Let me set the table first. I predicted that the Cubs would 75 games. I’ve probably declared this team dead four times. It might have been more, I don’t think it was less. I just want to make sure my street credentials are at evidence. Not exactly the first person on this year’s bandwagon.
I think that’s important, because what I want to say is that Saturday’s game is exhibit A for the postseason. I’ve told you over and over, I’m always going to be real with you. The Braves are going to finish the season with the best record in the National League. They are playing on a whole different level than the rest of the league.
So what do I mean by exhibit A? I mean that no one is going to want to play the Cubs. Javier Assad is what, the Cubs’ seventh starter? If we’re being honest, the regular five and Hayden Wesneski all have to be in front of him, even if Assad got Saturday’s start. The Cubs jumped on Braves pitching in the first inning and the Assad and five relievers did enough to hold on to the lead.
Today, Justin Steele starts. Does that guarantee anything? Of course not. Without looking, I’m going to guess that Vegas will favor the Braves against the Cubs ace at Wrigley Field and I’m not going to say they are crazy. But I am going to say that Justin Steele wasn’t accidentally an All-Star. He’s been one of the best pitchers in the NL. There is at least a chance that Steele shoves, the Cubs get enough runs to back him up and the Cubs win.
A team with quality starters and a momentum offense has a fighting chance against any team. There is a reason why the best team doesn’t win every season. I know that the numbers have shown that it has been a little better lately. But it will never change that it is possible for a decent team to get hot and roll over a better team. Is that likely to happen? No. Of course not.
I’ve seen people suggesting that Friday exposed the Cubs. Not just here on Bleed Cubbie Blue but on social media. I can’t affect social media with any great reach. But here on BCB, I can suggest we are above that. One game doesn’t mean a thing. If we are drawing conclusions off of individual games, then Friday said the Braves are head and shoulders above the Cubs. That shouldn’t be a breaking story. But Saturday showed that the Braves are human. They can be beat.
The team scored five in the first on Saturday. On this day, thank heavens the team kept piling on. You can’t possibly add on enough against this Braves team. Three more single runs pushed the Cubs out to eight. Seven has been the magic number this year. 33 times now the Cubs have scored seven or more and 33 times they have won. This one was a little tense. I can’t imagine what the ninth would have been like without all eight of the runs they scored on Saturday.
I’ve watched a lot of baseball. This team isn’t perfect. I’m a little nervous about the recent struggles of the starting rotation. But if this team can get to the end with their roster healthy and get their pitchers back on top of their game, this team has a real chance. Only the Dodgers and Braves have scored more runs than the Cubs. Steele and a healthy Marcus Stroman are a handful. If Jameson Taillon can continue to elevate his game, this isn’t just a team that’s riding a hot streak. This is a good baseball team.
Beyond that, look around. The Reds are in free fall. They too have a lot of talent. But I saw nothing in four games at Wrigley Field that said they have more talent than the Cubs. Want to talk about a team with a puncher’s chance? Talk about the Reds. But it isn’t just the Reds. The Marlins piled up a ton of wins winning close games early, but it appears that as we turn the corner towards the home stretch, they are running out of steam. The Diamondbacks appear to be in free fall in a tough division.
My biggest concern as it comes to the wild card is that the Padres appear to be getting their act together. That team has a lot of talent. If they can get hot, they can be a handful. Within the division, the Brewers “overachieve” every single year. By that, I recognize that the “experts” underestimate the Brewers every single year. I don’t like Craig Counsell any more than most of you do. But I do believe that he’s one of the best managers in my lifetime. His teams are not overflowing with talent, but he always gets everything possible out of them.
It won’t be easy, but I do now believe this Cubs team is heading to the playoffs. You can’t beat a team with the caliber of the Braves without a number of star performances. So let’s try to sort through them and find three.
- Michael Fulmer gets my top spot. He inherited runners on second and third with two outs. The Cubs were up three but the Braves had scored in the second and third inning after the Cubs jumped out to a five run lead after one. The Braves were seizing the momentum. But Fulmer got out of the fourth and then he pitched a scoreless fifth, including striking out sluggers Ozzie Albies and Matt Olson.
- Julian Merryweather threw two scoreless innings. This was just his fifth outing of two innings, but he’s done that only once since mid-May. He only needed seven batters to record six outs, despite a walk and a hit allowed.
- Cody Bellinger lands the third spot by filling up the box score. A single, a double, a walk, two runs, a run batted in and a stolen base. In that decisive first inning, Cody grounded to first, but Matt Olson made an error. The one time he didn’t get a hit or walk, he reached on an error, stole a base and scored a run.
Game 111, August 5: Cubs 8, Braves 6 (57-54)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Cody Bellinger (.145). 2-3, 2B, BB, RBI, 2 R, SB
- Hero: Michael Fulmer (.090). 1⅓ IP, 5 batters, H, 2 K (W 3-5)
- Sidekick: Dansby Swanson (.087). 1-4, HR, 2 RBI, R,K
- Billy Goat: Daniel Palencia (-.059). ⅓ IP, 4 batters, 3 BB
- Goat: Yan Gomes (-.029). 0-4, K
- Kid: Ian Happ (-.004). 1-4, HR, RBI, R
WPA Play of the Game: Dansby Swanson batted with a runner on second with one out in the first, the Cubs already up two. He slugged a two run homer to increase the lead to four. (.109)
*Braves Play of the Game: Ozzie Albies batted with one out in the third, the Braves down four. Albies hit a solo homer and the lead was cut to three. (.060)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Julian Merryweather (2IP, 7 batters, H,BB, K)
Jeimer Candelario (2-4, HR, 2B, RBI, 2R)
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Game: Hayden Wesneski (Superhero is 72-38)
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 5/Bottom 5)
- Cody Bellinger +26
- Ian Happ +17.5
- Justin Steele +14
- Marcus Stroman +12
- Adbert Alzolay +11
- Seiya Suzuki -9
- Drew Smyly -12
- Jameson Taillon -13
- Patrick Wisdom -15
- Trey Mancini -20.5
Up Next: The Cubs wake up this morning only one game out of the last Wild Card spot. The Cubs are also even in the loss column with the collapsing Reds. Justin Steele is 12-3 with a 2.65 ERA over 115⅔ innings. He’s continued to pitch at an All-Star level over his last seven starts (5-1, 2.53 ERA, 42⅔ IP). He’s won each of his last three starts, allowing seven runs over 18⅓ innings. Over that time, he has 19 strikeouts and four walks.
The Braves have 39-year-old righty Charlie Morton (10-9, 3.62 ERA, 119⅓ IP). Over his last seven starts, he was 4-3 with a 3.43 ERA in 39⅓ IP. He’s lost three straight starts, allowing 11 runs over 15⅓ innings. He’s walked 11 and struck out 13. The Cubs took two of three from the Rays at Wrigley Field earlier this year when they were wearing the crown of best team in baseball. Justin Steele gives the Cubs a chance to repeat that feat against the Braves.