Last night, the Chicago Cubs were mounting a 9th inning rally against the St. Louis Cardinals, down 3-2, with runners on first and second, just one out, and the top of the order up. The Cubs’ odds of scoring at least one run in that situation (given the lineup and depending on your source) sat at around 50%, and their overall win expectancy was up to 32.5%. Not bad for a 9th inning rally in a game the Cubs trailed the whole way. Cubs fans were feeling good.
But that ended quickly, as a Trevor Rosenthal pitch got by catcher Yadier Molina, Albert Almora broke from second base as the ball hit the umpire’s leg, and Molina quickly scooped and threw to third to nail Almora (VIDEO here). Moreover, presumably having seen that the pitch did not get away, Chris Coghlan did not advance from first to second on the throw. All those pretty odds plummeted, and, after Zobrist gave a little more hope with a single, Jason Heyward popped out to end it.
After the game, Almora took all the blame on himself, saying that he “cost us the game” and that he felt like he “let my team down.” (CSN)
With all appropriate respect to the young big leaguer, is that fair? Or is he being a too hard on himself? After the game, Almora’s manager defended him, as you’d expect, but went further in pointing out the flukiness of the ball hitting the umpire (Cubs.com). Even Rosenthal admits that the Cardinals were lucky things played out like they did (Cubs.com).
Having slept on it and having read all the TAKES, I think I land in the same place on Albert Almora’s dash to third as I did last night (though I didn’t say it publicly, knowing that I wanted to take a moment to think about it): I officially land on good decision, bad luck.
Here’s the thing: Almora was correct that the ball got by Molina. And with the bricks at Wrigley Field closer than ever, I’ve seen plenty of rocket fastballs that got by a catcher come caroming right back to the catcher with enough pace to prevent runners from advancing (and sometimes they carom to a stud third baseman named Kris Bryant, who makes an incredible play). If you want to ensure you make third base on that play, maybe you’ve gotta break immediately when you see that it’s by the catcher. The odds, from there, that the ball will not only hit the umpire’s leg, but also bounce *right back to the catcher’s throwing hand*, are not good. And it still took a great throw from Molina to get Almora at third base!
I’d venture a guess that 99 times out of 100, that particular pitch and that particular decision by Almora results in him getting to third base. With one out in the inning, getting a runner from second to third in the 9th inning of a one-run game is a huge change in run expectancy (a nearly 50% increase, in fact). That’s a chance worth taking.
Plus, hey: it was his double that got the Cubs a runner at second base in the first place.
You throw in the whole butterfly wings stuff (if Almora’s still on second, maybe they don’t hold Coghlan, and Zobrist is out or hits into a double play; if Coghlan is on second, maybe Zobrist’s ball isn’t a hit because the defense is positioned differently; maybe Zobrist is pitched differently with a runner on third, etc.) and I’m feeling fine about the 9th inning today. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m bummed that the Cubs lost, especially to the Cardinals, and especially when they were so close to pulling out a dramatic win.
But, like so many of the Cubs’ close losses this year, it was just something that happens, albeit very rarely, and this time it bit the Cubs. Don’t change a thing going forward.