Adbert Alzolay has now converted 12 saves in 13 chances in 2023. Including this one, his last five appearances have resulted in saves. The one blown save was July 4 in Milwaukee. Adbert recorded four outs in that game. Ironically, the Cubs actually won that game. It’s funny how fast closers become closers. Adbert worked two innings in his second save way back on May 30. That was against the Rays in the wild series that really began the turnaround for the Cubs. The two games I just described are the last two games before Friday night in which he’s been asked to record more than three outs. Three times in 59 days.
That compares to six times in the two months leading up to that. And it includes a game back on May 7 in which he threw three innings (in a loss at Miami). But more than quickly morphing into a “one-inning reliever,” he’s been a really dominant closer. In his 11 saves prior to Friday night, he recorded 40 outs across 12 innings. He’s allowed two hits, a walk and he’s hit a batter. He’s struck out 16 batters. He has dominated the opposition and he just hasn’t needed a lot of help.
So Friday night he struck out Nolan Arenado with a one-run lead to end the eighth. I get it, the other team’s best hitter. Math checks. But then the first two batters in the ninth inning singled off him (after the Cubs own ill-fated adventures in the top of the ninth). Friday night, Adbert got by with a little help from his friends. (Man, I didn’t even remember that lyric was originally the Beatles. Thank you Wonder Years!)
When you allow the first two runners to reach base, you sometimes need to lean on your friends. Adbert coaxed a ground ball to second. (I haven’t peeked ahead, but I’m going to guess this play might come up again later before I’m done here.) Nico Hoerner grabbed it and started to pivot to second and my brain screamed “oh no!” That was one of those that my mere mortal brain thought “just take the out at first.”
And there was Dansby Swanson sweeping across the bag, holy ($#!*) cow they got him. And again, oh no, eat it. Then Swanson fired across to first in just enough time to put the Cardinals down to their last out. These are the plays you build a team for. I could not have conceived they could even get the runner at second. Nico was WAY over towards first when he fielded it. Yeah, I know he has a shortstop arm. But that’s a hard pivot and throw. One that sometimes rolling around down in the bullpen when a rifle armed infielder tries to make it. But it was a great throw and a great relay to first.
That by itself could have made to a fantastic defensive end to the game. Then there was the third strike that wasn’t. Granted, it was on the outside part of the box. But it did touch the zone. That is absolutely sometimes a strike, though it certainly is sometimes not. Then Adbert Alzolay made a pitch that I haven’t focused on that part of the exchange, but I’m gonna guess he probably would want back. Cardinals pinch hitter Alec Burleson crushed one just over the wall for a game-winning homer to center field, of all places.
It was a crazy finish because man Mike Tauchman got under it and it looked like was tracking it and then the ball just kept carrying. And what the heck is that?!? Do I see the glove of Mike Tauchman reaching over the wall? That’s wild. I mean, one team can’t have two different guys bring back a homer in less than a week. This stuff is going to start triggering some team of destiny hype.
At this point in the story, I can segue to a different one, because if you don’t know how this story ended, shame on you. So, a few days ago I was talking with my son. The modern world is awesome. My oldest, a son, does not like sports. My youngest, a girl, hopes to spend her life talking about sports and getting paid to do it. That would have been insane a generation ago, but I sincerely love it.
Anyway, God bless my son. He and I grow to be a little better friends with each passing year. I mean it took a hot minute, his father LOVES sports and he doesn’t even like them, but we find more common ground all of the time. In fact, he and I now both work in the same industry. One of my kids picked up my day job and one picked up my side hustle.
Anyway, so he’s trying to understand more of these things. And we were talking about watching baseball. He’s a numbers guy who is just finding probabilities and law of large numbers and all of those fun lessons. So I was explaining what I think is the magic of baseball. I can’t even estimate how many baseball games I’ve seen in person or on TV. But the beauty of baseball starts with the law of large numbers. There are so many baseball games every day across the country. There are so many seasons I’ve watched go by. Over time, it feels like you’ve seen a million different things. And there is a familiarity from that. We often feel like we know what is going to happen because it is all so much probability and statistics.
Then I told him that the magic thing about baseball is that I can feel like I’ve seen it all before and that all of it is so predetermined. And then, you see something you’ve never seen before. I had to use this as an example: I’ve never seen a triple play happen in real time (I mean aside from some insane situations from beginner baseball as an umpire). I would certainly never dreamed of seeing a guy who spent the first month plus of the season in Iowa would find himself at the wall. He’s preparing to jump.
We talk a lot about three true outcomes. The Adam Dunn of baseball. A homer, a strikeout or a walk. But in this situation, there were only two. It’s Schrodinger’s fly ball. He’s either going to catch it and the game is over. Or he’s going to miss it and the game is over. I’ve seen countless robbed homers as they happened and many times more than that on highlights. But I can’t remember even one that was going to be the final play either way.
Mike Tauchman, the Bradley Brave who I didn’t even know existed — despite the fact that I sent two daughters there. It was my second choice back when I was going off to college (and a decision I regret to this day). I don’t watch a lot of non-Cubs baseball, so even his excellent 2019 season for America’s most visible baseball team didn’t bring him into my consciousness. Mike Tauchman, Cubs savior? That’s a lot to put on one guy. The Cubs were 19-24 before he joined the club. They are 33-27 since. Not a bad run of baseball.
So many baseball players dream of getting to bat for their favorite team with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and the game on the line. Mike Tauchman just made a version of a boyhood dream come true. Mike Tauchman won a baseball game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth with the game on the line. I say again holy ($#!*) cow.
Three star players of the night.
- Yeah, I just wrote more than a thousand words (possibly with a record number of sidetracks, if not, I keep trying) about Tauchman’s catch, he’s got to be number one. I mean does it even matter that he entered the game as a pinch hitter and singled in the ninth? He was player of the game without that.
