Baseball

Most of this is going to be incomplete, as Zobrist had a strange ol’ season that only saw him play two months, the first and last. We don’t need to wade into why that was, so we’ll just get the on-field stuff out of the way.

2019 Stats

47 games, 176 PA

.260/.358/.313

1 HR  24 RBI

13.1 BB% . 13.6 K%

85 wRC+  .303 wOBA  .871 OPS

2.4 Defensive Runs Saved  0.2 WAR

Tell Me A Story: It’s nearly impossible to judge Zobrist’s 2019. It would be hard for anyone to miss the middle four months of the season at any age and then be productive in September, much less at 38. If he had simply been injured, not too much would have been expected of Zoby 18 and it would have been seen as the Hail Mary that it was to think he could help goose the lineup. Because it was something of a weird, personal leave there was a little more hope attached to it. But it was still the same task, and for the most part, Zo just wasn’t up to it.

He still took his walks, and he still had very good ABs, which he could probably do until he’s in his 60s if he so desired. But he showed none of the power that made a brief comeback in 2018 with reduced playing time. And without even the occasional double, Zobrist is a slap-hitting middle infielder with no speed and a barely average glove. That doesn’t get you a lot. Again, after missing that much time and doing very little, it was always going to be a longshot for him to find much else.

Perhaps the Cubs missed his presence in the dugout and the clubhouse more than we knew. While he’s never been a vocal guy, Zobrist was clearly very much liked and respected by his teammates and maybe he would have made more players answer for their looseness during the season in the field or on the bases. His approach at the plate certainly could have been copied more often, that’s for sure.

Still, Zobrist’s absence, which could not have been planned for, forced the Cubs to throw David Bote out at second far more than they would have wanted, and to keep trying science experiments like Addison Russell or Robel Garcia or Nico Hoerner there. The plan was almost certainly for Zobrist and Bote to split most of the ABs there during the year, which got torn up. Certainly Zobrist has every right to do what he needs to do for his well-being, but the Cubs front office can’t be blamed for having to come up with that solution on the fly. Of course, they used the freed up money to sign Craig Kimbrel…which worked out great and no one disagrees.

Contract: Free agent.

Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass: Well, it won’t be a boot in the ass for the only World Series MVP in the team’s history and owner of the single biggest hit in the team’s history (and probably biggest play in Chicago sports history, if we’re honest). Even though Zobrist insisted he wants to keep playing, it won’t be here. He probably will hit for slightly more power if he does continue and plays a full year, but at 39 it won’t be much. He doesn’t kill you at second but that versatility he used to have that made him one of the more valuable players in the league is pretty much restricted to second and left now. The Cubs probably don’t want to do much more than hold second warm until Hoerner is ready to take over full-time midway through next year (unless he just takes it in spring training).

You could see a scenario where if Zobrist is willing to take a severe pay-cut and be happy with a bench role, filling in at second and left once or twice or week or so and giving you a good pinch-hit at-bat most games, the Cubs might consider it. Whether he stays or goes, his name will live a long time in these parts and he was one of the better free agent signings the Cubs made. Zobes rarely let you down and did just about everything correctly. You can go a long way with players like that. The Cubs did.

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Cubs 56-49   Cardinals 56-49

GAMETIMES: Tuesday and Wednesday 7:15, Thursday 6:15

TV: NBCSN Tuesday and Thursday, WGN Wednesday

BARF: Viva El Birdos

PITHCING MATCHUPS

Yu Darvish vs. Adam Wainwright

Kyle Hendricks vs. Miles Mikolas

Jon Lester vs. Jack Flaherty

PROBABLE CUBS LINEUP

Kyle Schwarber – LF

Willson Contreras – C

Kris Bryant – 3B

Anthony Rizzo – 1B

Javier Baez – SS

Jason Heyward – RF

Robel Garcia – 2B

Ian Happ – CF

PROBABLE CARDINALS LINEUP

Tommy Edman – 3B

Dexter Fowler – CF

Jose Martinez – RF

Paul Goldschmidt – 1B

Paul DeJong – SS

Tyler O’Neill – LF

Kolten Wong – 2B

Matt Wieters  – C

 

So I would love to tell you that this is where the Cubs can make things right. Even just a series win would leave them with a 4-5 road trip, which isn’t exactly acceptable but could be explained away by the anal horseshoe the Giants are toting around. It wouldn’t be total disaster, let’s say. If we want to get ambitious, a sweep would leave the Cubs with 5-4, and even with all the problems and concerns and ulcers provided over the weekend, in the end you’d have to be satisfied with that. As long as you continue to clean up at home, that is. You’d put three games between you and the Red Menace, with an August schedule that isn’t that demanding.

