Baseball

Well that’s easy. Bryant is weird, in that he might be the blandest person in baseball who really only just wants to play baseball. But I’m not here to discuss whether this guy is the human interpretation of beige or not.

And I’m certainly not here to claim that Bryan is bad, or disappointing, or anything remotely close. He’s been the Cubs best player in fWAR, and in wRC+. In the former, he’s the 7th-best player in the NL, and in the latter category 10th. So if I were to call these kinds of performance disappointing, I’d be perhaps the biggest asshole in the world (and I yet may be). Bryant has an outside shot at having his fourth 6.0+ WAR season, which would be every season he’s been healthy. He’ll have to hustle, but it’s possible. Also, since he came into the league, the only two players better than him are Mike Trout and Mookie Betts, in terms of WAR.

Clearly, Bryant is still very, very special.

Still, I have thought all season that with baseballs flying everywhere, former squeegee-holders now surpassing 30 homers, that it’s a touch weird that Kris Bryant isn’t anywhere near his career-high in homers or slugging. His career-high in homers was 39 in his MVP-year of 2016, and he’s at 25 now. It’s not that he couldn’t go nuclear in the season’s last six weeks here, and get up around that 39 number. It’s just unlikely, along with improving his slugging some 19 points to get to the .554 mark, also from 2016.

When digging into this a bit, it was a little startling to see that Bryant doesn’t really hit the ball all that hard.

Bryant’s hard-contact rate is 35%. That ranks 61st in the National League, which is only 16 spots ahead of last of all qualified players in the league, and really doesn’t compare to the likes of Yelich and Bellinger, who are over 50%. Bryant also only has a line-drive rate of just 19.5%. That’s not that far off his career-mark of 21%, and you’ve never really think of Bryant spraying line-drives everywhere. Actually, in his injury-ravaged season of ’18, he had a 25% line-drive rate, but that could be attributed to his shoulder problems and an inability to get the ball in the air as he had before.

Still, Bryant is hitting more grounders than he ever has, which can’t really be explained away as good in any fashion. If you go by exit velocity, his 87.6 MPH average is very pedestrian. It’s behind by two MPH what he did in 2016, but again, this is a season where the baseball is souped up with nitrous to be labeled all over the field.

In fact, if you go by StatCast, Bryant is lucky to have the numbers he does. His expected slugging and weighted on-base, based on the kind of contact he’s making, are both some 40 points below what his actual slugging and weighted on-base average are. Bryant’s 17.7% home run per fly ball rate is a little high, but not obscene to what he’s done before. But again, in this environment, it feels like it’s a touch low.

One angle could be is that Bryant, at least this season, has developed something of a hole in his swing up in the zone:

Bryant for his career was still pretty deadly high and high and inside in the zone, and that hasn’t been the case this year. I don’t think however, that if he were getting to those pitches as well it would do something about his contact numbers. It would affect his slugging and homers, at least you’d think so. He would be hitting more of those towering homers that just never seem to come down, that you’re picturing in your mind right now.

Still, Bryant only has one season of making hard-contact over 40% of the time, which again, was his MVP year. And for comparison, his 40.6% hard-contact rate that year ranked fifth in the NL. That mark would be 15th now (tied with Kyle Schwarber, strangely).

There is something about Bryant’s swing and style that just don’t make you think he should be hitting the ball viciously hard every time, while still being awfully productive. Again, the numbers are the numbers and no one should be upset with what Bryant has given.

There’s just this feeling that the atmosphere has changed, more and more hitters have caught up to what Bryant was doing, and he hasn’t geared up with them. Essentially putting up the same numbers and rates with this baseball suggests moving backwards a bit, or that he’s not completely healthy either. Being weak high in the zone, which he wasn’t before, could also suggest that shoulder isn’t quite 100%, but that’s just speculation. And last year, when he was definitely hurt, he was actually worse lower in the zone.

Look, this is Kris Bryant we’re talking about. GALACTUS. There might be only one player in the NL you’d even consider trading him for (Bellinger, and that’s mostly due to age). It just seems weird that Bryant isn’t putting up Belinger or Yelich numbers when everything is bent for him to do so.

Then again, this is probably complaining about the back of Penelope Cruz’s knee or something.

