Baseball

No.

 

 

…all right fine. We can try and dig a little deeper into this, but there isn’t much point. What I find curious is that on the day the Cubs unveiled Craig Kimbrel, Theo Epstein was asked about Gonzalez and Albert Almora Jr., who has lost playing time to the former’s arrival. Theo’s quote was basically that Gonzalez was here to be a bat off the bench, and Almora needed to play.

Gonzalez has started four of the past six games. If you want to know why Joe Maddon has not received a contract extension, here’s a piece of evidence for you.

Let me present some numbers:

.169/.242/.186  .429 OPS  9.1 BB% 31.8 K%

.258/.287/.536  .823 OPS  3.8 BB*  15.4 K%

The former is Gonzalez’s numbers in May, and the latter’s are Albert Almora’s. Now, Almora’s aren’t exactly breathtaking, but they come out to an above-average offensive player, just, who plays plus defense. Gonzalez’s numbers make doves cry, and his defense really isn’t any good anymore either.

It’s been three seasons since Gonzalez was an above-average offensive player, and that’s accounting for the Coors factor. His power zapped away in 2017 and hasn’t really ever come back, though the .467 slugging off the bench would be fine. You’d take it. We all understand that in searching for a left-handed bat simply to replace Ben Zobrist and maybe take PH ABs from Daniel Descalso and his other interpretation of sadness at the plate, the options you can have for free are limited. It’s a free roll of the dice.

But you’re still going to get snake-eyes. And it’s fine for now because Kyle Schwarber has carried the outfield, and Gonzalez has cobbled together a couple hits that has fooled everyone into thinking he can still hit, which he can’t. Unless his .211 average since joining up really makes something stir in your bowels.

So I’m trying to see what the Cubs think they might be able to mine here, and my hope is that Joe Maddon is only trying to get CarGo in a rhythm before he’s reduced to simply pinch-hitting and spot-start duty. The only thing I can fathom is that the Cubs think they can get CarGo to go the opposite way more, which he actually does well but doesn’t do often. CarGo has been a pull everything guy for most of his career, settling for somewhere between 20-25% of his contact going the opposite way. CarGo has consistently run an average over .400 on balls the other way, though that might have something to do with being shifted against a lot and there being a lot of open territory there. But that’s belied somewhat by most of his contact the opposite way is still in the air, where a shift wouldn’t do much about it.

That’s about as near as I can figure, and his homer the other night, certainly a Wrigley product given where it landed, is hopefully a sign that CarGo is willing to change his approach to salvage another year or two in the majors. Beats working at Sears, as we know.

Still, it’s awfully harsh on Almora. I’m not Almora’s hugest fan–he hits way too many grounders and is slow, but this May was his first plus-month in the majors since the first half of last year thanks to an injection of power. There were still way too many grounders, over half his contact was, and maybe the Cubs have already concluded he would crash back to Earth with that. Still, May saw Almora hit the ball harder than he ever has, and his .253 BABIP in the month suggests he had to fight through fortune to produce a plus-month instead of ride the wave as he did last year.

It wouldn’t be a big deal, and it probably isn’t anyway yet, if Jason Heyward were hitting. But he’s not. So Joe Maddon is essentially tossing another outfield spot away on a hunch that isn’t going to play out, whereas Almora still allows us to be curious about what could come next. To boot, CarGo’s defense just isn’t that good in right.

I get the impression this won’t be a problem come July 1st when everyone sees CarGo is toast, but you never know with Maddon. And by then Almora might have lost all his momentum. He’s at least the devil we don’t know completely yet instead of the corpse we do.

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Astros 6, Cubs 5

Game 2 Box Score: Astros 9, Cubs 6

Game 3 Box Score: Cubs 2, Astros 1

Earlier today, Sahadev Sharma on The Athletic wrote a piece about the contrast about how the Astros pitching staff, rotation and pen, is built on missing bats and striking everyone out, and the Cubs is built on soft contact and grounders. And he stated how the difference was the ‘Stros “outclassing” the Cubs. Which I objected to at first, because hey, the Cubs could have easily won both of the first games and once they revamp the pen later in the year they’ll be more set to do that.

But then you remember the Astros were running out the B-team, and it feels a lot more apt. No Springer, no Altuve, no Correa, missing Verlander, and you realize the Cubs didn’t come close to seeing the real force of this team. Which hurts. Maybe it’s a bad stretch, and doesn’t mean anything. That’s generally how baseball works. And did we learn anything new? The Cubs offense is good, but when the rotation goes odd colors in the sun the pen isn’t anywhere near in a condition to pick up the slack. You knew that going in.

But hey, there’s Kyle Hendricks.

