Baseball

The Cubs’ fall from grace was fast and frankly, expected—they haven’t won a series yet this year outside of their first against the Brewers, catching them when Milwaukee’s pitching seemed to think the season started a week later than it really did. The Brewers are back to the top of the NL Central standings and their pitchers are back to shutting the Cubs out, outscoring them this past weekend 20-4. The defending World Series champion Braves also mostly dominated the Cubs, winning two out of three games. There’s not a lot you can do against a team with multiple Gold Glove winners—the Cubs aren’t that team anymore.

Slightly more concerning is the fact that the Cubs pitching continues to be a rollercoaster ride I’d prefer to get off of. The starters largely haven’t been able to hold things together, meaning the bullpen is eating innings like nobody’s business. And we saw exactly what happened when this same scenario went down for the Cubs last year, and that was a significantly better team than what we’re trotting out this year. We are still without staples like Alec Mills, Adbert Alzolay and Wade Miley, but so far the starters who were supposed to be holding it down largely aren’t doing that right now.

  • Mark Leiter Jr. finally got optioned, as the Cubs tried to cram him in as a starter despite him not having played in the MLB since 2018. It went about as well as you’d think, as he took the mound against the Braves on Wednesday trying to improve upon his ERA of 11.05. He stayed in for the first 2 innings, which took him 45 pitches to get through, and only four of them were called strikes. He then came in as a bullpen guy on Friday after Hendricks had already given up 7 runs. Leiter Jr. pitched one inning in which he had three strikeouts and only one hit. He seems to be better and more comfortable there, and if he does get called up again that is a better place for him to stay than as a starter.
  • Marcus Stroman has been an experience for the Cubs, being objectively bad all the way up until Sunday’s game when he finally got his first win of the season. Stroman can at least throw strikeouts, but the hits he gives up can get dicey, especially if Michael Hermosillo is playing at center and has to field just about every ball in just about every at-bat. It got almost comical on Tuesday. I’m just praying Stroman can build on Sunday’s win, where he pitched 7 innings and only allowed two hits. That’s the kind of performance he needs to be consistently putting up if this team is going to not be shit for the next 5 months.
  • Even Seiya Suzuki cooled down a bit this past week, with eight strikeouts in his past six games and a three-game hitless streak Saturday-Monday. He’s also only had one walk since April 21, showing that pitchers around the league have started to figure him out a little bit. This is what I was expecting to start out the season, as players are streaky throughout the year. But the Cubs are better when Seiya is hitting, and he is still 16th in the league in OPS, so hopefully he’s able to get hot again soon.
  • Comparing Anthony Rizzo’s offensive numbers so far this year against Frank Schwindel’s brings me great sadness.

The Cubs play the White Sox (9-13) and the Dodgers (14-7) this week. It will probably go as bad as you can imagine against Los Angeles, but if the Cubs can get quality starts they might have a chance against the Sox. But quality starts are really a necessity at this point. Go Cubs go!

Baseball

BOX SCORES

Game 1: Sox 7 – Braves 10

Game 2: Sox 5 – Braves 11

Game 3: Sox 3 – Braves 5

 

 

The pitching woes continue for the Sox, who faced their 3rd legitimate offensive juggernaut in a row this weekend, with predictable results. Giolito fared the best, though he was completely done in by 2 home runs, both coming from Young Christian Slater lookalike Freddie Freeman. Nova couldn’t go more than 4 innings, and Lopez backslid by not making it out of the 3rd. In a microcosm, none of this means anything really. Nova isn’t gonna be here next year, Lopez had one bad start after a string of solid ones and Lucas Giolito still went 6 while striking out 7. The offense wasn’t as putrid this series so that’s an improvement I guess. None of that makes it any easier to watch, however.

This last month of the season is going to be some 6 pack viewing for Sox fans, as in it’s gonna take a 6 pack of at least Bass Ale to get you through some of these games. Expect to see a lot more Carson Fulmer and Manny Banuelos, both of whom made their triumphant returns today. Jon Jay has gone back on the MIA list with season ending surgery on his hip, likely ending his tenure with the White Sox and ensuring his lasting contribution to the team being convincing Manny Machado that, yes, San Diego is nicer in the winter than Chicago. With Rick Hahn‘s steadfast refusal to call up Luis Robert from AAA, other than watching Moncada, Anderson and Giolito string out the remainder of their time there isn’t much here to lure people out to The Down Arrow in September. I’m sure Zack Collins will be here, but Renteria wouldn’t give him playing time over AJ Fucking Reed back in July so forgive me if my excitement is somewhat tempered. There’s a lot to be excited about this team, but right now it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.

