As easy as one, two, three!
Okay, well, it wasn’t easy. But, the Cubs took care of a woeful (on the road) Rockies team in business-like fashion. This season has been so many things that we don’t always see from the Cubs. I’ve talked about it several times regarding their ability to come off the mat and rebound from adversity. Add to that, a team that has often lacked killer instinct. You can certainly point to their September struggles and say that the team didn’t always take care of business. But I’ll split the hair. This team has done a pretty good job of finishing the job against a team that doesn’t measure up.
Saturday’s and Sunday’s games were not works of art. But they were Cubs wins. We’ve certainly talked about it many times through the years. There are no style points and you don’t get extra credit in the standings if you are dominant in winning. This team had to get greedy while they were at home against lesser competition and they did that. We can all wish they’d taken two in the first series of this homestand, just like there are easily 20 or 30 other spots this year where we felt like a game was winnable but for one reason or another they just didn’t get it done.
We’d all certainly wish they were in the spot of the Braves or Dodgers and just be working to position their roster ahead of the playoffs. It would be great if there were nothing left to fret over. In the two seasons before 2023 we’ve watched a lot of meaningless and sometimes awful baseball. This year’s Cubs have spent the last few weeks playing a lot of baseball in a playoff like atmosphere. This has in some ways been a long dress rehearsal for the real thing.
No overselling anything, if this was the audition for the starring role, the team will be returned to be the understudy. I have a couple of thoughts on that. First, this organization turned it around in two seasons. That’s not easy to do. And now this organization is in some ways positioned to continue to grow. We’ll digest a million things about the organization in the off-season. One of those things will be contemplating the high-end talent of the championship group and the sheer depth of the current group. But today is not the time for that conversation.
The other thought on that understudy role is that there is no shame in it. The way things went last year, we talked about the road to the top. Progress isn’t a linear thing. It doesn’t come with guarantees. There aren’t a certain number of victories that are a certain amount of postseason success that give you a head start or any easier road the next season. That’s a lot of disclaimer. It tries to keep us from getting too far ahead of ourselves. But there is no downside to getting this team a taste of things. There are a lot of guys in the clubhouse that have done this before somewhere. But there are also even more guys who haven’t been a part of this. There is no chance this group of guys gets their feet wet in this situation and finds themselves satisfied.
This team is going to go home, whenever this is over, and they are going to want to put in the time and the effort to try and get back here. Obviously, those disclaimers do apply. And a lot of things have to come together to be in competition this time of year. It not only takes talent, but some amount of good health and some amount of good luck. This team has all of those. There are no guarantees, but this team will be back.
But let’s not write the epilogue before the story plays out. There is at least another week of Cubs baseball to be played. If that goes well, there will be at least a little more after that. For at least one more week, let’s keep our focus there. Along the way from game 1 to 156, I became a believer in this group. These last couple of weeks have been hard to experience. However, I still believe. I do think this team is going to find a way to make it into the playoffs and get a little extra time.
As I find three stars, I’m going to go a little longer form on our first one. I’m usually finding starters who were dominant or hitters who got on base over and over again. Sometimes I’ll look at a reliever who locked things down. I’ve talked a lot as this season has played out about the depth of the roster. I’ve noted that during the regular season, baseball will test your entire roster. Indeed, it will reach beyond the depth of the roster and test the minor league talent of the organization. It will test your ability to monitor the waiver wire. It will force you to make strategic trades. You need to be always upgrading your roster or your weaknesses will find you.
On Sunday, the key moment of the game featured a guy who has been one of the most productive players of the last two seasons for the Cubs. So why do I mention him? Certainly, he is an example of keeping your eyes open during a season. The Cubs did initially pick up after he was cast away from another organization. I mention him here for the other side of the coin. Patrick Wisdom led the Cubs in homers in each of the past two seasons. For a while, it looked like he might do it a third time.
All of those things that affect a team also challenge individual players. Patrick faced injuries and ineffective play at times in 2023. When Nick Madrigal got healthy and hot mid-season, he took over third base from Wisdom on a pretty regular basis. Then the Cubs traded for Jeimer Candelario and Patrick just keep shuffling further and further down the depth chart. But he’s a guy who kept fighting and has found ways to contribute.
On Sunday, a guy who was largely number 13 or 14 among the hitters more often than not came through in a huge moment. He provided the game-winning two-run homer. Very quietly, he’s accepted whatever role he’s been handed. He’s been used more often than not off of the bench for months. Over the course of the year, he’s played first, third, left and right. He’s been a designated hitter. And on Sunday, his performance was the one that put the Cubs over the top.
