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2023 Cubs Heroes and Goats: Games 134 and 135

It was almost a perfect day but in the end, the Cubs split the doubleheader.

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Heavy sigh. Everyone take a few deep breaths.

Sequencing can be frustrating. Certainly, if those two games happened in the other order, things change. Also, if the Reds had jumped out 3-0 and the Cubs rallied to make it 3-2, things would be different. Hey, also if the Phillies bullpen hadn’t collapsed later in the evening. There are a lot of frustrating things as the day and night wore on.

I’ve asked you several times if your glass was half full or half empty. Then the season took off and I had to guess that slowly but surely more and more of you were at least half full and many of you who were half full got to be more than half full. This team went from 10 below to 10 above before dropping back to nine over at the end of the day. If you didn’t see it, this was the first time the Cubs have ever gone from 10 below to 10 above. Of course, I don’t think I have to remind many of you that the 2021 Cubs peaked at 11 over and then cratered to 23 under before ending at 20 under.

The first thing I want to say is this team is going to pass 11 over. The second thing I’m going to say is that your glass should be at least half full. I spent a lot of time over the last few years trying to get you to stay balanced. This team is pretty special. Probably not World Series special and maybe not even win a series in the playoffs special. But in my world, going from 14 under to being a legit playoff team from one season to the next, that’s pretty special.

I don’t want to be a Cubs apologist. But I do think it is reasonable that a team that was 14 under last year and 10 under this year hasn’t magically fixed everything. Not everything is perfect. But, it’s been really darn good. It’s exciting that the 26, and now 28-man roster has improved as much as it has this year. The tide is rising. Also, beyond the 28, beyond the 40, beyond the 40 plus injured list, the tide is rising.

Think about it for a second. The Cubs called up Alexander Canario and Shane Greene to fill the two expanded roster spots. How many other people were there arguments for to fill those spots? Brad Boxberger was spotted in the Cubs dugout Friday. He threw back-to-backs recently for Iowa and has four straight scoreless outings. There are at least four other pitchers in various levels of bouncing back from injury. Ben Brown. Luke Little. Pete Crow-Armstrong. Luis Vazquez. Yonathan Perlaza. Matt Mervis.

That list ignores guys who have big league experience like Michael Rucker, Caleb Kilian, David Bote, Edwin Rios and Jared Young. I know I’m ignoring a smaller group of guys with the Iowa team that have previous major league experience who haven’t distinguished themselves. I’m not a minor league or a draft expert. I don’t have the kind of bandwidth to closely monitor much more than the big-league Cubs. But when I read the people that I trust to cover the Cubs with decent insight, I know I’ve seen that at least one prospect list has eight Cubs on it and as many as three other guys with strong arguments as top 100 types. I know the Cubs minor league system was probably the best it’s been 8-10 years ago. But it feels to my not prospect-oriented viewpoint that this may be the deepest group of talent the Cubs have had.

If all of that weren’t enough, there is Jordan Wicks, who has now had two good starts to start his big league career. No doubt there is a lot left for him to learn and continue to grow. But he’s arrived already and working hard to make sure he never goes back. The Cubs also got strong outings from Julian Merryweather and Daniel Palencia. A waiver pickup and a trade acquisition as this team continues to try to exhaust every way of finding talent. Merryweather is just heading into arbitration and Palencia has all of his options left.

Keegan Thompson continues to work his way back. He was charged with a run in the first game, but no doubt he was sent out for the ninth inning with at least an understanding and probably an instruction to throw strikes and not issue walks with a five run lead and not wanting to get deeper into the bullpen in the first game of a doubleheader and 14 games in 13 days starting. All but three of those games against teams with winning records and those three are the last three in very arguably the weirdest ballpark in major league baseball.

In the second game, there was Hayden Wesneski facing 11 batters, retiring 10 of them and striking out six of them. Even Drew Smyly faced 13 batters and was charged with only one run. It’s great to find some contribution out of him. That pitching staff is getting longer and longer. A team using arguably its 10th or 11 starter option on the year and a bullpen game allowed five runs over two games to a team that has been one of the better teams in baseball the second half of the year.

