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2023 Cubs Heroes and Goats: Game 129

A strong debut, a rollercoaster, a win.

Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

As per usual, Saturday is a family day for me. I’m usually good in the afternoon when the Cubs are at home. But these Saturday night games are tough for me to follow too closely. Did I miss anything?

Obviously, I was right there with many of you when the ripple went through social media on Friday. Actually, I’d been following it like many of you since even earlier in the week when he was a healthy scratch from his start. He threw a bullpen that day and in the aftermath of Drew Smyly getting shelled again, it didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to sleuth this one. Then on Friday it was clear that Jordan Wicks was heading to Pittsburgh to get his first crack at the major leagues.

I saw a fun back and forth where some ignorant fellow got into it with Tommy Birch who is well connected with the Iowa Cubs. He was one of the first to say that Wicks would be starting Saturday night. Not Sunday, but Saturday. This keyboard warrior felt comfortable enough to call Birch a small town journalist. You could hear Birch smirking in his tweet as he tried to get the boorish fellow to agree to pay for a year of the Des Moines Register if (when) he ended up being wrong. Like so many keyboard bullies, he wouldn’t put his money where his mouth was. It’s crazy to me that people don’t think these insiders know what they are talking about when they have the goods.

Regardless, all of that was neither here nor there. Jordan Wicks dazzled like so few Cubs prospects have done in recent years. Of course, it didn’t start that way. Wicks was greeted with a solo homer by the very first batter he ever faced in the majors. If you were concerned in that moment that this might be a belly flop and not the tour de force it ended up being. Wicks allowed that solo homer. he would only allow one more hit the rest of the way. He walked one batter. He struck out nine.

In the aftermath of the start, I saw it referred to as the best debut by a Cubs pitching prospect since Mark Prior. Some of that is hyperbole. Some of that has to do with how reluctant this organization has been to select pitchers in the first round. It doesn’t particularly matter where this fits in the all time scheme of things. This was a terrific debut. He stuck the landing and the judges loved it. We’ll all be excited to see where it goes from here. For now, we can dream about Justin Steele and Jordan Wicks potentially being the cornerstones of the rotation of the future.

For all of the troubles this organization had for a while there with developing pitching, it is clear that it is turning. We can’t forget that Keegan Thompson and Adbert Alzolay are also pitchers the Cubs developed. For sure, Thompson’s career took an unfortunate sidestep this year. But one can’t question that he was a very effective pitcher in 2022 and also that there are chapters still to be written in that story. In Alzolay, the Cubs appear to have one of the better closers in the NL.

Things are turning. In fact, on Saturday night, every pitcher who threw for the Cubs has thrown most of their innings for the Cubs. Jordan Wicks was drafted and developed by the Cubs. Hayden Wesneski was traded for, but made his major league debut as a Cub. Mark Leiter Jr. has essentially half of his major league innings with the Cubs. A journeyman until this year, Leiter will find himself arbitration eligible as an extremely effective major league reliever. Daniel Palencia, like Wesneski, was a trade acquisition. But his MLB debut was this year as a Cub. Alzolay was an international free agent signed and developed by the Cubs. He’s been in the Cubs organization since 2012.

This one wasn’t all pitching though. The Cubs put 10 runs on the board. Three in the third and five in the fifth ended up being enough. But they also added two in the ninth for good measure. Every Cub reached base, eight of them had hits, three of them had two hits, seven of them scored, three of them scored twice, five of them drove in runs, three of them had multiple RBI. They drew five walks.

With the 10 runs, the Cubs have now scored seven or more runs 35 times. They are 35-0 in those games. The rate of those games coming has slowed down a bit. This one felt for a little bit like it might be a lopsided win and that the Cubs might have been able to avoid using their leverage relievers. Alas, Wesneski fell apart in the seventh, allowing four singles and a walk and eventually being charged with five runs.

After that, Leiter faced five, retiring four, striking out three. Palencia started the ninth. In the wake of the forearm injury to Michael Fulmer, Palencia may slide into the fourth reliever slot behind Alzolay, Leiter and Julian Merryweather. It appears that Palencia or Jose Cuas may get those fourth reliever looks. It’s hard to imagine the newly returned Keegan Thompson can just slide into those spots. Of course, he would have figured to be in exactly that spot following his very promising 2022 season. Brad Boxberger and Brandon Hughes are both working to return from injury and we might see Boxberger next week.