Let’s clean it up:

The Two Obs

-Let’s get it out at the top. I am heavily tempted to blame the lack of netting from foul pole to foul pole on the richest, asshole-iest customers who would say something like, “Well I pay the most money so I don’t want a net in my view!” for the kind of abomination that Albert Almora, and really both teams as a whole, had to go through tonight. But the thing is, if that kind of thing had been stated by season ticket holders in the first few rows, or corporate entities as they mostly are today, I feel like we’d have heard more about it. I think this is something ticketing departments around the league assume would happen but really don’t that often.

I know there are plenty of industries where it takes a disaster for things that seem so simple to change actually to change. I can’t say hockey got this right, because it took a little girl dying for them to do so. But with the netting behind the nets in hockey arenas, it’s the same reaction as the extended version in parks now. You walk in, see it, and say, “Oh, that’s new.” Then you sit down and don’t notice any difference in the view you had before after two minutes. My season tickets at the UC for the Hawks has been behind the netting, and I’m in the 300 Level where I would be in next to no danger without it. I’ve never noticed it making any difference in my viewing experience, and I honestly only think about it when something like this happens.

If there’s honestly any collection of ticket holder who throws a bitch at the idea of netting in front of him (and I’m sure it’s a male if they exist), do us all a favor and put cayenne pepper on his balls and leave the rest of us alone. Players have been screaming for this for decades now, and it’s specifically so they don’t have to go through what Almora went through tonight. Think about why this happened, and how truly stupid it is at its base level, and then wonder about how anyone goes about their day.

-All right, to the baseball. We’ve been through Hamels and Lester’s problems already, which makes it all the more impressive that Hendricks stood there and turned everything away in a place where every baseball looked like a Top Flite. The Cerebral Assassin has been sprinkling in his curve more and more as the season has gone on, and tonight he dropped his coup-de-grace when he put Marisnick down in the 7th with two on and two out on an 0-2 count. He’s never thrown that pitch in a big situation before, and if this is a new thing he can count on…well, the mind reels. It’s time Cubs fans accept that if the Cubs don’t have an ace. Hendricks is as close as they’ll get right now. He’s the stopper for sure.

-Javier Baez had a rough series, and he’s going through that phase where he’s pulling off everything. It’s frustrating to watch, because when he was leading the league in opposite field hits and homers he’s been an MVP candidate. So why try to pull everything?

-I’ve had enough of Alex Bregman, thanks.

-While I wasn’t looking, Addison Russell suddenly has representative offensive numbers. It doesn’t make anything ok, but as we live in a world where Daniel Descalso died, Russell probably is gong to get the majority of starts at second now.

-Unless David Bote can, who might actually be a major leaguer which I never would have guessed.

-Brad Brach is not going to happen.

-Me, I’m pounding Dillon Maples until it works. Because he’s my guy, he’s got the best stuff, and this is his now-or-never. He either gets it now or he’ll never. Fuck, Chatwood got there, maybe, right?

Onwards…

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Phillies 5, Cubs 4

Game 2 Box Score: Cubs 3, Phillies 2

Game 3 Box Score: Cubs 8, Phillies 4

Game 4 Box Score: Phillies 9, Cubs 7

The Cubs should have won on Monday, but didn’t. The Phillies should have won on Tuesday, but didn’t. And each scored over eight runs in their other wins, so a split is just about right. In the words of Gennaro Gattuso, “Sometimes maybe good, sometimes maybe shit.” And considering these are two of the three first-place teams in the NL, splitting seems about right that way as well. And because everyone else in the NL East is intent on doing a damn fine Mets impression, or is the Mets, you get the feeling the Cubs and Phils might do this more than a few times more before the boxes are packed. Let’s clean it all up.

The Two Obs

-The big story of the series is the bullpen, and I suppose that’s only right. Darvish was a touch unlucky to give up three runs over six, and I thought Brad Brach was a touch unlucky to give up a run in the ninth. Segura fists one over the head of Rizzo, and that seemed to be the theme for the rest of the series. The Cubs seemed to get their fair share of BABIP Kung Fu treachery all series. Kintzler got a grounder from McCutchen in the second game, it just happened to find a hole. Happened again today too.

Still, the pen gave up runs in all four games, though the last two it was asked to go for five full innings. Chatwood took all of them yesterday, so two runs over five innings is fine for one pitcher. For some reason it’s not fine for multiple, and I thought Not John Wick was Kung Fu Treachery’d as well today for one of the runs.

We all know that the return of Pedro Strop isn’t going to fix anything, especially because he won’t be used anywhere but the 9th. Moves will have to be made. So let’s not harp on it.

-While we’re on the pen, Carl Edwards needs to drop the slide-step. He’s not Pedro Strop, who can control it. He struck out the side today, so it seems odd to nitpick. But his velocity drops when he uses it, which he was with no one on base today for some reason. He also loses most of his pitches high to arm-side because his arm can’t catch up. For someone who has such trouble repeating his delivery, just have him worry about one.

