Sometimes the photographer gets the perfect picture. The photo at the top of this post was taken the moment after Ian Happ had delivered the go-ahead two-run single in the sixth inning. I certainly understand the photographer’s job is extremely difficult and they are trying to get the perfect photo in the blink of an eye. The situation doesn’t come with a warning that the key moment is about to happen in an athletic contest. The amazing part is how often they get the perfect photo. Not that they sometime just miss like this one. I know this photographer’s work and I’ve used many, many of his photos through the years.
I’m sure you are all dying to know where I’m at. Okay, a few of you are mildly curious and the rest are here for the numbers. If you’ve followed me, you know that there are two key components of Tom. One, I’m a fan at heart. I live and die with them just like many of you do. It’s such a sickness that I was more upset about losing in 2003 than I was happy about them winning in 2016. The win had a bit of inevitability to it even if the reality was there were at least half a dozen moments through that postseason where they could have been eliminated with a different bounce. But in 2003, I was floored. Even with THAT game, I still thought they’d win the series. All of the way until they didn’t. That was a gut punch. So was 1984.
The second part of Tom is very down to earth. I try to be practical. I try to live what I’ve so often preached in this space. Don’t get too high or too low. You always know it’s going to turn and whatever right now is, it isn’t permanent. I work in the insurance industry. I’m pragmatic. I try to assess risk reward and not get over my skis too often.
So where am I today? The realist is still driving this bus. It’s four wins in five days. That’s great, I certainly prefer it to the alternative. But let’s be real. The Cubs dug themselves a really big hole. They’ve “banked” a ton more losses than they should have had to this point. You can’t get that back. Also, the worm is going to turn. The Cubs aren’t about to rip off 20 wins in 25 games or anything the sort. This is a middle of the road team that probably cost itself the playoffs by underachieving for the first 60ish games of the season.
That said, the intersection of Tom1 and Tom2 is Tom the writer. Every time he sits down to right he has to figure out what percentage fan is coming out and what percentage pragmatist. And when did he go so far around the bend that he’s referring to himself in the third person?
Tom the writer has been feeding you a narrative for a long time. I haven’t really ever heard anyone refer to the “shape” of a baseball game. I’m positive that I landed on that term because I’ve written about WPA something like a thousand times. Unless I stole the concept from someone. In which case, sorry and thank you. Because I like it.
I’ve been telling you that for the last sixty plus days, all of the Cubs wins look exactly the same. Starter shuts other team down. Offense scores some number of runs and wins. Sometimes some number is large, sometimes not. But always, dominant pitching performance. As I’ve said, over this very long stretch of games, they’ve been having an exception approximately every 30 days.
Had the Cubs withered on the vine Wednesday night, I would have been dismissive of Tuesday night. Even with that 11-3 win, that just looked like the “30 day win” that they had been having. An occasional hiccup that was almost literally happening every 30th day where they had a mediocre start and scored enough to hold it down.
Then Wednesday night happened. So let me say this. First, every game is just a game. It’s folly in baseball to say THIS game is the one that matters. That’s football stuff. Maybe occasionally hockey or basketball, but never baseball. This game can look like the most important game in the world. A team can get blown out and then win the next nine. The loss didn’t matter, because now I’ve outplayed everyone over a 10-game stretch and have accomplished what I wanted to and more.
So without blowing it out of proportion, this one felt different. Forgive me for what I’m positive is advice that has changed through the years and there are surely at least half a dozen suggestions on better ways to tackle this problem, but allow me the metaphor. When the bully keeps stealing your kid’s lunch money and no one is doing anything about it, your kid has to stand up and fight. You punch that bully right in the nose and you tell him you aren’t taking it anymore.
Yeah, definitely bad advice. I can see it now. That surely ends up with the kid beat up worse and in trouble with the school. There’s a reason the advice changed through the years. I see it, even as I write. But, in that dated advice, there is a sports metaphor. If every time you fall behind, you just self-destruct and play lifeless ball for the rest of the day, you just keep getting bullied. Eventually, you have to stand up.
The Pirates went up 5-1 and this is where things usually go bad. The bats go into hibernation, the pitching can’t stop the bleeding and you end up in the wrong side of a 10-3 game. When Austin Hedges homered in the fourth, the Cubs were down 5-1. The Cubs put two on in their half of the fourth and stranded them. Another shot to just pack it in.
Drew Smyly wasn’t sharp, but he worked around trouble in a scoreless fifth. But the Cubs went down in order in the fifth. Another chance to pack it in. Smyly allowed a pair of singles in the sixth. But he didn’t allow more damage. Still, four down with four times at bat left. That’s a tall task.
Single. Single. Fly out. Walk. Walk, down three. Single, down one. Pirates go to the pen for another reliever. Fly out. walk. Single, up one. Wild pitch. Single, up two. Wait a second, was that three hits in six tries with runners in scoring position? Two after there were two outs. Inconceivable.
It’s just one game. None of it matters if the team goes back to not putting the ball in play, not applying pressure like they have the last two days. But that inning is the one that hasn’t been happening. Particularly not in a competitive game. Sure, the Cubs had run up a pretty decent number of games where they scored 10 or more runs. But often, even Tuesday night, a lot of that scoring was late and some of it was added against “secondary” relievers or “B” relievers as I often refer to them.
