Al has already told us in his game recap just how miserable it was Tuesday night at Wrigley Field. It sure looked on TV like a game that would have been reasonable to stop at any point in time. The conditions looked awful. It was apparent at times that some of the players were having trouble getting a good grip on the ball. That said, the conditions were the same for both teams.
On this night, this was a Cubs team that just kept putting the ball in play and just kept having good things happen. At a quick glance, the contact doesn’t look that different. The Pirates had eight strikeouts to the Cubs’ six. But the Cubs hitters had six more plate appearances. So that was six Cub hitters striking out in 41 plate appearances. That was eight Pirate hitters striking out in 35 plate appearances. That’s 14.6 percent of the Cubs hitters striking out and 22.85 percent of Pirates hitters striking out. On a night when picking up the ball was difficult, the Cubs picked a good night to keep putting the ball back in play.
Also, for a team nine games under .500 coming in, the Cubs showed hustle over and over again and that was part of a night where the Cubs had six infield hits. A couple of those plays were very close. You don’t often think that a few inches here and there will make much difference in a game that was won by eight. But indeed, there were some close plays and it seemed like all of those close plays went the Cubs way.
Give credit where it was due. The Cubs bullpen worked three innings and only needed to face 11 hitters to record nine outs. At the same time, the Pirates pen worked 2⅔ innings and they were touched for seven runs. Add to that one inherited runner scoring off the Pirates bullpen and that’s eight runs against Pirates relief pitchers. For one night, Cubs relievers got it done.
Part two of give credit where it is due, the Cubs finally won a game where they allowed more than two runs. May 10 and April 11 were the last two times that happened. Just so there is no confusion when I quote this: Most teams win the games where they shutdown the other offense and lose the ones they don’t. The Cubs records in both directions are particularly lopsided.
So what does it mean? It is an over amplification of what we know. A) The Cubs rotation has been excellent. So there have been a lot of really low scoring games for the opponent. B) The Cubs bullpen has been putrid. So on those occasions where the rotation has struggled, the “B” relievers have gotten knocked around. C) On those occasions where the game was winnable late, the Cubs “A” team relievers have let them down. There are signs that Adbert Alzolay and Mark Leiter Jr. are settling things down, but time will tell. D) Other teams’ relievers have been particularly hard on Cubs hitters. We know in recent years the Cubs have struggled extensively with high end fastballs. It’s probably not a total shock then that modern bullpens give them fits.
My takeaway here are these two thoughts, and I suspect that they are one of the statistical oddities that have the Cubs underachieving what some metrics suggest this team should be doing. First, there just haven’t been many games like this one. Jameson Taillon was fine, but not exceptional. The Cubs offense was good enough anyway. Second, there just haven’t really been any come from behind wins. That’s of course an oversimplification, but the Cubs offense has really struggled against other team’s “A” relievers. But the statistics always look weird, because it isn’t as simple as the Cubs don’t score late. They scored eight runs over their final three at bats. Particularly after the seventh inning, the Cubs were seeing secondary relievers. Sorry, Rob Zastryzny, I always root for you.
Sara Sanchez did a nice job writing about the Cubs playing the Pirates six times over the next nine days (after not playing them at all over the first 65 games of the season). The Cubs really need to post five wins in these six games to firmly get back in the race. As with all numbers like that in baseball, there are simply so many games that any statement like that is an exaggeration. But here’s the deal. Exactly as Sara said it, this team is going to be looking to be trading pieces away in July if they don’t get real competitive real fast. This division is so inept that the bar for competitiveness just isn’t high. I’ve seen projections as low as 82 wins for the NL Central champion. After this win, the Cubs would need to go 53-43 the rest of the way to reach 82 wins. That would be a winning percentage of .616 over the remaining games.
That’s one tall order. As teams sit with 66-70 games played, three teams have won games at that pace: The Rays, the Orioles and the Rangers. So to be clear, that suggestion that the Cubs are still alive hopes that they can be one of the best teams in baseball the rest of the way. Call me the guy from the movie Major League who is in the montage saying “They’re still (game thread word roughly meaning lousy).” Sorry to be that way. They just let too many games get away and the hole is too deep. By all means, Cubs, make me look silly. Start by winning five of these six.
Let’s turn to three good things before I turn a good night into a downer. It isn’t lost on me that the Cubs have won three of four. Keep stretching that streak!
- Ian Happ got things started on the right foot in the first inning with a three-run homer. Ian continues to be one of the on base percentage leaders in all of baseball. The growing concern was that his power is missing in action. One at bat doesn’t turn it around, but it is a nice start. He also drew a walk and was hit by a pitch. He drove in four and scored three, having a hand in six of the 11 runs.
- With four Cubs having two hits, this is harder to call than usual. Mike Tauchman gets my second spot. He had a pair of hits and drew a walk. The Cubs had him in the leadoff spot and he did what you’d want up there and got on three times. To be clear, coming into the game with a .699 OPS, he should not be leading off.
- I’m not giving points just because someone doesn’t land up here often. Dansby Swanson had a pair of singles and drove in a run. His hustle in the seventh inning helped to blow the game wide open.
Game 66, June 13: Cubs 11, Pirates 3 (29-37)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Ian Happ (.302). 1-2, HR, BB, HBP, 4RBI, 3R, K
- Hero: Matt Mervis (.109). 1-3, RBI, K
- Sidekick: Dansby Swanson (.102). 2-5, RBI
- Billy Goat: Miles Mastrobuoni (-.093). 0-3, K
- Goat: Seiya Suzuki (-.072). 1-4, BB, 2R
- Kid: Nick Madrigal (-.031). 2-4
WPA Play of the Game: Ian Happ’s first inning homer with two on turned a one-run deficit into a two-run lead. (.238)
*Pirates Play of the Game: The Cubs were up one when Jack Suwinski stepped in against James Taillon in the sixth inning. His second homer of the game tied the game. (.165)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Mike Tauchman (2-4, BB, R)
Someone else (leave your suggestions in the comments)
Sunday’s Winner: Mike Tauchman (Superhero is 46-19)
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 +12.5
- Adbert Alzolay +11
- Justin Steele/Mike Tauchman: +10
- Miles Mastrobuoni -9
- Jameson Taillon -10
- Patrick Wisdom -11
- Nico Hoerner -12
- Trey Mancini -14
Up Next: Game two of the three-game set. The Cubs are set to start Drew Smyly (5-4, 3.27, 71⅔ IP). Drew has tailed off, losing his last three starts after an excellent start to the season. Over this stretch he’s allowed 10 earned runs in 16⅓ innings. The Cubs are probably going to need him to be better than he’s been recently.
The Pirates are set to start 27-year-old righty Osvaldo Bido. Bido would be making his major league debut. He’s 3-4 with a 4.55 ERA in 55⅓ innings so far this year for the Pirates Triple-A affiliate in Indianapolis. His numbers aren’t sparkling, but he does average more than a strikeout per inning over the last year plus at that level.