Certainly, it was frustrating to only put together two runs in the second game. After drawing six walks in the first six innings, it certainly felt like they should have scored more than two runs. It was a defensible send for Cody Bellinger to try to steal second. The team was already two for two stealing on the night. It didn’t work out. Then they had a leadoff double in the ninth and didn’t score that run. But Alexis Diaz is a real closer. He specializes in working through clutch situations and he did so in this one. Certainly, the Cubs are happy to have Jeimer Candelario at the plate with no outs and a runner on second. Bad time for a strikeout. But it happens.

At 9 p.m. Eastern time, this felt like maybe this could have been a really special day. It felt like the Cubs might pull to within 1½ games of the first place Brewers. With the reversal of fortune, they instead end up 3½ out in the division race — but they did move to within 2½ of the first Wild Card spot.

I’m pleased at how well the Cubs pitching staff did in Friday’s doubleheader. These games all continue to have playoff atmospheres and the guys who contributed are largely not the core guys for the season. That pitching staff is stretching down towards having 14 productive options just like the lineup is starting to stretch to being productive in the whole 1-9. No lineup is going to have everyone clicking at once very often. But there are a ton of hitters that can contribute for this team.

With the doubleheader, I’m going to give you three positives from game one, the box score and the Heroes and Goats, the WPA Plays of the Game, and a poll for game one, then I’ll circle back and give you all of those same things for game two.

  1. Ian Happ gets my top spot. I think my 1-2-3 can be argued in any order and not be dead wrong. But I’m giving Happ the top spot. He had a homer, a double, two walks, drove in two and scored two. Ian’s a Hall of Fame level hitter when he plays in Cincinnati.
  2. Jordan Wicks. 23 more batters, only five hits and three walks. He struck out three and threw a wild pitch. He allowed one run. Not as dominant as the first game, but this is a strong Reds team.
  3. It’s probably criminal for me to put Cody Bellinger down here. If you have him at one, you’ll get no argument from me. Cody had a homer, a single, drove in three, scored one and stole a base. Cody is going to drive in 100 with 20+ homers and 20+ steals and an outside chance of scoring 100 runs. Unbelievably productive.

Game 134, September 1: Cubs 6 at Reds 2 (72-62)


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


  • Superhero: Cody Bellinger (.188). 2-5, HR, 3 RBI, R
  • Hero: Jordan Wicks (.169). 5 IP, 23 batters, 5 H, 3 BB, R, 3 K, WP (W 2-0)
  • Sidekick: Ian Happ (.159). 2-3, HR, 2B, 2 BB, 2 RBI, 2R, K


  • Billy Goat: Mike Tauchman (-.086). 1-5, R, 2 K
  • Goat: Miguel Amaya (-.080). 0-3, BB, 3 K
  • Kid: Dansby Swanson (-.059). 1-4, BB, K

WPA Play of the Game: Julian Merryweather faced Elly De La Cruz with runners on first and third with only one out in the seventh inning, the Cubs leading by two. He got a groundball and the Cubs slick middle infield turned a double play on an extremely fast runner. (.197)

*Reds Play of the Game: Noelvi Marte batted with runners on first and second with one out and the Reds trailing by one. Marte singled and tied the game at one. (.119)


Who was the Cubs Player of Game 1?

This poll is closed

  • 50%
    Cody Bellinger
    (51 votes)
  • 25%
    Jordan Wicks
    (26 votes)
  • 22%
    Ian Happ
    (23 votes)
  • 0%
    Daniel Palencia (IP, 3 batters)
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
    (1 vote)
102 votes total Vote Now

And then we look for three positive performances from game two.

  1. As mentioned above, Hayden Wesneski was dazzling in game two. He faced 10 batters and struck out six, just one walk short of a perfect 3⅓ innings.
  2. The Cubs only had five hits and two of them were by Cody Bellinger. One of those was a homer. He also drew a walk.
  3. Ian Happ had an RBI single and stole a base. The Cubs did have six walks, but just didn’t put together enough offense in game two.

Game 135, September 1: Reds 3, Cubs 2 (72-63)


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


  • Superhero: Hayden Wesneski (.311). 3⅓ IP, 10 batters, BB, 6 K
  • Hero: Mark Leiter Jr. (.151). IP, 4 batters, H, K
  • Sidekick: Cody Bellinger (.110). 2-3, HR, BB, RBI, R, K, CS


  • Billy Goat: Adbert Alzolay (-.780). ⅔ IP, 5 batters, 3 H, 2 R, 2 K (L 2-5)

*This is the second-worst WPA game score of the year by a Cub. Michael Fulmer had a -.819 way back on April 15.