- Ian Happ might possibly be having the weirdest season I can remember out of a Cub. You want to be frustrated that his SLG is way down. .392 will be the lowest slugging percentage of his career if he does not finish strong. And he had a double and two walks tonight. He scored a run. His on base percentage is .376. What is the highest OPS ever for a player who’s on base percentage was higher than his slugging percentage (while qualifying for the batting title)? As I type, 13th in all of baseball among qualified hitters. Every player in either direction in the top 25 has a higher slugging percentage.
- Without a purely dominant hitter, I’ll dip into the pitchers for reliever Drew Smyly. For the second straight “start” the Cubs used an opener. Smyly came in after two innings. He faced 16 hitters, recorded 13 outs, six of those were strikeouts. He allowed two hits, a walk and one run. To be fair, the Cardinals mustered only four hits. They only had two runs because two of them left the yard.
Game 102, July 28: Cubs 3, at Cardinals 2 (52-51)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Adbert Alzolay (.217). 1⅓ IP, 5 batters, 2 H, K (SV, 12)
- Hero: Julian Merryweather (.215). 1⅓ IP, 5 batters, H, K
- Sidekick: Cody Bellinger (.146). 1-2, BB, HBP
- Billy Goat: Dansby Swanson (-.144). 0-3, SF, RBI, 2K
- Goat: Miguel Amaya (-.120). 0-4, 2 K, DP
- Kid: Nico Hoerner (-.088). 1-5
WPA Play of the Game: Hey, I’m getting good at this. The play of the game was Brendan Donovan’s grounder to second with the Cardinals down one in the ninth with runners on first and second with no outs. Nico Hoerner, Dansby Swanson and Cody Bellinger turned a nifty and hugely important double play. (.350)
I’ve started using the Run Expectancy stat at times this year. I’m not always great at doing the math that determines a number and some of it is very difficult. I had a discussion with one of our readers early on and he helped me to be careful with the language I used. I had a congenial back and forth about it and I pointed out that in the given situation (it was the bottom half of the last inning) that the run expectancy is very finite. I can now confirm that the RE statistic that Fangraphs uses does not adjust for a finite game situation. First and second with no outs in the top of the ninth inning and first and second with no outs in the bottom of the ninth inning do not have the same run expectancy. This is because that stat takes into account the range of opportunities. Put simply, the Cubs could score 100 runs in the top of the ninth inning after having first and second with no outs. That’s never happened, so it shouldn’t be factored into the math, but has a team plated eight, nine, ten or more runs out of that exact scenario? I’m pretty certain it has. But, the Cardinals on Friday night with first and second and no outs have a very finite set of outcomes. The Cardinals could in some way load the bases and hit a grand slam. That is the extreme, because every time that happens, or any scenario where they score two runs, the game ends. Yet Fangraphs used the same number in both spots. I will not reference RE in an elimination inning again, because I don’t have enough high level math aptitude to understand how wide the margin of error is.
*Cardinals Play of the Game: Tyler O’Neill’s single one batter earlier to set up first and second with no outs. (.185)
Last aside, I promise. The Tauchman game-ending catch was the third biggest play of the game. (.155).
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Mike Tauchman (The CATCH! 1-1)
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Winner: Justin Steele (Superhero is 69-33)
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 5/Bottom 5)
- Cody Bellinger +20
- Ian Happ +15.5
- Marcus Stroman +15
- Justin Steele +14
- Mike Tauchman/Adbert Alzolay +10 (ironic timing)
- Drew Smyly -9
- Michael Fulmer -11
- Patrick Wisdom -13
- Jameson Taillon -15
- Trey Mancini -20
Up Next: The Cubs will try for an eight-game winning streak. That would be their longest since they won 11 straight in 2016, starting with the Lester walkoff bunt game (some of you might remember this as the Matusz game). There have been a fair number of seven-game winning streaks in the interim, including in September of each of the last two seasons. The Cubs will wake up with the longest winning streak in baseball, as the only team in baseball with nine wins in its last 10 games, fourth in the NL in run differential, sixth in the majors in run differential, 4½ games out in the NL Central and 3½ games in the NL Wild Card chase. The Cardinals fans will wake up bitter over baseball games that were played the last two days in particular, but a crummy season. The Cardinals and the White Sox fanbases are miserable. It’s a fun time to be alive.
Saturday night’s game will feature Jameson Taillon (4-6, 5.75, 83 IP) for the Cubs. Jameson is 3-2 with a 4.43 ERA over his last seven starts, covering 40⅔ innings. Those numbers are creeping back towards his baseline performance. He’s won two of his last three starts and has allowed four runs over 19⅓ innings in those games. He’s allowed 15 hits, four walks and struck out 14. Those are fantastic numbers and one of the good starts was against these Cardinals last week.
Adam Wainwright starts for the Cardinals. The 41-year-old righty is making the argument for why you retire with a little left in the tank but under your own terms. He’s had a nightmarish season that also recently saw him miss a few weeks due to injury. This is his second start since returning. On the season, he is 3-4 with a 7.31 ERA in 56⅔ innings. I can recite his last seven numbers, but they are even worse, with an 8.31 ERA in 30⅓ innings. I could look at his last three starts. He’s thrown a total of 10 innings and allowed 12 runs. The last one wasn’t bad. He started at Arizona coming off the IL and threw five innings and allowed four hits, two walks and two runs. That was his second best start of the year. Most of you will remember him starting the first game in London and the Cubs teeing off. They had 11 hits and seven runs in three innings against Wainwright. I remind you that baseball is rarely easy. He’s started 49 games and appeared in 58 games against the Cubs, more starts against the Cubs than any other team. He is 19-15 with a 4.01 ERA in those games.