I wasn’t writing about baseball in 2015 or 2016. As a result, I’m not sure in my entire time covering this team that I’ve ever felt this strongly about this franchise that I’ve covered all these years. This is officially the season I finally stop being jealous of Russ La Croix who started this series all of those years ago. I was always jealous because he got to write about that championship team and the wild ride that the 2016 season was.
But here’s the thing. As with all things, this feature has evolved over time. What Russ created was very stats oriented and what I’ve steered it towards is lending another voice to the fine website Al runs and people like Josh and Sara and Duane help foster. In many of these years I felt like I needed to be the veteran guy, trying to remind you not to get too high or too low. With this team, I’ve never felt that need, at least not very often.
Oh don’t get me wrong, if you’ve been following along, you know I wasn’t a believer through the end of May. As things started to turn in June, I was a bit skeptical. But at the scary risk of jinxing this team, this team has flat out killed it since the second week in June. They were 26-36. Since that time, they are 50 and 28. Heaven help us, that’s a 104 win pace.
There was one stretch of time that coincided with Marcus Stroman’s injury in London. Starting there, they came home and lost seven of eight. If we use July 4 as the starting point, they are 38-19. That’s a 108-win pace. Starting July 4, the Cubs have lost two series, one to the Red Sox and one to the Mets.
If we start at July 18, 32-14. That’s close to a 113-win pace. What I’m describing here is a snowball rolling downhill and turning into an avalanche on the way down. This is why I keep comparing this team to the 2015 Cubs. It’s a quaint saying when an announcer or beat writer anoints a team as the team no one wants to play. The Cubs are one of those teams.
Don’t get me wrong, all three NL division winners surely think they’ll beat the Cubs come October. I imagine the Phillies do too, despite the appearance of a slowly fading team. But they have been one of the more successful teams against the Cubs (the most successful NL team). Being a realist, each of those teams is likely to beat the Cubs. That’s true for a variety of reasons, not the least of which, it is unlikely the Cubs can get back the Marcus Stroman who was probably the team MVP through early June.
That said, this Cubs team can beat every one of those teams. The only NL team the Cubs haven’t won a series from is the Phillies, and they certainly aren’t the team best positioned to steamroll the Cubs. The playoffs are a different animal, but there is a confidence that comes from having performed well against the team you are facing. There’s also a further confidence that comes from playing well against ALL of these teams. And there is a further confidence still that comes from having so completely contained adversity.
I feel like today’s article needs the world’s largest block of wood to knock on. This team hasn’t lost three consecutive games since the first three days of July, more than two months ago. The interesting thing as that a combo platter of injuries, fatigue and general ineffectiveness, that this team hasn’t been razor sharp in a while. They last won more than four in a row when they won eight in a row ending with the trip to London.
That reminds me of one more snippet of the schedule. Back on June 15, the Cubs were completing a three-game sweep of the Pirates at home. The Pirates came in squarely in contention for the NL Central crown and left with their tails between their legs. The Cubs would sweep them again a week later in Pittsburgh, effectively ending any competition from the Pirates.
After that sweep at home of the Pirates, I said the Cubs needed to get greedy if that series was going to matter. They did win six of seven and for the first time I was exuberant about the team. But that 6-1 stretch was followed by the 1-7 stretch that was the last valley this team found itself in. Still, since that home sweep of the Pirates ending June 15, the Cubs are 45-27. Kudos to the Brewers because the Cubs are 18 over .500 in that stretch. That moved the Cubs from fourth to second — but they only gained two games in the division race. That’s a 101-win pace over 72 games and they only gained two games. That’s an industrial strength hat tip to both teams.
The hallmark of this extended run of dominance has been contribution up and down the roster. As with any excellent team, there is an MVP candidate and a Cy Young candidate at the core. But so many have contributed along the way. It’s fun the kinds of contribution the team has gotten. I’m hard on David Ross, but someone is the voice in the clubhouse. Someone is helping to get Nick Madrigal to emerge as a strong defensive third baseman. He doesn’t look the part in stature or even visibly, watching those running throws and bounce throws (and running bounce throws) to first. Outs above average is a volume stat and Nick Madrigal is among the leaders with MANY less opportunities over there.
But it’s not just Madrigal. He’s just emblematic of the whole thing. There’s Drew Smyly, 3-0 with a 3.71 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 17 relief innings. There was Michael Fulmer moving from the end game to the middle game and throwing 30 innings with a 1.20 ERA, 1 3-1 record and six holds. There’s young Daniel Palencia. From July 4 to August 7 he had a 5.73 ERA in 11 innings and had walked eight batters and allowed two runs. He got five days off after that. Then he bounced back with eight scoreless outings, covering eight innings of work, four walks and only two hits.
But that is only defense and fielding. What about Seiya Suzuki? After the game on August 4, Seiya was down to a .717 OPS. He didn’t start again until August 9. Since that time, he has 36 hits in 98 at bats/107 plate appearances. He has 11 doubles, two triples, eight homers, 21 runs batted and 21 runs scored. He’s going to finish a little shy of 600 plate appearances due to the games missed early. If you multiplied these numbers by six, you’d be a little heavy for this season. But you’d have a 66 double, 12 triple, 48 homer, 126 RBI/run scored season. The player the Cubs thought they signed has made an appearance.