But if you were betting people, and drawing on the life lessons you’ve learned, would you lean toward the Cardinals making things all right or pouring more salt in the wound? I thought so.

What’s insulting is the Cubs shouldn’t be anywhere near this team. Its offense is not good. Its rotation is not good. Only its pen has been able to keep them from sinking into the locker, and the Cubs have hung and hung just long enough for one hot-streak to put St. Louis right in the middle of this. For shame.

While Godlschmidt’s binge the past month has propelled them, over the year as a whole only Ozuna has been a plus-hitter for them, and he’s on the shelf. DeJong continues to deflate from April, Fowler has been hot of late but overall barely average. And worse yet, this team is beat up. Carpenter and Ozuna are either unlikely to feature this series (Carpenter) or out (Ozuna). Molina is still out, though whisper this around that part of the country but Wieters has been better offensively than Yadier would have managed because if they hear you they’ll definitely whip their arm fat at you. But of course, they lose their “soul” without Yadi, or some such horseshit.

The rotation has been the very definition of “meh.” Not one carries an ERA below 3.80 nor above 4.20, which can’t be called anything other than fine. Jack Flaherty has been really good the past month, but Waino, Ponce de Leon (get a new name, jackass), and Hudson have been straight gasoline. Mikolas has evened out a bit with three quality starts in a row and four out of his last five, and of course is just the special kind of fuckwit who will allow the Cubs two hits over seven while striking out like, one guy. Can’t wait.

It’s the pen where lies the Cards’ strength. They strike out the second-most hitters in the NL, have the second-best ERA and FIP. Over the past month they’ve been the best in the league in pretty much every category. Giovanny Gallegos, John Brebbia, Andrew Miller have all been lights-out. And now converted starters Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez are coming out of there, with the latter acting as a de facto closer at times. Though you still wouldn’t trust him to not go to the zoo for an inning, he’s just less likely to do that when he’s only pitching for one inning. It would be a good idea to not enter the back half of games trailing. Not that it really matters with the Cubs’ pen, because they’ll soon be trailing anyway. The dark arts would swallow the Cubs in the late innings when they had a good pen in that haven of asshoolery, so why would now be any different?

For the Cubs, one of the bigger stories will be off the field in the next two days, as in what they do before the One Deadline To Rule Them All, assuming the Ricketts Family keeps the billions somehow concealed from view to the point where even they can’t see it. Truly a wondrous trick. The Cubs need at least one more arm in the pen, and probably another bat, but probably can’t get both. Hail Marys on Zobrist and Happ will probably the orders of the day.

I would say the Cubs need dominant outings from their starters, but they got that in the first two in Milwaukee and lost both. What they need is the offense to actually assert itself for three games, which it hasn’t done on the road in who the fuck knows. Score a goddamn touchdown every day and worry about the rest later.

This is now the business end of the season. Keep in mind that starting 8/27, the Cubs will have two days off the rest of the season. They don’t want to hit that stretch looking up at anyone, which means they need head-from-rectum removal right fucking now. But it feels like we keep saying that.

Baseball

Granted, this is a poor post to explore a day after you’ve been smothered by Ivan Nova, statistically the worst starter in all of baseball. One is capable of the irrational at the moment. And it’s not fair to get really emotional about it when you’ve just run the Dodgers gauntlet for four games, because right now no one is scoring against them. But the thing is if you want to go anywhere, you’re going to have to bust through that Crossing The Desert, or out-slug them, or out-slug the Brewers to even win the division (Lord knows the Brewers aren’t going to out-pitch anyone), or the suddenly nuclear Braves…anyway, you get it.

The worry area for the Cubs all season has been the pen, and the signing of Craig Kimbrel doesn’t magically make all of that go away. And you still imagine that when the deadline approaches, that still will be Priority #1, and possibly #2 and even #3. Fair enough, the Cubs still only have two to three reliable guys right now, and that might even include Kimbrel. There are a lot of wildcards out there.

Still, what’s been apparent is the Cubs have obvious holes in the lineup. They’re at second, center, and right. The last is being a tad harsh, as even with Jason Heyward’s abhorrent May, he’s still having an above-average offensive year (barely). But we can aim for a little higher than barely above average, at least I hope we can. Mom always told me aim high. The Cubs can carry average or a tick below at one spot, maybe even two.

