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2023 Cubs Heroes and Goats: Game 130

The Cubs finally win a comfortable one, 10-1.

Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

As hard as it is to match up with the 2016 Cubs, the only championship winner in the last 115 years, it’s also pretty hard to match up with the 2015 Cubs. That team was 50-25 after the All-Star break. As an aside here, we’ve developed a conversational shorthand in the world of baseball. That shorthand refers to the post All-Star break time as the “second half.” I can’t tell you how badly the OCD portion of my brain is regarding calling that a “half.” The season is 162 games long. Half is 81. Not 75. Mini-rant over.

There is a lot of baseball left. This team is 27-14 after the All-Star break. So that 2015 team was seven over before they went ballistic after the break. This one was five under. But on the strength of the second half alone and in the where this team appears to be in regards to a championship window, the comparison isn’t totally ridiculous. To be clear, when I say that, I’m not suggesting that this is the year before the next championship. The 2015 team was the bridge for a team with its window opening. This 2023 team is similar to that. In both instances, you didn’t know how quickly it would come together.

Quickly appears to be the answer. I pause for just one second to deliver a message that I put forth a lot down the stretch last year. The road to the top is not necessarily linear. The Cubs and their fanbase saw some of that in April and May of this year. After being terrific down the stretch last year, the Cubs did start April strong but then late April and most of May were pretty rough. There is no guarantee, no matter how the rest of this year goes, that next year will continue trending upward. So stay restrained a bit.

And also, recognize that this team was 26-36 on June 8. They are 43-25 since. That is a 102-win pace. I bring this up, because I still see a lot of Cubs fans spending time being disappointed lately. I guess the belief was that 8-4 over the last 12 games, against some teams heading in the wrong direction, was a subpar result. Sure, it would have been nice if they had steamrolled the last two weeks (like, perhaps, the Brewers have been doing against some very good teams).

Don’t ruin the enjoyment of the joy that is following this team by worrying about what they are not. Go back and read that last paragraph. They have played like a 102-win team over a stretch of games that represents more than a third of a season. This team is breaking through. If this team avoids a full faceplant over the next two weeks against four competitive teams, their season probably finishes in the playoffs. Even if they do faceplant, this was a fun season and a lot of progress was made.

Importantly, Sunday’s win was a blowout win. Saturday’s win was almost a blowout win. Saturday ended up seeing two of the team’s top three pitchers appear. But one hadn’t pitched in days and the other faced just one batter. Friday’s loss managed to stay close all of the way until the last out, allowing the Cubs to have a chance down to the end, but didn’t use any of their leverage relievers. So the core three relievers faced a total of six batters over the last three days.

Additionally, Keegan Thompson made a triumphant return on Sunday. For my money, Thompson was one of the best pitchers on the Cubs in 2022. Things spun out in 2023. If they could get something out of him down the stretch, it could potentially provide a very significant lift. Additionally, Drew Smyly so far looks effective out of the pen. The Cubs will add another arm to the pitching staff for this Friday’s doubleheader. Hopefully, a fatigued bullpen can catch its breath heading into this last month.

As I mention Thompson, a homegrown Cub, I’ll also mention Javier Assad. Assad is also a homegrown Cub. Thompson was a draftee and Assad, an international signee. Saturday and Sunday’s wins were pitched almost entirely by guys who have thrown all or most of their major league innings for the Cubs. Go back to Thursday’s game and you can add Justin Steele to the list of homegrown Cubs we’ve talked about the last couple of days. And amusingly, Rob Zastryzny and Thomas Hatch pitched for the Pirates in that game. Those two were also Cubs draft picks, though both have pitched the majority of their innings for other teams.

Once upon a time, the story was that the Cubs couldn’t produce pitching. That is very clearly not the case anymore. If Saturday night was not a mirage, the Cubs rotation looks to be led by Jordan Wicks and Justin Steele. Those two were drafted and developed by the Cubs. When Theo Epstein came to the Cubs, he talked about waves and waves of talent. He and Jed Hoyer did a good job improving things, but the biggest improvements were driven by first round picks and players acquired in trade. Some impressive talent was traded away and a whole lot of it graduated to the majors. In the aftermath, the system dried up a bit.

It is back with a vengeance. To be clear, once again it was jump started by an infusion of high picks by other teams. It was also buoyed by some shrewd first-round picks, including Wicks. In addition, the system is starting to show the fruits of an organization that has improved its drafting, its player development, and its resources. They have so many ways to grow and cultivate players now. And the fruits are starting to arrive.

The future is so very bright for this organization. Beyond that, its present is also very bright. It’s not too late. Get on board. Buckle up and enjoy this ride. But know that it’s going to remain bumpy. The Cubs were last off on August 17. They’ll be off this Thursday, August 31. That will have been 13 games in 13 days. They’ll have that one day off and then they’ll play 14 games in 13 days. That will have been 27 games in 27 days. Those last three games will be on the road in Colorado. Bizarro baseball at the end of 14 games in 13 days. The first 10 days and 11 games of that stretch start this coming Friday and all of those games are against playoff contenders.