Thanks to Michael Fulmer, the Cubs continued their usual practice of allowing a run right after a big inning to quell some of the momentum. Thank heavens for the Dansby Swanson hit that capped the sixth-inning rally. That meant that the run that Fulmer allowed cut the deficit to one rather than making it a tie game or having the Cubs behind.
Then in the eighth, single. Single. Double, two runs scored. Strikeout. Walk. Fly out. Single, run scored. A second rally in the same game. Amazing. Also, that’s another two-out hit with a runner in scoring position. Halleluiah! Eureka! Whatever your exclamation of joy is.
Just for fun, Adbert Alzolay has settled into being a closer. How did I recognize it? The Cubs played screw the closer in the eighth. The closer came in with a four-run lead instead of in a save situation. He allowed a single and then issued a walk. Drama! Fly out. Strikeout. Ground out. Game. Set. Match.
Meatloaf is guaranteed and the Cubs go for a sweep on Thursday. It’s both too soon and too far away. But the Cubs are 4½ games out of first place. There’s a whole lot of baseball left, including between these two teams who met for just the second time Wednesday.
The Cubs scored eight runs between the sixth and eighth Tuesday and nine Wednesday. I don’t think anyone has said that these are the highest leverage Pirates relievers. But it doesn’t matter how you get there. The Cubs are in the end zone doing their touchdown dance. No take backs.
There is a lot of digging to be done. This is a very big hole. Fortunately, the NL Central is owning the Comedy Central label this year. It draws scoffs, but at least one reputable website has the division being won at around 82 wins. Everyone in the division has played between 66 and 69 games at this point. The Pirates are the only team in the division above .500. The Brewers are exactly .500. Intuitively, one team should get hot and make some space. But nothing is guaranteed. Who knows how low the bar will actually be?
Let’s turn to three positive performances.
I start with an honorable mention. Drew Smyly has now struggled for four starts after a stellar start to the season. But, this win probably doesn’t happen if he doesn’t apply the tourniquet in the fifth and sixth innings.
- Are we going to give Mike Tauchman one of those stupid labels that all he does is hit? Mike had three more hits Wednesday night. He drove in two and scored three. The hits were all singles and so he had a hand in five of the 10 runs the Cubs scored. His line is up to .299/.415/.343 (wRC+ 120). If Cody Bellinger is healthy enough to do so, I want him back in center when he returns. But I’m perfectly agreeable with giving Tauchman run at DH until he cools off.
- Dansby Swanson actually reached base four times. Tree singles and a walk. He also drove in two and scored one.
- Seiya Suzuki gets this last spot, at least in part so that I could say that he had the only extra-base hit. The Cubs scored 10 runs with only one extra base hit and it was a double. Seiya had a single, a double, a walk, two runs batted in and two runs scored. Fairly certain this is the first time my three positives each drove in two runs.
Game 67, June 14: Cubs 10, Pirates 6 (30-37)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Ian Happ (.236). 1-5, 2RBI, 4K
- Hero: Dansby Swanson (.216). 3-4, BB, 2BI, R
- Sidekick: Mike Tauchman (.132). 3-5, 2RBI 3R, K
- Billy Goat: Drew Smyly (-.269). 6 IP, 27 batters, 9H, BB, 5R, 4K, WP (W 6-4)
- Goat: Nico Hoerner (-.112). 1-5, R, K
- Kid: Matt Mervis (-.056), 0-2, BB
WPA Play of the Game: Ian Happ had a rough night, striking out four times. But, he came up with the bases loaded and two outs, the Cubs down one in the sixth inning. He singled, two runs scored and the Cubs never trailed again. (.307)
*Pirates Play of the Game: Carlos Santana batted with a runner on first and one out in the top of the first, the Pirates already up one. His “smooth” swing launched one out of the park and the Pirates were up three. (.155)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Seiya Suzuki (2-4, 2B, BB, 2RBI, 2R)
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Winner: Ian Happ (Superhero is 47-19)
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 +15.5
- Dansby Swanson +12
- Adbert Alzolay +11
- Justin Steele/Mike Tauchman: +10
- Miles Mastrobuoni -9
- Jameson Taillon -10
- Patrick Wisdom -11
- Nico Hoerner/Trey Mancini -14
Up Next: Game three of the series and the Cubs go for a sweep. They’ll send their most consistent pitcher to the mound to do it. Marcus Stroman (7-4, 2.42, 85⅔ IP). Marcus has won his last five starts. In those five starts, he’s thrown 35⅔ innings, allowing only 18 hits and 12 walks. He’s had just a little bit of problem with the walk over the last two starts. On the season, he’s held opposing hitters to a .191 batting average. He’s arguably in the best stretch of his career.
The Pirates start 25-year-old righty Johan Oviedo (3-5, 4.16, 71⅓ IP). I’m a little surprised that he’s only 3-5 with an ERA that decent for a team that has performed well. Eight times in 13 starts he’s held his opponents to two earned runs or fewer. His last win though was May 19 against Arizona. In the four starts since then, he is 0-2 and has allowed nine runs, eight earned in 23⅓ innings.
You have to love Stroman on the hill, particularly while he’s red hot. But this is unlikely to be a pushover.