I think I remember seeing this one before. Wasn’t there a show some years ago where maybe it turned out that everyone had died and that the whole show was perhaps some kind of collective fever dream? Or if you prefer, a vision of purgatory while the afterlife is sorted out.
Yeah, the Cubs and all of their loyal fans died on Opening Day 2023. They have existed in some kind of purgatory that has passed for a baseball season, waiting for the collective to realize that this season was dead on arrival. The worst part is the occasional feel like maybe this all wasn’t just another march of futility.
When I wrote the dek to this article, obviously, I was referring to the craziness that is the Cubs playing in back to back games with an early 6-0 lead, a stunning comeback/collapse, eventually ending in an 8-6 game. The odds of having two such games in a season is probably pretty remote. Having them on consecutive days? That’s gotta be near a once in a lifetime thing. Having the Cubs be on the losing end of both? Less surprising. Though I will say that the Cubs coming back from down 6-0 was one of my biggest surprises of the year.
One pitstop through numerology, since I gave you the stat after Saturday’s loss that, oddly, the Cubs were 19-0 when scoring seven runs. Seven is, of course, a fairly arbitrary cutoff and solely is fun playing with the oddity that is scoring trends within a particular year. But let me say, it’s a weird flex to then continue that by having back-to-back losses in which the Cubs scored precisely six runs. They are now 2-5 when they’ve scored exactly six runs.
Just for reference, the “juggernaut” Brewers are now 7-2 when they score exactly six runs. As I said on Saturday, I was going to guess a good number of teams have lost games where have scored seven runs. The Brewers are in fact 8-1 when they score exactly seven. Counting Monday’s win, they are now 18-1 when they score seven or more. But continue out: 24-3 if they score at least six. 34-5 if they score at least five. 40-7 if they score at least four. A good bullpen and a strong manager probably help. When their offense works, they are largely one of the best teams in baseball. Also, for reference, their largest blown lead is four. Today was their largest comeback.
But what about that title of today’s piece? Sure that whole next verse, same as the last thought was about the similarity between Sunday and Monday’s losses. But doesn’t this season feel so much like so many other Cubs seasons? The Cubs threw money at problems, buying some shiny new toys. Dansby Swanson is an All-Star! All of the rest of them? As we went over not too long ago, aside from the acquisitions of Michael Fulmer and Julian Merryweather, the returns haven’t been very good. Even those aren’t particularly blow the doors down success stories. Though certainly, they are two of the brighter spots of this year.
We certainly have the hallmark of failed Cubs seasons past. That is, the acquisition of a past his prime once upon a time star. Sure, they didn’t spend much money on the ghost of Eric Hosmer’s career and they did cut bait (after a mere 100 plate appearances). There was the pitching acquisition that weirdly misfired completely in Jameson Taillon. I always hate to speak ill of the current Cubs, but he’s having a nightmare of a season. By all accounts, he is a good guy, I’m sure this is as perplexing to him as it has been to us.
There’s also the other past his prime, once upon a time star Tucker Barnhart. His stardom was fleeting, but the Cubs beat writers rushed to write the stories of his hard work from the minute he was signed. Another great guy. And an OPS lower that teammate Christopher Morel’s slugging percentage (by almost exactly 100 points). There was the other pitching acquisition that weirdly misfired and then was completely derailed by injury (Brad Boxberger). Hey, the Cubs are 10 days away from being able to free that roster spot up for someone else (he last pitched on May 13).
So many times we’ve seen this. The system doesn’t produce enough talent, so the Cubs have to look constantly outside the organization to fill roster holes. The more times you have to look outside the organization, the more likely you are to have misses. Also, you usually can’t find what turned out to be a terrific waiver pickup in Julian Merryweather in someone else’s trash. Usually, you have to overpay in dollars or trade capital to acquire other people’s players to fill your holes.
You do your research, but how can you understand why Jameson Taillon will come to the Cubs and not be good. I’m not the first one to point out that when Jameson pitches, the Cubs are 2-12 and in all of the other games they are 36-33. That team would be in the race in the NL Central. As super Cub Fan Bradsbeard pointed out on Twitter, I’m fairly certain the Cubs lost Taillon’s spot every time through while he was hurt. That’s depressing twice over. First, because the Cubs have essentially been doomed to lose every fifth game all year. Second, because it is a reminder that there is no option just screaming to pick up that torch even if you shut Taillon down for a while.
