Game 48 Recap: Cubs 2 Royals 1

Photo courtesy of Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Top Play (WPA): You might think the top play of a game that included a walkoff hit would be that self-same walkoff, but if you did, you’d be wrong. By the time David Ross came to the plate in the 11th, the Cubs already had a pretty good shot at winning the game (by virtue of the bases being loaded with only one out), meaning his hit was actually only the fourth most meaningful of the game, improving the Cubs’ chances of winning by 17.3 percent. The biggest play of the game came two innings earlier when, in a tie ballgame and with just one away, Anthony Rizzo lined a rocket of a ball into the right-field corner for a triple, improving the Cubs’ chances by a whopping 24.9 percent against a very good Kansas City bullpen. Rizzo deserves a lot of credit for his hustle on that play, with an assist from the brick wall down the line, as it was far from clear off the bat that he’d make it to third. Just another day at the office for #Wheels Rizzo.

Bottom Play (WPA): Baseball’s a funny game. The bottom play of this game, at least by WPA, was made by none other than Mr. Personable, David Ross. With one out in the ninth inning, Rizzo on third (see above), and Starlin Castro on first after an intentional walk, Ross tried twice to squeeze to win the game. The first one rolled foul, which was far from optimal, but also not catastrophic. The second, unfortunately, got a little too close to Wade Davis, who lobbed it to first to retire Ross, get the second out of the inning, and reduce the Cubs’ chances by a full 18.9 percent.

Key Moment: You sort of have to give the ‘key moment’ of a walkoff to the game-winner, and the fact is that the metrics—or, at least, one metric, leverage index—bear that out. No single plate appearance was more meaningful all night than Ross’s final trip to the plate in the eleventh inning, with runners at second and third and one out. After coming up in a similar situation two innings earlier, and failing to get the runner in from third, I’m sure it felt pretty sweet for Old Man Ross to get a Texas-Leaguer into shallow left, past the dive of Alcides Escobar, and win the game for the Cubs. Baseball, as they say, is a funny game.

Trends to Watch: I am reliably informed—by, among others, my girlfriend—that I am not the trendiest of individuals. And yet, here are three trends that played out throughout today’s game that bear watching as we move into June. First, Tsuyoshi Wada continues to pitch around danger to strong results. After today’s results, which you might have forgotten through all the extra-inning craziness, Wada’s ERA over 15 2/3 innings is a very solid 2.30, with an eye-opening 10.91 K/9 and equally excellent 2.87 BB/9. If he can keep anything approximating that level of performance up the second time through the league, he’ll be nothing short of a revelation. I have my doubts.

If I’m ready for some negative regression with respect to Wada, I’m equally ready for some positive regression for Chris Coghlan, and we started to see that today. Coghlan’s 3-for-4 day left him with an improved line of .223/.294/.439 (up from .207/.282/.422) on a season that has been plagued by what many see as an unreasonably low BABIP (.221 before today). Although the emergence of Kyle Schwarber as a legitimate possiblity to crack the Cubs this season has threatened Coghlan’s centrality to this team, Schwarber certainly won’t be up for another few months, and Coghlan’s performance in left field until then will be key to the Cubs remaining in contention.

Lastly, if you like being second-guessed, you should really consider managing a big-league ballclub. Joe Maddon has already taken some flak this season for what’s perceived to be a quick hook with his starters, preferring—one imagines—to limit the damage done by times-through-the-order effects (where hitters tend to do better the more often they see a pitcher in one game) and rely on his bullpen to finish innings begun by his starters late in games, even when the starter looks pretty good.

Well, there’ll be some more criticism heading his way on the basis of the top of today’s sixth inning, in which Maddon pulled Wada, who’d retired 17 of 21 faced, with two outs in the inning and a runner on first. In from the bullpen was Travis Wood, who was, presumably, instructed to get the final out of the inning and then run out for the seventh as well. Unfortunately, Wood promptly walked Kendrys Morales to push a runner into scoring position, which became salient moments later when Alex Gordon lined a single into left field to push the Royals’ first run across the board. Justin Grimm later retired Salvador Perez to end the inning, but the damage was done, and the Maddon boo-birds have a bit more to talk about tonight.

Coming Next: Coming into this week, many—myself included—saw consecutive series against the division-leading Nationals and Royals as an opportunity for an up-and-coming Cubs team to make a statement that they, too, belong in the upper echelon of big-league clubs. Well, they didn’t manage that. But beating good teams isn’t the only way to claw your way to the top; wins against bad teams count just the same. And it’s this second type of win that the Cubs will have a chance to add to their totals in an upcoming series in Miami, against the Marlins.

At 20-30 going into play on Sunday, the Marlins may be worse than even that pedestrian record indicates. Injuries, ineffectiveness (putting aside Dee Gordon’s flashy performance), and reported clubhouse dysfunction—brought on by the highly controversial hire of respected GM Dan Jennings as field manager—have made the team a far cry from the playoff contender many thought they might be at the start of the season. Still, any team that features big-league players, as the Marlins still do, is one that cannot be taken lightly, and the Cubs will have to work to get back to their winning ways. They’ll just have a better chance at it than they did this week.

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