This might be one of the more frustrating hot streaks I can ever remember. I talked recently about not being able to really lean into the 2016 Cubs because of the scars from my formative year of baseball in 1984 and the utter devastation of 2003 when everything I thought I knew about baseball went out the window. In that same way, I’m having trouble finding the exuberance that I feel like this streak probably merits.
Without question, this has been impressive. Regardless of where the Pirates end up, they came into town as a team that had spent much of the first two-plus months of the season in and around first place. These Orioles appear to have the staying power to be in the hunt in the American League deep into this season. Even the Giants team that started this stretch of six of seven isn’t exactly a doormat. Like the Pirates, I expect them to fade out of contention. That said, look back. They’ve added three wins on the back of that Sunday win and have a four game winning streak and have moved within 2½ games of the Dodgers for second in the West.
So this is something. Breathtaking. Confusing. It’s a lot of things, I suppose. I’m conditioned as a Cubs fan to finding fool’s gold at every turn. Why should this one be different? What is the opposite of a June swoon anyway? To that end, this is when the Cubs fade, not when they surge. We sometimes see a Yankees team, a Red Sox team, a Dodgers team muddle through the first couple of months only to right the ship and end up being right where you thought they would be. But there isn’t a lot of precedent in recent Cubs history.
I want to believe. I want to get caught up. But I just can’t go through that door yet. If you are in with both feet, I hope you brought a parachute and some Kleenex. My favorite analogy: Lucy is totally going to move the football. It’s even easier to see than usual as we’ve already been frustrated consistently by this team. What changed?
Everything. Everything changed on this homestand. Comebacks. Hitting with runners on base. Good bullpen work. Sara wrote that piece about the Cubs not having fun. Then Kyle Hendricks went out and damn near threw a no-hitter. The guys definitely had fun with that. Sunday’s loss was less fun. But the team came home, got some rest and woke up an inspired team.
They didn’t bother with the histrionics today. There was no early deficit. Or any deficit. It was three in the third. Six in the sixth. Certainly in modern baseball there is a bit more of a tendency to get lopsided scores. Teams are so conscientious on how they use relievers that if you can get up a few runs, they empty the back of the bullpen or throw someone out there to just absorb innings while getting his brains beat in. Still, 38 runs in four games is incredible in any situation.
I beat a lot of dead horses around here. One of them this year was just how inept the Cubs were if the other team scored more than two runs. Prior to this series, the Cubs had won two games like that in the previous 60 days. Now they’ve won three such games in four days. This is one of those times that I’m not even qualifying it. My biggest point was that this team was good enough to feel pretty confident even when they allow three runs. Suddenly, this team has been good enough that even if they’d allowed six runs in every game on this homestand, they’d have won them all anyway. They did in fact allow six on Wednesday and still won by four.
If you are all in, enjoy it. I’m not ready yet. But I’m not going to lie, this last week or so it’s been a heck of a lot easier to write. Even if they aren’t me, never underestimate how difficult it can be for your favorite writers to write day in and day out when it just feels like an inevitable march to doom and despair, particularly in this environment here. I’m not in the press box. I’m not expected to be a newsperson. I’m a Cubs fan. I cheer the Cubs. When they are bad, I feel the frustration. When I write about people not getting the job done, it’s not because I don’t want them to succeed. Just the opposite, the greatest frustration is when I had high hopes for them.
Let’s look to the three positives.
- I’m starting with Christopher Morel. Three hits, just missing a triple for the cycle. Three runs batted in and two runs. He’s heating up again. He’s a world destroyer when he’s hot.
- Not putting Trey Mancini in one of the top spots feels disrespectful. Four plate appearances, four times on base. A pair of doubles and a pair of walks. He scored twice.
- Ian Happ is also locked in. He didn’t even start this game. But he still had time for a two-run single and a walk. He scored one run.
Today’s honorable mention goes to Anthony Kay. Anthony is pitching in some pretty low leverage situations, as he did Friday with the Cubs up eight. Still, three up, three down, two by strikeout. He hasn’t found his way to Heroes and Goats yet. My brain can never not hear the voice of some meatball Cub fan somewhere proclaiming this “kid” has a chance. Obviously at 28, Kay has been around a few blocks. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be a useful piece here and now.
Game 69, June 16: Cubs 10, Orioles 3 (32-37)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Kyle Hendricks (.172). 5IP, 20 batters, 5H, 2R, K (W 2-2)
- Heroes: Miguel Amaya (.110). 1-3, HR, BB, RBI, R
- Sidekick: Christopher Morel (.103). 3-5, HR, 2B, 3RBI, 2R
- Billy Goat: Seiya Suzuki (-.053). 1-5, RBI, K
- Goat: Nico Hoerner (-.043). 2-5, 2RBI, R
- Kid: Patrick Wisdom (-.040). 0-2, 2K
WPA Play of the Game: Miguel Amaya hit a solo homer leading off the third inning to break a scoreless tie. For those wondering, the base run expectancy with bases empty and no outs is .49. (.117)
*Orioles Play of the Game: Jorge Mateo batted with a runner on first, one out and the Orioles down three. One out, man on first. That run expectancy is .51. Mateo doubled, driving in a run and cut the deficit to two. (.104)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Trey Mancini (2-2, 2-2B, 2BB, 2R)
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Winner: Ian Happ (Superhero is 48-20)
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 +18.5
- Adbert Alzolay +11
- Justin Steele +10
- Dansby Swanson +9.5
- Miles Mastrobuoni -9
- Jameson Taillon -10
- Patrick Wisdom -12
- Trey Mancini -14
- Nico Hoerner -15
Up Next: Game two of the three-game set. The Cubs will start Justin Steele (6-2, 2.65, 68) who is returning from a short stint on the injured list. Justin had arguably been the Cubs pitcher up until the time he got injured. The game he got hurt, he was through three scoreless without allowing a hit or a run. Of course, the game before that he allowed five runs in only 3⅔ innings.
The Orioles start 35-year-old righty Kyle Gibson (8-3, 3.90, 83). Gibson is the kind of guy who has been around for 281 games, 275 of them starts and I don’t know much about the guy, though it’s not a stretch to say he’s been pretty good so far. If we split his 14 starts right down the middle, we still get a strong last seven. In that time, he’s 4-2 with a 3.21 ERA.