Bullets, please.

 

BURN IT DOWN

Lucas Giolito looked pretty good except for the 2 shitty changeups he threw to Freddie Freeman. He even made up for the first ones by knocking in his first career RBIs by smoking a single in the gap off Julio Teheran in the 2nd inning. Probably would’ve been a double for pretty much anyone else on the team but Lucas was blessed with the same type of speed that I was, namely “none.” Which is completely fine, because if you’re expecting your AL-based starting pitcher to challenge the arm of Future Legend Ronald Acuna Jr then you were fucked before word go. Giolito pitched 173 innings last year, and after today he will be sitting on 162. Should be no reason he couldn’t hit 200 this year, leaving him completely stretched out for next season’s hopeful contention.

-Eloy had some hits this weekend, which is a good sign for his timing (which has been shit since his last IL stint). What isn’t the best sign is that they were all singles. Eloy has now gone 10 games without an extra base hit, which is definitely cause for a second look. James Fegan had an excellent article the other day questioning whether or not he might need to adjust his batting stance in the off-season, basically implying that his crouched stance might be affecting his ability to catch up to fastballs up in the zone. Hitting coach Todd Steverson has had luck with Moncada and Anderson in the past few springs and I feel there’s no reason Eloy can’t have the same success. He just has to stay healthy, so as to not have to start from scratch every few weeks.

-The Sox bullpen wasn’t any better than the starters this weekend, with Aaron Bummer and Big Boss Ross being particularly putrid. Bummer has already thrown 20 more innings than ever before in his career and that might be getting to him as more and more walks have started to creep into his stat line. Fortunately Manny Banuelos and Carson Fulmer are here to lighten the load. I haven’t totally given up on Fulmer, and think that he could still be a valuable piece going forward. If that’s the case, now would be the optimal time to show it.

-I’m not a huge fan of Renteria’s management style to begin with, and watching him do it in a National League park is even worse. When I run for president next year on a “Designated Hitters For All” platform next year, don’t be surprised if I win in a landslide.

-Next up is the Indians, who desperately need to take this series from the Sox. I’m sincerely hoping they can play spoiler and ruin September for Cleveland before the Browns take over in October. “Keep Cleveland Depressed” is also one of my many main campaign platforms.

-In other news, AEW’s All Out PPV was Saturday night. I was there at the Sears Center and had a blast, even with Dad Bod Chris Jericho winning the title. Should give AEW some nice momentum heading into their television debut in a few weeks, unless one of the Young Bucks died last night, which is highly possible.

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: White Sox 60-73   Braves 81-54

GAMETIMES: Friday/Saturday 6:20,  Sunday 4:10

TV: NBCSN Friday/Saturday, WGN Sunday

PROBABLY NOT AT THE GOLD CLUB: Talkin’ Chop

PREVIEW POSTS

Depth Charts & Pitching Staffs

Braves Spotlight

Atlanta in late August wouldn’t be high up the list of places you want to be at this time, but the schedule says the Sox have to descend on the Dirty South. There they’ll get a look at the NL’s second-best team, the Atlanta Braves, and maybe a glimpse at what they hope to be in a year or two’s time.

The Braves have been able to hold off the Nationals’ lava-streak since the middle of May at arm’s length, still maintaining a 5.5-game lead in the NL East. They haven’t been under threat since they themselves turned it on all the way up, in May just like DC. They’ve gone 67-39 since May 1st, after a ho-hum April opening to the season. It’s truly impressive as the Braves don’t get to harvest on the organs of a weak division like the Dodgers do or teams in the AL. The East has four playoff contenders, even if the Phillies and Mets are flawed remain decidedly the Phillies and Mets. And the Braves just got done sweeping the Mets in Queens to exhibit that, which apparently is the hot new trend in the NL. And we’d better get used to this, because the Braves don’t look poised to go much of anywhere else anytime soon.

This is a blistering offense, but most of it is in the top half of the lineup. Ronald Acuna Jr. Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman, and Josh Donaldson toss you right into the deep end from the off, but there isn’t much behind that. Austin Riley briefly flashed, but then fizzled and then got hurt. Dansby Swanson has missed a chunk of time and has only been average when he has suited up. Nick Markakis hasn’t been able to back up his All-Star season from last and now finds himself on the IL, and Tyler Flowers and Brian McCann are around more for their defense. It’s Elvira top-heavy, though Matt Joyce of late has tried to remedy that.