-Lester’s last two starts comprise 8.1 innings and nine runs, 17 hits. There’s going to be market corrections like this, because Lester is giving up an obscene amount of hard contact. 41% to be exact. He’s been able to raise his Ks and lower his walks, and up his grounders, but he’s going to have to find a way to limit the loud noises he’s surrendering. It was thunderous today. A quarter of the contact today was line-drives, half in the air, and with the wind blowing out that’s a problem.

-The Cubs have been through a dicey turn of the rotation, and they went 3-3. Hendricks was iffy on Sunday, with Lester iffy the day before that. Darvish and Quintana were good, but Hamels and Lester were not. You’ll take breaking even when you didn’t break even on good starts.

-The War Bear has four hits in his last two games, eight in his last seven, and has been on base 11 times in that stretch. Nothing definitive yet, but the start of something?

-Almora took the plaudits last night, as he should, but when he came up with the bases loaded today you kind of knew it had to be a soft grounder. Even in this upturn in May, he’s still nearly at 60% grounders. You can’t find success that way.

-Javy sure made it look easy, didn’t he? If he’d got backspin instead of topspin on that ball in the 8th today, the Cubs probably tie it.

Onwards…

 

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Cubs 14, Nationals 6

Game 2 Box Score: Nationals 5, Cubs 2

Game 3 Box Score: Cubs 6, Nationals 5

When it was laid out, and you saw Luis Castillo, Max Scherzer, and Stephen Strasburg lined up against the Cubs, a .500 road trip seemed pretty tasty. And that’s what the Cubs got thanks to getting past Scherzer and then hanging on tonight for a series win in DC. They feasted on the soft underbelly of the Nats on Friday, their bullpen, and then didn’t get the chance on Saturday. Tonight, they got to see what the Nats look like without an ace or ace-adjacent starter on the mound, and it’s not good. Keep the line moving.

The Two Obs

-Kris Bryant…good.

-I feel like Cubs fans are just going to have to live with this kind of Jon Lester start every once in a while. As we’ve chronicled, Lester for the past year and this season has lived on the margins, getting away with giving up a fair amount of hard contact. He didn’t even give up that much hard contact last night, though more than enough, but everything found a hole. It’s the opposite side of the BABIP Dragon. He just didn’t have much, and you wonder if the 116 pitches he threw in his last start had an effect. He won’t get an extra day before his next start either, so hopefully just a one off. He has about the same margin for error as Hendricks does these days. You see what happens when he misses.

-I’m telling you now, I have about as much use for Xavier Cedeno as I do Kyle Ryan, and that’s a whole lot of not much .

-Baez’s injury is a little worrying, though a heel bruise probably doesn’t keep him out long. One of the worries this season is that Javy has played every game, and while having your own personal Cal Ripken who can do what Baez does certainly appeals, we know that rest is something of a weapon. Yes, it means more Addison Russell and no one wants that, but this is where we are. A couple games off probably is for the best.

-Almora had five hits in two games started. Is this the awakening? Eh…over the past two weeks the OBP is still under .300, but he’s slugging .565, and still half the contact is on the ground. Let’s reserve judgement for a a little longer.

-We can definitely say Daniel Descalso is certainly in heavy seas at the moment. Which makes La Stella’s nuclear streak in Anaheim a little harder to deal with.

-Did I mention Kris Bryant is good?

-Letting Cishek get the final seven outs is the kind use the pen is just going to have to get right now. This is why we’re big on letting Chatwood and Montgomery take multiple innings whenever possible, because it frees up Kintzler and Cishek and Edwards to do more when used. And when those are the most trustworthy relievers you have…well, you understand the problem.

Onwards…

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: D-Backs 8, Cubs 3

Game 2 Box Score: Cubs 9, D-Backs 1

Game 3 Box Score: Cubs 6, D-Backs 5

While I can always find a level to enjoy #WeirdBaseball when we wade deep into the extra innings, there’s something always infuriating about it as well. Because chances are when you get to a 14th or 15th inning, chances are you’ve had opportunities to win it and/or have made some mistakes to get it there and possibly blow it. But with a day off tomorrow, and yet another series win, we’ll let this one go.

Let’s clean it all up:

The Two Obs

-The series started with Kyle Hendricks being kindling again, after a great start against these same Diamondbacks a week ago. The problems for Hendricks when he’s getting bounced around are always the same; he’s catching too much of the plate. That’s only one good start of The Cerebral Assassin, and I guess it’s somewhat fair to wonder if that new extension isn’t weighing on him a bit. It would only be natural, as along with the security is a feeling of having to perform at a different level. I still have no doubts he’ll get to where he’s been, it’s just not comfortable right now.

-On the other side of the spectrum, Jose Quintana continues to light it up. He made two bad pitches today that were thoroughly punished, but other than that he was barely touched. That change is getting used more and more, 15 times today, which is only making his other two pitches pop more. Here for it.

