Baseball

Well, that went just about as expected, with the newly-rebuilding Cubs being unable to get a win against the contending Sox. The first game was at least a close call, outside of dragging on far too long. The other two games, however, were pretty horrific to watch, as the Sox pretty much decided both games in the first couple of innings of each. The Cubs also gave up four homers that scored six runners in last night’s game, and two more solo homers in Saturday’s game. If anything, it shows that the Cubs have quite a long way to go to become the contending team they once were.

August 6, 2021
Cubs 6, Sox 8
WP: Hendriks (6-2) LP: Rodriguez (0-2)
Box Score

Kyle Hendricks started this game because any other Cubs pitcher would have made an absolute fool out of themselves (see below). With Hendricks, the Cubs at least stood a chance in the season opener.

Greg Deichmann made his major league debut with the club in right field, the first prospect the Cubs received for developed players this deadline to debut. I guess he was a home run guy in the minors; he replaces Jason Heyward in right field, who is now on the IL with an index finger issue. He had one hit in the 4th inning and that was about it, but we’ll see how he develops over the coming weeks.

It was a pitchers’ duel up until the 4th inning, where Hendricks gave up two hits with no outs, as Adam Engel stole third base. He ended up scoring and the Cubs soon put themselves in a bases-loaded situation as the Sox easily started finding holes in our defense to hit balls through.

Lance Lynn gave up a pair of walks in the 5th, getting frustrated on some admittedly sketchy ump calls. With Matt Duffy up to bat and two outs, he ended up striking out to keep the Cubs off the board.

Eloy Jiminez then led off the 6th with a double. Deichmann was able to catch a fly ball in right, but the sacrifice put Jiminez on third base. Despite giving up another walk after that, it was a pretty impressive tag out by Robinson Chirinos to keep the game 2-2. Cesar Hernandez was intentionally walked to keep the bases load, but Hendricks came in clutch when it mattered, getting a strikeout to end the inning.

Once Hendricks came out of the game, things once again started out shaky with Jake Jewell on the mound in the 7th, as a hard-hit ball to left field gave Engel a double. He made it out of the inning unscathed, however, with a groundout and a strikeout.

The Cubs then put two more runners on board in the 7th when Michael Kopech gave up a walk and a sac fly. David Bote sac flied again for Andrew Romine to make it 2-1 Sox. Trevor Megill in the 8th gave up a tough single that Frank Schwindel on first base couldn’t make the diving play on, and soon Cesar Hernandez hit a two-run homer, which seemingly all but closed out this game for the Sox.

Until Craig Kimbrel, of course. He wasn’t even the closer because the Sox have arguably the two best closers in the game, and we all know what his stuff looks like — maybe too much, to Kimbrel’s detriment, as Duffy and Schwindel got base hits off of him, and then Romine hit a two-run homer to tie it! Very unfortunate to see statistically the worst outing Kimbrel has had in like ten years, but hey, our allegiances are elsewhere now. To add more salt in the wound, Chirinos singled right after this to get him pulled after getting only two outs.

The thing about the Sox is that their replacement, Liam Hendriks, is the other best closer in the league, and got the third out quickly. So the Cubs retaliated with ex-Sox reliever Codi Heuer to pitch the 9th inning, and he had some pretty good stuff – the Cubs completed a double play to keep it tied at the bottom of the 9th thanks in part to Willson Contreras, who had an off-day today but eventually suited up as catcher near the end of the game.

Matt Duffy put the winning run on first, then second with a steal, in the 9th inning with two outs, in which Ian Happ promptly and predictably struck out as he is wont to do, forcing the Cubs into extra innings.

Manny Rodriguez allowed a two-run homer in the 10th for the Sox, and by that time it had all unraveled for the Cubs and the fun was over. One more runner scored to end Manny’s day. In his place came Michael Rucker, with a sparkling 12 ERA in 2 games played, which he was able to knock back down to 9.64 despite allowing another run scored. And despite another two-run homer by Schwindel in the bottom of the 10th, the game finally ended after 3.5 hours.

