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2023 Cubs Heroes and Goats: Game 117

The Cubs win their second straight over the Jays, 5-4.

Chicago Cubs v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

Am I the only one getting some serious 2015 flashbacks? The largest difference between the two teams is the bottom dropping out of this Cubs team in May. Both teams were one over in April, both teams had their worst month in May (when that team was .500 and this one 10 under), the 2023 Cubs won June (three over to one), this year’s team won July (four over to three). The 2015 team finished August 10 over. This team is already four over. That team won 29 of their last 45. Every one of us would take that result. That would carry this team to 90 wins and it’s hard to imagine that won’t win a division title.

It’s always hard to make those kind of comparisons. There are always so many imperfections. But both teams have a vibe of arriving a year before the estimated contention window would open. The obvious response here is that many of you thought this team could make the playoffs if things broke right. But I’m going to say that was if things broke right. There isn’t a lot of question that this team is still building towards the future.

There is also no question that this team has arrived. When a team breaks out like this, you can usually bet that there is an emerging MVP candidate. If things continue on their current trajectory, there are going to be some shocked people. Ronald Acuña Jr. is having a terrific season for the Braves who have the best record in baseball. With 26 homers, 54 steals and 105 runs scored, he is having an amazing season. He’s definitely a good choice for NL MVP and I’d argue with no one that he is the favorite. Freddie Freeman is loving being a Dodger. He’s hitting .344 with 23 homers, 16 steals and 101 runs. Another amazing season. A legit second choice for MVP.

Of course, Mookie Betts has 31 homers for the Dodgers. Oh yeah, Matt Olson has 42 of them and 105 RBI for the Braves. In both instances, there is a clear duo of superstars. All four of those guys are having MVP caliber seasons for two of the best teams in baseball. No one is going to argue with any voter who has these guys in some order as their top four choices for NL MVP. If you are only going to consider statistics, you are almost certainly going to pick one of those four.

However, the Braves and the Dodgers were two of the favorites coming into the season. It is a reasonable call that best players on the best teams win the MVP. We’ve seen through the years, that isn’t all that will be considered. The Cubs have largely come out of nowhere on the national stage this year. And they are led by a former MVP who is putting together a .331/.380/.561 season. 18 homers and 17 steals. He’s played a fair bit of first and has yet to make an error there and he has just one in center field, drawing roughly half of the team’s innings in center.

So Bellinger’s numbers are somewhat pedestrian when you look at the gaudy numbers of those four. We can’t know what would have happened if he hadn’t missed 26 games mid-season. He certainly had his OPS drop over 100 points in May. So certainly it isn’t guaranteed that this season would have played out. Though interestingly, if you ignore four days in late April and early May where his OPS leapt almost 40 points, his OPS today is in line with his OPS on April 28. His season ends up looking pretty homogenous.

Here is one thing that isn’t pedestrian: the Cubs are 46-38 when Cody starts. That’s an 88.7 win pace over a 162 game season. They are 15-18 when he’s out of the lineup, or a 73.6 win pace. Major League Baseball has always been somewhat vague about what an MVP is. What do they mention on ballots? Offensive and Defensive value to the team. Number of games played. Character and effort. They actually bother to tell you that former winners are eligible. And then they remind you that it is okay to vote for more than one player from a team. They also remind you that pitchers and designated hitters are eligible.

If you are a fan of one of those top four players, some of those words towards the end are important. You sure don’t want some voter to decide that Matt Olson or Mookie Betts is the top player on their respective team. If you’ve been around baseball long enough though, you know that there are some guys who are looking for the story. There are some guys who consider the most valuable player to be the player who’s loss would hurt their team most.

With all due respect, the Braves without Acuña on the field probably go from a juggernaut to a division leader, probably bringing the Phillies into focus in the rear view mirror. Maybe a little less true for Freeman and the Dodgers, if for no other reason because every team in the West has been competitive this year. As to guys looking for the storyline, the phoenix-like return from the ashes of Bellinger and leading the Cubs back to the playoffs is one heck of a story.

I’m not arguing that Cody is the MVP. For my money, Acuña’s numbers are stupid good. That blend of speed and power is game changing. The right fielder has five errors in over 1,000 innings out there. He has seven outfield assists. He’s no slouch defensively, though no one is going to argue that right is a more difficult position than center. For whatever reason a lot of people feel that first is one of the easiest positions on the diamond. I will say this, if for no other reason, first is challenging because of the number of plays you are involved in. With only about one-sixth of the total innings at first, Bellinger has been involved with 183 plays without error at first. Acuña has recorded 202 outs in right. I’m not going to argue catching a throw at first is consistently harder than playing right, but I just don’t like to suggest it is easy over there either.