-And in the middle was Yu..I guess he was stuck there, huh? The first two or three innings on Saturday were painful, and it was hard to escape the feeling that Darvish, even with as good as his stuff is, is afraid of contact. Which means he’s nibbling, or losing control altogether. Then the Cubs got him some runs, and he wasn’t afraid to go at hitters. What you get is six shutout innings. With two off-days next the 110 pitches aren’t a big deal, as he won’t throw again until Saturday. Hopefully this is the start of something.

Kris Bryant was making loud contact all over the place. That could signal big things.

-I was bitching on Saturday about Almora having to sit after a four-hit night on Friday, but I had forgotten that a change that the Cubs and Joe Maddon had made this season was planning out their lineup for the whole series in advance. I don’t mind them not deviating from it, and I would guess Almora is getting more starts in Seattle and when they return home. Adding two hits today wouldn’t hurt his cause.

-So Ben Zobrist has an extra-base hit now. That’s good. He’s doing something weird with his stance, and there’s still a huge drop in how hard he’s hitting the ball from last year to this. But he seems to recognize that if he’s volunteering Bote to be in the lineup ahead of him. That said, Bote then went ahead and left seven on today. No good deed goes unpunished.

-That was eight shutout-innings from the pen until Kyle Ryan got a little goofy. My hopes for Dillon Maples are still on very shaky ground. When you need Tyler Chatwood to save you…

Onwards…

 

 

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Cubs 7, Dodgers 2

Game 2 Box Score: Cubs 7, Dodgers 6

Game 3 Box Score: Dodgers 2, Cubs 1

At the end of last year, and the beginning of this one, the Cubs made a lot of noise that they let games pass last year. Specifically, getaway days/chances to sweep a series were eschewed and taking two of three or series splits were settled for. So I suppose through one prism, this is one of those games the Cubs couldn’t bring home last year and didn’t this year. I think it’s a load of shit when a team wins 95 games but here we are. Also, the Dodgers are really good and it’s somewhat unfair that they can just move Ross Stripling to the pen to accommodate the cares-so-much Rich Hill. And taking two of three from them after they’d paddled the Brewers ass red is almost certainly something to feel gratified about. Let’s do the thing.

The Two Obs

-Perhaps the most exciting thing of the series was Jose Quintana adding a third straight dominating start to the previous two. Yes, the Dodgers are not as effective against lefties but that doesn’t mean they’re helpless. Q’s first two get-healthy outings were against Miami and on a frigid day against Anaheim without Trout, so this was a higher-level test. And he clearly passed it. he’s not throwing that change-up a ton but he’s throwing it enough to be accounted for and he’s throwing it effectively enough to get whiffs and off-balance swings. He’s allowing way less contact and striking out nearly a third of the hitters he’s seen so far. While you could count on Q to be solid this year, him taking a star-turn would definitely be a bonus.

-The other two lefties sent to keep the Dodgers’ doomsday device from going off did their jobs as well. Lester looked good in his return, giving up a solitary run. Hamels somehow dodged six walks to keep the Cubs in Javy-range. The rotation is shaping up better than we hoped, which makes this a very good team despite the assholes and dipshits that come out of the pen.

-I don’t understand how anyone hits Walker Buehler, his stuff is that good. And yet something happens to pitchers when Javy is at the plate. They have to make a breaking pitch perfect, hang it, and this is what you get. Someday some pitching coach is going to tell his guys to throw nothing but fastballs at his letters and above. Then again, that’s what Joe Kelly tried to do in the 8th today and Javy somehow got on top of a neck-high fastball to bang it off the wall.

-Javy’s decision to try and steal in the first with Descalso up and two outs was a little iffy, as Descalso has been nails in leverage situations. But these are the things you just excuse.

-I was curious at Joe Sheehan’s Albert Almora/Kyle Schwarber treatise on Twitter yesterday. I haven’t totally given up on AA but I can see that landmark from where I am. Then he homers off Kenley Jansen. I wouldn’t be opposed to getting him more ABs at the expense of Ben Zobrist right now, who can’t seem to do anything but give you weak grounders up the middle. That doesn’t mean Zoby 18 won’t have a role to play later in the year. We know he will, but this is probably AA’s pivot year and we aren’t going to get answers without at least a third of the season as a starter. The offense is clicking with Zobrist and Schwarber as black holes, it can survive Almora taking one of their spots.

-Fire Randy Rosario into the sun. I keep saying it, but he’s never been good, his stuff isn’t interesting, and now he can’t get it over the plate. The Cubs probably have to redo their entire left side of the pen, although I’ll give Kyle Ryan a touch more leash. Just don’t make me go through that again.

Brad Brach was hitting 94 today, which has to be the hardest he’s thrown all season. If that continues, I have slightly more patience for him. Just not much.

Onwards…