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…

 

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Dodgers 15-9   Cubs 10-10

GAMETIMES: Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:05, Thursday at 1:20

TV: NBCSN Tuesday and Thursday, WGN Wednesday

THINK BLUE: True Blue LA

PROBABLE PITCHERS

Kenta Maeda vs. Jose Quintana

Walker Buehler vs. Cole Hamels

Ross Stripling vs. TBD (possibly Lester, possibly Hendricks)

DODGERS PROBABLE LINEUP

Joc Pederson – LF

Corey Seager – SS

Justin Turner – 3B

Cody Bellinger – RF

A.J. Pollock – CF

Max Muncy – 1B

Enrique Hernandez – 2B

Austin Barnes – C

(note: with lefties on tap, Freese could start at first, Taylor could move into the outfield with Bellinger moving to first, or some combo thereof)

PROBABLE CUBS LINEUP

Daniel Descalso – 2B

Kris Bryant – 3B

Anthony Rizzo – 1B

Javier Baez – SS

Jason Heyward – CF

Willson Contreras – C

Kyle Schwarber – LF

Ben Zobrist – RF

(note: Could see Bryant move to right with Bote at 3rd)

If the Cubs had gotten somewhat healthy by getting to face some dregs and drain-scrapings in Arizona and Miami, and to a lesser extent the Angels shorn of Mike Trout, that all changes tonight as the Cubs welcome the National League’s aristocrats in the form of the Los Angeles Dodgers. If you want to know how the Dodgers have ascended to the top of the league’s standings, I’ll refer you to John Paul Jones’s impression of all drummers who were foolishly compared to John Bonham, “UGH. BASH. UGH. BASH.”

The Dodgers are second in the NL in homers to the Brewers. They lead in runs, and only trail the Mariners in all of baseball. They’re second in OBP. First in slugging. First in wOBA. So yeah, they pack something of a punch.

The Dodgers are led by the infuriatingly good and handsome Cody Bellinger, who you’ll never convince me doesn’t have Rohypnol somewhere in his house, who already has 11 homers, is slugging around .900, and is carrying a wRC+ of 252. So don’t pitch to him. Corey Seager has returned from missing all of 2018 and is doing Corey Seager things. Joc Pederson and his moon-face are having a career year, as he’s got 10 homers as well. Even Enrique Hernandez, the one you know as the one you’d like to hit with a tire iron, is slugging .551. There are very few places to hide. Pollock is struggling but has historically killed the Cubs. Tormund Turner hasn’t hit his stride yet but always looks like he’s about to. Austin Barnes seems to be the only breather here. And that’s before they bring Bruce Banner’s brother Chris Taylor off the bench.

What the Dodgers haven’t gotten is the starting pitching they were expecting, but once they do it’s a problem for America. It’s been fine, and certainly good enough when they’re turning every game into pop-a-shot. Walker Buehler has been let down by his defense a bit, has seen an ungodly number of runners score instead of stranded, and his strikeouts are down just a touch. But you’d bet on him figuring it out. Clayton Kershaw isn’t really a descendant of Zeus anymore, but you’d bet on him finding a way to carry a sub-3.00 ERA anyway. Ross Stripling is getting a ton of grounders, Julio Urias has started to look like what they said he would three years ago, Ryu has been even better, and Rich Hill isn’t even around yet to scream and make sure everyone knows just how much he cares. It seems like every season the Dodgers have seven or eight starters and none are worse than a #3. Fuck these guys, seriously.

If there’s one problem area, it’s in the pen. The Dodgers signed Joe Kelly to try and bandage that from last year, except Joe Kelly has always sucked no matter how many lame-ass YouTube videos he comes up with or how much he parades around his ring that the Red Sox were terrified of letting him try and contribute to. Kenley Jansen hasn’t been automatic this season, and neither has human filibuster Pedro Baez. Caleb Ferguson has been the best weapon out of there so far.

For the Cubs, they’re likely to try and stack their lefties against the Dodgers, as the main threats of Seager, Bellinger, and Pederson all hit from that side and with Turner still finding it they don’t have much of a counter. It’s just less bad with a lefty, not advantageous. Lester is eligible to come off the DL for Thursday’s matinee, though that isn’t much of a landing for him. The Cubs will see three tricky-to-tough righties, which means Anthony Rizzo coming in from the cold would be welcome. Of course, when the Cubs get into their pen, and the Dodgers will almost assuredly make sure the starters aren’t around that long, it’s going to be an adventure and a half right into hell.

There probably is no path out of the National League without seeing these guys. Might as well see how you stack up.