Morning Cubs Roundup: Cubs clinch NL Central despite loss

Kris Bryant

Kris Bryant

Last Game: Cubs 5, White Sox 9

Up Next: Cubs (33-26) @ White Sox (35-24) 2:05 CST

Game Recap

The Cubs were game in the early going as they traded runs with the Sox through three innings. Jon Lester lasted just 3.2 innings in a tough matchup against a White Sox lineup which has been very good against against southpaws this year. Luck also happened to be against him. Two base hits in the White Sox five-run 4th inning carried expected batting averages of just .060 (with EVs of 52.1 and 78.3). Lester was clearly frustrated when pulled from the game. Ryan Tepera could not halt the bleeding as he surrendered a three-run rocket triple off the bat of Jose Abreu which gave the Sox the lead for good.

The Cubs were unable to keep up their early offensive output. After Kris Bryant launched a clutch two-out Grand Slam in the 3rd (man, did that feel nice), the Cubs managed just two more hits over the final six innings. In total the Cubs finished with five hits on the night, a figure they have often hit during their September offensive swoon. However, the luck the Sox had last night did not extend to the Cubs. They hit a number of balls well which did not find holes in the defense. This felt more like the final games in Pittsburgh where it was clear the Cubs were putting together better at bats, it just wasn't paying off yet.

But as the Sox pulled away as the game went along any despair soon dissipated as the scoreboard reported the Brewers 3-0 victory over the Cardinals in St. Louis. The Cubs would clinch the NL Central for the first time in three seasons, victory or no victory. A triumphant finish would no doubt be more satisfying and instill greater confidence heading into the playoffs, but playing well at the start of the season has its perks. The Cubs may be 20-23 since August 14th, but their 13-3 record prior to then counts just as much in the standings.

Injuries, Updates, and Trends

  • Magic Number: 0 <<<<<=======
  • The Cubs are locked into the #3 seed for the playoffs. Who they will play is far from settled however. The Marlins are currently in line to matchup against the Cubs as the 6th seed, but the bottom of the NL playoff race is tightly packed, with the Cardinals, Reds, and Brewers all potential matchups for the Cubs depending on the outcomes on Sunday (and any potential makeup games that need to be played on Monday).
  • Besides those four teams, the Giants and Phillies are still alive, and could push any of them out of the playoff picture (although the best they can do is the 7th seed, thus they are not potential opponents for the Cubs in the 1st Round).
  • I know fans don't want to hear excuses, don't want to hear that the Cubs have had luck go against them at the plate this year, but it is true.
  • In 2019, the Cubs finished as a slightly above average offensive team, mostly due to their above average slugging ability. Yes, they outperformed their expected SLG percentage a bit, but it was their inability to make contact which hampered their ability to consistently score runs. They were not unlucky in 2019, they were flawed. MLB's Statcast backs this up. Their actual BA and WOBA were nearly identical to their xBA, and xWOBA. On individual levels, about the same number of players outperformed expectations (Bryant, Happ, Contreras) as underperformed (Schwarber, Almora, Descalso). It truly showed just how accurate and useful Statcast can be. They finished about league average or a tick above as a team in most rate statistics, and within reason of where their expected output should have placed them. It really was just their lack of contact which hampered them.
  • That same flaw has hounded them again in 2020, and it would be easy to chalk up the greater frustration with the offense this season onto the failures of the core five, but there is more to it than that. Yes, Baez and Bryant have struggled mightily, but Statcast indicates they should be struggling. Just not this bad. Bryant is actually hitting the exact .205 that Statcast predicts, but his actual SLG is about .020 below his xSLG. Baez is hitting about .020 below his xBA and about .035 below his xSLG. Sure, even if they were getting the expected results their numbers would not be what we've come to expect from either, but their bad luck has extended to their entire team (save one). Unlike 2019 when there was a nice balance between the unlucky and lucky, Jason Kipnis is the only guy on the Cubs currently exceeding his expected outcomes at the plate. And that is simply mindboggling. Kipnis should be performing as poorly as Bryant and Baez. He's far exceeding his batted ball profile (.194 xBA and .372 xSLG). Every other hitter has had luck go against them. Kyle Schwarber has seen the worst of it. His AVG is about .050 below where it should be, and his SLG about .070 off expectations. David Bote is right alongside him. Bote is actually hitting the ball hard far more often than he did last year, but his number are far worse. Rizzo too is hitting about 50 points below expectations. Hoerner and Conteras are both slugging about 65 points below. As good as Heyward has been this year, he should be hitting over .300 instead of hovering in the .260s.
  • I've honestly never seen teamwide rotten luck like the Cubs have experienced in 2020:2020rottenluck

Filed under: Morning Cubs Roundup

Comments

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  • Michael, I enjoy all of the writers on this site, but I truly enjoy your articles and observations the most. I read multiple baseball sites like BP and Fangraphs and find them interesting, but I understand your points the best. Now, you do only write about the Cubs so it makes it more enjoyable for me to read. I miss your work on the minor leagues this year, but have enjoyed your observations of the Cubs this year. I know it must be hard to write and have a full time job, but you do it well. Keep up the good work.

