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2023 Cubs Heroes and Goats: Game 112

The Cubs escape with two out of three from the Braves!

Atlanta Braves v Chicago Cubs Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

All of the regulars here know that I love a bit of numerology. So I’m going to start there. Cubs 6, opponent 4 is a unique outcome for 2023. It’s definitely something I present as a curiosity and not anything with greater meaning. I noticed that in noticing the Cubs success once they get to seven runs this year. Well, on Sunday they didn’t get to seven. But they still won it.

I don’t imagine it started with Joe Maddon, but he certainly popularized calling two out of three “meatloaf,” a nod to the classic Meat Loaf song where he let us all know that two out of three ain’t bad. Very much like the Rays series earlier this year, this is well beyond meatloaf. Twice this year, the team with the best record in baseball came into Wrigley Field and twice the Cubs have taken two out of three. Again, in the deeper sense of things, does this have some greater meaning or predictive value? Probably not.

Certainly, we’ve all seen a ton of situations where a team really owned another team in the regular season and then it reversed itself in the postseason. I’m probably not even grabbing the most recent example, but I think of the 2015 Cubs against the Mets in the National League Championship Series. So clearly, to that end it doesn’t mean anything. There are no awards for winning these games.

That said, the Rays came to town rolling over teams and for the first 26 innings of that series, the Cubs pitching staff shutdown a very talented Rays offense. This time around, the Braves came to town, a team rampaging the league. The pitching staff? Not so much this time. Certainly, they came up with key outs just about every time they needed them. The offense though? On Saturday and Sunday, they put together enough runs to win a pair of games. Similar to the other series, with the exception of one inning, the two teams fought toe to toe with neither having a great advantage against the other.

To be clear, that Braves team is very good. It will be an upset if that team doesn’t represent the NL in the World Series. It feels like the last handful of years, the number of upsets feels like it’s dropped off. More often, it feels like the best teams are reaching the World Series and then eventually winning. But let’s be clear, that phrase is less upsets. Upsets can and do still happen. This weekend was a terrific example. The Braves are without a doubt the better team. And yet, the difference from the top to the bottom aren’t that great. Things can and do happen.

Let’s also be clear about this. The Cubs are nowhere near that bottom anymore. Yeah, I do believe the Braves are the best team in baseball. But yeah, I’m sold on this team. This Cubs team is a legitimate contender. I still think that this team needs its pitching to be elite if it is going to be elite. But this offense has taken a gigantic step forward. When does a sample become not small? The Cubs have scored 168 runs in 23 games since the All-Star break. How about a thought experiment? The Cubs have had some really high scoring games since the break. The Cubs have had games of 20, 17 and 16. Those games can be a little bit flukey. So I’ll drop those three games. But we have to be fair right? If we’re going to drop the top three scores, let’s drop the three lowest. 0, 0 and 2. That’s 113 runs in the other 17 games. That’s an average of 6.647.

Scoring approximately seven runs per game isn’t quite as much of a fluke as you might expect. Is any team likely to consistently score seven runs per game? No. I mean, the 1931 Yankees scored 1,067 runs in 153 games. Again, right around seven runs per game. I think it’s fair to see that as more or less the extreme upward bound for scoring. For the season, the Cubs have 568 runs in 112 games. That’s an average of about five runs per game. For the record, that has the Cubs at fifth in scoring. They are fourth in on base percentage.

This team is no joke. I’ve told you all for the seven years I’ve worked here with Heroes and Goats, I’ve stressed not to get too high or too low. I think that’s important as a baseball fan. This sport can really kick your butt if you don’t show some restraint. The only thing I’m going to say about that is that if you are using too much restraint, you might not be letting yourself enjoy this season the way that it should be enjoyed.

Last year, I talked to you about Nico Hoerner and Justin Steele and how they were ascending stars. I’m telling you right now, this Cubs team is ascending to stardom. Kept simple, the Cubs are 85-77 over their last 162 games. The Milwaukee Brewers are on an 86-win pace. The Phillies and the Giants lead the NL Wild Card race. They are both on pace for 88 wins. So, with no wizardry, no amount of projection, just looking at the last 162 games for the team. On that pace, they would end up the third Wild Card. But also one off of a division championship.

