Believe it or not, it’s been 16 years since the publication of Michael Lewis’s seminal baseball book Moneyball. As you surely know by now, Lewis took readers into the world of the low-budget, yet ultra competitive Oakland Athletics. General manager
Brad Pitt Billy Beane tried to exploit market inefficiencies to help his team overcome its inherent disadvantages.
Well, folks, I’m here to tell you that the Cubs discovered their own new market inefficiency this weekend: They just can’t lose when it’s outrageously, uncomfortably hot outside.
I pitched this theory to someone smarter than I am, and they mentioned something about correlation not equaling causation. I didn’t catch all of it, but I certainly took it to be a statement of support of my conclusion. Surely the front office is prioritizing the purchase and installation of hundreds of space heaters so this advantage can be replicated all year.
That may take a while, though, and the Cubs had to settle for what Mother Nature gave them in this series. They won a pair of back-and-forth scorchers to open the series, holding on in games in which no lead felt safe. Sunday’s finale featured colder temperatures and cooler moods, as the Cubs were unable to complete the sweep.
While losing the final game of the series always leaves a bad taste in the mouth, it doesn’t overshadow a winning series and a terrific homestand. Hopefully they’ll have those heaters by the time they get back.
The first two games of this series, which is to say the two wins, contained so many highlights. Because of the record heat and heavy winds, it seemed like every well-struck ball had a chance to leave the park. Ultimately, many of them did. For both teams. If it’s okay with you, though, I’ll focus on the good things the Cubs did. Cool? Cool.
Let’s start with Friday’s opener. The Cubs got off to a not-great start, falling behind 3-0 by the 3rd inning. With Jon Lester looking as shaky as could be, it looked like one of those “trash can” games that Joe Maddon loves to talk about.
The Cubs started to make some noise in the bottom of the 3rd inning, though – all of it with two outs. Albert Almora Jr. singed, Javy Báez singled, and Kris Bryant walked to set a bases-loaded stage for Anthony Rizzo, who hadn’t hit a home run since mid June.
Emphasis on hadn’t.
While it may be true that an “ultimate grand slam” can only occur in the 9th inning, that was pretty dang exciting anyway.
The two teams would battle back and forth in the heat through the bottom of the 8th inning. With the bases loaded and one out, David Bote came to the plate hoping to bounce back from an 0-3 start that included three strikeouts.
Did he get that redemption? Eh.
Bote certainly didn’t get credited with a barrel for that one, but the Padres’ defense was happy to help him out.
Saturday’s game followed a similar script to the opener, but this time it was Báez who launched the early-inning fireworks. With the Padres up 4-3, the Cubs were in danger of squandering a second and third, no outs scoring opportunity before Javy came to the plate with two outs and blasted a gargantuan three-run shot.
That’s one way to bail out your teammates. And it wasn’t the last we’d hear from Báez, either.
With a one-run lead and closer Craig Kimbrel on the mound seeking a save for a third consecutive day, the Padres’ Wil Myers took off in an attempt to get into scoring position. Spoiler alert: It didn’t work.
It felt like it had been a while since we had seen a genuine, jaw-dropping El Mago tag like that one. Báez’s instincts were on full display, and as Maddon pointed out after the game, Javy knew exactly what he was doing. Or at least what he was trying to do. Luckily for the Cubs, it worked and helped them secure their fourth straight victory and a series win.
Sunday’s finale simply wasn’t as fun as the games leading up to it. Kyle Hendricks was brilliant on the mound and that’s about all that went right for the Cubs.
Hendricks’ seven strong innings might’ve been his best start since returning from the injured list, but it wasn’t enough. The Cubs were only able to plate a lone 1st inning run before being shut down by a pair of Padres rookies and All-Star closer Kirby Yates.
After a false start on Friday, we ended up getting our trash can game after all.
- How could Báez not be on this list? He recorded six hits in 12 at-bats and smacked a pair of go-ahead home runs. When you add in the spectacular tag at second base, it sure seemed like everything was coming up Javy.
- Despite taking a tough luck loss, Hendricks was excellent Sunday and has had back-to-back strong outings. Over those starts, he has given up just four runs in 13 innings while striking out 10 and walking only four. He appears to have bounced back nicely from the shoulder impingement that might have cost him an All-Star selection.
- It wasn’t always easy, but Kimbrel locked down three consecutive saves dating back to the team’s series against Cincinnati. The future Hall of Fame reliever hasn’t given up a run since that particularly rough loss in Pittsburgh on July 3.
- By all accounts, Almora is one of the absolute good guys on the Cubs. He plays solid defense and played a critical role in the Cubs winning the World Series. There’s a lot to like about him. But the center fielder’s offensive production in 2019 is inching closer and closer to making him unplayable in his current role. He recorded only one hit in this series and owns a .517 OPS over his last 15 games. His defense simply isn’t good enough to offset a 67 wRC+ and 0.0 fWAR, which is part of the reason the Cubs are reportedly pursuing outfield help on the trade market.
- What can one even say about Addison Russell at this point? How much longer can they put up with this? His efforts on Saturday produced a comedy of errors, leading Maddon to suggest in his post-game press conference that the fifth year infielder has to get better. In case you missed it, here’s what we were treated to through just five innings on Saturday.
— Charlie Clifford (@char_cliff) July 20, 2019
It always comes off as hyperbolic when fans start throwing around the word “unacceptable,” but that cornucopia of miscues comfortably clears the threshold for use of the word.
While a sweep would have been nice, it’s hard not to be pleased with a series win to close out a 7-2 home stand. The Cardinals and Brewers held serve over the weekend, meaning that the standings remain exactly where they were when the series started.
The Cubs absolutely got what they needed out of what should have been and ultimately was the kind of series and homestand that contenders feast on. Any talk of them becoming sellers at the deadline, even “soft-sellers,” has surely been tossed quite forcefully out the window. It’s going to be another fun summer at Wrigley Field.