The rotation isn’t going to wow anyone. Mike Soroka has been really good while doing it through ground-balls and control instead of the Fascist route of strikeouts. Max Fried has the stuff to do a lot better than a 4.08 ERA, but has had home-run problems thanks to a near-20% HR/FB rate. Dallas Keuchel has seemingly gotten around his delayed start to the season thanks to MLB owners’ cheapness, and still gets a ton of grounders (60.7%). But he too has had his home run issues. Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz are something of place-holders. It’s not what you’d guess a rotation looks like for a team running away with a very competitive division.

The pen needed some reshaping midseason, which is why they went out and got Mark Melancon and Shane Greene. Both have had their issues since arriving, though Melancon’s numbers are skewed by one ugly outing and has mostly been really good. Greene has some issues to work out still. The rest of the pen isn’t filled with too many names you know, though Sean Newcomb has been placed here after being replaced in the rotation and definitely has the stuff to be a dominating reliever.

If everything goes to plan, the White Sox will want a similar offense behind Anderson, Moncada, Jimenez, Robert, and Madrigal next season. They have the makings of a more useful rotation than the Braves have gotten, but if you have this man fireworks at the top of the lineup your rotation only needs to achieve “not fucking it up.”

The Sox just got done getting brained by one first place team. They’d like to avoid spending the weekend doing the same against another.

 

Baseball

When the Sox take the field tonight, or more accurately when they watch the Braves take it in the top of the first, they’ll see a player they hope Luis Robert could emulate. That’s going to be awfully hard to do, as Ronald Acuna Jr. is off to one of the best starts in MLB history. It’s true. Acuna will walk with giants when this season is over.

Acuna is likely to get around 6.0 WAR in his second season, which is his age-21 season. If that were to happen, Acuna’s 9.7 WAR through age 21 would be the 20th best mark in history. It’ll be the best mark since Mike Trout 20.3 WAR in 2013, though he turned 22 in August of that season whereas Acuna won’t turn 22 until December. It’ll put him around names like Frank Robinson and Eddie Matthews. Not bad company.

It’s a mark of the game today how many modern players are on the list post-20th and lower. Manny Machado is on there, as is Juan Soto. So is Carlos Correa. And these are all names that Acuna has beaten so far and is only going to widen the lead as this season closes out. When you’re ahead of those, you’ve clearly pressed the right buttons.

Acuna was held down in Triple-A last year for the season’s first three weeks, due to whatever reason the Braves tried to hide behind to not say it was about service time. He’s already played 23 more games this year, but has 10 more home runs and basically double the stolen-bases. Acuna has also increased his walk-rate to 10.2% this year, up a point from last year.

The big improvement in Acuna’s game this season is his defense. He was a subpar centerfielder last year, but has become a slightly above-average one, with 1.2 defensive runs saved after a -7.8 season. As he learns the hitters at this level and gets more accustomed, that’s only going to go up, making him an all-around weapon.

While Acuna has hit more homers this year, he’s lost some slugging and ISO from his rookie season. It’s hard to know why, as he’s hitting the ball just as hard as he did last year and is producing far more line drives. He’s not striking out any more than he did, so maybe it’s just one of those strange things that happen in baseball, and will rebound simply because baseball gonna baseball on ya.

The impressive thing about Acuna is that he murders pretty much every pitch. He’s not just hitting fastballs and mistakes. He hits .338 against change-ups, .330 against curves, and .315 on sinkers. He covers most of the zone, though up and away seems to still be something of a weak spot for him:

Maybe that’s the one half-downside to Acuna this year, is that he’s not doing as much damage going the other way. But even that’s relative. Last year he had a 1.200 OPS when going the other way, and this year it’s all the way down to .908. This would be complaining about a mole on the Venus De Milo.

It’s hard to know where Acuna goes from here, because he’s already a top-tier player. He strikes out a touch more than you’d like, but if he’s going to hit 40 bombs, steal 30 bags, and hit around .300, who is really going to complain? If he lowers that, then you’re talking about the Trout-Betts range for him.

It sets up the Braves for a while for sure. The next generation is Acuna, Ozzie Albies, and Austin Riley, though they’ll have some more spots to fill. Christian Pache and Drew Waters could arrive next year. Weren’t we sick of the Braves winning all the time not so long ago?