There’s Nico Hoerner graciously agreeing to give up a shortstop position that he plays quite well to improve the talent, defense and leadership of the team. Nico leads the Cubs in bWAR and is likely going to steal 40 bases and score 100 runs. Some of it has to do with favorable lineup position, but Nico is in a duel with Ian Happ for second on the team in total bases (with Seiya coming around on the outside).
There’s even the much-maligned (sometimes by me) Patrick Wisdom. Patrick is going to come up just short of his third straight team home run leader season. With 21 homers in limited playing time, he’s second in homers for the Cubs this season. He’s done it with only 274 plate appearances (wRC+ 107) and while spending more and more time at first along with in season acquisition Jeimer Candelario.
So many contributions from so many different people. All of the ingredients of a deadly team. Let’s find three stars from Wednesday’s sweeping win of the Giants. Also, the team scored 7+ for the third time in four games (and a shutout in the other!), that’s now 39-0 when they score 7. This team now has 716 runs scored with 23 games to go (just 92 to catch the 2016 Cubs).
- Seiya. Three-run double and a single.
- Jordan Wicks. Son, major league baseball isn’t as easy as you’ve made it look so far. A season-high 2 runs allowed in a season high 6⅔ innings. He worked three times through the order for the first time. The last four hitters were 3-3 with a sac fly, two runs batted in and two runs scored. The first 23: Six hits, no walks, no runs. The only quibble would be only one strikeout. Let’s chalk that up to learning to be economical (particularly with a solid lead) and getting into the seventh inning.
- Cody Bellinger. Slumming it down here just in the third spot. A homer, a double, two runs batted in, two runs scored. 24 homers, 84 runs, 86 runs batted in, 19 steals, .321/.365/.555 while stabilizing two positions for the Cubs. However high he finishes in the MVP race is well earned. Regardless of how terrific the other guys have been. Nice contract year.
Game 140, September 6: Cubs 8, Giants 2 (76-64)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Seiya Suzuki (.217). 2-4, 2B, 3 RBI, K
- Hero: Jordan Wicks (.172). 6⅔ IP, 27 batters, 9 H, 2 R, K (W 3-0)
- Sidekick: Ian Happ (.054). 2-4, 2B, 2 R, K
- Billy Goat: Christopher Morel (-.027). 1-4, RBI
- Goat: Patrick Wisdom (-.012). 0-1
- Kid: Mike Tauchman (-.008). 1-4, RBI
WPA Play of the Game: Seiya Suzuki batted with the bases loaded and two outs in a scoreless game in the first inning. The run expectancy after loading the bases with two outs is only .77. Suzuki doubled and three runs scored. The Cubs were well on the way to a series-sweeping win. (.231)
*Giants Play of the Game: Paul DeJong leadoff the third inning with a double. (.055)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Winner: Seiya Suzuki, 202 of 208 votes (Superhero is 94-45)
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/Christopher Morel -12.5
- Patrick Wisdom -15
- Drew Smyly -17
- Trey Mancini -20.5
- Jameson Taillon -26
- Brewers lose
- Phillies win
- Marlins win sixth straight
- Diamondbacks win
- Reds lose
- Giants lose sixth straight
The Brewers lead the Cubs by 1½ games and don’t play again until Friday when they open a series in the Bronx with the Yankees. The Phillies hold the first Wild Card, 1½ ahead of the Cubs. They are also off until they host the red-hot Marlins on Friday. The Marlins are 3½ behind the Cubs and have sole possession of the third Wild Card. The Marlins actually host the Dodgers one more time Thursday before heading to Philadelphia for a big weekend series.
On the outside looking in, the Diamondbacks are half a game behind the Marlins and open a four-game set at Wrigley Field this weekend. The Reds are also half a game behind and are also off until they host the Cardinals starting Friday. The Giants are on the verge of falling out of the race, 2½ back with 22 to play. They are off until hosting the Rockies beginning Friday.
Up Next: The Cubs host the 72-68 Diamondbacks, who had gotten hot again to get back into the race but have now dropped six of 10 despite Wednesday’s win. Javier Assad (3-2, 2.69, 87 IP) starts the opener for the Cubs. Javier is 2-0 with a 1.77 ERA over his last seven appearances, six starts (40⅔ innings). Dialing back further, over 15 outings including those same six starts, he is 3-0 with a 1.37 over 59⅓ innings. He’s done a fantastic job controlling traffic with 37 hits and 20 walks over that 15 appearance window (49 strikeouts). He was terrific last time, throwing a career-high eight scoreless innings against a talented Reds team at the Great American Ballpark. He tied a career high with seven strikeouts, matching the previous start.
The Diamondbacks start Ryne Nelson (6-7, 5.47 ERA, 125 IP). Ryne has been in the minors since back-to-back outings where he allowed six runs in three innings of work to start the month of August. The D-backs were happy enough with his work in Triple-A to bring him back to make this start. He was pretty solid in May and June and not too bad in July before pitching to an 18.00 ERA across two MLB August starts. He only walked one batter across those two starts. Control is not the problem for the 25-year-old righty who was a second round pick of the D-backs in 2019 (56th overall).