So where do we go with this game. I guess we take things in order a little. Obviously, no reasonable human being thinks there was anything in the neighborhood of intent in the Ian Happ/Willson Contreras incident. I have perceived Happ from day one as a classy guy and I assume a lot of his teammates do too, making him a player rep very early on. I’ve certainly always thought Happ’s swing is very long. I never considered it from a striking the catcher perspective, but now that I’ve seen it, I almost wonder how I haven’t seen him do it before. I was only ever concerned with his ability to make consistent contact with what looks like a slow swing because he is just so long. I’ve heard a hundred analysts talk about being compact to the ball and I just think Happ is the total opposite of that.
Obviously, I hated to see Contreras injured. Whatever any of the things about his departure and his time with the Cardinals, I loved the guy as a Cub and respected the hell out of how hard he plays the game and how much he cares. I know what he said about the Cardinals and how it was interpreted. I’m going to guess that if Willson were to find himself on the A’s, the Royals, the Tigers, or the Pirates that he would talk about what a quality organization they are and that he thinks they’ve got a great team and will win a lot of games. I’m going to bet that guy is all in on pretty much everything he does. It’s his wiring.
About Miles Mikolas and Cardinals broadcasters, I have nothing kind to say. I’ve not yet seen Mikolas admitting he got caught up in a moment or whatever. I’m less angry by the pitch that actually hit Happ than the one that missed up and in. That was clocked at 94 and was at least in the shoulder area. You lose that one, you could screw with a guy’s career. I listened to all of the clips of the Cardinals broadcast, including John Rooney on the radio call. I’ve long respected Rooney’s work, but thought he had this one all wrong. Ricky Horton was more subdued, waxing poetic about that players used to police the game.
That’s all I’ll say about that. The net result was a big first inning and the game turning into a laugher relatively quickly. A huge part of that was another very good outing out of Justin Steele. He did issue three walks over six innings while only striking out four. But that feels a little nitpicky. One run over six is fantastic against any opponent. I don’t get caught up in sweating who actually wins a given award. If Steele continues this and doesn’t get a decent showing in the Cy Young voting, it’s a joke. There’s a lot of baseball to be played, but he should be on your list. That so much of the national media continues to leave him off of best pitcher lists is just wrong. It especially surprises me because the run started last year. He obviously hasn’t reached Jake Arrieta’s level of dominance, but it does remind me of the timing where the breakthrough happened midseason one year then just carried over.
I’m not overly surprised by the six-game winning streak. That is, it doesn’t surprise me. A) this team clearly has enough talent to get hot and B) these aren’t exactly World Series contenders, even if the White Sox and Cardinals both clearly have more talent in the clubhouse than their record would suggest. When the shell of this team got blazing hot in September last year, the calling card was the pitching staff. Certainly, the offense consistently scored runs such that the pitchers could attack, but no one would suggest anything other than the pitching staff gelling down the stretch and delivering a fairly dominant run.
All of the regular readers have read a lot of words from me on the type of wins the Cubs have had. They are kind of a weird Venn diagram. Does the opponent score less than 3? If yes, then probably a win. Do the Cubs score seven or more? If yes, they definitely win. The places where the two overlap are obviously all wins. The places where they did neither? To be sure, that’s landing on an island. The Cubs have won no games this year by scores of 5-4, 6-4, or 6-5. Like many baseball statistics, this is just a fun one. It isn’t predictive of anything, just an observation.
But getting back to our diagram. If we think of the options as quadrants, the one where the Cubs score over seven repeatedly isn’t the one I’d expect things to get stuck on. Yet here we are. The Cubs have scored seven for five straight games. Adding in the last two games of the Nationals series, the Cubs have won eight of nine and they have scored seven or more seven times. The one win against the Red Sox, they scored 10, and the Sunday win against the Yankees before the break they scored seven. That’s nine times in a 14-game period. They’ve won 10 of 14 overall.
My take on climbing multiple teams always asks the question. Can you win 10 straight? Can you win 15 of 20? You have to have a stretch like that if you are going to climb a bunch of teams. Right now this is a 13 of 20 stretch. The Cubs have made some ground. But this booster has some more work to do to clear the atmosphere.
I certainly haven’t foreseen having a daily update on this, but the Cubs now have the third best run differential in baseball. They’ve reached .500. And they’ll wake up tomorrow four games out of the wildcard and just 5½ back in the division. The Brewers play the Braves. I’m not going to get too excited about that, because the Cubs have to climb that wall soon themselves. The Brewers dropped two of three to the Braves last weekend. Atlanta has played just two games (both losses) in the four days since. Now they’ll host the Brewers for three. The Cubs will see them the following weekend in Wrigley Field. The Cubs will also see them in late September.
