Cubs-Sox Meditation

Instead of our usual spotlight, for the Crosstown series the three of us who have been covering baseball so far this year–yours truly, Hess, and AJ–got together to talk about the status of each team heading into this two-day gimmick on the Northside. 

Fels: We used to joke around here that these games meant little to Cubs fans and everything to Sox fans, because lord knows in the past I’ve come across more than enough Sox fans who had a “DEY COULD WIN TWO GAMES ALL YEAR BUT IF DERE AGAINST DA PACKERS I’M HAPPY” attitude about these. But it seems in the past couple Sox fans also regard these crosstown games as a ginned-up gimmick. That about right?

AJ: I would agree.  The fact that CSN (now NBCSN) has tried to turn this thing into an NCAA Football kind of rivalry with some Monopoly token kind of trophy has had the opposite effect and actually highlighted how goofy the concept is.  That, and the fact that in our heart of hearts most Sox fans that follow the team closely know the best we could hope for these past few years was a series split.  I’m wondering if now that the team is trending upward we might see a resurgence of that type of behavior.  I know personally that as much as I’d like the Sox to smoke the Cubs it’s far more important to not get clobbered by Minnesota so if they lose 3 of 4 I’m not gonna be too pissed about it.  

Hess: I am right there with you both, but I still think it is fun and kind of important that they play each other. Is it a true rivalry? No. The most heated moment in the history was the Barret-Pierzynski fight, and even any Sox who thinks they wouldn’t punch AJ when aggravated and they had the chance is a liar. But there is something fun about having them play one another, especially with the teams in the current states, as the Cubs represent everything the Sox are hoping for out of the rebuild. And the NBCSN commercials for it are nauseating.

Flipping to you, Sam – The Sox are set to see Jon Lester on Wednesday, who seems to be having more hills and valleys with his play this year than the Rocky Mountains the Cubs left behind last week. What’s been his deal?
Fels: Well, he’s old. Lester’s stuff has definitely declined a bit, which makes his margin for error somewhere in Hendricks range. Lester hasn’t been able to blow anyone away in a while, which is fine, because he could just beat the corners into submission. But now as his stuff plays even lower, he really has to hit the corners and nothing else and when he misses it’s ya-ha time. He’s been trying a new approach and trying to get inside more than just merely staying not the outside corner, but again, he can’t miss. Some days he doesn’t. Some days he does and he gets shelled. There seems to be no in between. He also hasn’t quite figured out how to make his change as effective as it should be.

Looks like this week could be the debut of another Sox toy, in Zack Collins. Is this just a Wellington injury fill-in? Is he here for good? How worried are you about the swing and miss in his game?
AJ: At this point with the hilariously bad production out of the DH spot (.191/.294/.357!?!) I’m excited to see what he can bring to the table.  I’ve set my expectations fairly low, so if he can make me forget Yonder Alonso is a thing that is here then I’ll be thrilled.  The swing and miss portion of his game seems to fit right in with most of the hitters in MLB now anyways, what with the Three True Outcomes and all, so that part doesn’t concern me as much.  What does concern me is his ability to actually stick at catcher.  If he’s unable to play there at least half time then we are looking at a career DH, as the dearth of 1B prospects the Sox have are probably gonna boot him from there.  My guess is that he’s here until Castillo is healthy, as the Sox want to try and feature The Beef as much as possible to trade him in 2 weeks.
Hess: The funny thing about the swing-and-miss in Collins’ game is that in all reality, he doesn’t swing much. He’s one of the most patient hitters I have ever seen, and only really swings if he either really has to or really gets a pitch he likes. That has resulted in hilarious strikeout and walk rates in the minors so far, as he’s basically walked or struck out in half of his MiLB PA’s. But a 15%+ walk rate is nothing to scoff at, even if it comes with a ~30% K-rate. I echo AJ’s catching concerns, but I saw him do it in person and was actually encouraged, and I also saw him play a competent 1B in person. If he can be a C/1B/DH combo with a high OBP and big power, you will never hear me complain. In terms of who he might be replacing, I would think Collins is here the rest of the year, and either Castillo or Alonso get DFA’d on August 1 if the Sox can’t get anything for them.

Speaking of new faces, the Cubs are still waiting patiently for Craig Kimbrel to arrive in full. Is he going to solve their bullpen issues well enough, or are they still gonna need to look elsewhere? And relatedly, do you think they’d be wanting enough for back-end help to pay up for Alex Colome from the Sox?
Fels: Kimbrel definitely won’t solve everything, but he’s an improvement over what they have. It pushes Strop to be the fireman of sorts, or would if Maddon were in any way creative with his bullpen usage. They’ll still be on arm short, maybe two, because Maddon may have broken Cishek last year. Right now, Kintzler and Strop are the only ones they can consistently count on. Edwards was good upon his recall, but his hurt again and you can never quite trust him. There’s a chance Alzolay ends up being another arm late in the year, but even that will leave them one short I think. And while I’d love to tell you it’ll be my guy Dillon Maples…

Colome is a name they will definitely be connected to but I think their preference is going to be someone who throws left-handed. Will Smith maybe. And I don’t think they’re going to be too interested in forking over the boat for any other reliever.
The Sox are floating around .500 without surpassing it, but that won’t change their plans much. Still, other than Colome is there anyone they can get meaningful things for at the deadline now?
AJ: The only other players who might be worth anything at the deadline would be James McCann or Jose Abreu and at this point the offer would have to be fairly impressive for the Sox to budge on either.  Though Tim Anderson has come a long way I think Abreu is still the face of the franchise, and having him here to mentor the other Cuban kids matters more than most may think.  

As for McCann, even though his BABIP is insanely unsustainable his defense and his work with Giolito combined with his super affordable price make him pretty unmovable unless a team came along with a deal Hahn couldn’t refuse.
Sam, what’s up with Javy right now?  Is this just the inevitable result of his free swinging ways catching up to him?  Or is this something more to do with the foot injury he was nursing for a few weeks?  Maybe a combination of both?
Fels: You always worry about injuries lingering, and if it were they definitely wouldn’t tell you. But mostly I think this is just how Javy is, that there’s going to be a couple weeks or month, maybe even six weeks, where he makes you tear your hair out (if I had any) and then the rest of the time he’s the best show on Earth. He’s definitely gotten a little pull-happy and whereas in May and April he was actually taking a noticeable number of walks he hasn’t walked at all in June. Maybe the heel injury has slowed his swing a touch, we’ll never know. Once he starts going back to right field again, he’ll probably put up stupid numbers again. Javy doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I learned long ago to stop questioning it.

All right, feels like we’re ready to go for these two stupid games. Let’s get through it.

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