Look, credit where it is due. David Ross and, by extension, the Cubs front office have pushed pretty much every correct button lately. This the way of baseball, all too often. The regular season of baseball is so long that you can’t just run full court press wire to wire. You’ll grind your key players to dust. So the accompanying reality is that you have to use all 26 members of your roster.
On Sunday, the Cubs lost trying to find a good spot to get Trey Mancini some action after he spent a lot of time on the bench during this hot streak. He hadn’t played since Wednesday and then the Friday before that. Is it mean to observe that the team taking off has somewhat coincided with decreased playing time for Mancini? You be the judge of that. But he’s clearly fallen out of circulation with the success of Mike Tauchman and Christopher Morel and the return to health of Cody Bellinger. The roster got a whole lot more crowded.
It’s amazing how baseball will find your end of the roster guys. The last day before Patrick Wisdom went on the injured list, a couple of balls found him in left field that he played awkwardly. We’ve all watched plenty of games where the left fielder doesn’t do much more than back up some throws and drift under a couple of lazy fly balls. We’ve all seen plenty of games where there aren’t a lot of close plays at first where timing, the stretch and the ability to scoop all come into play. Other times, it might be when you try to sneak the guy who’s been struggling through the sixth with a three- or four-run lead.
You can talk intensity and all of that, but the biggest difference between the regular season and the playoffs is how much less likely you are to use those guys at the end of the roster. In a short burst, you play your best and live and die with them. The regular season, more than anything, measures not even how good your roster is 1 to 26, but how good it is 1 to 35 or even 1 to 40.
I’m not telling you anything that you didn’t already know when I say that the Cubs aren’t 26 deep at this point. There has been some amount of moving around the furniture and changing out the drapes, but from the wrong angle, the room looks awful. During this stretch where I’ve talked about the Cubs getting greedy, we’ve seen less of those end of the roster guys. But darned if Ross didn’t try to give Cody Bellinger a bit of a day off and it bit the team in the butt.
It would be one thing if Cody were still nursing a sore knee and just wasn’t really available on Sunday. But after Mancini misplayed a ball at first, Bellinger played most of the game. By then, though, it was too late. I always caution about sequencing, but the misplay by Mancini was monumental. Marcus Stroman had a rough inning, but he gets the ground ball with the bases loaded. To be fair, Tommy Edman gets down the line pretty well. But if Mancini makes a clean play, that’s the third out.
I do always caution about sequencing, but here’s the sequence. Stroman escapes that inning and the Cubs are up 4-0 heading to the third. The Cardinals threatened but they came up short. They could be lifted by denting what has been arguably the best starter in the National League, or at least the most consistent one. Or maybe, it feels like they let a big opportunity get away without scoring.
Ian Happ walks and the Cardinals go to the pen. Down four, do they? Or are they already considering how to cover innings when their pitching is getting battered? Who knows? Jake Woodford is pretty stretched out, having started six games for the Cards already this year. So he was a good choice to bridge the game to the leverage relievers. Maybe he gets used anyway.
Certainly, Stroman had to throw a number of extra pitches in the second and a four-run lead dropped to just one. That breathed so much life into the Cardinals. I’m not one to point fingers at one guy. It’s a team sport. But Mancini killed the team in that spot. Mancini has been bad. Michael Fulmer took a long time to get into a groove with this team. Brad Boxberger hasn’t yet found a groove. The mid tier offseason acquisitions for this team have been terrible.
Miles Mastrobuoni was a trade pickup. Nick Burdi a waiver pickup. Jameson Taillon wasn’t even a mid-tier acquisition. Tucker Barnhart. Anthony Kay was a waiver pickup. Remember Eric Hosmer? Some of these names were in the clearance rack to be sure. Tyler Duffey, Luis Torrens, Edwin Rios, and Julian Merryweather. Mike Tauchman.
Tauchman has been worth .7 fWAR in the small amount of time here. Barnhart has been worth .1. Merryweather .5. Fulmer and Taillon .2. Kay .1 in his limited time here. 1.6 of fWAR from the players with positive value. 2.1 from the players with negative value. The entire Cubs offseason excluding Dansby Swanson has been collectively worth negative value. Swanson saves the whole thing. Cody Bellinger and Swanson total 4.1 fWAR between them.
