Morning Cubs Roundup: Cubs clinch NL Central despite loss
today at 10:04 am
Last Game: Cubs 5, White Sox 9
Up Next: Cubs (33-26) @ White Sox (35-24) 2:05 CST
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:
Morning Cubs Roundup