We’ve talked about so much of this in the past. The Cubs bullpen ran out of gas coming around the turn towards the home stretch. The nature of sports is such that for a competitive team, each game tends to be more important than the one before it. To a non-fan, it can begin to sound cliché. Over and over again, it is the biggest game of the year.
It’s crazy how fast a team can fall off of a cliff. With all due respect to the Braves who are arguably the best team in baseball, I don’t believe the Cubs lose this game a month ago. Just a month ago, Adbert Alzolay was earning a save in his fifth consecutive appearance. He’d come back three days later and make it six straight. Michael Fulmer had indeed pitched his last meaningful game this season for the Cubs two days earlier. Mark Leiter Jr. struck out three of five batters he faced that night and recorded four weeks. Julian Merryweather wasn’t utilized.
Of course, Merryweather never got into the game Tuesday night. The really striking thing is that none of the other guys did either. Those four pitchers were the Cubs heart and soul for months. Granted, for a lot of the season Javier Assad who did throw in this one, was the Cubs’ fifth best reliever. After Assad moved into the rotation, Jose Cuas largely moved into that fifth spot.
Still, cliché or not, in the biggest game of the year to date, none of the team’s top four relievers pitched in a game that was decided by one run and was 6-3 after six. 6-3 after six suggests you use your top three relievers and nail it down. You can argue for maybe a fourth guy if he’s a specialist for a given situation. One can infer from the way pitchers were used Tuesday night, that on September 26 the three relievers David Ross trusts most are Javier Assad, Drew Smyly and Julian Merryweather.
Assad was tagged for two runs in an inning of work. Cheer up kid, Ronald Acuña Jr. is almost certainly going to win an MVP in a season for the ages. Drew Smyly’s inning is a mixed bag. On the one hand, you just can’t issued two walks to a lethal Braves lineup. You give them free passes and they are often going to make you pay. Just to be exceedingly clear on that, The Cubs walked four hitters. All four of them scored. The Braves scored seven runs.
To be fair to Smyly, with two outs, both by strikeout, he extracted a relatively lazy fly ball to right. Seiya Suzuki forever attached his name to Brant Brown, missing a fly ball that he always catches at the end of a game in the pennant stretch. Brown’s team made the playoffs anyway. I’m certainly not giving up hope. But it sure is difficult to have to much enthusiasm when the most positive thing that happened for your team on a day in late September is a rained out Marlins game. Even the Brewers losing is rendered moot by the Cubs losing, thus ending any hopes of a miracle dash to the division title.
This game had all of the hallmarks of a loss. There was Suzuki’s dropped fly ball. There were the four walks that all came around to score. There was Pete Crow-Armstrong’s ill-fated baserunning in the fourth. All of those things are like manna from the heavens to even the worst opponent. Against the best? You slit your own throat and bleed out while they celebrate at your expense.
Ronald Acuña Jr. and Kevin Pillar homering? Extremely talented hitters beating you. It happens. The walks, the baserunning miscue, the defensive miscue? Those are things you just can’t have against arguably the best team. If and when this team comes up a game or two short of the postseason, there will be no shortage of games that got away that this team can look back on.
Let’s find three top performances, even in the loss.
- Cody Bellinger had three singles, a walk, two runs scored and a run driven in. Of course, typical of the frustrating night, the one out Cody made was a double play.
- Miles Mastrobuoni stays red hot with another three-hit game. He two scores two and drives in one. His biggest miscue was a failed sacrifice attempt. He followed it by stealing second.
- Justin Steele gets the third spot. He pitched into the sixth and allowed three runs against arguably the best offense in baseball.
Game 157, September 26: Braves 7, Cubs 6 (82-75)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Cody Bellinger (.172). 3-4, BB, RBI, 2 R, DP
- Hero: Miles Mastrobuoni (.101). 3-4, RBI, 2 R, SB
- Sidekick: Yan Gomes (.099). 2-4, RBI, K
- Billy Goat: Drew Smyly (-522). IP, 6 batters, 0 H, 2 BB, 2 R (0 ER), 2 K, 2 WP (L 11-10)
*This is the 10th worst WPA score of the season by a Cub. He also has the fifth and ninth worst scores. Five of the worst 10 scores of the year have occurred since August 21.
- Goat: Javier Assad (-.128) IP, 5 batters, H, BB, 2 R, 2 K
- Kid: Ian Happ (-.117). 1-5, RBI
WPA Play of the Game: Seiya Suzuki’s dropped fly ball off of the bat of Sean Murphy allowed the tying and winning runs to score. (.509)
*Cubs Play of the Game: One batter earlier, Drew Smyly struck out Michael Harris II with two on and one out for what felt like a crucial second out. (.184)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Winner: Patrick Wisdom (Superhero is 107-49)
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 +35
- Adbert Alzolay +18
- Ian Happ +17.5
- Justin Steele +16
- Javier Assad +14
- Marcus Stroman +11
- Michael Fulmer -9
- Patrick Wisdom -12
- Dansby Swanson -14
- Drew Smyly -18
- Trey Mancini -20.5
- Jameson Taillon -23
- Diamondbacks win
- Cubs lose
- Marlins rained out (doubleheader today)
- Reds win second straight
The Diamondbacks are five games behind the Phillies. The Phillies are the first Wild Card and the Diamondbacks the second. The Cubs hold the third, half a game ahead of the Marlins. The Reds are a game behind the Marlins with time fading quickly.
Up Next: A full slate of games as the Cubs take on the Braves with Jameson Taillon on the mound against Darius Vines for Atlanta. Al will bring you a detailed preview at 4:30 p.m. CT.