In the second spot, Seiya Suzuki had a single, a double and a walk. He scored twice. The third and final spot goes to Yan Gomes. He had a double, was hit by a pitch, had a sacrifice fly and drove in two runs. Between these three, the Cubs received four hits, two walks, a hit by pitch, three runs and four runs batted in.
Hat tips to the four Cubs pitchers on this day. They are an illustration of the way a team needs to manage its roster. Jordan Wicks threw the first six innings and picked up his fourth win in six starts. He is a first-round pick of the Cubs, in his MLB infancy. The seventh inning was Daniel Palencia. Palencia was an international free agent, signed by the A’s and traded to the Cubs back in 2021. He is in his rookie season. Jose Cuas was an 11th-round pick by the Brewers and an acquisition at the trade deadline this season. He’s in his second year in the majors. Julian Merryweather was a fifth-round pick by Cleveland way back in 2014. He first got a taste of the majors back in 2020 with the Blue Jays. He saw action in parts of three seasons there before being a waiver pickup of the Cubs over the offseason.
Hitters and pitchers alike, there were contributions from draft picks, international free agents, trade acquisitions and waiver wire additions. You have to build your roster every way possible.
Game 156, September 24: Cubs 4, Rockies 3 (82-74)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Patrick Wisdom (.296). 1-2, HR, BB, 2 RBI, R
- Hero: Julian Merryweather (.162). IP, 5 batters, 0 H, 2 BB, 0 R, K (Sv 2)
- Sidekick: Seiya Suzuki (.139). 2-3, 2B, BB, 2 R
- Billy Goat: Ian Happ (-.129). 1-4, 2 K
- Goat: Alexander Canario (-.076). 0-2, K
- Kid: Christopher Morel (-.074). 0-4, BB, K
WPA Play of the Game: Patrick Wisdom batted with a runner on first and one out, the Cubs down one. He homered and gave the Cubs the lead, capping the scoring for the day. (.325)
*Rockies Play of the Game: Brendan Rodgers batted with a runner on third with two outs. The Cubs were up one at the time. Rodgers homered and the Rockies took a 2-1 lead. (.206)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Yan Gomes (1-2, 2B, SF, HBP, 2RBI)
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Winner: Javier Assad 129 of 147 votes (Superhero is 106-49)
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 6/Bottom 6)
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 +32
- Ian Happ +18.5
- Adbert Alzolay +18
- Justin Steele/Javier +16
- Marcus Stroman +11
- Michael Fulmer -9
- Patrick Wisdom -12
- Dansby Swanson -14
- Drew Smyly -15
- Trey Mancini -20.5
- Jameson Taillon -23
- Diamondbacks win
- Cubs win third straight
- Marlins win second straight
- Reds win
The Diamondbacks hold the second Wild Card position, 4½ games behind the Phillies. The Cubs are half a game behind the Diamondbacks and hold the third Wild Card position. The Marlins are one game behind the Cubs. The Reds are 2½ games back of the Cubs.
On Monday, the Diamondbacks will try to make up Saturday’s rained out game, weather permitting. The only other vaguely competitive teams playing Monday are the Giants and Padres who are playing each other, five games out of the third Wild Card with six games to play. The team that loses the Monday game between them is essentially immediately eliminated and the other team is faced with having to win six straight and get a lot of help. This remains a four-team race for two spots.
Tuesday, the Diamondbacks are in Chicago to begin a three-game series against the White Sox. The Cubs play the Braves in Atlanta for three. The Marlins are in New York for three against the Mets. The Reds start a two-game set on Tuesday with the Guardians in Cleveland. The Reds are in a tough spot with only five games remaining. It makes it difficult to catch two out of three teams.
Up Next: The Cubs head to Atlanta to face the Braves. At 100 wins, the Braves lead baseball. Justin Steele (16-5, 3.00, 168 IP) starts for the Cubs. Justin has lost two straight starts, allowing six earned runs in each. It doesn’t get any easier facing the Braves. Back on August 6, Justin was the winning pitcher in a start against the Braves. He allowed eight hits and four walks over 5⅓ innings. He was charged with four runs, three earned. At 110 pitches, that was his second largest pitch count of the season (111 against the Brewers August 29).
24-year-old righty Bryce Elder (12-4, 3.63, 171 IP) starts for the Braves. He’s 4-0 with a 3.60 ERA in 40 innings over his last seven starts. He too has struggled a bit, allowing four earned runs in each of his last two starts. He started the August 5 game against the Cubs and took the loss. He allowed seven runs, five earned in 4⅓ innings.