August 7, 2021
White Sox 4, Cubs 0
WP: Rodon (9-5) LP: Alzolay (4-12)
Box Score

August 8, 2021
White Sox 9, Cubs 3
WP: Cease (9-6) LP: Davies (6-9)
Box Score

The other two games were nothing short of a disaster for the Cubs, to the point where they don’t even deserve individual game wraps because who wants to relive that dreck? They got outscored 13-3, including 9-2 in the first two innings of those games. Most notably, Zach Davies, who sucks in case you didn’t know, gave up seven runs in the first two innings of last night’s game to give the Cubs no chance in the game at all. Had he not given up seven runs it wouldn’t have been a blowout, especially considering our bullpen wasn’t horrific even though they had to start eating innings starting in the 3rd.

Adbert Alzolay, at least, was okay; despite giving up six hits and two runs in his 6.2 innings pitched on Saturday, he also struck out seven batters. The Sox are 16th in the league when it comes to strikeouts, so being able to strike out seven guys against a really good team is a step in the right direction on his part. Had the Cubs made any attempt at trying on offense, it would’ve been a quality start for Alzolay, people — he is likely the future of our pitching rotation.

David Bote had two hits in Saturday’s 4-0 loss, accounting for exactly 40% of the offense for the Cubs that day. Rafael Ortega was the only multi-hit Cub for last night’s game, despite scoring no runs. Instead, it was pinch-hitter Frank Schwindel last night who batted in two of the three Cubs runs to score Patrick Wisdom and Sergio Alcantara. Schwindel, at least, is growing on me. He will likely be the regular starting first baseman going forward. More please, why not?

Jake Jewell continues to develop as well. After getting out of the jam in Friday’s game, he pitched two innings yesterday and was the only pitcher who didn’t allow a hit; he gave up only one walk and had two strikeouts. He is definitely a reliever to watch over the coming weeks as the season begins its downhill stretch.

I’ll be out of state for the next week or so, while the Cubs likely get decimated during a four-game series against the first-place Brewers this week. They then have a three-game weekend series against another bottomfeeding team, the Miami Marlins, after that to recuperate. Enjoy the baseball, and I’ll be back at it with more wraps again soon. Go Cubs go.

Baseball

13.5 games back, playoff hopes decimated, and now losing two out of three to the Rockies, a team with a technically-worse record than us. This next month or two of Cubs baseball is going to suck, but let’s try to find the silver lining where we can.

The silverest of all the lining is Patrick Wisdom, who was the OPS leader for the Cubs in today’s game at a .907, despite having no hits. However, he had three in yesterday’s win and another in Tuesday’s loss. His hits are regularly the most interesting part of these games as he becomes the new star of this below average team.

Ian Happ, who struggled with the bat all season, is finally making a bit of contact, or at least putting himself on the god damned bases. Rafael Ortega continues his stint in the leadoff spot with hits in seven straight games. Even David Bote is sorta kinda showing a little bit of offensive promise since his return from injury, although if he could stop striking out so much that would be mighty cool.

The starters are still incredibly unreliable, and the bullpen is a bit unpredictable most of the time, as what feels like an endless stream of guys from the minors are being called up for their shot in the big leagues. It will still take some time to see what exactly we have here, especially since most of our players we traded for are currently injured or not yet big league ready. We shall see.

August 3, 2021
Cubs 6, Rockies 13
WP: Freeland (2-6) LP: Davies (6-8)
Box Score

Yikes.

The game started out on just the foot the Cubs needed, as David Ross very quickly gets himself ejected from the game in the 2nd inning for arguing balls and strikes. Granted, the umpire was making some garbage calls, calling strikes on balls at players’ shins. But whatever.

Despite getting on the board in the 2nd inning shortly after that thanks to a couple of sacrifice plays by Wisdom and Jason Heyward, things very quickly unraveled for starter Zach Davies at the bottom of the 2nd. Why, oh why, does he stay on this team? Trevor Story, who for all intents and purposes shouldn’t even be on the Rockies and yet still is, doubled to start the inning. A single and a walk later and the bases were loaded for the Rockies, just in time for Elias Diaz to hit a grand slam home run to make it 4-1 Rockies. The three outs were made shortly after that, but it was far too late for this club.

Happ hit a solo homer in the 4th as he starts, dare I say it, a little bit of an offensive hot streak? It once again didn’t matter too much, though, as the Rockies hit a three-run homer in the bottom of that inning thanks to Zach Davies once again allowing a double and single to put two runners on base.

