If a picture is worth a thousand words, then I choose this one to sum up this series in Colorado. With the number of runners lost on the bases in this series and the number of miscues from a team that Pat Hughes thinks might be the best defensive team he’s ever seen, the Cubs laid an egg in Colorado.
The amount I love Pat Hughes as a baseball announcer can’t be understated, but that’s a really difficult argument to swallow. It’s not like the 2016 team was that long ago. I understand all of the very good reasons we memory holed the shortstop on that team, but that team was amazing defensively. Ben Zobrist was on the downside of his career but wasn’t exactly a butcher at second and Javy Báez got a fair amount of time there. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo were both strong defensively. Jason Heyward was regarded as a historically good right fielder. Dexter Fowler was below average defensively by the metrics, but to the eye test was fine. There again, Albert Almora Jr. was the backup and did rate out well defensively. Jorge Soler rated poorly in left, but didn’t play a lot there (KB played almost as many innings there and performed well there). All three catchers rated decently behind the plate.
I digress. Clearly we aren’t here to re-live the 2016 Cubs. Certainly, the 2023 team is good defensively and better with Pete Crow-Armstrong in center and Cody Bellinger at first. It is with some unpleasant irony that I’ve seen that Jameson Taillon and Justin Steele are both among the pitchers with the most unearned runs allowed this season. For what that’s worth, it only takes about a dozen runs across 20 or more starts to be at or near the league lead.
We are here to dissect the direction of this team. I always understand that scheduling is difficult to do, particularly with 30 teams divided into two 15-team leagues. One of the things I’ve discovered over time is that I’ve become increasingly OCD as I’ve aged. I like structure and there is something I really adore about the minor league schedule that finds the teams off basically every Monday and then playing the other six games. They play them in six-game series. That’s basically unheard of in modern baseball.
With the extreme balanced schedule, things are closer to a setup that would allow for a more consistent schedule. I’ve wondered about the possibility of something with more structure and uniformity. Until we move towards that, we end up with things like the Cubs playing 14 games over 13 days with no days off. The Cubs were 5-2 in the first seven and 2-5 in the last seven of that stretch. This despite the fact that the strength of schedule being significantly higher in the first seven than the last seven. Now, the Cubs have two days off out of the next five.
To be fair, it doesn’t always work that way. In the previous set of games, they played 13 games in 13 days, going a near identical 4-2 in the first six and 5-2 in the last seven despite the strength of schedule being much higher in the second group. They bridged 16 games over the last week of July and the first week and a half of August. They started that stretch 5-0 against two non-contenders. They lost the next two, but then won three straight, lost one, won two and then dropped two of three. That lost series? Against a poor Mets team. At the end of June, beginning of July, there were 13 games, they lost six of the first seven, but then finished the stretch winning four of six, finishing up against a fading Yankees team.
So, I see it for what it is. It is an excuse. And also an explanation, at least in part, about how a good team can lose games against bad teams. It happens to everyone. The Orioles just lost two of three to the Cardinals of all people, including the last one by a 1-0 score.
For a variety of reasons, I’ve gotten away from asking if your glass is half full or half empty. If your answer is more nuanced, weigh in below in the comments. This is an interesting stretch with the team playing poorly over a longer stretch of games than they have in quite some time.
Where’s your glass?
This poll is closed
It’s more nuanced than that. (Drop a comment below)
Another frustrating game. This is more or less six of them in a row. It’s certainly not a good time for that. As I alluded to yesterday, I’m unusually calm about this. Certainly, I’m frustrated. There was absolutely an opportunity for this team to have consistently taken care of business and being much more competitive in the division and more dominant in the Wild Card race.
First and foremost, as has been the case pretty often, three of the six teams we have been scoreboard watching lost. Not many of those teams have stayed hot for more than a few days at a time. But more than that, I don’t worry about this team like Cubs teams of the past. The schedule is going to get pretty tough, but this Cubs team has actually done very well against very good teams. We’ll certainly remember series where the Cubs took two of three from the Braves, the Dodgers early, the Rays, the Orioles, in Toronto against the Blue Jays, a series recently against the Brewers.
When the team is playing well, it can stand toe to toe with any team in the league. This Cubs team is certainly capable of bouncing back and taking two or even three from a much better Diamondbacks team than the Rockies team they just lost two of three to. All is certainly not lost.
Let’s fine three stars in this disappointing loss.
- Nico Hoerner clearly gets the top spot with four singles in five at bats. I duly apologize to Nico for the caught stealing photo at the top. It really was emblematic of how the series went. But Nico otherwise had a strong day that included his 40th steal and scoring a run.
- Christopher Morel doubled and scored in the first and also drew a walk.