The problem is that when the main five–Bryant, Rizzo, Contreras, Baez, and now Schwarber–aren’t all firing at the same time then the offense becomes something of a wasteland after the fifth hitter. Baez is in a slump, Contreras has gotten ground-ball happy again, and this is a big reason the Cubs haven’t put together a bunch of runs of late.

Still, I don’t want to base things on a bad week or two. It’s a long goddamn season. But over the last month, the Cubs are 10th in runs in the NL, 12th in average, 11th in wOBA. A month gets harder to ignore.

And what’s clear is that the answers mostly aren’t on the team. There’s no way the Cubs could have foreseen that Ben Zobrist would leave the team and his return be totally up in the air. It’s easy to forget how good Zobrist was last year in a more limited role in service of his age, but his 123 wRC+ or .355 wOBA would be miles above anything they’re getting for the most part from anyone not in that fivesome mentioned.

With Zoby 18 being somewhere in the quantum zone, the Cubs aren’t left with many answers. Carlos Gonzalez is dead. He’s not going to be reanimated. Everyone but Joe Maddon seems to know this. What’s hilarious is that Mark Zagunis was never given near the opportunities that CarGo has been, and his numbers are significantly better. And no, that’s not a plea to recall ZagNuts and play him. It’s just an illustration of how toast CarGo is.

Addison Russell is probably not going to hit, because he never really has. Some in the organization are blinded by the 98 RBI he put up once, but that’s more a function of the great offense ahead of him in ’16 than him being a great hitter. He’s never had an above-average offensive season, and has been actively bad the last three seasons. Daniel Descalso has been a disaster, and would likely be DFA’d if Zobrist were to return.

Whatever momentum Albert Almora might have had in May has been stunted by the arrival and usage of Gonzalez. I’m not sure how exactly, but Almora had a productive May. He had terrible luck (.253 BABIP), still hit too many grounders (50%, but that was down from April), and yet hit for enough power to overcome all of that. It’s the Heyward argument; given his defense you take average or just above offense and you have yourself a very useful player. June has seen Almora hit the ball in the same fashion as May, at least contact-type wise, it’s just that none of it has gone out of the park as a quarter of his fly balls did in May. I don’t know what the truth is here, but I know there’s more potential here than trying to wheeze one more breath of oxygen into CarGo.

The only in-house answer right now is to play David Bote every day. I know that Maddon would tell me that would expose Bote, or make the Cubs too right-handed, but quite frankly that’s horseshit. In fact, Bote has been terrible against left-handed pitching this year and great against right-handed, the complete opposite of last year. Which makes you at least hope he could blend the two one day.

Bote’s run into some bad luck in June as well, as he’s had a 32% line-drive rate in the month which is insanely high. Overall, his hard-contact rate is down but I can’t see how lacing line-drives all over the place is a bad thing. He’s hardly a star, but given what else you have, it’s just about the only choice. Whether that’s playing second with Almora in center and Heyward in right, or at third with Bryant in right and Heyward in center, I really don’t care. You have to at least try. We know Maddon loves his roster flexibility, but that’s not this roster. Quite frankly. Russell, CarGo, and Descalso have played themselves off the rotation. That’s just how it is.

The problem with getting a bat via trade is they’re going to be costly, whereas you can find any reliever anywhere (and I’m kind of in the would rather have Bummer than Colome camp right now if the Cubs go shopping crosstown again). In my dreams you plug Howie Kendrick into second base and get on with your life. But even if the Nats decide to pack up the cats, Kendrick is going to cost and I don’t think the Cubs have the boat to spend, prospect-wise. It’s like Alzolay and Hoerner and that’s pretty much it. We’ll throw Amaya on there, but he’s a long way off. And Amaya is probably the only one you’re comfortable, barely, including in any deal just because he plays catcher and you seem set there for a while.

Any other bat on the market is probably the same story. It’s hard to know who that would even be. Whit Merrifield isn’t going anywhere and if he did it wouldn’t be cheap. Eric Sogard? That’s a risk but would probably be cheap? He’s kind of Zobrist-lite at this point and is only a year removed from being a black hole for the Brewers. Maybe you wait out how the Reds toggle the Derek Dietrich/Scooter Gennett conundrum, but neither are guaranteed to be moved and neither would be cheap if they were.

It’s a problem, which is why Bote should probably be given the month to see what he does with an every day role. Hell, you extended the guy anyway, right?