We had some DUDES coming out of the bullpen, including Michael Rucker in his second career Cubs game. Rucker pitched 1.2 innings and allowed four hits and four runs for a lovely 12.27 ERA, but Davies had already lost the game at this point so nothing mattered. Trevor Megill made another appearance, and he actually had a solid outing for once, allowing no hits and striking out two in his 1.1 innings pitched, lowering his ERA down to a quaint 13.50. Rex Brothers, in usual fashion, allowed two more runs to end the game.

I guess I should mention the four runs in the last two innings, despite nothing mattering. Rafael Ortega singled, stole second, and Willson Contreras doubled to score him in. David Bote then doubled to score Contreras, but Wisdom struck out to end the inning. Two more runs were scored in the 9th, as Happ walked and scored on a Heyward double, and Heyward scored on a balk.

In other news, Wisdom was moved back to third base this game to make room for Frank Schwindel, also in his second career Cubs game. Schwindel’s only hit of the game was a double in the 1st, but it directly led to the first Cubs run, so it’s okay. At third, Wisdom was…certainly not Kris Bryant by any means, as a hard-hit ground ball in the 6th inning went right past him despite his best efforts trying to dive for the ball.

August 4, 2021
Cubs 3, Rockies 2
WP: Mills (5-4) LP: Gray (7-7)
Box Score

Amazingly, the Cubs had a come from behind win in what was mostly a sleeper game except for the two total innings where any runs were scored. Led by Alec Mills, who gave up two runs for the Rockies in the 1st inning and then not again, the Cubs’ pitching actually looked, dare I say it, kind of good? Mills DID give up four hits in the 1st, but he gave up only four more over the next five innings in which he pitched, which I guess is progress. (The bar is very low around these parts.)

Both teams generated some hits throughout this game, though they were mostly singles and the occasional double that didn’t amount to anything. The Cubs got struck out the side in the 3rd inning on fifteen pitches, which is certainly not a good thing to be doing. But it was the 5th inning where the Cubs were ready to generate just enough offense to take over the game, with Rafael Ortega, Willson Contreras, and Ian Happ at the head — the new normal for this team.

Happ has been getting on base lately through walks, but it seems like whatever he’s doing is working for the Cubs, because he’s certainly been scoring lately. Today was no different; he walked to load the bases as Patrick Wisdom was able to step up to the plate to hit a double that scored all three runners thanks to some good hustling by all involved. It would give the Cubs the 3-2 lead that would stick for the rest of the game.

Our bullpen that consisted of Adam Morgan, Codi Heuer and Manuel Rodriguez, our new closer I guess, gave up only two hits and had two strikeouts and no walks. Rodriguez garnered up his first career save — a genuine congratulations to him. It was enough to win just one over the Rockies.

August 5, 2021
Cubs 5, Rockies 6
WP: Kinley (2-2) LP: Jewell (0-1)
Box Score

Well, the Cubs tried mighty hard to stay in this one, but five runs isn’t enough these days when you have poor ol’ Jake Arrieta on the mound. The Rockies scored once an inning for four straight innings, which included three solo homers given up by Arrieta. The 3rd inning was just three singles that ended up scoring a runner, so again, it was not great here on the pitching front.

However, despite the Cubs being struck out the side again this game and the runs against them piling up and up, a somewhat miraculous 4-run rally in the 5th inning kept them ahead for just a few minutes. It was thanks to a few new guys in Johneshwy Fargas and Andrew Romine who started the singling off, with Ortega and Contreras batting everyone in to the take the lead.

Despite this, Jake Jewell replaced Arrieta for the bottom of this inning and ended up giving up a two-run homer only two batters in that would give the Rockies a lead they wouldn’t surrender. It was only Jewell’s 23rd major league appearance, and at this point nothing matters, so all you can do is shrug and say, “It happens.”

The Cubs scored one more inning in the 6th but it was futile, though it was good to see Bote double and Schwindel bat him in on a single. Since the short-lived attempt of having Wisdom play first base right after Rizzo was traded, Schwindel seems to be The Guy over there. Before this game, Schwindel has had only two hits in his nine plate appearances so far this season, but today he had two hits and an RBI. He’s one to watch, if only because there’s not much else to see.