  • Goat: Dansby Swanson (-.123). 0-4, 2 K
  • Kid: Yan Gomes (-.102). 0-4

WPA Play of the Game: Nick Martini batted with one out in the bottom of the ninth, the Reds trailing by one. The run expectancy with one out and the bases empty is just .3. If you’ve followed this section closely, you know that I’ve monitored this statistic over time and that the number is actually flawed in “walk-off” situations. Fangraphs uses the same run expectancy metric in walk-off situations or not. So bases empty, one out necessarily includes scenarios where the batting team scores crooked numbers. By definition in a walk-off situation, the Reds could only score two runs here. So, I can’t tell you the number, but I can tell you that .3 is actually too high of a number. It was a fairly extreme outlier to allow two runs after bases empty one out in the bottom of the ninth, even ignoring how good Adbert has been (though admittedly, the Reds have been great at coming from behind and walking off victories. (.463)

*Cubs Play of the Game: Ian Happ batted with a runner on second and two outs, the game tied at one. He singled and the go ahead run scored. For four-plus innings, that would be the margin in the game. (.124)


Who was the Cubs Player of Game 2?

This poll is closed

  • 77%
    Hayden Wesneski
    (74 votes)
  • 1%
    Mark Leiter Jr.
    (1 vote)
  • 15%
    Cody Bellinger
    (15 votes)
  • 4%
    Ian Happ (1-4, RBI, SB)
    (4 votes)
  • 2%
    Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
    (2 votes)
96 votes total Vote Now

Yesterday’s Winner: Kyle Hendricks 273 of 303 votes (Superhero is 89-44)

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 +44
  • Ian Happ +19.5
  • Adbert Alzolay/Justin Steele +16
  • Marcus Stroman +12
  • Dansby Swanson -11.5
  • Patrick Wisdom -13
  • Drew Smyly -17
  • Trey Mancini -20.5
  • Jameson Taillon -23

Scoreboard watching: The Brewers come from behind late to beat the Phillies. The Reds come from behind late to split a double header with the Cubs. The Cubs are 3½ games out of first in the Central. The Reds are three back of the Cubs, at 6½ behind just about dead in the Central.

The Phillies loss was their second straight. The Giants lost. The Diamondbacks snapped a three game losing streak. The Reds had the split and the Marlins won in 11 to keep their faint hopes alive. The Phillies are the first Wild Card and are 2½ games ahead of the Cubs. The Cubs are two ahead of the Giants who hold the third Wild Card. The Diamondbacks moved into a tie with the Giants. The Reds are a game behind those two teams (but that is two losses behind, putting the Reds in a tricky spot). The Marlins are two back with the biggest problem being that they need to jump three teams with 27 games to play. They did what they needed to do on Friday, winning another one-run game and in an extra-inning affair.

Up Next: In game three of the series, Javier Assad (3-2, 2.96, 79 IP) gets another start for the Cubs. Javier made five starts in August and he was 2-0 with a 2.48 ERA in 29 innings of work. He was brilliant in his last start. He threw seven innings, allowed three hits and two walks while striking out seven. He allowed one run and he was the winner in the game. Javier has two long relief appearances against the Reds. He threw 3⅔ innings in each game. In one game he allowed seven hits, three walks and two runs. In the other, he allowed one hit and three walks. He struck out four in each game.

24-year-old lefty Andrew Abbott is scheduled to start Saturday’s game. If you haven’t seen, illness has run through the Reds clubhouse in the last few days. So there has to be at least some chance that there are last minute changes for the Reds. If not, the Reds 2021 second round pick (53rd pick overall) makes this start. The rookie is 8-4 with a 3.35 ERA in 88⅔ innings. Over his last seven starts he is 3-2 with a 5.45, so he’s been tailing off after a very good start to his big league career. Last time out, Abbott allowed three runs in 3⅓ innings on five hits and three walks. He took the loss, but he did strike out six. Abbott started once against the Cubs on July 31. He threw 3⅓ innings and allowed four runs on five hits and three walks. He did strike out five. He has prodigious strikeout numbers, but he’s really allowed a lot of traffic in recent starts.

I think the Cubs can win this matchup. Their hitters need to be patient and work good at bats, not being afraid to strike out a few times but knowing that they can eventually get to Abbott. Hopefully Assad can continue to be as strong as he has been over his last few outings.