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Cubs 8, Braves 3

Game 2 Box Score: Braves 3, Cubs 2

Game 3 Box Score: Braves 5, Cubs 3

Game 4 Box Score: Cubs 9, Braves 7

So we’ll do a half-season reflection thing tomorrow before they kick it off with the Reds, but this homestand and this series is kind of just what the Cubs are in 10 games, or four games, or whatever. They can bash Lucas Giolito one night, but that only comes after looking decidedly Patches and Poor Violet against Ivan Nova. They’ll split with the Mets, and then split with the NL’s hottest team in the Braves. They’ll look loose as shit one game, and then show a fair amount of determination and heart the next to salvage it all. They waver from great offense to mystifying one, a great start to a few terrible ones and back. So hovering right above .500 seems about right.

Oh, and they might actually have a bullpen now?

To the bullets:

The Two Obs

-I was like most Cubs fans in about to get really upset when they were down 6-1. I wasn’t sure why they needed a six-man rotation and I wasn’t sure why they needed to give Chatwood a full week. And just like on Sunday, when I was about to really go over the edge on this team they come up with seven straight runs, take much better ABs, and get a win that will feel important down the road.

-Kintzler-Strop-Kimbrel. Has a ring to it.

-I’m gonna feel a little bad for Chatwood, because he just hasn’t been used enough. There are reasons for that obviously, because you can’t say he’s earned automatic use. Still, he started the month with that iffy insertion after a rain delay in St. Louis. He threw one inning a full week later, and then 2.2 innings three days later in Colorado. Nine days before his first start, and then a full week before this one. That’s 14 innings over 27 days. For someone who should be throwing multiple innings every time, unless it’s total disaster.

-Speaking of total disaster, I present Mike Montgomery. His sinker and fastball are getting crushed this year, which doesn’t really give him the platform to use his change. That’s how Tuesday’s game got away.

-Speaking of which, the Cubs were loose in that one and loose last night, and that keeps happening. I don’t want to pin it all on Willson Contreras, who nearly brought the Cubs back last night by himself, but he had three key mistakes that either led to critical runs or cost the Cubs a big chance at one of their own.

I feel like some of Contreras’s devotion to making things happen is that his greatest skill on defense has been taken away from him. Teams know about the arm now, so there’s few chances of backpicks and caught stealings. When he does get a chance to throw to the bases, he seems overjoyed by the fact and it feels like he’s missing the target way more than he used to. He’s already got 10 errors, when he had 11 all last year. It puts more focus on his framing and blocking, which are both still below average. Last night’s first run was all on him and had Yu immediately on the defensive.

-Oh, Yu. I wish I could explain it away as easily as Chatwood, but he’s still pitching as if he’s terrified of contact or only strikeouts will do. You can’t go 3-2 on every hitter, you can’t throw every pitch in every AB. He’s also still searching. He threw cutters last night, which he didn’t all in the start before, but the start before that they were almost half of his offerings. The last two starts have seen him try his splitter again, even though he had basically abandoned it until that point. It’s a hard watch.

-Bryant, despite his homer last night, hasn’t shown much pop since crashing into the granite that is Jason Heyward. No way he was or is concussed, I’m sure.

-I can’t stress this enough. Until a move is made, or Zobrist comes back, it’s time to just give David Bote a run in the lineup and only have one spot that Russell or Almora or CarGo can fuck up.

Onwards…

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Braves 46-32   Cubs 42-35

GAMETIMES: Monday-Wednesday 7:05, Thursday 1:20

TV: NBCSN Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, WGN Wednesday

BABY DRIVER EXTRAS: Talking Chop

PITCHING MATCHUPS

Julio Teheran vs. Jon Lester

Max Fried vs. Adbert Alzolay

Dallas Keuchel vs. Yu Darvish

TBD vs. Tyler Chatwood

PROBABLE BRAVES LINEUP

Ronald Acuna Jr. – CF

Dansby Swanson – SS

Freddie Freeman – 1B

Josh Donaldson – 3B

Nick Markakis – RF

Austin Riley – LF

Ozzie Albies – 2B

Tyler Flowers – C

PROBABLE CUBS LINEUP

Kyle Schwarber – LF

Kris Bryant – 3B

Anthony Rizzo – 1B

Javier Baez – SS

Willson Contreras – C

Jason Heyward – CF

David Bote – 2B

Carlos Gonzalez – RF

 

So, you’ve kind of biffed a long homestand, and now you need to ace the last series to have a successful one. Nothing better than having to face the National League’s hottest team to do it, right? The Braves are 16-5 in June, have surged to the top of the NL East and have kind of hid from the Phillies with a 6.5-game gap. So that’s who the Cubs have to grab at least three of four from to claim what they should have from 10 games at the Friendly Confines.