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Diamondbacks 10-9   Cubs 8-9

GAMETIMES: Friday-Sunday 1:20

TV: NBCSN Friday and Sunday, ABC 7 Saturday

UNPAINTED HUFFHINES: AZ Snake Pit

PROBABLE PITCHERS

Merrill Kelly vs. Kyle Hendricks

Zach Greinke vs. Yu Darvish

Robbie Ray vs. Jose Quintana

PROBABLE ARIZONA LINEUP

Wilmer Flores – 2B

Eduardo Escobar – 3B

David Peralta – LF

Adam Jones – RF

Christian Walker – 1B

Ketel Marte – CF

Nick Ahmed – SS

Caleb Joseph– C

 

PROBABLY CUBS LINEUP

Daniel Descals0 – 2B

Kris Bryant – RF

Anthony Rizzo – 1B

Javier Baez – SS

Willson Contreras – C

Jason Heyward – CF

David Bote – 3B

Kyle Schwarber – LF

 

It’s the second half of what Greater Cubdom is hoping is “Recovery Week.” The first half went perfectly, a sweep of the grand theft that is the Miami Marlins. Sadly, the Diamondbacks haven’t been playing along of late.

The Diamondbacks were an all-right team last year. They couldn’t quite hang on with Colorado and the Dodgers in a down year last year, running out of gas in September. They must be looking at Colorado’s step-on-a-rake start and wonder what might have happened if they stuck with it. They let Patrick Corbin walk in free agency, which fair enough, pitchers that throw that many sliders don’t last long and aren’t worth a huge investment probably. Still, it didn’t feel like the Diamondbacks had to say, “Fuck it, this will never work,” and blow it all up. But that’s what teams do now, because really, what’s the penalty for doing so?

So out went Paul Goldschmidt, whom they also decided they would never have a chance of re-signing, though how much less likely would they have been than the Cardinals? AJ Pollock moved up the I-10 to the Dodgers. And the white flag has been raised.

The D-Backs have also been bitten (pun probably intended) by the injury bug, with Steven Souza out for the year and Jay Clam also on the DL. Taijuan Walker is recovering from the ol’ TJ and should be back midseason, but likely in the pen.

That hasn’t stopped them from starting out over .500 so far, and winners of four in a row. And about .500 is where you feel they should be after looking it over. Everything has been ok. The lineup has Peralta and Adam Jones going nuclear, and only one of those has a chance to last. And Peralta’s .429 BABIP suggests neither do, because we know what Adam Jones is now. Christian Walker has done a fine Goldschmidt impression at first so far, and has some decent numbers in the minors, but he’s 28 and if he were a thing we’d probably know by now. Jarrod Dyson is somehow getting on base regularly, which has to be some sort of conspiracy because there’s no way. Everyone else is going up there with a banjo.

The rotation is led by Luke Weaver, whom the Cubs will duck this weekend. He was one of the prizes for Goldschmidt, and so far has a sub-3.00 FIP and is sitting down nearly 11 hitters per nine innings. Zack Greinke is having one of the weirder starts to a season you can imagine. He has over an 8-to-1 K/BB ratio, and yet his ERA and FIP are well over 5.00 because a third of the fly balls he’s given up have landed in someone’s beer. He must love the juiced ball! It’s not totally bad luck, as he’s getting less grounders and more flies than he ever has, as well as louder contact, but a third of those flies going for homers is basically preposterous. That will come down. Robbie Ray can’t find the plate with a truffle pig, and yet will still throw six innings of one-run ball against the Cubs BECAUSE. Merrill Kelly is some journeyman they tossed into the rotation to get by the health inspection, and his change-up has gotten him to be useful. Again, probably won’t last.

The pen was something of a strength last year until running out of gas, and returns Hirano, Bradley, and Chafin. Hirano and Chafin however have been tossing volleyballs up there so far, and T.J. McFarland is on the DL. They’re getting by with a reclamation of Greg Holland, who was his own traveling fireworks show last year. But he’s not walking nearly as many hitters so far, and is striking out nearly half of the hitters he sees. I don’t know why either. Bullpens’ll bullpen on ya.

For the Cubs, something of a new alignment as Bryant makes his first start in right today to keep Bote and Descalso in the lineup as Zobrist’s .271 slugging isn’t really worth putting up with his walk-up song right now. Heyward slots again to center. Hendricks looks to get on the board along with all the other starters, and he’ll have to actually be able to predict where his fastball is going which he was unable to do in his last start last Saturday. Darvish and Greinke is a fun matchup of enigmas.

The dizzying heights of .500 await.