Someday the Cubs will become a good organization. Certainly, from 2015 to 2019, we didn’t always realize just how good we had it. It was the best (least inept) this organization had been in any stretch in over 100 years. I’ll say it again, exactly what I said late last season. If you make the right acquisitions, this team can be a playoff contender. You have a pair of ace level pitchers. You have one of the best middle infield combos in baseball. I assure you that among the 20 teams that have a better winning percentage at the time I’m writing this that there are teams with less talent than this one.
Literally the other 22 spots on the roster should be open to suggestion. Am I saying everyone else should go? Of course not. Turnover never happens like that and it would probably not be productive if it was. Take your pick among Christopher Morel and Ian Happ, the upstart star in the making or the longer track record, for the next keeper. Kyle Hendricks, Merryweather, Michael Rucker, Mark Leiter Jr. and Adbert Alzolay probably should be part of your picture. After that? Everyone has questions. And there aren’t many pieces I wouldn’t at least pick up the phone to talk about dealing.
Positive. I try to be positive here. The Cubs scored six runs. There have to be some positives to look at. As I did last year once it appeared that the season was going down the drain, I’m going to tend to feature guys who look like they are they are part of the future. Let’s look at three positive performances from Monday’s loss.
- This spot appears to be permanently reserved for Christopher Morel. He had a single, a double, drove in a run and scored two. He gets this spot over number two, because rightly or wrongly, he wasn’t called out on strikes to end the game.
- Dansby Swanson, apart from that frustrating last at bat, Dansby also had a single and a double. He added a walk and scored two runs.
- Michael Fulmer appears to have completely righted his ship after early season woes. He worked around two walks to record seven outs. Oddly, none were by strikeout, but he did a terrific job holding the 6-3 lead that existed when he entered the game. The stat line of 0-4, 4.50 still looks unsightly. That was 0-3 with a 7.58 after his appearance on May 20. He certainly can fetch something at the trade deadline should you choose to do so.
Game 83, July 3: Brewers 8, Cubs 6 (38-45)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Michael Fulmer (.172). 2⅓ IP, 9 batters, 2BB
- Hero: Nick Madrigal (.074). 1-2, 2B, 2RBI, R
- Sidekick: Christopher Morel (.070). 2-4, 2B, RBI, 2R
- Billy Goat: Anthony Kay (-.448). 3 batters, H, BB, HBP
*8th worst WPA game score by a Cub in 2023
- Goat: Mark Leiter Jr. (-.203). 1⅓ IP, 7 batters, 3H, 2R, 2K (L 1-2)
- Kid: Jared Young (-058). 0-4, HBP, SB
WPA Play of the Game: Unsurprisingly, Jahmai Jones takes the top spot. He batted with the bases loaded and the Cubs winning by three with two outs in the seventh. The Brewers have just a .77 run expectancy there. But Jones delivered a three-run double. It always seems that when the game is on the line between these two teams, the Brewers always end up with exactly the matchup they were looking for and more times than not they execute. (.396)
*Cubs Play of the Game: The Cubs were only up by one when Christopher Morel batted with a runner on first and no outs in the second inning. He doubled and the lead was extended when Cody Bellinger scored from first. (.110)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Winner: Christopher Morel - 80 of 83 votes (Superhero is 57-25)
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 +9
- Matt Mervis +8
- Julian Merryweather -6.5
- Miles Mastrobuoni -8
- Patrick Wisdom -12
- Trey Mancini -13
- Jameson Taillon -17
Up Next: These two teams meet again Tuesday afternoon. Kyle Hendricks (3-3, 2.81, 41⅔ IP) makes his eighth start of the year. He was the victim of poor run support last time, allowing three runs over seven innings in a 3-1 loss. That snapped a three-game personal winning streak that brought him to 90 career wins.
Ex-Cub Wade Miley (5-2, 3.02, 56⅔ IP) makes his 12th start for the Brewers. He’s tailed off a little bit, only 2-1 with a 3.74 ERA, over his last seven. He got a no-decision after allowing two runs in four innings against the Mets last time. But he won his two starts before that, allowing only five hits and no runs over 11 innings of work. He did not face the Cubs in the opening series of this season.