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2023 Cubs Heroes and Goats: Game 123

Two out of three, three out of five. Good enough?

Kansas City Royals v Chicago Cubs Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

The tag line suggests a fair bit of where I’m going with this one, but I’ll note a thought I saw on Twitter today. I think I agree with it. The post suggested that Kyle Hendricks has reached a point where it doesn’t matter all that much who he’s facing. I hesitate to go down the road of good Kyle/bad Kyle. But there is something to that. When Kyle is good, he gets the good hitters and the bad hitters out. When Kyle is off, he struggles against the good hitters and bad.

The original post didn’t elaborate, but that can even be inning to inning or even batter to batter. I think that idea probably feels right. When he is executing, he’s really tough, but it can vanish quickly. Of course, we know that even in the best of times, Kyle’s margin of error was always slim. But near the top of the mind for many of us was a couple of starts back is a start where Kyle breezed through the first nine hitters before getting into trouble. I’m not presenting this concept as an absolute, but it is an interesting thought.

I often talk about trying to take the wide angle view of things, leaving the closeups to Al. He gets the game recap and then I try to follow behind with the bigger perspective of where things are. This homestand certainly feels like a mixed bag. The Cubs took two out of three over the weekend and three out of five overall on the homestand. Obviously, those are ordinarily pretty good results. But when one considers the opposition, this maybe feels like a lost opportunity to get four or five out of two series against teams well out of competition.

What of that though? Certainly, as Cubs fans it should be plenty fresh in their minds that teams out of competition don’t always roll over and play dead. So in recent times, the Mets took two of three, the White Sox split and the Royals kept all three games close. Certainly, the Mets have won six of 10 and they haven’t entirely quit. That one is distinguishable from the other two. That team was build to be a World Series contender. They dealt some highly significant pieces at the trade deadline. But there are a lot of current stars that were not traced. The team in that locker room went bad, but that isn’t to say there isn’t a decent team over there. Along with the Padres, Sunday losses compared with wins among some of the contenders has shoveled more dirt on the casket that is the season of a team that hoped to compete.

What of the White Sox and the Royals then? The Sox are without question a disaster this year. The Cubs went into their park and flat embarrassed them a few weeks ago. There is no doubt this Sox didn’t forget that. And they won’t forget Wednesday’s loss either. That team, that organization, that fanbase all hate the Cubs. So none of that is just ordinary baseball. That’s a one-sided rivalry. An organization and its fanbase that suffer from little brother syndrome because in almost every situation, the Cubs get more coverage, and seemingly more favorable coverage, regardless of who is better.

I don’t think the favorable part is necessarily true. I think of it as the Joe Buck syndrome. If you get some distance from your favorite teams in football and baseball, you’ll hear both sides say that Buck was biased against them. I’ve seen some of that about Boog with the Cubs broadcast. These professional broadcasters don’t necessarily take sides naturally. They tend to take a centrist and a custodian for baseball position. They’ll get excited about the developing story, even if it isn’t the one you want them to take. It can come off like they are rooting for the other team when I often expect is just showing enthusiasm for the storyline, even if that appears to come off as one sided.

Without getting too far down that rabbit hole, what of the Royals? The Cubs took two out of three. Baseball is hard. You should always take a series win. Baseball isn’t about style points. Where I see some amount of the 2022 Cubs in the 2023 Mets, I see some 2021 Cubs in the 2023 Royals. In the first situation, you have a team that made some trades but maybe isn’t as bad as you expect them to be. In the second situation, maybe that team is bad. But you have a blend of young guys trying to make the most of their opportunities and older guys who are maybe trying to earn their next contract. They are playing hard. There are a few talented guys over there. Not all of them have put everything together yet. There’s at least a chance that a couple of guys who will be on the next decent Royals team already in that dug out. And certainly, bottom to top, there isn’t a wide gap in the AL Central.

The Cubs are back to a season high five over .500. This is the third time they’ve reached that plateau and it has been the ceiling for them so far. If you follow the stock market, they’ll talk about this as either testing a high or testing a low. Sometimes the market will bounce off of one extreme or the other a few times. Once they go through that “limit”, sometimes they will run for a bit. It’s possible the Cubs run out to eight or 10 over .500 at this point. Or, that’s the peak and the team just never gets over the hill.