The Cubs are now slated to very likely get demolished by their cross-town rivals this weekend (sorry, but it’s true). The dichotomy between these two teams can’t get much bigger, as the Sox are legitimate World Series contenders, and we are continuing a freefall down the standings the likes we haven’t seen in a long time. It likely won’t be pretty this weekend, but hey, it’s what happens. At least we’ll get to see old friends Ryan Tepera and Craig Kimbrel back in town, and although time heals all wounds, it’s probably still a bit too soon. I’ll be back after this weekend to cover it all. Go Cubs go.

Baseball

History is deemed to repeat itself, as once again the Cubs take two out of three this series and another important position player goes down with an injury. The club’s six-game winning streak ended today as the Cubs weren’t as consistent with their bats as they had been in the last few series.

We are also staring at an uphill battle with matchups against actually good teams as opposed to the bottom-of-the-barrel NL Central sludge we’ve been seeing as of late. The season will only get more exciting from here.

May 28, 2021
Cubs 1, Reds 0
WP: Alzolay (3-4) LP: Gutierrez (0-1)
Box Score

This game is the type of game fans point to when they argue that baseball is dying, that it’s too boring and this is why it’s hard to get more young people to watch. Nevertheless, the Cubs were able to win this one, as David Bote hit a solo homer as the only run of the game in the bottom of the 5th inning to give the Cubs the win.

This game was obviously a pitcher’s duel against Adbert Alzolay and the Reds’ Vladimir Gutierrez, pitching in his MLB debut. Alzolay won out, pitching 5.2 innings to Gutierrez’s 5.0, although it was Gutierrez with less hits (2 vs. 5) and walks (2 vs. 3). However, Alzolay allowed no runs, the most important metric, and also had six strikeouts on the day. There were also times in innings 1 and 2 when Alzolay pitched himself into a bit of a sticky situation with runners in scoring position, but he was able to pitch his way out of both of them. A solid outing overall.

Andrew Chafin continues to show us his capabilities as a reliever are just as solid as his abilities to rebuild cars and boats, as Ohioans are wont to do. He allowed only two runs and had a strikeout in his 1.1 innings out.

Tommy Nance and Craig Kimbrel finished out the game, pitching one inning each and both striking out one batter.

There were only three Cubs hits on the day, coming from Kris Bryant (of course), Javier Baez and David Bote again. The bats were not exactly working out today, but hopefully that is just an anomaly and not a trend.

May 29, 2021
Cubs 10, Reds 2
WP: Thompson (3-1) LP: Castillo (1-8)
Box Score

The Cubs were able to hop on the board early in the 2nd inning thanks to a litany of tough fielding plays by the Reds, where they probably could’ve gotten Contreras out at 3rd base but were unable to. Soon Eric Sogard, king of singles, was able to hit one between short and third base, scoring Contreras, and then a single by none other than Zach Davies ended up scoring David Bote right after, putting the Cubs up 2-0.

Then David Bote got hurt, and he looked like he was hurt pretty badly. A dislocated shoulder was eventually confirmed for him after the game, and he got taken out immediately. Considering Bote was third on the team in RBIs and had been playing pretty well over the past few weeks, including making solid defensive plays wherever he’s slotted, this is certainly not good news.

A pretty nice Reds double in the top of the sixth to the corner of right field in a bases-loaded situation allowed them to tie the game, but it only took to the bottom of that inning for the Cubs to break out offensively, thanks in part to four walks in the inning that allowed Eric Sogard to amble on home. A pitching change didn’t even help the Reds get out of the inning, as two singles were able to score two more Cubs, making it 6-2 by the time Baez characteristically struck out to end the inning.

The Cubs piled it on, scoring four more in the next two innings, including a solo homer by Rafael Ortega, who at this point with all the players getting hurt will likely be a new staple on the field. Baez was able to score Joc Pederson in the 8th on a single, and Ian Happ singled also in the 8th to RBI in both Bryant and Baez. At least the offense got going.

As for pitching, Zach Davies went the usual five innings, allowing two hits, two walks and striking out three batters. The bullpen was really solid, allowing no runs in four innings. We saw Rex Brothers pitch for the first time in ten days. Keegan Thompson was credited with the win, allowing only one hit and getting a strikeout. Finally, Tepera and Wieck got two strikeouts each and Maples ended the game by allowing only one hit.

