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2023 Cubs Heroes and Goats: Game 149

The one with four blown leads!

Photo by Zac BonDurant/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Obviously, we all that the Cubs wouldn’t be in a stretch with four straight losses and seven of nine. All of the slack in the rope is gone and what looked like a relatively safe bet a couple of weeks ago is starting to look awfully shaky. The Cubs last lost four straight games June 25 to June 29. You’ll remember that as the stretch that started in London. Those were games 76-79. Now here in games 146-149, they’ve done it again.

In the 67 games between, the Cubs were 41-26. That’s a 99-win pace. Had Saturday night’s game occurred a week ago, it would have been a game I could remember as a game that was a thrilling as it was frustrating. In a vacuum, this was a thoroughly entertaining game. Certainly, if we take every ruling made by the umpires on the field as is, the Cubs were on the wrong end of quite a number of extraordinarily close plays that could have gone either way. If you believe the umpires wildly got at least one or two of these calls wrong, I’m going to guess you have a legion of support.

I watched the last six innings of this game on a cellphone in a bar while listening to dueling pianos. I can assure you the pianos ended up being the best part of this night. I don’t like to spend much time quibbling about calls by umpires, particularly the lose plays. Going back to the time I spent playing and coaching sports, I’ve tried to maintain the attitude that no one play decides a game one way or the other. Even if a close call goes the wrong way, there is almost always several, if not dozens of, plays that your team could have made that would have changed the outcome too. We as sports fans and people around sports in general, tend to over focus on one crucible play.

It’s far from a unique phenomenon to baseball. We’ve seen death threats against field goal kickers, goalies, guys who missed free throws, etc. We tend to magnify the last play. In this instance, this loss certainly doesn’t fall on Yan Gomes for failing to get the tag into the right place or for Seiya Suzuki for throwing it a little up the line. The Cubs were just 6-for-19 with runners in scoring position and left 16 men on base. The Cubs had 3-2, 4-3, 5-4 and 6-5 leads and blew all of them. The Cubs used six relievers and three of them were charged with runs. Good luck with the research, but the Cubs may have set a record with blown saves by three different pitchers who were part of the opening day starting rotation for the team.

The ship is still above water. But at this point, it’s pretty apparent that the ship made contact with the iceberg. They’ve fired off flares because the ship is taking on water. It remains to be seen if Adbert Alzolay will return for this team. Michael Fulmer has gone down with a forearm injury for the second time in quick succession. You don’t like to assume, beyond assuming that the Cubs have likely seen the last of Fulmer. With a thin margin of error, losing leverage relievers is worrisome.

To be sure, the possibility of Marcus Stroman as a late inning reliever does feel like it could balance some of that out. I have no real concern over Stroman’s blown save in his first attempt. However, am I the only one who was a little nervous about him throwing back-to-back like that? I was never a pitcher other than an emergency situation, does anyone have issues with a pitcher just back from injury being used relatively quickly in a back-to-back? What about a guy who has never previously used that way? Stroman certainly feels like a guy up for the job. I just tempered my enthusiasm as I was uncomfortable about this usage of him.

The Cubs used all but one position player (Alexander Canario) and six of their nine relievers were used (Brad Boxberger, Luke Little, Daniel Palencia were not). The Diamondbacks used 21 different players themselves. It was that kind of night. This was one of those games I talk about sometimes. Over the course of 162 games, baseball will find the depth of your roster. The Cubs covered four extra innings of baseball with three pitchers who started the season in their starting rotation.

Beyond that, on Sunday the Cubs will send rookie Jordan Wicks to the mound. Jordan has put his team in a position to win four times in four starts. They’ve won all four games that he started. He’s responded well to the moment so far. But here’s the reality. All hyperbole aside, if the Cubs lose on Sunday, they will at very minimum drop to the third Wild Card spot and should the Reds also win, the Cubs will enter the final two weeks of baseball on the outside looking in.

That by itself is a ton of pressure. But also, Jordan hasn’t always been a picture of efficiency with his pitch count early in his career. That’s not much of a knock, most pitchers aren’t. Unsurprisingly, major league hitters are better than those you face anywhere along the road to the majors. They are often extremely good at laying off pitches even an inch or two out of the strike zone. There isn’t one pitcher among the seven that the Cubs used on Saturday that is a natural fit to be sent to Iowa to be swapped out for a fresh body.

Certainly, Michael Rucker, Ben Brown, and Keegan Thompson are all pitchers on the 40-man roster who can throw multiple innings. Rucker threw Saturday night. As did rehabbing Brandon Hughes and Nick Burdi. Caleb Kilian, also on the 40-man roster, started the game. For Hughes and Burdi both, it was the second consecutive day throwing. For what it’s worth, that is usually one of the last steps before the Cubs return a pitcher to the roster. It is possible that Hughes and Burdi could be coming up for Luke Little and Daniel Palencia at some point. Could being the operative word. But the short term answer is they can’t help Sunday. Keegan Thompson hasn’t pitched since Thursday. So if you were going to reach down, he’d have to be the answer.

Luke Little last threw more than an inning on August 30 when he recorded four outs. He faced six batters total. Five times in August he threw more than an inning, including three times when he threw two innings. Daniel Palencia last threw for the Cubs on Tuesday. He threw two innings that day and has thrown more than one inning three times this month. Brad Boxberger has not been asked to throw more than one inning this year. The last time at the major league level that Brad threw more than an inning was June 23 of last year when he faced six batters on three days rest. He last pitched on Wednesday. So he is at least rested.