We’re at an interesting point for this team. I have to admit, I have warring thoughts as a guy who analyzes this team. Interestingly, my preseason prediction of 75 wins isn’t part of my equation at this point. I have two dueling impressions and I just can’t decide which one will prevail. On the one hand, I absolutely believe that the talent level of this team and this organization has risen above the team I was looking at. I’m not trying to rewrite history. Even before the Jeimer Candelario deal, I was wrong about this team. 80-85 was a better prediction for this talent level than 75-80 was. I’d be surprised if this team doesn’t top 80 wins at this point. Adding Jeimer probably gets this team to 85 or more.

On the other hand though, is the nagging thought that I keep talking around. Not long ago I proclaimed that this team would take them as far as starting pitching will take them. This Cubs team has four hitters in the top 16 for fWAR in the NL. They also own two pitchers in the top 14 for the NL. That feels like a top flight offense. But let’s be fair. All of those hitters draw positive value from their defense. Cody Bellinger has the seventh highest fWAR, with only a nominal value from defense. fWAR is affected by quantity. All six of the players in front of him have more than 90 plate appearances more than him. I’ll say again, the only thing that has him not a lock as a finalist for the NL MVP was time lost to injury.

With all of that offensive talent and defensive value, I still think the Cubs live or die with their starting pitching. I still do not believe that the Cubs can hit their way to the end. Not if their pitching doesn’t keep teams honest. If you’ve followed my ramblings this season, you’ll know that there are two distinct patterns for Cubs wins. Sometimes they check both boxes obviously, but they largely do not win if one of the two things doesn’t happen. A) score seven or more runs or B) hold the opponent to three runs or less. The Cubs have finally won a pair of games in the last few weeks by a 6-4 score, representing wins in the middle ground. But those two spots are where they do their damage (and no doubt almost all of the good teams have similar numbers).

The Cubs will continue no doubt scoring seven or more about a quarter of the time. Those games are going to go well. If I give them credit for exactly a quarter of them and give them wins in all of those, that would give them 10 more wins. That pulls them to 74 wins. That leaves 29 games and you are going to be looking for 11-16 wins in that group. That’s not an overwhelming win percentage, but I just handed you a 10-0 cross section of games, a hefty assumption, though consistent with the season results. Those other games, you’re going to need starting pitching to keep you in games.

That leave us with a group of Marcus Stroman (injury uncertain if/when he will return), Justin Steele (already exceeded his career high in innings), Kyle Hendricks (inconsistent, but he’s allowed three or fewer runs 12 times in 17 starts), Jameson Taillon (nine times in 22 starts he’s had three or fewer runs allowed with five or more innings pitched), Drew Smyly (11 times in 21 games of three or fewer with five or more, but none since mid-June), Javier Assad (four appearances of five or more innings with three or fewer runs, the only four games he’s thrown five or more innings).

So that’s more or less, Hendricks two-thirds of the time, Taillon about 40 percent of the time, Smyly an unreliable 50 percent of the time and Assad maybe the secret weapon. But what of the Steele past his innings limit? Or the uncertain return of Stroman? Is it enough? Do you roll the dice and try to get one or more starts out of young stars pitching at Iowa?

I think we’re looking for somewhere in the 20-25 starts range of three runs or fewer over five or more innings in 39 games. I think the offense can probably do the rest. At three runs in five innings, I’m asking for even less than the dubious minimum quality start. If feels like Justin Steele can probably give you five or six of those, even if you maybe need to be at least a little cautious with him down the stretch. I think Hendricks can probably get you five of them. If we call that 11, can we hope for say three each from Taillon and Assad? Even if we assume those numbers, we are looking for at least three more out of Smyly, a returning Stroman or someone not presently starting games at the big league level.

This is a lot of back of the envelope math and things never work out the way they do in theoretical models. But this is where my mental math is and now I’ve spelled it out. The difference between 80-85 and 85-90 is probably how good the starting pitching is from here until the end. I think the Cubs can squeeze enough out of the existing bullpen to win the winnable games without any large quantity of games blown late. I thin the offense will slug their way to some wins and grind out some others. But that’s only going to be possible if the starters keep the games close.

That’s the open question. Let’s turn to three positives.

  1. Kyle Hendricks clearly gets the top spot. He made it one out into the seventh and allowed five hits and a walk. One run.
  2. Miguel Amaya learned this weekend that he was going to be the number two catcher the remainder of the year, assuming everyone is healthy. He got his first start and came up with a solo homer and drew a walk.
  3. Julian Merryweather faced three batters and retired them all, striking out one. Julian had allowed a run in each of his last two outings. So it was nice to see him throw a clean inning. Even with three different outings where he has allowed a run this month, his ERA is under three for the month.

