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2023 Cubs Heroes and Goats: Game 81

Sliding into the halfway point

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

An optimist writes that the Cubs split the first two games of the series against Cleveland. The realist notes that the Cubs have lost five of six. After reaching as high as one game under .500, the bottom fell out on the Cubs again. While on the one hand, it feels like a reprieve that the Cubs were losing so badly that I could start writing in the sixth inning after the game was delayed by hours. On the other hand, losing sucks.

We just had this conversation regarding “catching the Phillies at the wrong time.” Just how many teams are the Cubs completely overmatched by? Sure, the two games of this series are more or less a wash. But that just doesn’t feel comforting. I know the games aren’t won or lost on paper, but seriously, how is Sunday going to end? 2-11 is the record in Taillon starts. I sure with there was some magic formula and that AL teams that he might have seen the last couple of years. His numbers against A.L. teams? 0-3 with a 7.08 ERA across four starts. He was charged with four earned runs allowed in all four games. The only difference was how many innings he lasted. For what it’s worth he held Cleveland to one run on seven hits in five innings of work in a 2022 start, a start he won. But... he was 1-2 with a 7.04 ERA in three inter-league starts last year.

This one is frustrating for so many reasons. Obviously it starts with the five losses in six games. Marcus Stroman didn’t pitch badly, but he just couldn’t escape the sixth and then Julian Merryweather, who has ordinarily been reliable, allowed a pair of hits and a pair of inherited runners before getting out of the inning. All of that is exacerbated by an offense that had four hits and two walks through six innings. Certainly, you aren’t going to win more than one or two games in a year where you have as many hits and walks as the other team has runs.

One batter from escaping the sixth and extending the major league lead for quality starts, Stroman gets hung with five runs without finishing six. For a short time in this one he had taken over the major league lead in ERA. Instead his ERA inflates to a still respectable 2.76. You just hate to see it. He’s far too much of a team player to talk about how difficult it is to pitch when any mistake feels like it’s going to take away any chance of winning.

The split remains largely true. The Cubs are 30-3 if they allow two runs or fewer and 8-40 otherwise. In the last few weeks, the Cubs dented their record in games where they allowed three a bit, winning three of their last four games in which they allowed exactly three runs. Flipping the script, they are 19-0 when they score seven or more. Without looking around much, I’m going to guess 19 games with seven or more runs in the first half of the season is pretty good and also more than a handful of teams has lost one of those high scoring games. Again, the flip of that number is that the Cubs are 19-43 if they don’t score seven or more runs. It’s an oddly particular stat, but it shows that if the Cubs aren’t blowing out the opposition, their odds of winning aren’t very good.

A little contrast in teams on the field Saturday: Cleveland is 21-5 when they allow two or fewer, counting this game. The flip side is that they are 19-27 when they allow three or more. Not quite as hopeless. On the other side of the ball, they are 12-2 when scoring seven or more, not unbeatable. But, at six or fewer, they are 28-40. Again, not nearly as futile.

An interesting contrast, Cleveland is 8-11 in blowouts (defined as wins by five or more run), but the Cubs are 19-11. The Cubs win a bunch of lopsided games. Cleveland is more all over the map, winning high scoring and low scoring games alike.

Let’s turn the page with a quick turnaround. Let’s look for three positives.

  1. Cody Bellinger had three of the Cubs five hits. One of those was the Cubs’ only extra-base hit, a double.
  2. Javier Assad,continued his work as the mop that saves the bullpen. In three innings of work, he struck out five batters while allowing a single and walking a batter.
  3. Ian Happ continued to get on base with a single and a walk. The rest of the Cubs offense outside of Happ and Bellinger managed one hit and one walk.

Game 81, July 1: Guardians 6 at Cubs 0 (38-43)


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


  • Superhero: Ian Happ (.045). 1-3, BB, K
  • Hero: Seiya Suzuki (.041). 0-3, BB, 2K
  • Sidekick: Cody Bellinger (.013). 3-4, 2B


  • Billy Goat: Dansby Swanson (-.134). 0-4, 2K
  • Goat: Julian Merryweather (-.102). ⅓ IP, 3 batters, 2H, K
  • Kid: Jared Young (-.096). 0-2, K

Guardians Play of the Game: It was scoreless in the third inning when Amed Rosario batted with runners on second and third with two outs. The run expectancy in that spot is only .60, but he singled, two runs scored and for intents and purposes, this one was out of reach. (.186)

*Cubs Play of the Game: There were no outs and there was a runner on first with the Cubs down two when Seiya Suzuki batted in the fourth. He drew a walk and the Cubs had their best scoring opportunity. (.075)


Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    Ian Happ
    (3 votes)
  • 56%
    Cody Bellinger
    (39 votes)
  • 34%
    Javier Assad (3IP, 11 batters, H, BB, 5K)
    (24 votes)
  • 4%
    Someone else (leave your suggestions in the comments)
    (3 votes)
69 votes total Vote Now

Yesterday’s Winner: Justin Steele received 134 out of 146 votes. (Superhero is 56-24)

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
  • Ian Happ +17.5
  • Justin Steele +15
  • Adbert Alzolay +12
  • Matt Mervis +8
  • Two players at -7
  • Miles Mastrobuoni -8
  • Patrick Wisdom -12
  • Trey Mancini -13
  • Jameson Taillon -15

Up Next: The Cubs will aim for meatloaf Sunday. As noted above, Jameson Taillon starts this one. The striking number is 2-11, that’s the Cubs’ record in games he has started. If you are hoping his numbers are heading in the right direction, you don’t want to know that over his last seven starts, he is 2-4 with a 7.08 ERA in 34⅓ innings. Yes, his two wins came in that stretch, but his ERA is actually worse than his overall season ERA (6.90). He’s lost his last two starts, allowing nine earned runs in 10⅓ innings.

Cleveland will start 28-year-old righty Aaron Civale. Civale was a third round pick in 2016. He’s 2-2 with a 3.18 ERA over seven starts covering 39⅔ innings. He’s made five starts in June and is 1-1 with a 3.33 over that time. The win was back on June 8 against the Red Sox in a start in Cleveland.