So how did the Braves pull an Easy Goer on the outside in the division this month? Well, pretty much everything. The offense has gone plaid, led by Freddie Freeman, who’s got a 1.157 OPS in the month. Ozzie Albies has recovered from a slow start, and Tyler Flowers has been mashing as well. In fact, the only two regulars who don’t have a .900+ OPS in June are Dansby Swanson and Nick Markakis. So yeah, that’s six guys tearing the ass off the baseball the past three weeks.

The rotation hasn’t been far behind, though it has some injury issues. Kevin Gausman has landed on the shelf, and Mike Soroka was pulled from his last start. Given that he’s only 21, any tweak to his arm is going to be treated like ebola. Mike Foltynewicz was so bad this year he was sent down. So the Braves have Teheran, Fried, and Keuchel ready to go today and a bunch of questions. The Cubs might see Touki Toussaint slide into the rotation for a bit, depending on how the injuries turn out.

The pen has been a touch rocky. Anthony Swarzak and Luke Jackson have been dominant, with the latter taking the closer’s role. Toussaint has been able to dance through the fire of his nearly five walks per nine, but that won’t last. Beyond that it’s been an adventure. Jacob Webb doesn’t strike many out nor get ground balls, but has a 1.77 ERA. One wonders just how long he can keep that up.

For the Cubs, they’ll give Alzolay his first start in the majors on Tuesday, and give Chatwood a full week before starting again on Thursday. The Cubs don’t have a day off until July 5th, so they’ll likely stick with six starters until then and keep Hendricks on ice until after the All-Star Break. Hopefully this is the start of Bote getting a run at second base with no bullshit breaks for Descalso or Russell. If we can get that, I’ll live with the Carlos Gonzalez experience.

It’s a rough week, because backing up the Braves is probably the other hottest team in the league, non-Dodgers division, in the Reds on the road. They’ve been annoying as fuck for the Cubs as is, so this week shapes up as a nasty test. Let’s get through it.

Baseball

There’s a theory floating around these days that the peak of a baseball player’s career is sliding up from 29 or 30 to 27 or so. It’s part of the reason you see more players getting called up earlier than before. The Braves themselves have Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies in the every day lineup, and they were up at 20 or 21. Austin Riley is the most recent addition this season, and he’s 22. But Freddie Freeman doesn’t seem to care at age 29, as he’s having his best season.

Freeman is on his way to a career-high in homers, as he’s got 21 already and that number is 34. He has his second-highest batting average, best on-base, and by far his best slugging. The latter might be helped by the baseballs hopped up on goofballs this year, but hey, everyone’s playing with the same ball.

How’s Freeman doing it? Well he’s not getting particularly lucky, as he’s always been a line-drive hitter who runs a hot BABIP and this season is no different. Still, Freeman is rocking a 52.7% hard-contact rate, the highest of his career by a mile and only bested by resident alien Cody Bellinger. If you’re going by Statcast, his barrel rate is a career-high and his exit velocity is the highest of his career as well. So why is Freeman suddenly hitting the ball so hard?

Well, he’s being pickier than in a long while. He’s swinging at just 52.1% of the pitches he’s seen, the lowest since 2015. He’s not chasing out of the zone, as he’s swing-rate at pitches out of the zone is the second-lowest of his career. If he’s only sticking to strikes, that’s a lot more pitches he’s going to turn into his patented liner.

Freeman has also been murder on curveballs this year, hitting them to the tune of .427, though not for much power.

Freeman has been much better at the top of the zone this year. Here’s proof:

Which doesn’t leave pitchers a lot of places to go on Freeman.

All of it leaves Freeman on course for his highest WAR season, which is 6.0 a few years ago and he’s already at 3.2 before the break. It’s going to be hard for him to get MVP consideration considering what Yelich and Bellinger is doing, and 1st basemen tend to get punished by the defensive metrics. Still, he’s a major weapon in the Braves lineup which needs it. Albies has struggled, and Donaldson only got going in the last couple weeks (after yours truly turned down a trade for him in his fantasy league, natch).

But with Freeman mashing and the pitching staff nails, it’s been enough for the Braves to surge to the top of the division and open up some distance for a second-straight playoff appearance. Freeman has always made a great comparison with Anthony Rizzo, and funny enough they’ll both hit the free agent market in 2021. Wonder if the Cubs and Braves will be waiting for each other to figure out those markets.

