The Bonkers Game That Probably Shouldn’t Have Been

The Braves and Cubs played a game on Saturday that offered some of the best elements in baseball, including a collection of great young players and an amazing comeback. It also possessed some of the game’s worst possible qualities, including awful weather and incredibly sloppy play likely caused by that same bad weather.

In the end, we saw the Braves jump out to a 10-2 lead and feature a 99.4% chance of winning the game as late as the seventh inning. Despite adding a few runs, the Cubs’ win probability was still just 2.0% in the eighth after Efren Navarro whiffed to record the inning’s second out. Nine two-out runs later, Chicago’s probability of losing was just 2.6%.

Here’s the win probability chart from the game (from this box score):

For five full innings in the middle of the Saturday’s contest, things appeared to be over. Before we get to the craziness of the eighth, however let’s talk a little about the weather. Cubs manager Joe Maddon did not believe the game should have been played and then added his perspective.

“I thought the 2008 World Series game I participated in was the worst. It just got surpassed,” Maddon said. “This is not baseball weather. The elements were horrific to play baseball in. That is the worst elements I ever participated in in a baseball game. Ever.”

Maddon has certainly been around for a while, so his comments carry some weight. His represents merely one opinion, though. What about the players? What about Peter Moylan, for example?

“I’ve been playing since 2006 and never seen anything like that,” said veteran Peter Moylan, the last of the relievers in the inning and the one who threw the wild pitch that let in a run. “We’ve been rained out and been snowed out, but we’ve never had to play through (expletive) like that.”

So, not a big fan. How about Freddie Freeman?

“I don’t understand it one bit. It was the worst game I’ve ever been part of weather-wise.”

And opposing manager Brian Snitker?

“It got to the point where I was worried about the infielders catching the ball because I was afraid they couldn’t get it across the diamond,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I mean, they literally froze up. You just don’t want anybody to tear their shoulder up or anything like that.”

Weather data isn’t complete historically, but we’ve got every game temperature and wind condition for this century and most of them for another 10 years before that. The game-time temp for Saturday was 38 degrees; the wins was recorded at 24 mph. A search through Baseball-Reference reveals the following games with similar or worse conditions.

Bad-Weather Games
Date Home Away Score Attendance GmLen
Temp Wind
Prec Sky
2018-04-14 CHC ATL W 14-10 36,788 223 38 24 from cf drizzle cloudy
2014-04-03 CHW MIN L 9-10 11,056 222 37 24 l to r drizzle unkwn
1997-04-07 MIL TEX L 3-5 42,893 210 35 25 to lf none sunny
1994-04-05 MIL OAK W 11-7 52,012 207 31 29 to rf none cloudy
1997-04-07 DET MIN W 10-4 42,749 175 36 25 to rf none cloudy
2014-04-05 CLE MIN L 3-7 14,153 170 36 24 l to r unkwn cloudy
1993-04-20 CHC HOU W 2-1 22,946 167 26 26 from lf none night
1994-04-05 CHC NYM L 2-6 34,879 162 35 25 from cf none cloudy
2005-04-23 CHC PIT L 3-4 37,695 162 36 25 from lf unkwn unkwn
1990-04-10 CHC PHI W 2-1 7,791 155 37 30 from lf none overcast
1980-04-16 TOR MIL W 11-2 12,688 148 33 25 unkwn unkwn sunny
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
Games with temperatures at 38 degrees or colder and wind speed of at least 24 mph

In most of the bad-weather games of the 21st century, the teams at least had the courtesy to complete the affair in under three hours. The Cubs-Braves game lasted three hours and 43 minutes, one minute longer than the Twins-White Sox game from four years ago. In something of a coincidence, both of those games took place in Chicago and, in both games, Jose Quintana was the starter for the Chicago franchise. Of the 11 games, five of them took place at Wrigley Field. One more occurred on Chicago’s south side, with one in Cleveland, one in Detroit, and three games in cities where the teams now have domes (Milwaukee and Toronto). When factoring in the weather and the time of game, it might be fair to say the fans who stuck it out on Saturday suffered through more adverse conditions than any fans of the last 20 years.

If any of those fans were Braves fans, the suffering was far worse, as they witnessed their club concede one of the greatest comeback wins of all time. I’ll note that it wasn’t the greatest comeback. There have been a few victories earned following 12-run deficits. Mike Schmidt once hit four homers as part of an 11-run rally that ended in an 18-16 victory over the Cubs. The greatest regular-season come-from-behind win in history might be this one from August 21, 1990, between the Dodgers and Phillies.

Our WPA charts go to the tenths. At the start of the ninth inning, the win probability for the Dodgers was listed at 100.0%. The Phillies’ effort in that game was, almost by definition, incredible; however, this pasrt Saturday’s contest might have featured the biggest half-inning change in WPA that we’ve ever seen before the ninth inning.*

*In the comments kylerkelton alerted everyone to this game in 2000 when the Mets scored 10 runs in the eighth after starting the inning down 8-1. The Mets started the innings with a 0.5% chance of winning and ended at 96.7% which is actually a slightly (0.1%) bigger spread than Saturday’s game though not as big if you start Saturday’s game with two outs. 

