. But Friday night’s and Saturday night’s win were satisfying. If all it took was Sara pointing them out that baseball is fun, I sure wish she’d done it about 30 months ago.
Alright, I said I wouldn’t nitpick and that was a cheap shot. There has been intermittent fun. The spare Cubs of 2021, after they traded the whole damn roster, had some fun times. I’ll remember Rafael Ortega having a three-homer game for a while. Certainly over the last 60 games or so last year, there were some fun times. Over the first three weeks of this season, there were definitely fun times.
But all too often, this team has looked like it is on a death march. I’ve never closely followed any other baseball team. I don’t know if all of the other teams need some degree of fun. But the Cubs do. All of you who have spent a lot of time at Wrigley Field, particularly in big games, know the energy that descends over games there. I honestly believe that with out that “thing”, the 2003 Cubs would have played in the World Series. The Moises Alou foul ball happened. He overreacted to what would have been an incredible catch if he made it. The Alex Gonzalez play happened. The cloud moved in during Alou’s histrionics. By the time Gonzalez had booted the ball, the cloud was at field level. It was stifling. And the Cubs folded quicker than a house of cards.
If you’ve been around enough, you know it. There is always that fear as a Cub fan that the next bad thing is around the corner. I’m gonna bet the Yankees don’t have it. Maybe the Mariners or the Twins do. They seem like teams to me that go from abruptly good to beaten all too quickly. Not even just one game. It can be a whole postseason series after a strong year. But that cloud, it appears waiting to descend and choke the life out of the Cubs at any time.
But if you’ve been around, you know that energy cuts both ways. When things are light and the team is having fun, 20,000 fans stop talking and some start standing on a long pop up that the shortstop chases down on the outfield grass. There’s that anticipation of the next great thing. But only when things are going good. When things are light and fun. When they aren’t, this franchise always fights history. You can take or you can leave anything Joe Maddon said or did, but I always thought he had one great quote: “Don’t let the pressure exceed the pleasure.”
For two nights now, the Cubs have had fun. Give them more than a puncher’s chance to win on Sunday. It’s hard to complete a road sweep. But as rough as this team has been, don’t doubt they might pull it off. It’s been a full calendar month now since their last win when the other team scored more than two. Maybe they’ll ride the momentum and win one of those and shut me up a little longer.
If you are someone who suggested the Cubs cut the cord with Kyle Hendricks a few weeks ago when he was working some things out in his first two appearances for Iowa, pay attention for a minute. No, I’m not spiking the football. Kyle had a thin margin of error. There is always going to be much less space between the top and the bottom than anyone can ever be comfortable with. As much of a joy as he is to watch, he has to be one of the most difficult pitchers to manage. When it goes, it goes.
It didn’t go on Saturday. He wasn’t perfect, but he almost etched a place in history. The moral if you wrote him off is to just pause the next time. The world has gotten so instant gratification that we all do it sometimes. We assume that what is happening right now is going to stretch on. If you always assume a guy with a few or even a handful of rough games is done, you are going to give up on some guys too soon. If you assume that the hot start will stretch on indefinitely, you are setting yourself up for failure.
Things have been so tough these last few years, that my central theme has gone away. That theme is to not get too high when they are going good or too low when things are going bad. Baseball is always going to turn. Sometimes slow and sometimes like a whipsaw.
It was a thing of beauty to watch Kyle on Saturday night. My daughters were at a baseball game in Pittsburgh. Kyle was through four when I sent the first screen shot to them. Another after six. And a final one after seven. How many of us held our breath and tried to will Ian Happ out to catch that one ball? Could he have done it? It’s tough, Kyle was at the highest pitch count he’d been at this year. But also, it’s different when you aren’t working through leverage spots, when there aren’t long innings.
Kyle Hendricks has a small sample size 3.09 ERA. It’s a beautiful world. The Cubs locker room had to have some awareness of the tweet that buzzed around the Cubs Twitter world. With that backdrop, Kyle went out and pitched one of the best games of his career. I suspect I attended the best one. I was there when he shut the Cardinals out on 81 pitches. Certainly, he has started games with more meaning and impact. This one is surely on the list of most effective games he’s pitched.
