Heavy sigh. The schedule getting easier only matters if you win the games. Tuesday night, that didn’t happen. The team came home and looked flat. This one could go down as a “Hawk” victory for the White Sox. If you listened to the TV broadcast, they talked several times about the lack of solid contact. I’m not one to spend much time looking at the data in Fangraphs for batted ball data, I’m going to say that you could also point out the Cubs weren’t sizzling line drives all over the park. When the other team gets twice as many hits as you do, you are probably in some trouble.
There’s a lot of baseball left and the Cubs didn’t really lose any meaningful ground Tuesday night. So on the one hand, the Cubs didn’t really lose anything. On the other hand, another day dropped off of the calendar. I still believe at this point that the Cubs will comfortably nail down one of the six playoff spots. But to do that, they can’t have too many nights like Tuesday night. The Sox feel like a team you have to beat. Now you have to face one of their pitchers who’s actually been very good with a prospect of getting swept at home in a two game set and running out to a three-game skid. Win or lose, it isn’t going to make or break their playoff chances. You just can’t have too many of these letdowns.
Certainly, one of the frustrating things about the game was the usually dependable Julian Merryweather making a mistake to the best hitter in their lineup. Obviously, that mistake is magnified because of the problem the team had last week at this time against Peter Alonso. You hate to keep getting beat by the best hitter on the other team. Certainly the prospect of walking Luis Robert with the bases empty late in a tie game feels like a bad strategy. Decisions in that situation are tough. I get it. Just supremely frustrating.
The top three hitters in the Sox lineup had five hits in 14 at bats with a double, homer, four runs batted in, and three runs scored. They drew one walk and stole a base. The Cubs in total had five hits, three runs, three runs batted in. They drew five walks and two steals. So the Sox top three more or less matched the production of the Cubs whole team.
Kyle Hendricks was fine. You hope for more, but three runs in six innings is good for a minimum quality start. Particularly credit to Kyle for pulling things together after a rough couple of innings early. The bullpen needs to be better than two runs in three innings, particularly when its three inner circle guys threw those three innings. That leads to a tip of the cap for the managing of the game. With two games sandwiched between two off days, the Cubs used their top three relievers in a tie game/game they were behind in. That was at least managing the game with some urgency.
As for the offense, it felt that all of the wind came out of the Cubs sails with the Nico Hoerner caught stealing in the seventh. The Cubs appeared to have a pretty aggressive strategy of running on Yasmani Grandal who doesn’t throw out many runners. It worked the first two times and then Grandal made a perfect throw on the third attempt. The Cubs never had another hit. For the record, base stealers are successful over 83 percent of the time against Grandal. But throwing out one of three baserunners doesn’t particularly feel like a fluke occurrence. If my distant memory of statistics works, if I use 84 percent of the time (pre-that caught stealing), about 40 percent of the time you are going to expect one of three steals attempts to fail. (Though without doubt, in each individual situation, you have an 84% chance of being safe. There is no such thing as “due” in probability. Just noting that in a macro view, on three steal attempts, there’s a pretty good chance one of the fails.)
Let’s close the book on this one and hope that this team bounces back as it has for most of the last two and a half months. First we look at three stars from this one.
- Despite that pivotal caught stealing, Nico Hoerner has to get the top spot. He had a pair of singles and a walk in four plate appearances. He did steal his 30th base of the season earlier in the game and that’s pretty rare air for a Cub.
- Mark Leiter Jr. continues to sparkle. He faced three batters and struck out two of them.
- There is a lot of angst about Ian Happ in the three spot, including from me. Tuesday night, he had a two-run homer. Just the kind of production you look for out of a three hitter. I will give a slight nod that since the All-Star break he has a line of .220/.323/.459 that includes an improved slugging percentage and is only dragged down by a BABIP of .215. That version of Happ with his ordinary BABIP would be a pretty decent three hitter.
Game 119, August 15: White Sox 5 at Cubs 3 (61-58)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Nico Hoerner (.059). 2-3, BB, SB, CS
- Hero: Seiya Suzuki (.052). 1-4, HR, RBI, R, 2 K
- Sidekick: Mark Leiter Jr. (.051). IP, 3 batters, 2 K
- Billy Goat: Julian Merryweather (-.142). IP, four batters, H, R, 2 K
- Goat: Christopher Morel (-.141). 0-4, 2 K
- Kid: Dansby Swanson (-.133). 0-3, BB, K
WPA Play of the Game: Luis Robert’s homer off of Merryweather in the seventh. (.222)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Ian Happ’s two-run homer in the first inning. (.165)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Mark Leiter Jr.
Ian Happ (1-4, HR, 2 RBI, R)
Kyle Hendricks (6 IP, 27 batters, 7 H, 2 BB, 3 R, 4 K)
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Sunday’s Winner: Dansby Swanson 105 of 111 votes (Superhero is 79-39)
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
- Ian Happ +14.5
- Adbert Alzolay +14
- Marcus Stroman/Mike Tauchman +12
- Julian Merryweather -11
- Patrick Wisdom/Drew Smyly/Jameson Taillon -15
- Trey Mancini -20.5
Scoreboard Watching: The Brewers and Reds lose, the Cubs remain 3½ games out in the division and percentage points ahead of the Reds. The Diamondbacks, Padres and Giants win in a good day for teams from the West. The Cubs remain fourth in the Wild Card race, a full game behind the Marlins. They are 2½ behind the Giants and 3½ behind the Phillies. It remains very possible for the Cubs to finish anywhere from the No. 3 team in the playoffs down to sixth or seventh for three Wild Card slots.
Up Next: The second and final game of this mini series with the Sox and fourth of four overall. The Cubs are 2-1 and can win the overall series with a win. Javier Assad (2-2, 3.12 60⅔ IP) starts for the Cubs. This is just his fourth start of the season. This is his third start since slotting into Marcus Stroman’s slot in the rotation. In the last one, he sparkled allowing four hits and a walk over seven innings and limiting a very good Blue Jays team to one run.
The White Sox have Mike Clevenger (5-5, 3.55, 78⅔ IP) on the mound. He’s been on a roll of late, going 3-2 with a 2.17 ERA over his last seven starts (37⅓ IP). He did miss some time in late June and early July, explaining the very low innings count. Since returning, he is 2-1 and has allowed five runs, four earned in 16 innings of work. He’s allowed 13 hits and four walks over that span. He threw 86 pitches in the most recent start. He may be stretched out enough to reach 100 pitches as each successive appearance has seen more pitches thrown in his return. If the Cubs can find a way to work his pitch count, they might be able to get him out of the game early. I can’t imagine the White Sox want to push it with a guy they are surely hoping to bring back next year (they have a mutual option for next season).