My bottom line on that? Cody’s placement on MVP ballots may very well affect the MVP race. It is very possible that Acuña gets a significant number of first place votes and maybe enough to win it outright. But if that race gets closer, or if the numbers of Betts and Olson tighten things up, then the ordering of players could determine the MVP. It’s certainly happened before.

Let’s turn our attention to three stars of this game.

  1. Obviously, I’m a big fan of Bellinger’s contributions. Two hits, one a double, a run batted in and two runs scored, including the winner.
  2. Christopher Morel and Dansby Swanson split my second spot. Two big run producers who have had rough road trips coming up with key hits. Dansby’s was a three-run homer. Morel’s was the game-winning double.
  3. Adbert Alzolay, three up and three down for his 16th save. He’s taken to the job very, very well.

HM: Hoerner: two hits, run; Jose Cuas: inning, three batters; Merryweather: inning four batters

Game 117, August 12: Cubs 5, at Blue Jays 4 (61-56)

Fangraphs

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

THREE HEROES:

  • Superhero: Cody Bellinger (.296). 2-4, 2B, RBI, 2 R
  • Hero: Christopher Morel (.231). 1-4, 2B, RBI, 2 K
  • Sidekick: Adbert Alzolay (.194). IP, 3 batters, K (Sv, 16)

THREE GOATS:

  • Billy Goat: Mark Leiter Jr. (-.141). ⅓ IP, H, BB
  • Goat: Mike Tauchman (-.133). 0-4, 2 K, DP
  • Kid: Yan Gomes (-.131). 0-2, BB, K, DP

WPA Play of the Game: Christopher Morel batted with a runner on second and one out in the ninth inning, the game tied. The run expectancy after a runner on second with one out is .67, not a prime scoring chance. But Morel doubled, the Cubs took the lead, and went on to win. (.298)

*Blue Jays Play of the Game: Santiago Espinal batted with runners on first and second and two outs in the sixth against Mark Leiter Jr. The Cubs were up one. Espinal hit a double that bounced over the wall for a game tying run batted in, but sending the trailing runner back to third. (.210)

Poll

Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    Cody Bellinger
    (59 votes)
  • 34%
    Christopher Morel
    (59 votes)
  • 9%
    Adbert Alzolay
    (16 votes)
  • 1%
    Nico Hoerner (2-4, 2B, R)
    (3 votes)
  • 16%
    Dansby Swanson (1-4, HR, 3RBI, R)
    (29 votes)
  • 1%
    Jose Cuas (IP, 3 batters, BB)
    (2 votes)
  • 1%
    Julian Merryweather (IP, 4 batters, BB, 2K)
    (2 votes)
  • 1%
    Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
    (3 votes)
173 votes total Vote Now

Yesterday’s Winner: Javier Assad 169 of 175 votes (Superhero is 77-39)

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.

  • Cody Bellinger +37
  • Adbert Alzolay +14
  • Ian Happ +12.5
  • Marcus Stroman/Mike Tauchman +12
  • Dansby Swanson/Julian Merryweather -8.5
  • Jameson Taillon -12
  • Patrick Wisdom/Drew Smyly -15
  • Trey Mancini -20.5

Up Next: The Cubs enter play Sunday afternoon 2½ games out of first in the Central and half a game ahead of the Reds in the division. In the Wild Card, new developments, the Cubs are now only a game behind the Giants for the second spot (and 3½ games behind the Phillies for the first). At the same time, the Marlins join the Reds at half a game behind the Cubs. They are stacking up as we turn towards the final quarter of the season.

The Cubs have Jameson Taillon (7-6, 5.17, 101 IP) on the mound. Somehow, some way, for whatever wins and losses mean, Jameson has a winning record. That way, of course, is five wins in his last seven starts. He has a 2.76 ERA over 42⅓ innings. He has won his last four starts, allowing no more than two runs in any of them and only six runs total. 23⅔ innings in those four games. Jameson started a whopping six games against the Jays last year with the Yankees. He was 4-2 with a 2.62 ERA in 34⅓ innings. A series you thought even one win wasn’t a disaster has at least some chance of a sweep.

Hyun Jin Ryu, the 36-year-old, Korean lefty is making only his third start. He is 0-1 with a 4.00 ERA across nine innings. He only pitched four innings in his last one, but allowed no hits and only one walk. He left that last start with a knee injury after he took a shot up the middle off of his right knee. He only started six games for the Jays last year, pitching to a 2-0 record and a 5.67 ERA. He missed most of the 2022 and 2023 seasons after having Tommy John surgery. Ryu finished second in Cy Young voting in 2019 with the Dodgers and then third the following year with the Jays, but injuries derailed that career.