I think Nico Hoerner and Kyle Hendricks just went into the clubhouse and dropped that mic. The club went to Pittsburgh and like your favorite band, they nailed every note of the encore. They came to the front of the stage took a bow and just dropped it. That was a thing of beauty.
I sit here and this is a really rare feeling as I’m writing this. Unmitigated joy. There is no qualifier right now. All of the frustration of the 2017-2022 seasons. It doesn’t matter. The sloppy, uneven, often unmotivated play of the first 62 games. They don’t matter.
As the Cubs walked off the field following this sweep in Pittsburgh, this team was alive and well in the National League postseason picture. They still sit 3½ games out in the division. The Yankees are almost three times as far out in the AL East. The Astros are two games further out of first in the AL West. The Dodgers are half a game further back than the Cubs. All of those teams believe they are going to the playoffs. All of those teams have supreme confidence that they can win their division. All of those teams feel that they can play for a World Series championship at the end of the season.
The Cubs have taken care of business and they are in the fight. Obviously, I’m aware of what the Reds have done. On June 9, the Cubs won and the Reds lost. At that point in time, the Reds were 1½ games ahead of the Cubs. In the 12 days since then, the Cubs have gone 9-2 — but the Reds have been undefeated, 11-0. That is in itself its own cruel joke. But there is no chance that I’m going to let them rain on my parade. They are a different enemy for a different day.
For most of the time since 2016, the Cubs have been beaten over and over again by their own sloppy and inconsistent play. They’ve been dragged down by a lack of a killer instinct. We read stories where the front office talked about letting opponents off of the mat after winning the first two games. No one questions the difficulty of sweeping a series. The Cubs have now completed two sweeps in the span of nine days.
They did it at the right time. They did it against a key opponent. The Pirates had been one of the front runners in the early going. The bloom is firmly off of that rose. But kudos to the Cubs for pouring it on and getting it done. As a side effect, the Cubs are now two games behind a Brewers team that has consistently been identified as a favorite in the NL Central.
I’ve seen one further indication of killer strategy. Justin Steele would be the regularly scheduled next starter up. So it’s not surprising that he’s starting the Saturday game. But Jameson Taillon would ordinarily be next up and Drew Smyly after that. Yet Marcus Stroman starts the Sunday game. So many times the Cubs have stuck to the ordinary rotation and not utilized a chance to grab an extra start for a red-hot pitcher. Does any of this guarantee anything? Well, it does guarantee the Cubs are giving themselves the best possible shot to win the next two games. That is very, very welcome.
As a side effect, Drew Smyly, who has scuffled a bit, will have at least a week between starts, though it was said by the team that he’ll be available out of the bullpen in London. For Taillon, it is at least eight days. Jameson has shown some signs of taking a step forward, but has still been the Cubs’ least effective pitcher to date. I would not be surprised if the Cubs come back with Kyle Hendricks and then Drew Smyly against the Phillies next week. But that’s a problem for another day.
This team is going for it and I couldn’t be happier. I know that every time things have gone well these last few years I cautioned to not get carried away. Enjoy your Thursday. Enjoy your Friday. Have an extra adult beverage. Take out that special someone. We’ve got a lot of baseball left, but it suddenly looks like we’re going to have some fun experiencing it.
There was a lot of positive in this one as has been the case so often lately. But let’s pick out three positive performances from the group.
- I say it all of the time, it starts with the man on the mound. Wednesday that was Kyle Hendricks. He pitched into the seventh inning and allowed only two hits. Kyle did lose it quickly in the seventh. He allowed a leadoff single, one out later he hit a batter and when he walked the next hitter, he was properly lifted. He’s won all three starts since he started calling his own pitches.
- The bats did great work in this one so I’d better recognize a couple of them. Nico Hoerner had a pair of hits, a triple and a homer. He drove in three and scored two. He had a hand in four of the eight runs.
- Ian Happ does some of his best work against the Pirates and Wednesday was no exception. He had a pair of doubles. He drove in two runs and scored one.
Game 74, June 21: Cubs 8 at Pirates 3 (36-38)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Nico Hoerner (.161). 2-5, HR, 3B, 3RBI, 2R, 2K
- Hero: Kyle Hendricks (.144). 6⅓ IP, 25 batters, 2H, 3BB, 3R (1ER), 2K, HBP (W 3-2)
- Sidekick: Ian Happ (.122). 2-5, 2-2B, 2RBI, R
- Billy Goat: Christopher Morel (-.031). 0-5, R, K
- Goat: Yan Gomes (-.028). 0-3, BB, 3K
- Kid: Trey Mancini (-.027). 0-2, R, HBP
WPA Play of the Game: Nico Hoerner batted in the third inning with one out and runners on second and third. The Cubs were down one. This situation had a run expectancy of 1.41. Hoerner tripled and the Cubs scored two runs, took the lead and never looked back. (.173)
*Pirates Play of the Game: With a runner on first and no outs in the second inning, Josh Palacios batted with the game scoreless. The run expectancy is .88 in that spot. He doubled driving in the first run. (.123)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments below)
Yesterday’s Winner: Marcus Stroman (Superhero is 50-23)
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 +23
- Ian Happ +16.5
- Adbert Alzolay +12
- Mike Tauchman/Justin Steele +10
- Miles Mastrobuoni -8
- Nico Hoerner -11
- Patrick Wisdom/Jameson Taillon -12
- Trey Mancini -15
Up Next: The Cubs take their long-awaited trip to London. The teams were scheduled to play there in 2020 before the pandemic changed everything. As a result, these are the first games in London since 2019 when the Yankees and Red Sox played the first two games there. In case you don’t recall, that first series featured explosive scoring, with 30 runs scored in the first game and 20 in the second. The Yankees won both games in front of more than 59,000 fans. Each team had three homers in the first game. The Yankees added three more in the second but the Sox only had one.
The Cubs will start lefty Justin Steele in the first game. Steele is 7-2 with a 2.71 ERA in 73 innings of work. He won his first game after coming off the injured list on Saturday against the Orioles. He will be on six days rest as he gets the call against the Cardinals. Steele has one start against the Cardinals back on May 10. In that one he threw six innings and allowed three runs on seven hits and three walks.
The Cardinals will look to 41-year-old righty Adam Wainwright. Adam is 3-1 with a 5.56 ERA in 43⅔ innings. The veteran didn’t make his first start of the season until May 6. In May he started five games and allowed 21 runs (18 earned) in only 26⅓ innings. It hasn’t been massively better in June as he’s allowed nine runs in 17⅓ innings. Put simply, Wainwright has allowed three or more runs in every start he’s made this year. He’s only worked into the seventh inning once, but that was his last start.
In his long career, Adam has pitched in more games against the Cubs (57) than any other team. He’s made 48 starts against them, also his most. In those games Adam is 19-14 with a 3.84 ERA in 302⅓ innings of work. Those numbers include his work in 2022 when he was 2-1 against the Cubs in four starts with a 2.88 ERA. This year’s Wainwright is not that one though. Father Time may have finally caught up with him.
Old pal Willson Contreras has a .142/.248/.311 line in 106 AB over his last 30 games, though he did just have a three-hit game Tuesday.