2024 Cubs Heroes and Goats: Game 52

Chicago Cubs v St. Louis Cardinals

In 2022, as the season wore on, I wrote a lot about the road to the top and there being nothing guaranteed on that road. The White Sox of recent vintage were a great example of that. They were for all intents and purposes a team that was building and opening a contention window. They built it wrong, the bus broke down on the way to the top, and rats started jumping out like they did back in the day on a sinking ship.

But the 2023 season built pretty nicely on the progress made late in 2022 for the Cubs. The team bounced off the bottom in 2022 and they took a step forward to be a team that was competitive more nights than not. They didn’t reach the next progress point along that road to the trop, but it was a clear step forward. This 2024 season looked primed to continue that forward progress. Recall that at this time last year, the Cubs were 22-30.

So even with what is now a stretch of 16 losses in their last 26 games, this team is a full five games ahead of where that one was. It’s definitely a step forward. But the other teams don’t show up, hold their hands up in terror and then just wait to get beaten because you look like a team that should be in contention. I mean, you might catch a dysfunctional team at just the right time and have that happen. But most of the time, even the worst teams show up well intentioned with trying to win on a given night.

Teams are coming ready to go at the Cubs and the Cubs are finding a way to lose every night right now. Through the first part of these 26 games, most nights the Cubs still looked like a good team just having a bad stretch. More than not over the last two weeks, the Cubs have looked like an overmatched team. The talent is there, but the swagger has been beaten down and they just can’t find their edge and keep it for any period of time.

With only a few exceptions, every team goes through this. This too shall pass. But that’s that second point. 1) The road to the top isn’t linear and 2) there are no guarantees along the way. It shouldn’t, but you can play your way out of being a contending team with a long enough stretch of mediocrity and/or ineptitude. The good news also has two points: A) three wild cards creates a wide opportunity to be a playoff team and B) there is an awful lot of mediocrity and ineptitude across baseball.

You need to turn this around and you need to get back to stacking wins. Also, there are only six teams in the NL with a winning record. This team still sits in a playoff position. But, there are five more teams within three games behind them. As memory serves, only the Padres among those teams doesn’t still have at least one three-game series remaining with the Cubs. Tides shift in baseball and things can change significantly. The Padres and Diamondbacks are the only teams that I believe can stack wins over an extended period of time.

So the Cubs are absolutely still in the fight. The questions now are how long does this funk hang around and how much carnage is there in the meantime. The Cubs already breathed life into the Pirates and they have a chance to do that for the Cardinals this weekend too. There’s no time like the present to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start stepping in the right direction. Today would be lovely, thanks.

There were definitely three positives in this one. The biggest positive to me was a collective. That was the Cubs ninth inning. After the guy who has been their most consistent pitcher allowed multiple runs for the first time since last September, they came off of the mat and got a couple of runs and threatened in the ninth. That’s more fight than this team has been showing. But let’s find three individual performances.

Here, I’ll post a disclaimer that I have no specific criteria for my three stars, might not reflect what others or WPA would and may not be consistent. I might recognize a guy who was involved in the play of the night or might recognize a guy who had a strong individual performance that may not have directly impacted the outcome.

  1. I’m usually looking at pitching first and there, I find Luke Little. He was the one Cub pitcher who worked clean. Luke was first called back up on May 15. This is his sixth outing. 22 batters, no hits, three walks, seven strikeouts. Six straight scoreless appearances. He’s human, there will be struggles, but that man might finally be here to stay.
  2. Mike Tauchman. He’s too nice of a guy to be anybody’s actual nemesis, but he is Pete Crow-Armstrong’s nemesis. I don’t think there’s a lot of question that Mike was signed as a stop-gap, journeyman, depth outfielder. Two more hits last night, a walk and a stolen base. He scored a run and drove in a run. All out of the leadoff spot. He’s making it hard to find plate appearances for another outfielder.
  3. Nico Hoerner had a single, a double, two runs batted in and a run scored. I’m sure I’m not the only one who hoped the game would make it one more batter and get Nico to the plate with the game on the line with the tying run in scoring position.

Game 52, May 25: Cardinals 7, Cubs 6 (27-25)


Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.


  • Superhero: Patrick Wisdom (.189). 1-3, 2B, RBI
  • Hero: Nico Hoerner (.168). 2-4, SB, 2 RBI, R
  • Sidekick: Luke Little (.136). IP, 3 batters, 2 K


  • Billy Goat: Mark Leiter Jr. (-.634). ⅔ IP, 6 batters, 4 H, 4 R, K

*This is the second worst WPA game score of the season by a Cub (Adbert Alzolay, May 3, -.650). For Leiter, this surpasses last year’s (-.618) in September. He also had a (-.774) last May 31, just a bit shy of a year to the day.

  • Goat: Seiya Suzuki (-.205). 1-5
  • Kid: Christopher Morel (-.151). 1-4, BB, R

WPA Play of the Game: No question on this one, the game turned when Matt Carpenter had a two-out single with runners on first and second, the Cubs up one in the eighth. A run scored to tie the game and then the floodgates opened. (.332)

*Cubs Play of the Game: That took the wind out of the sails from Patrick Wisdom’s RBI-double with one out in the top of the seventh. That one also came with runners on first and second. Unfortunately, the Cubs couldn’t get one more run home with the ensuing second and third, one out situation. (.230)

Thursday’s Winner: Ben Brown received 182 of 191 votes.

Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 4/Bottom 4)

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.

  • Shōta Imanaga +15
  • Javier Assad +12.5
  • Ben Brown +11
  • Mark Leiter Jr. +9
  • Ian Happ -7
  • Miguel Amaya -8
  • Adbert Alzolay -10
  • Kyle Hendricks -20

*For today the significant movement is Leiter dropping to fourth. There was a historical question asked in the last comments section. The record low H&G season was Jason Heyward at -48.5 in 2016. The record among pitchers is Edwin Jackson with -37 in 2014.

Up Next: The second and final game of this series. ESPN is subjecting the fine people in the national audience to a Cubs/Cardinals game. In addition to checking in on one of the oldest rivalries in sports, they’re getting a fantastic pitching matchup. Javier Assad (4-0, 1.70, 53 IP) is an ascending star. He’s been consistent, too, with a 2-0, 1.49 over his last seven starts. Javier faced the Cardinals four times in 2023, all in relief. He worked 11⅓ innings and allowed six hits, five walks and two runs. He’s pitching with so much more confidence this year without being yanked out of the rotation repeatedly.

Sonny Gray (6-2, 2.87, 47 IP) has been keeping the Cardinals in sight of the playoff contenders. The 18th overall pick by the A’s in the 2011 draft out of Vanderbilt is making the 279th start of his career. He’s got a career line of 104-87, 3.45, 1,618 IP. He faced the Cubs as a member of the Twins last year. He threw 5⅓ innings and allowed four hits, a walk and a run in a no decision.

It won’t be easy, but let’s get back in the win column. Then on to Milwaukee for the main event.

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