  • In reply to dad1:

    Thank you, sir, I appreciate that.

    No Minor league season has definitely taken away a lot of my enjoyment from this year. It's definitely what I prefer to focus on. 2020 has been a slog, in more ways than one. Baseball has been no different.

  • I second these comments, Michael, and greatly appreciate your efforts on the Den this season.

  • The end of this regular season has a distinct sense of deja vu, with the Cubs' 2 wins in their last 8 games reminding me of the 2019 team's 2 wins in their last 12 games. The redeeming feature this year, of course, is that the Cubs have a chance to redeem themselves in the postseason. GO CUBS!!

  • Big news on the prospect front: Brailyn Marquez has been brought up for today's game. IF Patrick Wisdom was DFA'd to make room on the roster.

    I wouldn't expect Alzolay to go particularly deep in today's game, and with no logical reason to call up Marquez to cheerlead from the pen, I see no way he doesn't make his MLB debut today.

    Has any Cubs pitcher thrown 100 MPH this season?

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    Was just coming to post about Marquez. Welcome Kid! Hope you make a good impression.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    Epstein stated they want to get him an inning before the postseason.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    That's what I figured. He's been working in short bursts in South Bend for almost a month now in preparation for pen duty this season.

    I know you mentioned the Sox beat up on lefties, and they do, but Marquez will give them a little different look than Big Jon did yesterday.

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    In reply to BarleyPop:

    That's fascinating. I wonder if seeing Crochet throw almost every pitch at 100mph influenced their thinking?

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    I'm guessing the prospect of a power LH arm to come out of the pen and blow away the big LH bats in a pressure situation influenced their thinking.

    There's a lot of talk that he's been developing other pitches, and that's great, long term. But I wouldn't be surprised to see him sit power FB/slider, with a possible changeup. Those secondaries are essential to his future development as a starter, but this isn't an audition for a future spot in the rotation. This is about what he can possibly provide out of the pen right now, this postseason. And that would be blowing by big LH bats.

    I'm also curious as to who was the last Cubs player to make their MLB debut having never played above A-ball. I know this year is an anomaly, but it's still a fact.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    If you add two pitches together.:) :)

  • Has anyone else read Bryant’s quote of how “he doesn’t give a sh@t about his critics” after last nights game? I think Kris’ frustrations are showing, that’s not something typical of Kris to say.

  • In reply to Squareburgers:

    I see that as a positive. A tough skin in this world is necessary sometimes.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    No point in mincing words. A little of Contreras rubbing off on on Blue Eyes.

  • In reply to Squareburgers:

    I hope he continues to take it out on the baseball. As for Marquez, Bogie said it best: I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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    Alzolay looks very good today. He just needs innings and the more he gets the better he will get.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    I think we’ll resign Quintana to replace Lester and Alzolay will replace Mills next year.

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    In reply to Squareburgers:

    I don't want Q next year. Trade him if we can, keep him as a last resort.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    In case all those who screamed about the Q trade a few years back missed it this weekend, Quintana contributed more than Jimenez and Cease combined when it finally mattered for the Sox.....

  • In reply to Wickdipper:

    Getting Q relatively cheap salary wise enabled the Cubs to sign Darvish. One more positive.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    We’re not going to have much in our budget and Q would be a serviceable, cheap number 5.

  • In reply to Squareburgers:

    I hope Cub's players get crazy hot during the 2020 playoffs, and make a fun deep run!!!!!

    Cubs will go into the 2021 off-season with Mills penciled in as Cubs #5 starter for next year?

    The rotation for 2021 currently has Darvish, & Hendricks! Not too much else besides Mills, Alzolay, and prospects. Can you trust those guys for at least 25 starts?

    Once again, I hope Cub's players get crazy hot during the 2020 playoffs, and make a fun deep run!!!!! Is this the last hooray?

  • Marquez: Nerves, nerves, nerves....(;-)

  • In reply to wthomson:

    Yeah, the debut wasn’t what I’d hoped. Nowhere to go but up.

  • Sometimes using revolutionary, advanced stats in baseball is like trying to solve an equilibrium problem w/o a constant.There are an infinite number of variables in baseball.

  • Which network will be broadcasting the Cubs on Wednesday?

  • In reply to wthomson:

    ABC

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    I feel the Cubs are playing like the Falcons did the 2nd half today.

  • Marlins starting lineup had 7 hitters with higher batting average than any of the cubs in today’s lineup. Hopefully the Marlins have playoff fright.

  • Will the real Duane Underwood please stand up

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    Billy Hamilton Steals home !!!! AND HOMERS !!!! Play him more !!!!!!!!!! Ron

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    In reply to Ronald Dietzler:

    Has that EVER been done!?

  • In reply to Jim Pedigo:

    Hamilton did it in April 2019 , I believe. Probably done in the days when stolen bases were a game staple but don’t know by whom.

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    For a division win----Yes You May!!

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    You said you were sure they were going to trade one of the core 5 in the previous post. Unless they wait until the trade deadline, which I don't think you meant, they would be selling short. Very short except for Contreras who would be just a little short on production. Think of the take back from Bryant last year as opposed to this year. I really don't think Theo will do it until they have a chance to right themselves.

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