Because the Cubs started the bottom of the eighth with a five-run deficit, their chances of winning were set at 2.3%. It actually could have been worse, as the Braves had loaded the bases with one out in the seventh, bringing their chances to 99.4%, but Nick Markakis grounded into a double play. Then, when the Cubs came to the plate in the bottom of the eighth, this happened:

The Crazy Top Half of the Eighth Inning
Pitcher Player Inn. Outs Base Score Play LI RE WE WPA
L Jackson J Heyward 8 0 ___ 5-10 Jason Heyward was hit by a pitch. 0.35 0.52 3.9 % 0.016
L Jackson K Schwarber 8 0 1__ 5-10 Kyle Schwarber struck out swinging. 0.69 0.91 2.3 % -0.016
L Jackson T La Stella 8 1 1__ 5-10 Tommy La Stella singled to center (Fliner (Liner)). Jason Heyward advanced to 2B. 0.42 0.54 4.0 % 0.017
J Ramirez E Navarro 8 1 12_ 5-10 Efren Navarro struck out swinging. 0.89 0.94 2.0 % -0.02
J Ramirez K Bryant 8 2 12_ 5-10 Kris Bryant was hit by a pitch. Jason Heyward advanced to 3B. Tommy La Stella advanced to 2B. 0.48 0.45 3.7 % 0.018
J Ramirez W Contreras 8 2 123 6-10 Willson Contreras singled to catcher (Grounder). Jason Heyward scored. Tommy La Stella advanced to 3B. Kris Bryant advanced to 2B. 1.11 0.79 7.6 % 0.039
J Ramirez B Zobrist 8 2 123 7-10 Ben Zobrist walked. Tommy La Stella scored. Kris Bryant advanced to 3B. Willson Contreras advanced to 2B. 2.28 0.79 13.8 % 0.062
J Ramirez J Baez 8 2 123 10-10 Javier Baez doubled to center (Liner). Kris Bryant scored. Willson Contreras scored. Ben Zobrist scored. 3.96 0.79 58.1 % 0.443
J Ramirez A Russell 8 2 _2_ 10-10 Addison Russell was intentionally walked. 2.83 0.33 59.0 % 0.009
S Freeman J Heyward 8 2 12_ 10-10 Jason Heyward walked. Javier Baez advanced to 3B. Addison Russell advanced to 2B. 3.47 0.45 63.5 % 0.045
S Freeman K Schwarber 8 2 123 11-10 Kyle Schwarber walked. Javier Baez scored. Addison Russell advanced to 3B. Jason Heyward advanced to 2B. 5.32 0.79 87.5 % 0.24
S Freeman T La Stella 8 2 123 12-10 Tommy La Stella walked. Addison Russell scored. Jason Heyward advanced to 3B. Kyle Schwarber advanced to 2B. 1.66 0.79 94.2 % 0.068
P Moylan J Heyward 8 2 123 14-10 Efren Navarro advanced on a wild pitch. Jason Heyward scored. Kyle Schwarber advanced to 3B, scored on error. Tommy La Stella advanced to 2B, advanced to 3B on error. Error by Kurt Suzuki. 0.77 0.79 98.7 % 0.045
P Moylan E Navarro 8 2 __3 14-10 Efren Navarro struck out swinging. 0.09 0.37 98.4 % -0.003

Teams have come back big in the ninth inning to change the odds from 1% or below to 100%, like here and here, but the Cubs changed their odds by 96% without walking off because it was only the eighth inning when they scored nine runs. For those interested in a breakdown of all the play, Michael Clair and Jeff Arnold have provided a recap with a bunch of highlights for Cut 4, but the biggest play of the game, the bases-clearing double by Javy Baez, deserves another look.

Baez absolutely scorched that ball, but it is quite possible the weather and grass helped scoot it to the wall. An examination at Baseball Savant of balls with similar luanch angles and exit velocity reveals that none hit like Baez made it to the wall or went for doubles. This type of contact results in a single almost every time.

The whole of this game was remarkable for one reason or another. For it to have been started in the first place, given the weather, was unlikely. The first few innings were wild, with the Braves jumping out to a huge lead. Ozzie Albies, the youngest player in baseball, is currently sporting a 180 wRC+ and he had at least one RBI in each of the first four innings. The middle innings were a huge, uninteresting, potentially unsafe slog. Then, the bottom of the eighth was bonkers. Nothing about this game was great, but a whole lot of it was unique, which is something.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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6 years ago

I’m a Braves fan and I unfortunately watched all of this one. Probably the 3rd most painful game I’ve ever watched haha. vs the Nats in 2015: And vs the Mets in 2000: I was 8 years old at the time and I’ve never fully recovered from Mike Piazza’s 3 run homer to take the lead.

6 years ago
Reply to  kylerkelton

Also a Braves fan and also watched this whole thing (with Cubs fans). At dinner, discussing painful baseball losses, I mentioned that 2000 Mets game. Amazing how a mid-season game can stay with you like that (since it was the Mets, and especially since it was Piazza).

6 years ago
Reply to  Craig Edwards

Great article, thanks for writing!

6 years ago
Reply to  kylerkelton

Don’t forget that Giants game in 2010 in the playoffs where Bobby Cox hung up his spikes.