Going further than that, the Cubs’ next four series are against the Brewers, the team they are trying to chance to win the NL Central, then after that one off day, the Reds, Giants and Diamondbacks. Those three teams are the three teams competing with each other and the Cubs for what appear to be two playoff spots. Four teams two spots (unless something totally unexpected happens to the Phillies and/or Brewers.) Over the last 32 games, the Cubs have only nine games against teams under .500 (though there is at least a chance the Giants could be under .500 by the time the Cubs play them).

Last two notes. First, my favorite note: the Cubs move to 36-0 in games where they have scored seven or more. Second, the Cubs move to a season high eight games over .500. The last time the Cubs were eight over was June 24, 2021. The first of 11 straight losses. The last time they were eight over in August or September was the last day of the 2020 season.

Let’s try to see if we can identify just three stars from Sunday’s win.

  1. Javier Assad. He threw seven innings and allowed a run on three hits and two walks. That would be enough for the top spot. But he especially belongs here is because he struck out a career high seven batters. The biggest downside to Assad has been that he doesn’t strike many batters out. He did strike out six twice in starts last September. His high this year had been a relief appearance back on July 1 where he struck out five in three innings.
  2. In a 10-1 game, if you want to find a couple of hitters to put up top, I totally get that. But I’m giving Keegan Thompson the second spot. He faced seven batters and struck out five of them. What a nice return.
  3. Cody Bellinger had a single, two doubles, five runs driven in and two runs scored. He also stole a base for good measure.

Honorable Mention: Nico Hoerner had a double, two singles, a stolen base and three runs scored.

Game 130, August 27: Cubs 10, Pirates 1 (69-61)

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


  • Superhero: Jeimer Candelario (.211). 1-5, HR, 3 RBI, R
  • Hero: Cody Bellinger (.201). 3-5, 2-2B, 5 RBI, 2 R, SB, K
  • Sidekick: Javier Assad (.197). 7 IP, 26 batters, 3 H, 2 BB, R, 7 K, WP (W 3-2)


  • Billy Goat: Ian Happ (-.078). 1-4, BB, RBI
  • Goat: Yan Gomes (-.068). 0-5, RBI, 2 K
  • Kid: Mike Tauchman (-.046). 0-4, 2 K

WPA Play of the Game: Jeimer Candelario batted with a runner on first and two outs in the fourth inning. The game was tied at the time. He homered and the Cubs went on to rout the Pirates. (.228)

*Pirates Play of the Game: Ji Hwan Bae led off the first with the Cubs up one. He doubled, setting up the only run for the Pirates. (.061)


Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Jeimer Candelario
    (7 votes)
  • 23%
    Cody Bellinger
    (65 votes)
  • 69%
    Javier Assad
    (187 votes)
  • 3%
    Keegan Thompson (2IP, 7 batters, H, 5K)
    (9 votes)
  • 1%
    Nico Hoerner (3-5, 2B, 3R, SB, K)
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
    (0 votes)
271 votes total Vote Now

Yesterday’s Winner: Jordan Wicks received 202 of 218 votes (Superhero is 87-42)

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 +38
  • Ian Happ +17.5
  • 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 win their eight straight, the Reds lose. The Cubs are four games behind the Brewers in the NL Central. They are two ahead of the Reds. The Phillies win their third straight and are in the first Wild Card position. The Cubs are three games behind the Phillies. The Diamondbacks won Sunday and have won eight of 10. They are half a game behind the Cubs in the third Wild Card spot. The Giants win Sunday, the Reds lose. The two teams are two behind the Cubs. The Marlins did win Sunday, but they’ve won only three of 10 and are only one over .500. Their playoff hopes are on life support with so many teams in front of them, but they are only three out of the final Wild Card spot.

Series involving these teams starting Monday include the Phillies hosting the Angels, the Diamondbacks going to Los Angeles to play the Dodgers, and the Giants hosting the Reds. The Marlins don’t start their series until Tuesday, but they host a Rays team that has gotten hot again and has won eight of 10 (and are down to two behind the Orioles).

Up Next: The Cubs host the Brewers starting Monday. The Brewers are 73-57. Jameson Taillon (7-8, 5.60, 115⅔ IP) starts for the Cubs. He is 4-2 with a 4.70 ERA in 38⅓ innings. Jameson hasn’t won since August 8 against the Mets, in New York. He started against the Brewers way back on April 2, allowing three runs in four innings. He allowed seven hits and a walk.

Ex-Cub Wade Miley (6-3, 3.18, 87⅔ IP) starts for the Brewers. The 36-year-old lefty has been limited to 17 starts. Over the last seven starts, he is 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA in 35 innings. He hasn’t won a game since July 9. Back on July 4, he started against the Cubs. He threw five innings allowing nine hits, two walks and four runs.

So we have two guys whose seasons have been limited by injuries. Neither has a recent win and both have one not very good start against the other team. Nothing great there. The Brewers are red hot and the Cubs have struggled against lefties. This could be a tough one.