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2023 Cubs Heroes and Goats: Game 62

The Cubs get swept out of Anaheim.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Los Angeles Angels Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s play the worst game of Jeopardy ever. What are 4, 2, 11, 4, 8, 3 and 5? Those are the Cubs’ hit totals in the first seven games of the trip. 37 hits in seven games. But this illustrates the problem of every statistical analysis of the Cubs. They have averaged a little over five hits per game. For all major league teams so far this year, a run is scored for every 1.83 hits. Doing some quick math (37/7/1.83) produces an expectation of 2.88 or call it three runs per game.

The Cubs have allowed 1, 6, 1, 4, 7, 6, 3 runs. So it’s no wonder this team is 2-5 on the road trip. There just isn’t any expectation that this team could do any better. The Cubs have now dropped to 19th in runs per game. They are still at 10th in on base percentage. Surprising to me, they are 17th in slugging percentage. They are 14th in runs allowed per game. The statistics still show a middle of the road team.

The record? Well, there are still five teams worse than the Cubs. Though three of those teams are within one game of the Cubs in the standings. Is this it? Will 10 games under .500 be rock bottom? The Angels were one game over until they fattened up on the Cubs. The Giants? They are two games over. I’m sure they want to eat whatever meat remains on the carcass of the 2023 Cubs.

The Cubs used a pair of hits to score a run and take the lead in the second inning. The Cubs led in all three games in Anaheim. But the story was the same in all three games. The Cubs took the lead and then the Angels slammed the door on them. On Tuesday it was seven unanswered runs, on Wednesday it was five. Thursday night Drew Smyly and the bullpen limited the damage. It was just three runs. In each instance the Cubs took the lead and then never added on. Cubs pitchers found it difficult to contain the Angels lineup.

Of course, the Angels have a once in a generation player and a once in a hundred years type of player. Mike Trout has been the best player in baseball going back over a long period. He may or may not specifically be the best player this season. But looking over long periods, his name will be up there over and over and over again. For Shohei Ohtani, his uniqueness comes in being the first player since Babe Ruth to be successful on both sides of the ball. Famously, he was selected to the 2022 All-Star Game as both a hitter and a pitcher.

The Cubs? They presently have a former MVP under contract. But he’s rehabbing an injury. They do have one of the best shortstops in the game. They have at least two pitchers who look to date like they might eventually garner NL Cy Young votes, though one of those has now missed one start and it’s certainly looking like at least two with an injury of his own. I know when listening to Pat Hughes that he listed Hayden Wesneski as a starter in the upcoming series.

The cupboard is pretty empty. This organization will never turn the corner and become a sustained competitor until they consistently produce talent from their system. The Cubs have Nico Hoerner and Ian Happ who were their own first round selections on the roster, as well as another in Dansby Swanson. Of course, their first-round picks from 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 drafts made the major leagues and contributed to a World Series winner. And, of course, all have moved on. Even when the Cubs system did produce high end talent, the Cubs let it all walk. They didn’t extend any of them beyond their initial team control period.

Their 2019 first pick has converted to relieving and has reached Triple-A. He joins their first pick in 2017 who also resides with the Iowa Cubs. Their first choice in 2020 has been ravaged by injuries and now plays for South Bend. He needs to clear that level and two more if he’s going to reach the majors. Their top pick from 2021 is in Double-A and has been relatively promising there.

Maybe help is on the way. But there is no cavalry to save this team. If this team is going to avoid landing with a bottom five record, they are going to have to pull it up from within. Right here, today, I’m going to recognize that I was wrong in part about placing blame on David Ross. I called earlier for him to be fired. But I’m starting to recognize that it goes much further than that.

The drafting and player development people have failed this team. This team is floundering and what does it have to look forward to? Is the Triple-A team overflowing with significant help? To be sure, I believe there are a decent handful of relievers there that can supplement a bullpen that has been lousy this year. Are their impact bats ready? The two bats that made the biggest impact there season to date are already here and struggling to find consistent major league production. Of course, Nick Madrigal is torching the Triple-A circuit since being sent down.

There are certainly some intriguing players with the Cubs’ Double-A team. But those pieces need to pass the test with that team, secure promotion to the one above and then pass that test. It’s going to be a while before potentially high impact talent develops from within. That leaves the major league team continuing to try to Frankenstein a team together through free agency, trades and waiver wire pickups.

