I can get used to these Cubs meeting and/or exceeding my expectations. It seems like forever since when the Cubs surprised me and it was to the upside. The funny thing is that it really hasn’t been. The Cubs wildly exceeded my expectations after the trade deadline last year. Even when they first started to get hot, I’d hoped they’d get to a point where the team would finish with a .500 record over a chunk of games. But they ended up over .500 over that chunk or .500 way further in the season than I expected.
Before that, the first months of 2021, the Cubs stunned me with how good they were. So it isn’t actually that unusual that the Cubs have surprised me to the upside. Being a Cubs fan always seems like a long series of disappointments. It isn’t that they don’t do good things. My Cubs watching goes back to 1984. Certainly someone with my time frame has seen a lot of good Cubs stuff. The folks like Al who reach back a generation further than me really saw some disappointing teams.
In fact, historians like Al will tell you that all the way back to 1946, the Cubs have been one long string of disappointments and embarrassments. If I’m being honest, I’ve seen a lot of Cubs baseball. I know many of you are around my age and have similar frames of reference. 1984 to present is literally an embarrassment of riches compared to what Cubs fans between 1946 and 1983 saw. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Baseball has the Yankees. It has the Dodgers. It has the Cardinals. The baseball royalty. The Red Sox were once wedded with the Cubs in infamy. But they’ve won four championships in the last 20 years. The A’s have fallen on hard times, but they own nine championships, even if only one was in my lifetime (technically two, but I wasn’t even one yet when they won the first of those). The Giants, eight overall and three in the last 15.
Ultimately we judge franchises by championships, and so it can be frustrating when the upstart Marlins have won a pair of them. Because of that, it feels like the Cubs are always letting us down. The 1984 team, the 2003 team. Both certainly felt like they could be champions. The 2008 Cubs won 97 games before fizzling out in the playoffs. Even in the championship era, there were two losses in the NLCS.
So much frustration. So it is a particular delight when they meet or exceed my expectations. After the Cubs took two of three from the Giants to finish the last road trip, I said something to the extent of “win five of six against the Pirates and let’s talk.” They swept that first series with the Pirates and took two more from the Orioles before heading back out. That led me to throw another gauntlet. Don’t just finish that five of six against the Pirates, but “Get Greedy.” It was simple. If they’d gone away from Wrigley this week and even taken only three of five, then it really took away some of the effect of that 5-1 homestand.
So I essentially dared them to “Get Greedy.” That is, go away from Wrigley and win at least four games this week. Four up. Four down. They have Marcus Stroman on the hill looking to make if a perfect five.
On May 28, the Reds completed a three-game sweep in Wrigley Field. The ultimate embarrassment, being swept by a division rival in your own park. With the Rays coming to town with the best record in baseball, it was easy to wonder how low things would go. A funny thing happened though, they took two of three from the Rays and then went to San Diego and took two of the first three games. Maybe things would turn around?
No. They hadn’t bottomed yet. The Cubs would follow that with four straight losses and reach a season-low 10 games under .500. On June 8, just over two weeks ago, this team was 10 under, heading to San Francisco and looking dead in the water. With the trade deadline starting to appear on the horizon, more potential trades loomed.
Two out of three in San Francisco. Three straight against the Pirates. Two of three against the Orioles. Three straight against the Pirates. The first game against the Cardinals. They’ve gotten nine of those games back. This team is very much alive. With all four of their Central division rivals losing on Saturday, the Cubs are now a single game in the loss column behind the Brewers and just two behind the Reds.
“Expected” Win/Loss record has the Cubs at seven over. It’s not a perfect stat. But it has been suggesting for a while that the Cubs were the best team in this group, a low bar, to be sure. But a division title is progress even if it ends up being the worst division of the six. I’ve done a little research and determined that even the worst among the playoff qualifiers is allowed to win. They get a chance. It might not be a good one, but I’m saying there is a chance. Every single one of the playoff teams has their season extended by at least two games.
This weekend series reminds me of one other thing. No one is going to be excited to see their very fine season come down to facing Marcus Stroman and Justin Steele. To be fair, that scenario requires the Cubs to not only get into the playoffs, but also to get there with enough time to spare to save their two best for the first two games. Maybe, just maybe, Kyle Hendricks looms if there is an elimination game. If memory serves, he’s done okay in a couple of those.
All of that is a long way from now. To bring it full circle, being a Cubs fan conditions us to failure and not living up to expectations. But maybe, just maybe, this team will be an exception. What a joy that would be. I’m totally here for it. Let’s get to the three positives from this delightful game.
- I can’t imagine a scenario where a guy homers in his first two at bats and I don’t have him up here in the top spot. Ian Happ’s long balls were both solo shots, but with Steele dealing, it was all of the offense they would need.
- In the first trip to London for Major League Baseball, 50 runs were scored in two games. The teams averaged 12.5 runs. I know this is the worst Cardinals team in a generation, but Steele held them to one run. It is certainly possible to pitch in London.
- Dansby Swanson reached base four times in five plate appearances. A homer, a single, two walks, two runs, two runs batted in. Happ’s homers could have been enough behind Steele, but instead the Cubs offense just relentlessly poured it on.
Game 75, June 24: Cubs 9, Cardinals 1 (37-38) * in London but Cardinals batted last
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Ian Happ (.197). 2-5, 2HR, 2RBI, 2R, K, DP
- Hero: Justin Steele (.143). 6 IP, 24 batters, 5H, BB, R, 8K, WP (W 8-2)
- Sidekick: Nick Madrigal (.105). 2-4, 2B, RBI, R, K
- Billy Goat: Cody Bellinger (-.054). 1-3, R, DP
- Goat: Mike Tauchman (-.033). 1-5, 2B, RBI, R, K
- Kid: Nico Hoerner (-.029). 1-5, 2B, R
WPA Play of the Game: Ian Happ led off the second inning with a solo homer to start the scoring. (.111)
*Cardinals Play of the Game: With the Cubs already up one, Cody Bellinger batted with a runner on first with no outs. In that situation the Cubs have a run expectancy of .83. But Adam Wainwright induced a double play grounder. (.067)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Dansby Swanson (2-3, HR, 2BB, 2R, 2RB)
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments below)
Wednesday’s Winner: Nico Hoerner 98-85 over Kyle Hendricks (Superhero is 51-23)
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 +19.5
- Adbert Alzolay/Justin Steele +12
- Mike Tauchman/Matt Mervis +8
- Miles Mastrobuoni -8
- Patrick Wisdom/Jameson Taillon/Nico Hoerner -12
- Trey Mancini -15
Up Next: The Cubs go for the perfect five for five on this trip away from Wrigley Field. Some of you further West might not even be out of bed when Marcus Stroman (9-4, 2.28, 98⅔ IP) takes the hill. Marcus is a perfect 7-0 in his last seven starts with a 1.29 ERA. He was having a good year and then he turned it up another notch. He’s provided significant leadership and is a cornerstone of this team right now.
The Cardinals will look to 23-year-old, lefty Matthew Liberatore. Matthew was a first round pick of the Rays in 2018. He’s 1-2 with a 6.15 ERA in 25 innings this year. He’s made six appearances this year, five of them starts. He has a 6.03 ERA in 15 lifetime appearances (12 starts). Last time out, he allowed five runs in four innings of work and in June it is 12 runs (11 earned) in 14 innings. It’s cooled a bit of late, but the Cubs are 13-9 against left handed starters.