After game 159 last year I said this:
This offseason is likely to be the most normal one for baseball executives since the 2018-2019 offseason. Due to the pandemic and the uncertainty around the CBA, there has been a lot for teams to juggle. The Cubs front office goes into this offseason knowing that if they make their decisions right, this team should be playing competitive baseball into September and possibly even into October.
So there it is. I realize a lot of you were jumping up and down saying this. I’ve given David Ross a hard time. But this offseason just wasn’t good enough. The franchise took a huge step forward over the last 100-plus games of last year. Over the last third of the season, they were competitive with the best records in baseball. A number of intriguing prospects were on the horizon. To be fair, the system has produced one useful player so far this year, that being Miguel Amaya. Matt Mervis arrived, but needed to be sent back after struggling.
So this team needed to get better from the end of 2022 to the start of 2023 to be a playoff contender. Essentially the entire sum of that equation has fallen on Dansby Swanson. He was a great add, but not good enough. Hopefully the club can really get Michael Fulmer effective and get something out of Brad Boxberger. Jameson Taillon has to at least be good enough to justify staying in the rotation. No one thought that the team that finished hot was enough to roll forward with. But that’s basically where it is. Aside from Swanson, the improvement has come from Marcus Stroman and Justin Steele improving on their results from 2022.
Frustrating. Because this division is totally there for the taking. Or we can watch the Brewers win it again. Yippee.
Let’s find three positives.
- Mark Leiter Jr. faced four batters and retired them all.
- Miguel Amaya got one at bat and had an RBI double.
- Ian Happ drew three walks. He scored a run.
Game 76, June 25: Cardinals 7, Cubs 5 (in London)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Trey Mancini (.172). 1-1, 2B, 2RBI, R
- Hero: Miguel Amaya (.067). 1-1, 2B, RBI
- Sidekick: Ian Happ (.048). 0-1, 3BB, R, K
- Billy Goat: Marcus Stroman (-.458). 3⅓ IP, 20 batters, 8H, BB, 6R (3ER), 2K, HBP (L 9-5)
*This is the seventh-worst game score by a Cub in 2023
- Goat: Mike Tauchman (-.134). 0-3, K
- Kid: Seiya Suzuki (-.093). 0-5, K
WPA Play of the Game: There were two outs and runners on first and second with the Cubs up one in the second inning when Trey Mancini came to the plate. The run expectancy there is only .41, but Mancini doubled and two scored. (.172)
*Cardinals Play of the Game: The play immediately following the crucial Trey Mancini error. The bases were still loaded with two outs, the Cubs still up four when Brendan Donovan came to the plate. Run expectancy .74. He singled, everyone moved up a base and the lead dwindled to two. (.163)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Mark Leiter Jr. (1 1⁄3 IP, 4 batters, K)
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Winner: Ian Happ 50-41 over Justin Steele (Superhero is 52-23)
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.
- Ian Happ +20.5
- Marcus Stroman +20
- Adbert Alzolay/Justin Steele +12
- Matt Mervis +8
- Miles Mastrobuoni/Seiya Suzuki -8
- Patrick Wisdom/Jameson Taillon/Nico Hoerner/Trey Mancini -12
Up Next: The Cubs are off Monday before playing Tuesday night at Wrigley Field. If you are already scoreboard watching, the Reds start a series Monday against the Orioles in Baltimore. That’ll be a tough series for the upstart team already having dropped two straight. The Brewers travel to New York to face a Mets ballclub that has been extremely disappointing.
The Cubs? They return to Wrigley Field to face the Phillies. The Phillies are 40-37. After a disappointing May saw them go 10-16, they have stormed out of the gate in June, winning 15 of 22. They sit 10 games out in the N.L. East and in third place. They are also three out of the last wild card spot.
As I went to press, the Cubs hadn’t named a starter for Tuesday’s game. I would think Drew Smyly might be the next option, followed by Kyle Hendricks. But it wouldn’t be the worst thing ever to give Smyly, who seems to always have some injury at some point in the season, an extra day before the next stretch of games leading up to the All-Star break.
The Phillies are throwing Ranger Suarez (1-2, 3.50, 43⅔ IP). The 27-year-old lefty out of Venezuela has been effective in a number of roles for the Phillies, primarily since 2021, but he’s pitched for them every year dating back to 2018. Over 120 career appearances, 52 of them starts, he has a 3.16 ERA in 372⅔ IP. At one point, beating lefties had been a Cub hallmark, but that has been slowly fading, including the Sunday loss in London.