My brain conjured up the infamous White Flag trade back in 1997. I had to double check. Of course, baseball is very different now with playoffs that are ever-expanding. But the White Sox were only 3½ out in their division when they traded off Wilson Alvarez, Danny Darwin and Roberto Hernandez to the Giants, effectively gutting the White Sox pitching staff. The return in that deal, Keith Foulke and Bob Howry, ended up being pretty good relievers. But yeah, that didn’t end up being a great trade. I’m amused looking back at it that the White Sox gave up on the division that year. The Indians absolutely fielded some powerhouse teams in the 90’s. Checking notes, they won 86 games that year.
Let’s turn our attention to the three star performances of this game.
- Justin Steele gets my top spot. One run over six innings en route to his 11th win of the season. His ERA sits at 2.87. I realize ERA isn’t a top tier stat these days, but that sits fourth in baseball. I will note that all three guys ahead of him have also thrown more innings. At 44th among pitchers in innings pitched, Steele has thrown a pretty solid number of innings. fWAR had him ninth in baseball before Thursday’s strong start.
- Offensively, Christopher Morel was in the middle of everything Thursday night. He had two singles, a double, a walk, drove in a pair of runs and scored two. The season line sits at .281/.343/.548 wRC+ 138. That’s a pretty strong half season of production. That’s a grand total of 60 games. But if we simply double it, he’d pace a 32 HR and 96 RBI season. His 8.1 percent walk rate isn’t terrible. He’s a pretty terrific player.
- With due respect to Cody Bellinger with another three-hit game, I’m going to give the nod to Bradley Braves alum Mike Tauchman. Three more hits, one of them a solo homer. Two runs driven in total. Tauchman has reached 211 plate appearances with a line of .257/.357/.391 wRC+ 109. He had one remarkable year with the Yankees in 2019, but this is the second best year of his career, across the board.
Game 102, July 27: Cubs 10, at Cardinals 3 (51-51)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Christopher Morel (.167). 3-4, 2B, BB, 2 RBI, 3 R
- Hero: Justin Steele (.143). 6 IP, 25 batters, 5 H, 3 BB, R, 4 K (W 11-3)
- Sidekick: Dansby Swanson (.106). 1-2, 2 BB, RBI, 2R, K
- Billy Goat: Nico Hoerner (-.018). 1-4, 2B, R
*This game feels like something that has happened to Nico too many times, when we see him at the bottom of the standings overall.
- Goat: Ian Happ (-.012). 0-4, BB, HBP, R
- Kid: Mike Tauchman (-.001). 3-6, HR, 2 RBI, R, K
WPA Play of the Game: Christopher Morel batted with the bases loaded and two outs in the first inning, the Cubs already up one. He bounced one over the wall there for two runs, capping a three-run first inning rally. (.159)
*Cardinals Play of the Game: Yan Gomes followed Morel’s double, batting with second and third two out, a three-run lead. Dakota Hudson coaxed a ground out to end the inning. (.034)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Somebody else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Winner: Javier Assad with 79 votes with Nico Hoerner at 71. (Superhero is 69-32)
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 5/Bottom 5)
- Cody Bellinger +19
- Ian Happ +15.5
- Marcus Stroman +15
- Justin Steele +14
- Mike Tauchman +10
- Julian Merryweather -10.5
- Michael Fulmer -11
- Patrick Wisdom -13
- Jameson Taillon -15
- Trey Mancini -20
Up Next: Game two of the four-game set between these two teams. The Cubs will look for a fifth straight win over the Cardinals. The Drew Smyly spot in the rotation is up again. As I type, the Cubs haven’t tipped their hand. Smyly’s struggles have been well documented. I like the idea of pairing Javier Assad with Smyly, perhaps even as the opener. Assad did throw 24 pitches Wednesday night in the come from behind win. I wouldn’t be opposed to him getting two innings under his belt and then possibly getting Smyly in for two or three against a lefty heavy lineup, letting him know that he’s going to be limited to 50ish pitches and can plan accordingly. Possibly simplifying is pitch mix a bit or reaching bat a bit for the fastball could maybe squeeze a little bit of a turn around out of him.
We’ve reached the point in the season where every day has the caveat that the starting pitcher could be scratched if he is part of or even close to being a part of a trade. Jordan Montgomery (6-8, 3.37, 115 IP) is certainly in that boat. His last seven look good at 3-1 and 2.51 over 43 innings. But it was even better before the last start when the Cubs tagged him for five runs in six innings. He’s 0-2 against the Cubs this year with 11 runs allowed in 11 innings of work. Against all other opponents he’s allowed 32 runs in 104 innings (2.77 ERA). Basically one of the better pitchers in baseball.