Good times. The Cubs return to a season high seven over .500. Let’s find three stars in this one.

  1. Jordan Wicks. The first three batters he faced had a homer, single and a walk. He then retired the next 15 batters he faced before leaving with 80 pitches thrown through five innings.
  2. Seiya Suzuki had a double, a triple, three runs batted in and a run scored.
  3. Cody Bellinger had two hits, two runs batted in and two runs scored.

Game 129, August 26: Cubs 10, at Pirates 6 (68-61)


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


  • Superhero: Ian Happ (.200). 1-4, 2B, BB, 3 RBI, 2 R
  • Hero: Dansby Swanson (.123). 1-3, 2BB, RBI, R, K
  • Sidekick: Jordan Wicks (.116). 5IP, 18 batters, 2 H, BB, R, 9 K (W 1-0)


  • Billy Goat: Hayden Wesneski (-.047). 1⅔ IP, 10 batters, 4 H, BB, 5 R, K
  • Goat: Christopher Morel (-.045). 1-4, 2B, 2 K
  • Kid: Jeimer Candelario (-.024). 1-5, RBI

WPA Play of the Game: The Cubs were up two when Ian Happ faced Osvaldo Bido with runners on first and second with one out. Happ doubled and both runners scored. (.124)

*Pirates Play of the Game: The Pirates were down four when Brian Reynolds faced Mark Leiter Jr. with runners on first and second with two outs. Reynolds doubled and two scored. (.120)


Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Ian Happ
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Dansby Swanson
    (0 votes)
  • 92%
    Jordan Wicks
    (202 votes)
  • 0%
    Cody Bellinger (2-5, 2 RBI, 2 R)
    (0 votes)
  • 5%
    Seiya Suzuki (2-5, 3B, 2B, 3 RBI, 2 R)
    (12 votes)
  • 0%
    Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
    (1 vote)
218 votes total Vote Now

Yesterday’s Winner: Nick Madrigal (Superhero is 85-39)

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 +36
  • Ian Happ +20.5
  • Adbert Alzolay +17
  • Justin Steele +13
  • Marcus Stroman +12
  • Christopher Morel -9.5
  • Patrick Wisdom -16
  • Drew Smyly -17
  • Jameson Taillon -20
  • Trey Mancini -20.5

Scoreboard watching: The Brewers and Reds won. The Brewers with their seventh straight win, are in first in the Central by four games. The Cubs are second and the Reds are one game behind the Cubs. The Brewers are seven games behind the Dodgers for the second best record in the NL, so still highly unlikely to get into one of the bye positions, even with this hot run.

The Giants lost their second straight, the Marlins lost their third straight and for the eighth time in 10 games, the Phillies won and the Diamondbacks lost to the Reds. The Phillies are the first Wild Card (one game behind the Brewers). The Cubs are three games behind the Phillies and are the second Wild Card. The Diamondbacks are half a game behind the Cubs and half a game ahead of the Reds and are currently the third Wild Card. The Giants are now 1½ games back, having lost seven of 10. The Marlins are three out of the Wild Card and fading fast.

Up Next: Javier Assad (2-2, 3.13, 72 IP) will look to give the Cubs three wins in four games in Pittsburgh. Javier is 2-0 with a 2.38 ERA over his last seven appearances (four starts) and thrown a total of 27⅔ innings. His last three appearances were all starts. He is 1-0 and has allowed five earned runs over 18⅓ innings in those three outings. He allowed 13 hits and five walks. He struck out 10.

The Pirates start 26-year-old lefty Bailey Falter (1-7, 4.53, 59⅔ IP). Falter has made 12 appearances and 10 of those are starts. Falter didn’t start last time through the rotation, but did throw six innings and allow three hits, two walks and one run against the Cardinals following an opener. He was the winning pitcher. He did start the three games before that, allowing six runs over 13⅓ innings. In that time, he allowed 18 hits, four walks and six runs. He struck out 10.