Game 123, August 20: Cubs 4, Royals 3 (64-59)


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


  • Superhero: Kyle Hendricks (.283). 6⅓ IP, 25 batters, 5 H, BB, R, 3 K (W 5-6)
  • Hero: Ian Happ (.110). 1-3, R
  • Sidekick: Seiya Suzuki (.102). 1-3, HR, RBI, R


  • Billy Goat: Christopher Morel (-.048). 0-3

Morel has developed a knack of being at the plate in key situations lately. Nine games in a row on one side or the other of the ledger, 11 of 12, and 14 of 17. (-9.5 total)

  • Goat: Nico Hoerner (-.041) 1-4, R, DP
  • Kid: Mike Tauchman (-.036). 1-4

WPA Play of the Game: Ian Happ batted with a runner on first with one out in the first inning. He singled and unsurprisingly, Nico Hoerner was going to try to go first to third. What happened then was an error by Kyle Isbel in center for the Royals. Hoerner ended up coming all of the way around to score the first run of the game and Happ would make it all of the way to third. (.147)

*Royals Play of the Game: Maikel Garcia batted with one out and runners on first and third, the Cubs up three. Garcia singled, driving in a run. (.086)


Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?

This poll is closed

  • 91%
    Kyle Hendricks
    (203 votes)
  • 0%
    Ian Happ
    (2 votes)
  • 2%
    Seiya Suzuki
    (6 votes)
  • 4%
    Miguel Amaya (1-2, HR, BB, RBI, R)
    (11 votes)
  • 0%
    Julian Merryweather (IP, 3 batters, K)
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
    (0 votes)
222 votes total Vote Now

Yesterday’s Winner: Cody Bellinger (Superhero is 83-39)

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 +39
  • Adbert Alzolay +15
  • Ian Happ +12.5
  • Marcus Stroman/Mike Tauchman +12
  • Julian Merryweather -11
  • Patrick Wisdom/Drew Smyly -15
  • Jameson Taillon -17
  • Trey Mancini -20.5

Scoreboard watching: The Giants won, the Reds lost, the Brewers won, the Mets lost and head to Atlanta next. At this point, I drop the Mets back out of this, barring another surge. The Brewers lead the Cubs in the Central by three. The Reds are a game behind the Cubs by one. The Phillies lead the Wild Card by 2½ games. The Giants are two games behind the Phillies. The Cubs are half a game behind the Giants. The Diamondbacks, Reds and Marlins are all one game behind the Cubs, and two back in the loss column. The Padres are five behind that trio and head to Florida to play the Marlins. Barring a strong series in Miami, I’m dropping the Padres from this space as well.

Monday night, the Phillies and Giants kick off a series in Philadelphia. That’s certainly intriguing. This could be a good week for the possibility of three Central teams reaching the playoffs. The Diamondbacks host the Rangers. The Reds go to Anaheim to play the Angels. The Angels are another team that has more or less dropped completely out of contention in the AL for the playoffs (yet again). As mentioned, the Marlins host the Padres. All of these series are three games only.

Up next for the Cubs: The Cubs head to Detroit to play the Tigers (57-67). The Tigers have won six of 10 including two straight. Interestingly, they are a better team on the road than at home. They are 16 games under ,500 in 72 games against teams with winning records.

Javier Assad (2-2, 3.11, 66⅔ IP) starts the first game for the Cubs. He’s 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA over his last seven appearances, three starts (24 innings). In his last two starts, he is 1-0, having allowed three runs in 13 innings, allowing eight hits and three walks. This is a good spot for Javier to post one of those potential good starts.

Alex Faedo (2-4, 5.16, 45⅓ IP) starts for the Tigers. The 27-year-old righty was picked by the Tigers with the 18th overall pick in 2017. Born here in Tampa, he went to the University of Florida. His seven game numbers look rough at 2-3 and 5.45 in 34⅔ innings. But the Cubs can’t get overconfident. In two of his last three starts, he’s allowed no earned runs, once in five innings and the other in six. He did walk four in one of those. In-between those starts he allowed three runs in 4⅔ innings. Two of those starts are against the Twins and one the Padres. So these aren’t particularly bottom feeders.

This is not a gimme.