But it continues. On the off chance the Cubs have a save situation on Sunday, Julian Merryweather pitched two innings Saturday. Marcus Stroman threw Friday and Saturday both. Mark Leiter Jr. threw a scoreless inning Saturday. So that leaves Leiter on a back-to-back or Boxberger to close. Baseball will find your depth over 162. Never fear.

So on Sunday, the Cubs will heavily rely on their 2021 first-round pick, who made his major league debut on August 26. They’ll likely soon count on their 2020 fourth-round pick, who made his major league debut on September 6. They’ll likely count on a 2020 international free agent initially signed by the A’s who made his major league debut on July 4. Three rookies. And they’ll be backed up by a 35-year-old veteran pitcher. A pitcher who was an ineffective reliever early in the season before missing the majority of the major league season. As a result, he hasn’t even thrown 20 innings this year. To be fair, it’s possible that Jose Cuas (who faced only three batters) or Hayden Wesneski could possibly be used after limited action Saturday night.

But again, baseball will test your roster. Sunday is arguably the most important game of the season so far and the Cubs are going to rely heavily on three rookies. Undoubtedly, they’ll also have their rookie catcher, and someone who hasn’t played a lot of third recently at the hot corner after a late injury to Nick Madrigal. That doesn’t even get into any residual over a ball that at least grazed Cody Bellinger’s wrist late in the game.

Heavy sigh indeed.

Let’s find three star performances.

  1. Nico Hoerner had two hits, two walks, stole a base, drove in two runs and scored once. His steal of third in the 10th led directly to a run on a throwing error. He then had a go-ahead RBI-single in the 11th. Nico did more to win this game than any other Cub.
  2. Julian Merryweather faced six batters and retired them all. In a tie game, the Cubs needed some length and they got it from Julian.
  3. Yan Gomes had a pair of hits, including the only extra base hit in the game, and amazingly scored three of the Cubs’ six runs (mostly due to being the placed runner in two of the four extra-innings). He also hit a couple of fly balls that would have left other parts.

Game 149, September 16: Diamondbacks 7, Cubs 6


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


  • Superhero: Nico Hoerner (.504). 2-5, 2 BB, 2 RBI, SB, K

*This is the 6th highest WPA score of the year by a Cub and 2nd highest by a position player.

  • Hero: Drew Smyly (.292). 2⅓ IP, 9 batters, 2 H, 1 R (unearned)
  • Sidekick: Julian Merryweather (.247). 2 IP, 6 batters, 0 H, 0 R, 1 K


  • Billy Goat: Hayden Wesneski (-.585). ⅓ IP, 4 batters, 2 H, 2 R (one earned)

*This was the 8th lowest WPA score of the year by a Cub.

  • Goat: Dansby Swanson (-.368). 0-6, 3 K
  • Kid: Yan Gomes (-200). 2-6, 3 R

WPA Play of the Game: Emmanuel Rivera batted with two out in the 13th. His single that deflected off Hayden Wesneski scored the tying run. (.410)

*Cubs Play of the Game: With Nico Hoerner batting in the top of the 10th, the Cubs executed a double steal and scored a run on a throwing error. (.245)


Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?

This poll is closed

  • 69%
    Nico Hoerner
    (58 votes)
  • 7%
    Drew Smyly
    (6 votes)
  • 16%
    Julian Merryweather
    (14 votes)
  • 6%
    Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
    (5 votes)
83 votes total Vote Now

Yesterday’s Winner: Marcus Stroman 35-32 over Christopher Morel (Superhero is 99-49)

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 +19
  • Adbert Alzolay +18
  • Ian Happ 15.5
  • Marcus Stroman +14
  • Dansby Swanson -11
  • Patrick Wisdom/Drew Smyly -15
  • Trey Mancini -20.5
  • Jameson Taillon -26

Scoreboard watching:

  • Brewers win third straight
  • Phillies win second straight
  • Diamondbacks win second straight
  • Reds win second straight
  • Marlins win second straight
  • Giants lose twice and have lost three straight

At this point, I’m dropping the Brewers out of this section. There is virtually no chance the Cubs are going to overcome a 6½-game deficit over 13 games, even if they go to Milwaukee and sweep three games. Obviously, if something changes quickly, I can reverse course.

With three straight losses, I’m very lose to also dropping the Giants out of this section. The Phillies are 3½ up on the Cubs and hold the first Wild Card. As this picture is coming into focus, the Phillies are looking fairly locked into the fourth overall spot in the NL.

The pileup, then, is for the fifth and sixth overall spots. The Cubs hold that first spot. They are one game in the loss column ahead of the Diamondbacks and the Reds. The Marlins are one game behind the Cubs. The Giants are two behind the Marlins and in serious trouble at this point. They are the fifth team for two playoff spots. They would therefore have to pass three teams to get in.

Up Next: 24-year-old left-handed rookie Jordan Wicks (3-0, 1.99, 22⅔ IP) will try to keep the Cubs from being swept and falling out of the second wild card spot. Ryan Nelson (7-8, 5.53, 135 IP) starts for the Diamondbacks. He beat the Cubs, allowing one run one two hits and two walks in 5⅔ innings on September 7. The most recent start he made was against the Mets. He allowed six runs in 4⅓ innings. It was the second time he faced the Mets and they rocked him both times. He doesn’t walk a lot of hitters, but he is frequently hit hard. The Cubs really need their offense to step up before this season slips away.