I know I just said not to get too high or too low. But go to bed tonight thinking for just a minute about Justin Steele coming back healthy and effective and 90 percent of today’s Kyle Hendricks. As crazy as it is, you’d have to at least talk about adding a bat or two, maybe a high impact bat and a good fit spare part, and trying to run down this division. The Cubs are in the top half of team ERA. For whatever that stat means, even with a putrid bullpen, this pitching staff has been good enough to support a playoff team.
We’re going to talk plenty about that Saturday afternoon tweet from Marcus Stroman. That tweet is so significant, that the last paragraph becomes silly. But I’m just going to tease it and leave it there in the untold stories section. Some of you will talk about it, but I’m going to wait and let the positive energy marinate. There hasn’t been nearly enough of it this year.
If you all want to talk amongst yourselves, it’s fair to point out that the Giants opener and the “finisher” threw a combined 6⅓ innings allowing only a single runner, on a HBP. Very much like the wins in San Diego, the offense isn’t really there even when they are winning. One only spends a lot of time dissecting the quality of their wins when there are so many of them that you don’t have much anything else to talk about.
- Kyle Hendricks. Class was in session and the lesson plan was tight. A hat tip to Miguel Amaya who was also four outs away from being a catcher who caught a no hitter. That’s a real achievement this early into his big league career.
- Christopher Morel broke out of a terrible slump with a pair of hits, one of them leaving the yard, and drove in three runs. I don’t know about him batting third, but he played like someone who belonged there Saturday.
- Matt Mervis gets the other nod. His long homer started the scoring and ended up being the only run that they needed.
Game 64, June 10: Cubs 4 at Giants 0 (28-36)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Kyle Hendricks (.343). 8 IP, 26 batters, H, BB, 3K (W 1-2)
- Hero: Christopher Morel (.226). 2-4, HR, 3RBI, R
- Sidekick: Matt Mervis (.096). 1-4, HR, RBI, R, K
- Billy Goat: Nico Hoerner (-.099). 0-4, 2K
- Goat: Dansby Swanson (-.051). 0-4, 2K
- Kid: Trey Mancini (-.038). 0-4, K
WPA Play of the Game: Christopher Morel batted with runners on second and third with two outs in the fifth inning, the Cubs leading by two. He singled and two runs scored to increase the lead to four. (.128)
*Giants Play of the Game: One batter earlier, Jakob Junis struck out Nico Hoerner. That set the stage for Morel’s two-out heroics. (.059)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Mike Tauchman (1-4, 2B, R, terrific catch)
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Winner: Nico Hoerner - 65-52 (Superhero is 44-19)
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 +20
- Ian Happ/Adbert Alzolay +11
- Justin Steele +10
- Dansby Swanson +8.5
- Michael Fulmer -8
- Jameson Taillon -10
- Nico Hoerner -10.5
- Patrick Wisdom -11
- Trey Mancini -14
Up Next: The Cubs go for the three-game sweep of the Giants. The 2013 Cubs, who only won 66 games, were the last Cubs team to sweep a series in San Francisco. In fairness, for a long time ago, they’ve only been playing there once a year.
The Cubs will have Hayden Wesneski (2-2, 4.72, 47⅔ IP). He’s trending a bit better. In his last seven appearances (six starts), he is 1-2, 4.15, 34⅔ IP. Last time he wasn’t bad in Anaheim. He allowed two earned runs on two hits and a walk in 4⅔ innings. Obviously, two runs on only two hits and a walk is a bit of bad luck.
At the time I’m writing this, the Giants are listing John Brebbia again as their starter. He has been used as an opener quite a bit, including on Saturday, when he faced six batters and retired all of them. The Giants have used him for more than one inning on four occasions. In none of them was he used again the next day. Almost every time he has been used as an opener, Sean Manaea followed him. After 4⅓ innings, there is no chance Manaea is available. Brebbia did open for Ross Stripling once. Stripling is injured, though.