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2023 Cubs Heroes and Goats: Game 80

The oasis in the desert?

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

As is not totally unusual for me, I start with an observation from today’s photo. Is showing up late a thing now at Wrigley? Or did people buy tickets on Steele day and not get there in time to watch him? With all due respect to a pretty good handful of players on the team, Steele is probably my favorite Cub right now.

That tag has so much to do with context in addition to his success. For so long the knock was that the Cubs couldn’t produce starters. I’ve noted it before, the Cubs have been getting almost nothing out of their picks after the first round. The last year that the Cubs drafted any player who has produced even 1 bWAR for their career for any player after the first round was 2017. That class has two right now. Keegan Thompson has been good for 2.2 and Brandon Hughes has been worth exactly 1. They were third round and 16th round picks respectively and Hughes was drafted as an outfielder. In 2015, Scott Effross, drafted in the 15th round, has been worth 1.4.

You have to go all of the way back to 2014 to find the home runs in terms of drafting and talent development. That year the Cubs grabbed Justin Steele in the fifth round (5.0 and adding quickly) and Dylan Cease 10.8. That’s an amusing draft. Jake Stinnett was the second round pick, he last pitched in 2019. Mark Zagunis was the third round pick. He also was done after 2019, though he resurfaced in indy ball for a while in 2022. Then I remember well that, including Stinnett, the Cubs grabbed four different pitchers for $1 million or more. The second taken was Carson Sands. Sands was done after 2017. Cease received the largest bonus at $1.5 million.

Thompson, Steele and David Bote in 2012 (4.3) represent all of the Cubs drafted after the first round who have produced 2 or more bWAR. Just for a nearby reference, the Cardinals had a pair in 2018 and two more in 2016 (both over 15, though Zac Gallen never reached the majors with the Cards). Three more in 2014 (including two more over 10). Even counting just those who did all or most of their damage as Cardinals, there were five including three over 10. The Cubs will never consistently compete until the draft is a regular vector for producing talent. The Cubs have done reasonably well with their first round picks, but it’s been rough after that.

Steele was terrific again today. I think I’ll be more amused than frustrated when the National League somehow doesn’t take both Steele and Marcus Stroman for the All-Star team. Say what you want about ERA, both are in the top four in all of MLB and they are two of the top three in the NL. Another old school stat finds only two NL pitcher with more wins than Stroman (9). Stroman is first in bWAR among pitchers (3.5) while Justin Steele is fifth (2.5) with between two and three fewer starts than everyone in front of him. Steele leads the NL in WHIP (1.031) and Stroman (1.078) is third.

Look, as a card carrying homer for the Cubs, I’d love for the pair to get a long break that week in July. But there is no homer involved in saying that those two should be on the NL All-Star team. I’m certainly not knocking a handful of other guys like Kershaw, Gallen and Spencer Strider. Strider certainly has some of the most eye-popping numbers I’ve ever seen. Like the Cubs, Bryce Elder gives the Braves a pair of ace-like pitchers. Mitch Keller looks like a good choice to represent the Pirates. But don’t screw this up, MLB. Reward Stroman for consistently being an excellent pitcher and Steele for being one of the best pitchers in baseball and certainly one of the most underrated.

After Steele’s performance, Nico Hoerner gets my second star of the day. He had three hits, was hit, scored a run and drove in two and stole a base. You may have seen today that Hoerner leads the Cubs in RBI. Interesting achievement for a guy who has batted first or second almost exclusively.

Rounding out the top three performances, Jared Young had two more hits. One of those was his second triple in as many days. He drove in two and scored two. Fun with tiny samples: Young has a line of .444/.444/1.222 (wRC+ 337) through his first three games. Slacker hasn’t found a chance to take any walks.

Game 80, June 30: Cubs 10, Guardians 1 (38-42)


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


  • Superhero: Justin Steele (.235). 6⅓ IP, 25 batters, 3H, BB, 6K, HBP (W 9-2)
  • Hero: Nico Hoerner (.172). 3-4, HBP, 2RBI, R
  • Sidekick: Jared Young (.124). 2-3, 3B, 2RBI, 2R


  • Billy Goat: Christopher Morel (-.071). 1-4, HR, SF, 3RBI, R, DP
  • Goat: Dansby Swanson (-.067). 1-4, 2B, R
  • Kid: Ian Happ (-.008). 0-3, BB

WPA Play of the Game: The game was actually scoreless in the third inning when Nico Hoerner was batting with the bases loaded and one out. In that spot, the run expectancy is 1.57. Hoerner beat that all at once with a two-run single and the Cubs never looked back. (.132)

*Guardians Play of the Game: The second batter of the game, Amed Rosario, batted with a runner on first with no outs. Rosario reached on an error by Steele and the Cubs were in some real early trouble. (.055)


Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?

This poll is closed

  • 91%
    Justin Steele
    (134 votes)
  • 6%
    Nico Hoerner
    (9 votes)
  • 0%
    Jared Young
    (1 vote)
  • 1%
    Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
    (2 votes)
146 votes total Vote Now

Yesterday’s Winner: Nico Hoerner, though I inadvertently omitted a quality choice in Kyle Hendricks that might have produced a different result. (Superhero is 55-24)

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
  • Justin Steele +15
  • Ian Happ +14.5
  • Adbert Alzolay +12
  • Matt Mervis +8
  • Three players at -7
  • Miles Mastrobuoni -8
  • Patrick Wisdom -12
  • Trey Mancini -13
  • Jameson Taillon -15

Up Next: Game two of the three-game set. Marcus Stroman (9-5, 2.47, 102 IP) starts for the Cubs. He had a string of seven straight wins snapped his last time out. That game was the one in London marred by an error. Stroman developed a blister in that game. He’s apparently ready to go, but one can imagine the Cubs might be cautious with him. Stroman has been either the winning or losing pitcher in 10 straight starts and 14 of 17 overall.

The Guardians start 24-year-old righty Tanner Bibee (4-2, 3.79, 59⅓ IP). Bibee was a fifth round pick by the Indians in 2021. He made his major league debut on April 26. He’s won his last two starts, beating the Brewers and Diamondbacks (in Arizona), for a pair of nice looking wins.