- Brad Boxberger faced three batters and retired them all. The Cubs could really use a healthy, effective Boxberger down the stretch.
Game 147, September 13: Rockies 7, Cubs 3 (78-69)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Mike Tauchman (.048). 0-0, BB
- Hero: Miguel Amaya (.047). 2-3
- Sidekick: Ian Happ (.034). 2-4, 2B, K
- Billy Goat: Jameson Taillon (-.258). 5 IP, 24 batters, 7 H, BB, 5 R (3 ER), 5 K (L 7-10)
- Goat: Pete Crow-Armstrong (-.104). 0-3, 2 K
- Kid: Cody Bellinger (-.089). 1-4, SF,, RBI, R, 2 K
WPA Play of the Game: Both of the two, two-run homers in the fifth inning against Jameson Taillon registered the same WPA. Nolan Jones homered to tie, then Elehuris Montero what turned out to be the winner. (.209)
*Cubs Play of the Game: The Cubs were up by one in the third when Dansby Swanson batted with runners on first and second with no outs. Swanson doubled, a run scored and things were look quite good. (.110)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Nico Hoerner (4-5, R, SB)
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Winner: Seiya Suzuki received 116 of 129 votes (Superhero is 99-47)
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 +37
- Justin Steele +22
- Adbert Alzolay +18
- Ian Happ 17.5
- Marcus Stroman +12
- Christopher Morel -9.5
- Patrick Wisdom -15
- Drew Smyly -17
- Trey Mancini -20.5
- Jameson Taillon -26
- Brewers lose
- Phillies lose second straight.
- Diamondbacks lose second straight
- Reds win third straight
- Marlins win
- Giants win
The net result: Cubs four games back from the Brewers in the Central. The Cubs are going to need to make up a game or two over their next 12 to make things heading to Milwaukee to finish the season.
The Phillies hold the first Wild Card, 1½ games ahead of the Cubs. The Diamondbacks and Reds are a game behind the Cubs, tied for the third Wild Card. The Marlins and Giants are a game behind the Wild Card holders.
The Brewers play the Marlins again Thursday. The Diamondbacks are in New York for one more day to play the Mets, so the Cubs will beat them to Arizona. The Reds remain in Detroit. The Giants head to Colorado to play the remainder of the week. Hopefully the Rockies continue to play tough.
Up Next: An off day Thursday. Friday night, the Cubs play the Diamondbacks. The Cubs have Justin Steele (16-3, 2.49, 159 IP). He’s 4-0 with a 2.28 over his last seven starts, as he makes a finishing push to what will hopefully be a Cy Young winning season. The numbers are remarkably consistent with a 10-1 record and a 2.37 over his last 15 starts. He’s 2-0 with one earned run, 14 hits, three walks and 26 strikeouts over his last three starts (21 innings).
The Diamondbacks haven’t formalized their pitching plan for the weekend. Merrill Kelly starts Thursday night. That should make 24-year-old righty Brandon Pfaadt next up. Pfaadt is 1-8 with a 6.25 ERA in 80⅔ innings, including four runs allowed over six innings against the Cubs last week. He didn’t start that game and wasn’t the losing pitcher in it, though the Cubs did win that one 5-2. The last time he faced a team in consecutive starts, it was the Padres. He allowed one hit, three walks and no runs over seven innings.
The message? Not definitely a pushover. You have to feel confident any time Justin Steele is on the mound. It would be fantastic if the offense would step up. One other thing I notice is that Steele starts the first of the final 15 games. The Cubs will have one remaining off day. Just three days later. That makes there one, maybe two final forks in the road.
- First, the totally vanilla usage of the starting rotation has Steele make three more starts, Friday night, Thursday versus Pittsburgh and then one last start at Atlanta. This has Steele lined up for the first game after 162. This has the dual benefit of this is that it makes him available on normal rest for 162 if that game stands between in or out. If it doesn’t, he’s on extra rest for the next meaningful game.
- Second scenario, Steele starts Friday. The Monday off day allows the Cubs to push all of the other starters back a day. He starts Wednesday in Pittsburgh, the first game in Atlanta and then would be available for 162 in Milwaukee.
- Amorphous third scenario. You could at some point have some other person drop in and make an extra start and push everyone back. This hypothetical is the one you can’t really pinpoint it. I guess if I were going to do that, it would be the last game against the Pirates. That pushes Steele back to face the Rockies and then the final Braves game. This would be an odd choice as it would, I believe, make Steele be on short rest for the first game after 162.
I have trouble seeing where the number 3 scenario has value, but just wanted to rough it out and realized there is always that third option even if it is out of the ordinary.