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Cubs 1-2   Braves 0-3

GAMETIMES: Monday 6:10, Wednesday and Thursday 6:20

TV: NBCSN+ Chicago Monday and Thursday, WGN Wednesday

DIRTY SOUTH TAKE: Talking Chop

PROBABLE PITCHERS

Kyle Hendricks vs. Sean Newcomb

Jon Lester vs. Julio Teheran

Yu Darvish vs. Max Fried

Probable Cubs Lineup

1. Albert Almora Jr. (R) CF
2. Kris Bryant (R) 3B
3. Anthony Rizzo (L) 1B
4. Javier Baez (R) SS
6. David Bote (R) 2B
7. Ben Zobrist (S) LF (Schwaber against the righty Teheran)
8. Jason Heyward (L) RF
Probably Braves Lineup
1. Ender Inciarte (L) CF
2. Josh Donaldson (R) 3B
3. Freddie Freeman (L) 1B
4. Ronald Acuna Jr. (R) LF
5. Nick Markakis (L) RF
6. Ozzie Albies (S) 2B
7. Brian McCann (L) C
8. Dansby Swanson (R) SS
The apparent circus that the Cubs are going to be all season rolls into the ATL tonight, towing the collective raging angina of the fanbase. Just about everything you didn’t want to see go wrong for the Cubs did in Texas, and that’s going to prevent exactly no one from using two games as a symbol for what the whole season will be and as impetus to demonstrate how outraged they can be. If you’re already tired, I don’t blame you. This season has every chance of being The Unblinking Eye for merely the noise around it, not even what’s happening on the field.
Freshly inked Kyle Hendricks (contract, not tattoos, but wouldn’t that be something?) will make his season debut tonight, and seems to be about the only sure-thing on the Cubs. It might fly in the face of modern pitching thinking, but Hendricks is just going to roll up with those hangdog shoulders, his kid-being-forced-to-eat-vegetables expression, and outthink and out-craft lineups pretty much every start.
Thanks to Jose Quintana‘s rescue of Yu Darvish on Saturday, his first start of the season won’t come until the weekend, so Lester and Darvish will remain on regular rest. Darvish has some work to do to earn trust, where his picky, corner-seeking, possibly afraid-of-contact ways will have to be shelved in order for outs. We already did the Chatwood thing and don’t feel the need to relive it.
And the bullpen…you know what? Let’s just not right now.
To Atlanta, who spent their first weekend of the season getting giggy-stuffed by the Phillies in Philadelphia. Not exactly the time you wanted to catch the Fightin’s, with the whole buzz thing going on there. Anyway, this is their home-opener. Considering the Phillies’ splash, the Nationals signing Corbin and being spurned, and the Mets doing Mets things that always gets amplified, you might have forgotten it was the Braves who won this division last year. And this is still last year’s team with Josh Donaldson added to it, essentially.
What the perpetually red-assed Donaldson is anymore is the question. He has had serious injury problems the past two years, but at least flashed his old self in Cleveland for the season’s last six weeks. Then again, he’s only two years removed from a 5-WAR season in Toronto, and three removed from a 7-WAR one. The calf problems he battled are ones you’d like to think he can get past. It’s the shoulder ones that kept him out of the field for long stretches that are worrisome, and knocked nearly 100 points off his slugging last year.
Still, if they can get 75% of what Donaldson used to be, and add that to Acuna, Albies, and Freeman, that’s a hell of a base. Brian McCann will be around to make sure no one has any fun. Markakis had a career season in his mid-30s, and then fell victim to baseball’s war on money for anyone who doesn’t own a team. Inciarte catches everything.
Maybe it’s the rotation that keeps people from getting back to the Braves as the pick to repeat in the East. It’s a little pedestrian, at least until some kids pop. Sean Newcomb walks too many guys. Mike Foihaldkhalns is battling elbow-twang. Julio Teheran missed his window on being something other than “a guy.” Kyle Wright, and especially Bryse Wilson and Touki Toussaint are the hopes to come up and make it something more.
The pen is also looking more functional than inspirational, with near-Cub Arodys Vizcaino the closer and Chad Sobotka, Jonny Venters and his arm made of puddy at this point, and Not Rocky Biddle forming the hub of it. Again, the kids could be used here later in the year to give it more muscle. Max Fried, who starts the last game, could be someone who does that as well.
The Cubs could use some easy wins after the past two games. Sadly, the Braves aren’t pushovers. Your fatigue will probably last.