Special note: I am on vacation starting this Saturday and returning the following Saturday. I will definitely not be recapping the Saturday or Sunday games against the Yankees. I will not be recapping the first game versus the Red Sox. The first game with the Yankees and the second with the Red Sox will both be play it by ear. I’ll be communicating with Al on both occasions, but there will be no easy way to let any of you know for sure what to expect. So just assume you are going to get a little less of me over that upcoming 10 day period.
Enough of that business, you don’t come here for tidbits of what is going on in my life, though I thank all of you who indulge me when I sometimes wander through that stuff in the more mundane parts of the season. To be clear, win or lose, there has been nothing mundane about Cubs baseball over the last four days.
In a fashion that we can all recognize as encapsulating Cubs baseball, the Cubs have now completed a six-game period where they won three and lost three. In their own way, the three wins were impressive for a variety of reasons. But, the Cubs experience is most easily recognized in that the two losses are absolutely games that you are disappointed they didn’t finish the job on. I don’t think there is anything more true to being a Cub fan than success, gratification, and joy always just being out of arm’s reach.
I so often use this space to pull the camera back and look at the team from 30,000 feet rather than at field level. There will be a lot of time for that over the final 70 plus games of this season, but these games scream for extra attention. And attention they shall get. As always, Al gives you the complete recap complete with highlights. His should always be the definitive place to go after the game. But, let’s walk through the ninth inning through the eyes of WPA. After all, in keeping it simple, that’s what really brings us all together in this space.
The Brewers opened the ninth with a 3-1 lead. Dansby Swanson left this game with an injury. Devon Williams is on the mound. And the Cubs are staring down the barrel of another loss at the hands of their nemesis to the north. All of this comes, as always, from Fangraphs. When Blake Perkins drew the second of two Brewers walks in the bottom of the eighth, their chances of winning peaked at 94.9 percent. Not to be lost in the shuffle, Michael Rucker, who had issued those two walks, got a double play ball off the bat of Brian Anderson (not the last time this name appears).
The top of the ninth opens with a 92.6 percent chance of a Brewers win. Cody Bellinger leads off with a single while I’m firing up the laptop and logging into the computer and pulling up materials. The Brewers chances of winning drop to 85.1 percent. Christopher Morel strikes out (91.5 percent). Rookie Jared Young singles and Bellinger heads to third (83.7 percent)! Yan Gomes heads to the plate. Please God, not a double play. He hits one on the ground, but they have no shot at a double play. Still, two outs (88.5 percent).
Mike Tauchman thus comes to the plate with the Cubs having an 88.5 percent chance of losing. And that number takes no account of just how effective Williams is. If nothing else for the north siders, this season has been the summer of Tauchman. Tauchman does not want to know the odds. Tauchman doubles, both runners score and the game is tied! The Brewers’ chances are still at 53.4 percent even in this spot. Regardless of anything to do with home crowds or any other factor, the rules of baseball create an advantage to the home team. From this point on, any lead for the Brewers is a win.
Nico Hoerner. I can’t say often enough, when the game is on the line, I want Nico at the plate. Nico stepped in and he showed Devin Williams who was boss. Um, yeah, no. Nico fell behind in the count and hit a weak grounder to third. There are certain qualities to good closers. One is to be able to regain control of the situation and stop the bleeding when things do go sideways. He did his job and Nico hit a relatively routine grounder to third.
Nico runs well though. How many times have all of us pointed out the value of putting the ball in play? At times, it feels like a completely lost art. Nico, like most very good contact hitters, has one real stand out weakness. You can induce weak contact because he can get his bat on so many pitches. To be clear, Fangraphs rate Nico as a plus bat, a plus glove and a plus baserunner. So weakness doesn’t mean it wipes out his skills. In this one instance weaker contact worked out. Brian Anderson may have rushed his throw a bit and certainly didn’t make a good throw to first. The ball bounced away and Hoerner was safe.
And Mike Tauchman was completely aware of the situation. In a play that I’m not sure happens quite often enough in MLB, Tauchman, with only a brief pause, kept right on running around third and headed home. The play developed slowly enough that there was no way to make a play at Tauchman at home and Nico Hoerner has terrific situational awareness. The one time getting hung up on the bases makes sense is when the go ahead/winning run is scoring at the end of the game. If they want to get Hoerner out, they have to give up on the crucial run scoring. Even with the out, Nico’s grounder ends up worth a 33.4 percent increase to the Cubs chances of winning. The Brewers were down to 20.1 percent.