Games aren’t won or lost on paper or with spreadsheets. The Brewers could blast off from here and win 90 plus games. Of course, they could also tank and have a losing record. The reality probably lands somewhere in the middle. Before the Brewers lost on Sunday, Fangraphs had them down for 86 wins. They had the Cubs at 82. That is what comes up on their Projected Standings tab. If you instead go to 2023 Playoff Odds, they had the Brewers at 85.5 and the Cubs at 84.1. But keep in mind the Brewers have a more difficult strength of schedule.

This is a dog fight. The Cubs are alive and well to win the NL Central. They are sitting in the third wild card spot by a rounding error ahead of the Reds, losers of six straight. The Marlins sit fifth. They’ve lost four straight. The Diamondbacks sit sixth, they’ve lost sixth straight. I think, it is fair to note that the Padres are a team that was considered a legitimate favorite in the NL and they can be described as lurking. They are still one game under .500, but have won seven of 10 and have a very talented team.

You’ll see the numbers elsewhere. I won’t repeat them all here. But there isn’t a lot of reason to use the last 162 games as the realistic measure of this team. There are at least a half dozen significant additions to this team and I may be being conservative in that number. This team is better than the team that was on the field in April. It’s better than the team was on the field in May. By June, this team was already playing excellent baseball.

They followed up with an excellent July. And then they added an excellent bat in Jeimer Candelario. They also added Jose Cuas, but it’s fair to say that it’s premature to assess him as a pro. He’s been great since he got here. But Jeimer? A 2.2 fWAR in 2018. A 1.9 fWAR in 2020 (obviously a shortened season and fWAR is a counting stat). In 2021 it was a 3.9 fWAR. In 2023, it is 3.6 to date. That’s a significant addition. Period, end of story.

There is no reason to believe that this team will win only 85 games. Of course, they could. They could trail off and win 80 games. I don’t believe that is going to happen. Heading to baseball on August 7, I now believe this Cubs team will win closer to 90 games than 80. 25-25 over their last 50 would result in 83 wins. Again, why would they only win 25? The Cubs are 32-18 over their last 50. I’ll give you a cool down. Split the difference. That’s 28.5 wins. That would be 86.5 wins. I’ll take the over.

I’m tumbling a thought in my head. I’m not sure if I’m quite ready to say it with certainty. I’m not positive that the Cubs have fielded a better team since the World Series team. If I made the statement be no better team since 2017, I think I’d say it with certainty. That ‘17 team did win 92 games and did get back to the NLCS before losing to a very good Dodgers team after a draining (and weird scheduling) series against the Nationals. A different story for a different day. But a thought nonetheless. Let’s wait a bit longer before making hasty proclamations.

Let’s dig into Sunday’s game. You can’t beat a team as good as the Braves without some stars. Let’s try to identify the biggest ones.

  1. The Cubs and Justin Steele tried to get him through six innings against a team that is tough to see twice through the order. Justin went through three. But he left with the bases loaded and the Cubs up two. Michael Fulmer was handed the ball in an amazingly difficult situation for the second straight day. This time, it was facing Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley needing two outs and to protect a two run lead. He got through it with just a hit by pitch. He followed that with two strikeouts. That was the last hurrah of the Braves in this one.
  2. The biggest games need the biggest players. Cody Bellinger had a single, a double, a walk, two runs and a run batted in. Oh yeah, he stole a base just to top it all off. Bellinger has starred for this Cubs team, particularly since the All-Star break. There are only six players that qualify for a batting title with an OPS higher than Cody Bellinger. One of those plays in the American League. Two of them play for the Dodgers and two for the Braves. It’s hard to see two finalists from the same team. There’s a fair chance that if Cody can finish this off, he has the chance to be a legit MVP finalist. I don’t mean some guy at the bottom of the list who got a vote. I think he’ll be up near the top for at least a few people. It’ll all depend how strong he finishes and if the team makes the playoffs. Remember, if this team comes seemingly out of nowhere and makes the playoffs they are going to be looking for a person or people to give credit for it.
  3. Dansby Swanson’s line doesn’t jump off the page. He had a double and drew a walk. But he did drive in two of the six runs. More importantly, the walk came in the third inning with the bases loaded and tied the game at two. The double came in the seventh inning and drove in Bellinger who had singled and stolen second. Those two teamed up on a key insurance run, giving the Cubs leverage relievers an extra run to work with against a tough team and with no rest.