For as long as Marcus Stroman, Justin Steele and Drew Smyly can stay healthy and effective for the Cubs, they will at least hold a chance of a quick turnaround. Many, many teams in history have gotten into the playoffs and even deep into playoff runs on the back of three really good pitchers and mix and match behind it. But realistically, without a significant internal infusion of talent, it’s hard to see how the medium term potential of this team is a contender.

I worried about this with the Cubs second-half surge last year. I wrote about it often. I’ve reminded of it a few times this season. The road to the top is rarely a straight line. A stretch of good play doesn’t create a birthright. You have to put together sustained good play to compete. There just isn’t enough talent at the major league level to do that. As frustrating as it is, I have a hard time justifying the team locking up more payroll into high end talent until they fix the pipeline.

You have to be producing regular talent from within. The best organizations, of course, trade for and sign high end players. They also develop players internally to supplement the acquisitions. This team still can’t show that it can consistently do that. I’m not sure they will do much better than the Cubs of my youth until then. A team that is usually middle of the pack or worse that occasionally hits on enough of their budget signings and waiver wire pickups to make the playoffs and be a quick exit.

Let’s try to find three positives out of this loss.

  1. Seiya Suzuki had a pair of hits, one a double. Sadly, he neither drove in, nor scored a run.
  2. Trey Mancini had an RBI double, driving in the Cubs lone run.
  3. I don’t love any option for the third spot, so I’ll go with Miguel Amaya. He had another hit and scored the lone run.

Game 62, June 8: Angels 3, Cubs 1

Fangraphs

Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.

THREE HEROES:

  • Superhero: Seiya Suzuki (.049). 2-4, 2B, K
  • Hero: Trey Mancini (.041). 1-3, 2B, RBI
  • Sidekick: Julian Merryweather (.023). IP, 5 batters, 2BB, 2K

THREE GOATS:

  • Billy Goat: Yan Gomes (-.147). 0-4, 2K
  • Goat: Nico Hoerner (-.123). 0-4, K
  • Kid: Miguel Amaya (-.110). 1-4, R, K

WPA Play of the Game: Jo Adell homered leading off the second inning to tie the game 1-1. (.111)

*Cubs Play of the Game: Trey Mancini doubled with a runner on second and two outs in the second inning giving the Cubs the first run of the game. (.108)

Poll

Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Yan Gomes
    (1 vote)
  • 1%
    Nico Hoerner
    (1 vote)
  • 24%
    Miguel Amaya
    (15 votes)
  • 72%
    Someone else (Leave your suggestion in the comments)
    (45 votes)
62 votes total Vote Now

Yesterday’s Winner: Mike Tauchman (Superhero is 43-18)

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 +19
  • Dansby Swanson +11.5
  • Ian Happ +11
  • Justin Steele +10
  • Adbert Alzolay +9
  • Michael Fulmer -8
  • Jameson Taillon -10
  • Nico Hoerner -10.5
  • Patrick Wisdom -11
  • Trey Mancini -13

Up Next: As noted earlier, the Cubs’ 2-5 road trip moves to San Francisco. The Giants are 32-30 and have won three straight. They are in third place in their division. Like the Angels, they are hanging out near the playoff picture, but not quite in it. Of course, it takes less to reach the NL playoffs than the AL, so the Giants are a couple games closer to being in a spot. They would obviously like nothing better than sweeping the Cubs. It’s hard to imagine that if they did so, they wouldn’t pass the slowly fading Pirates, who play an underachieving Mets team this weekend.

The Cubs are six full games behind the Giants in the standings. The playoffs are more and more of a hazy picture in the distance, slowly fading completely out of sight. They’ll try to turn things around Friday night with Marcus Stroman (6-4, 2.39, 79 IP). I understand why most, including me, have looked at Justin Steele as the ace of this team, Stroman has been every bit the part. These last four starts, Marcus has found an even higher gear. He’s won all four starts and has allowed four runs (three earned) in 29 innings of work. All four of those teams came into the season thinking they had legitimate playoff hopes and a couple of them looked like they could be World Series contenders.

The Giants counter with 33-year-old righty Anthony DeSclafini (4-5, 3.97, 70⅓ IP). The ERA suggests that Anthony has had at least a little bad luck with that record. But narrowing the focus to seven games (2-4, 4.91, 40⅓ IP) doesn’t paint a better picture. Last time out, he only pitched three innings against the Orioles, allowing six runs (five earned) in that time. Two start before that he allowed seven (four earned) against the Twins in a five inning start. Aging, struggling pitcher? It feels like the Cubs have made a number of those look really good lately.