Enter Adbert Alzolay. The Brewers just got to him on Tuesday. Another one of those signs of a good closer is the ability to bounce back after they get you. The long touted, short memory. It remains to be seen if Alzolay can be a good closer. He certainly has a number of the qualities of a closer. He also clearly loves the spotlight and feeds off of the adrenaline.
Brian Turang struck out! (11.2 percent). Jesse Winker struck out too! (4.7 percent). That just leaves freaking Christian Yelich. A photo finish with Craig Counsell for the guy Cubs fans hate/want to punch in the face most. Yelich lofted one in the air. Does any Cubs fan ever not think a ball hit in the air is going to be a homer? Why are we this way? It’s no matter. The ball was a lazy fly to left and the ball game was over.
No hiding it here. The only reason I wasn’t half done writing about this “Cubs loss” was because the comeback was sudden and over quickly. Not one word from me today about the larger impact of it. This is two straight really fun wins in two days. It was only a few weeks ago that I pointed out that the Cubs had been completely devoid of any of these signature comeback type wins.
From a Heroes and Goats standpoint, game to game was generally boring. The WPA largely went all one way or all the other. Business has picked up. Three of the four largest positive WPA games of the year have occurred over the last three weeks and two in the last two days. Add to that, two of the eight worst WPA games have occurred in the same time period, one of which just occurred on Monday. Wild.
Three positives is going to be easy in this one!
- Mike Tauchman! A game-turning, two-run, ninth-inning double! The daring sprint from second on a grounder to third to score the decisive run. He had another walk and a run scored besides.
- Adbert Alzolay. A drama-less ninth inning. What a rare treat! Two strikeouts and three quickly dispatched Brewers to nail down the save.
- Seiya Suzuki had three hits in this one. All were singles and he didn’t drive in or score any runs, but good to see Seiya contributing. He’s a key part of that lineup.
Game 85, July 5: Cubs 4, at Brewers 3 (40-45)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Mike Tauchman (.412). 1-3,2B, BB, HBP, 2RBI, 2R
- Hero: Nico Hoerner (.222). 0-5, K
- Sidekick: Adbert Alzolay (.201). IP, 3 batters, 2K (Sv 5)
- Billy Goat: Dansby Swanson (-.319). 0-3, 2DP
- Goat: Christopher Morel (-.094). 1-4, K
- Kid: Justin Steele (-.084). 6IP, 27 batters, 9H, 3R, 5K
WPA Play of the Game: Mike Tauchman’s double, covered in the monolog, was the biggest play of the game. (.351), nosing out the one that the winning run scored on (.334). In sum, the Brewers chances of winning dropped 68.5 percent in two plays.
*Brewers Play of the Game: Dansby Swanson batted in the third inning with runners on first and second with one out, The Cubs were already up one and looking to extend it. But, Swanson grounded to third and the Brewers went around the horn with a double play to escape the inning. (.193)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Winner: Ian Happ received 177 votes out of a spirited 250 total votes (Superhero is 57-27)
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 5/Bottom 5)
- Marcus Stroman +20
- Ian Happ +17.5
- Justin Steele +14
- Mike Tauchman +9
- Matt Mervis +8
- Julian Merryweather -6.5
- Miles Mastrobuoni -8
- Trey Mancini/Patrick Wisdom -13
- Jameson Taillon -17
Up Next: The fourth and final game of the series Thursday afternoon. The Brewers suddenly find themselves two games before the surging Reds who are now nine games over .500.
Marcus Stroman (9-6, 2.76, 107⅔ IP) starts for the Cubs. Interestingly, even with two tough starts back to back, Marcus is 5-2 with a 2.47 ERA over his last seven starts. But in those last two starts, he is 0-2 and has allowed 11 runs, eight earned in just nine innings of work. He’ll look to put a stop to that ahead of his appearance at the All-Star Game next week. Like Justin Steele, Marcus will be on regular rest for that game. I’d expect both Cubs to pitch in the game and wonder if Kyle Hendricks might get the start in the first game back from the break. Marcus threw six scoreless innings on Opening Day in a win against these Brewers.
The Brewers will try to salvage a split in the series with Freddy Peralta (5-7, 4.67, 86⅔IP) on the hill. Freddy is heading in the wrong direction. The 27-year-old righty is 0-4 with a 5.45 ERA in 34⅔ innings over his last seven starts. His last win came way back on May 21 against the Rays, interestingly enough. For the third straight day the Brewers run out a starter against the Cubs who didn’t face them back in April.