It was a long holiday weekend for me here in the Tampa area. I had an old friend in town and Sunday night was a very late night. There were a few drinks and only a few hours of sleep. I appreciate you all bearing with me while I gave you somewhat abridged versions of Heroes and Goats the last couple of days.
The Cubs have turned the corner into the final home stretch. Counting Monday’s game, there were 25 games left in the regular season. The sands are flowing through the hourglass awfully quickly. The silver linings? 1) Competitive September baseball. 2) October baseball.
I think what impresses me most about this team is just how adept it is in each of the two primary zones for wins. I’ve made plenty out of the fact that the Cubs have scored seven or more runs 37 times (and won all of them). That’s a full 27 percent of the team’s games. Sunday’s shutout was the team’s 12th (hey, they won all of those too!). 11 times they’ve held an opponent to exactly one run (they’ve won all of those too). 23 times they’ve held their opponents to two runs (18-5). 20 times they’ve allowed three runs (13-7). So they have allowed three or less runs 66 times with a record of 54-12, just shy of 48 percent of the time. 81 times they’ve either scored at lease seven or allowed less than four. 69-12 in those games.
The pitching has dominated almost twice as much as the hitting. But when the hitting has been outstanding, the team wins. So pick your poison, but this team can beat you. Only four teams have scored more runs (two in the NL) and they are eighth in triples (fifth NL), sixth in steals (3rd NL), sixth in walks (fifth in the NL),
This is all to remind you that this is a team that was left for dead a little over 25 months ago. They were a former championship group that had faded into oblivion and then were gutted by one of the most aggressive trade deadlines ever. This front office did a terrific job reshaping the organization and they did it quickly. Could you have imagined 25 months ago that not only is the team competitive, but the team gets production top to bottom of the major league roster and also has a deep and talented minor league system?
To be sure, the addition of an MVP caliber player like Cody Bellinger has completely elevated the team. It’s been since the early days of Kris Bryant’s time here that the Cubs had this kind of player that makes significant contributions in what feels like every single game. It has also helped to have players like Nico Hoerner and Dansby Swanson, Bellinger and it’s hard to believe, Nick Madrigal. The Cubs get elite defense at second, short and at least by some measures third base. Bellinger gives that kind of defense at first and/or center. Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki appear to both play plus defense.
It’s also helped to have the emergence of Justin Steele. The standout contributions recently from Javier Assad and Jordan Wicks have really stabilized the starting rotation. There is the veteran presence of Kyle Hendricks. Four starting pitchers who have only ever pitched for the Cubs. Two draft picks, an international free agent and a pre-championship trade deadline acquisition. The bullpen is led by Adbert Alzolay, another international free agent. He is flanked by two waiver pickups in Mark Leiter Jr. and Julian Merryweather. Both of those two have pitched in more games and thrown more innings for the Cubs than anyone else.
This team was relentlessly rebuilt. Every avenue was used to build it. They drafted players, signed international free agents, the traded for prospects and developed them, they signed free agents and they added players via major league free agency and this July they added two major league players at the trade deadline who are making contributions. Your mileage may vary, but even if it isn’t the roster of the Dodgers, the Braves or the Astros, this roster and its contribution is a work of art.
The results? The Cubs returned to a season-high 10 games over .500. Let’s find three stars in this win.
- Justin Steele put together the kind of performance, eight shutout innings and 12 strikeouts that led to talking about Jake Arrieta and Kerry Wood. Any time that happens, you’ve done pretty well.
- Seiya Suzuki had a pair of hits, a double and a homer. He drove in three runs and scored two.
- Yan Gomes had a single, a double and drove in a run.
Game 138, September 4: Cubs 5, Giants 0 (74-64)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Justin Steele (.504). 8 IP, 27 batters, 2 H, 2 BB, 12 K (W 16-3)
*This is the 5th largest WPA score of the year by a Cub and the first by Justin in the top 10.
- Hero: Seiya Suzuki (.185). 2-4, HR, 2B, 3 RBI, 2 R
- Sidekick: Yan Gomes (.067). 2-3, 2B, RBI
- Billy Goat: Nick Madrigal (-.060). 0-3
- Goat: Mike Tauchman (-.053). 0-3, BB, R, 2 K
- Kid: Jeimer Candelario (-.045). 0-3
WPA Play of the Game: Seiya Suzuki batted with one out in the second. The game was scoreless until Seiya homered. (.111)
*Giants Play of the Game: J.D. Davis led off the eighth inning with a walk. (.041)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Winner: Mike Tauchman (Superhero is 92-45)
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 +45
- Ian Happ +21.5
- Justin Steele +19
- Adbert Alzolay +16
- Javier Assad +13
- Dansby Swanson -12.5
- Patrick Wisdom -13
- Drew Smyly -17
- Trey Mancini -20.5
- Jameson Taillon -26
- Brewers lose
- Phillies win second straight
- Reds win
- Giants lose fourth straight
- Diamondbacks win
The Brewers lead the Cubs by 2½ in the Central. The Phillies are 2½ games in front of the Cubs and hold the first Wild Card. The Diamondbacks hold the third Wild Card, three games behind the Cubs. The Reds are an eyelash behind the Diamondbacks. The Marlins are half a game behind those two teams. The Giants are a full game back of the D-Backs. Tuesday night sees all of these teams in action.
Up Next: Game two of a three game set against the Giants. Kyle Hendricks (5-7, 3.59, 110⅓ IP) starts for the Cubs. Kyle is 1-3 with a 3.83 (40 IP) over this last seven starts. Lest you don’t think he’s consistent, he’s 4-5 with a 3.83 (87 IP) over his last 15 starts. Last time out, Kyle allowed only one unearned run over six innings against the Brewers. He allowed four hits and two walks while striking out six. You might remember that Kyle had one of the best starts of his career against the Giants earlier this year. In that one, he allowed one hit and one walk over eight scoreless innings, flirting with a no-hitter.
The Giants start 27-year-old righty Ryan Walker (4-2, 2.16, 50). Walker was a 31st round pick by the Giants back in 2018. Walker is a reliever/opener. His longest outing of the year in three innings. That three inning outing was against the Cubs back on June 11 when he allowed two hits and an unearned run. He pitched twice in that series and the Cubs plated a run each time. In 38 games, he’s allowed 15 runs, 12 earned and he’s allowed two runs, one earned against the Cubs. Probably not indicative of anything, but interesting regardless.
Against a struggling Giants team, this does feel winnable, but the Giants, who spent most of their season comfortably among the projected playoff field, have to feel their season slipping away. They are going to fight back at some point.