Game 112, August 6: Cubs 6, Braves 4 (58-54)


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


  • Superhero: Cody Bellinger (.204). 2-3, 2B, BB, RBI, R, SB

*Cody has 8 Superheroes in 23 games since the break. He is +30 since the break. It’s +36 going back to July 1. He has shown up on the negative side of the ledger once. That was a -1 in the 10-7 win over the White Sox with the huge comeback. He homered that night, but that homer was only worth .068. This is what carrying a team on your back looks like.

  • Hero: Dansby Swanson (.158). 1-3, 2B, BB, 2 RBI
  • Sidekick: Michael Fulmer (.107). ⅔ IP, 3 batters, 2 K, HBP


  • Billy Goat: Justin Steele (-.258). 5⅓ IP, 27 batters, 8 H, 4 BB, 4 R (3 ER), 7 K (W 13-3)
  • Goat: Nick Madrigal (-.093). 0-4, K
  • Kid: Christopher Morel (-.068). 0-3, BB, K

WPA Play of the Game: Matt Olson batted with a runner on third and two outs in the third inning, the game scoreless. He homered and the Braves had a two run lead. (.200)

*Cubs Play of the Game: Cody Bellinger batted with a runner on first and one out and the game tied in the fifth. He doubled and the go ahead run scored. The Cubs never trailed again. (.161)


Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?

This poll is closed

  • 52%
    Cody Bellinger
    (123 votes)
  • 3%
    Dansby Swanson
    (9 votes)
  • 35%
    Michael Fulmer
    (83 votes)
  • 5%
    Mike Tauchman (2-5, 2R, SB)
    (14 votes)
  • 0%
    Jeimer Candelario (1-2, RBI, BB, SB)
    (0 votes)
  • 1%
    Mark Leiter Jr. (IP, 3 batters, K)
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
    (2 votes)
234 votes total Vote Now

Yesterday’s Game: Cody Bellinger 49-44 over Michael Fulmer (Superhero is 73-38)

Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 5/Bottom 5)

  • Cody Bellinger +29
  • Ian Happ +17.5
  • Marcus Stroman +12
  • Adbert Alzolay/Justin Steele +11
  • Seiya Suzuki -9
  • Drew Smyly -12
  • Jameson Taillon -13
  • Patrick Wisdom -15
  • Trey Mancini -20.5

Up Next: The Cubs will wake up on August 7 four games over .500 for the first time since April 27. They haven’t been four over this late in the season since the last day of the 2020 season when they were eight over at the end of the abbreviated season. They are 1½ games behind the Brewers for first in the NL Central. They are a rounding error ahead of the Reds for second in the Central and in turn, for the Wild Card. They are three behind the Giants and Phillies the top two Wild Cards. The Reds and Marlins are behind the Cubs in the Wild Card race and open a series in Cincinnati against one another.

The Cubs will be in New York against the Mets. The Mets are 50-61 and have lost all six games since they traded off talent at the trade deadline. The Cubs beat them two out of three earlier this year when they were still competing in the NL East.

The Cubs are handing the ball to Drew Smyly (8-7, 4.71, 112⅔ IP). Drew is 1-3 with an 8.40 ERA over his last seven appearances. In two of those, they used an opener for him. It appears this time he’ll make the start. Caleb Kilian was called up before Sunday’s game, but he is well stretched out as a starter, throwing well and rested. One can assume the Cubs aren’t going to give him a real long leash. The 2,000 words above aren’t my imagination. The Cubs are in a pennant race. They’d certainly rather have Drew Smyly locked in and contributing the way he did in April and May. But they are going to have to think how long they want to ride with him here.

The Mets are going with Kodai Senga, a 30-year-old righty Kodai Senga. Kodai is 7-6 with a 3.25 ERA in 110⅔ innings. The team may be headed south, but Senga is still on his game. He’s 1-2 with a 2.75 ERA over his last seven starts, covering 39⅓ innings. He was knocked around a bit in his last start though. He allowed 11 hits in 5⅔ innings and was charged with three runs. Let’s keep it rolling.