Tuesday Trends: Everything’s Coming Up Mills, Bullpen Booming, Happ Slumping
A good week can go a long way toward turning a narrative on its head.
This is true in any baseball season, of course, but it’s magnified even further this year. One week ago, it looked like the bottom might be falling out for the Cubs. But a couple of series wins, a titanic comeback, and a no-hitter have made this a week to remember.
With only 12 games standing between the club and their first division crown since 2017, let’s get behind the magnifying glass and check out some of the performances that have gotten the Cubs to this point.
Alec Mills‘ place in Cubs history: We all had Mills as the most likely Cub to throw a no hitter this year, right? No? I mean, I did. I can’t prove it to you, but I did.
What more is there to say about Mills’ effort on Sunday than that it was exceptional? I invite you to treat yourself to nearly five minutes of his magnificence in the video below.
Jason Heyward‘s rebound: The comeback continues. For the first time in his Cubs career, Heyward has been an unambiguously top-notch hitter all year. Heyward is setting career high marks in both wOBA and expected wOBA and is currently at a career high 150 wRC+. When you remember that 100 is league average, you can see just how exceptional Heyward’s season is so far.
Saturday’s miraculous home run off of Josh Hader is the perfect highlight for a perfect season from one of the team’s leaders and good guys.
The degree to which the Cubs bullpen is an asset: Can you believe it? After seeming like the team’s biggest weakness for large parts of this season, the Cubs’ group of relievers has emerged as a strength of late. Jeremy Jeffress continues to be nails, Craig Kimbrel has a 2.70 ERA over his last seven games, and a variety of other relievers including Duane Underwood Jr., Jason Adam, and Rowan Wick have found success lately.
It may not be an elite group, but the Cubs ‘pen has found its own way in terms of avoiding being a liability.
Jeffress comeback tour: Another week, another set of successful games for the veteran. While Jeffress did surrender the winning run in Friday’s loss at Milwaukee, it’s hard to blame him too much when he was handed a situation with a runner on third and nobody out.
The veteran’s ERA remains under 1.00 and the Cubs continue to be able to count on his presence in tough spots.
The team’s playoffs odds: Hovering above 95% for the better part of the last month plus, the Cubs still find themselves in that neighborhood as of this writing. They haven’t locked anything up, but with playoffs odds closer to 100% than any other integer, it’s hard not to be happy about the team’s position.
Ian Happ‘s MVP chances: Is that so? Unfortunately, yes. While Happ’s overall numbers remain exceptional, a rough week has taken him off the pace set by other contenders for the award such as San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr. You’ll certainly take the .956 OPS on the year, but over Happ’s last seven games he’s slashing just .143/.273/.179 with 13 strikeouts in 33 plate appearances.
Contact has been a problem lately, but there’s no reason in particular to fear that the young center fielder won’t be able to make adjustments to get back into a groove after his first slump of the year.
Anthony Rizzo‘s production: While the eye test hasn’t rung the same alarm bells for Tony as it has for say, Kris Bryant, it’s hard to ignore the downward trajectory of the veteran’s numbers. Over his last 30 games, Rizzo is slashing .194/.282/.370. The numbers get even uglier as you reduce it to smaller and more recent samples.
Rizzo is getting worse results than he deserves over the course of the year with a .307 wOBA compared to .351 expected wOBA, but that later mark would still be the worst wOBA of his career.
But with Rizzo — and all of his teammates — individual performances aren’t the focus right now. With a real chance to clinch their first division in what feels like forever and the wild and unpredictable playoff format looming, I can only tell you none of them are here for a haircut.