May 30, 2021
Cubs 1, Reds 5
WP: Mahle (4-2) LP: Arrieta (5-5)
Box Score

The Cubs once again were unable to generate a lot of offense, having four total hits on the whole night: Pederson, Bryant, Contreras, and the presumable-new-third-baseman-for-the-next-ten-days Patrick Wisdom. Additionally, three of those four hits came in the 8th inning, where Bryant’s RBI single drove in the only run despite it being far too late in the game for a comeback.

Jake Arrieta was also pretty horrendous, as he was only able to stay in the game for 3.2 innings and in that stretch gave up all five of the Reds’ runs off of six hits. He walked four batters, allowed one homer, and struck out only three in an ugly, forgettable performance to add to his illustrious career.

The only good Cubs news I have to report here is that the bullpen was once again nails. Brad Wieck, who took over for Arrieta in the 4th inning, was the only bullpen pitcher who allowed a hit. The other three pitchers—Brothers, Maples, and Winkler—allowed no hits and only two walks between them all.

Anthony Rizzo is still day-to-day with a back injury, and before the game we learned that David Bote will in fact be on the 10-day IL. It’s grand, because the next two and a half weeks of the schedule is pretty brutal. The Cubs will be facing the Padres, the Giants, the Padres again, the Cardinals, and the Mets in that span. And in case you’re still fully engrossed in playoff hockey, these teams are all currently sitting at the top or near the top of their respective divisions.

This is the toughest stretch of baseball the Cubs have faced to date and going into this stretch after falling with a thud in today’s game is probably not great. And that’s not even mentioning the plethora of injured position players we are still hoping to get back soon.

These two weeks will be the ultimate test for this team, and their performance here will very likely help to determine whether or not the Cubs sell or stay put at the trade deadline (I still believe a selloff is imminent because after 2016 we cannot have nice things).

The fun starts now. Go Cubs go!

Baseball

Ah yes, spring is in the air and the days are getting longer. That means baseball is just around the corner — tomorrow, in fact. The Cubs are opening their season against the Pittsburgh Pirates and the 162-game march to October commences.

Everyone knows the rule that you can’t put too much stock on how players are doing during spring training, but that’s exactly what we’re gonna do here. The Cubs have been busy playing a month’s worth of spring training games to prepare for this season. Some players have looked good, some have looked bad. Some have looked healthy, some have been injured. Let’s break down the starter’s roster so you know what’s going on when the Cubs take the field, assuming you’re watching.

Starting Pitchers
Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, Zach Davies, Trevor Williams, Adbert Alzolay

Ready to watch fastballs that aren’t really fast at all this season? Of course you are, you’re a Cubs fan.

Old faithful Kyle Hendricks will get the Opening Day start now that Jon Lester has moved on. While Yu Darvish was getting all the glory last season, Hendricks was another pitcher that the Cubs could rely on. Last season he had a 2.88 ERA, a shutout, and allowed 26 runs, all of them earned. His spring training numbers are a bit uglier; he had a 6.39 ERA but had two wins. He will be our best starter this season.

Jake Arrieta hopes to rekindle what he once was in his glory years with the Cubs, and Ross seems to trust that he will be better this year. He had a pretty average spring training, with a 4.08 ERA over 5 starts, allowing 19 hits and 8 runs during that span. Baseball Reference projects him to have a 4.67 ERA this season; though not stellar, that would likely be an improvement on his 2020 season and look similarly to his 2019 season with the Phillies.

Adbert Alzolay has also been a part of Rossy’s fan club. He has the fastest fastball of anyone at this team, clocking in at an average of 95 mph, which he throws about half the time. He also enjoys his slider, which he throws 40% of the time. This is a big season for Alzolay, as he is going from 4 starts last year (and 2 the year before that) to being one of the more regular starters. Can he hold up having 10, 15, 20, maybe eventually 30 starts a year? We are all about to find out together.

Bullpen
Craig Kimbrel, Brandon Workman, Andrew Chafin, Rex Brothers, Ryan Tepera, Jason Adam, Dan Winkler, Dillon Maples, Alec Mills

We’ve got some injuries in this area, as Rowan Wick and Jonathan Holder will not be ready to start the season. Wick was one of the best relievers on the Cubs last season with a 3.12 ERA across 19 appearances, so hopefully he will feel better soon. He has been working out with the team and “slowly returning to baseball activities.” Holder took some time off for a chest issue during spring training but is also getting back to throwing. He will likely start on the 10-day injured list this season.

If you’ve been kept awake at night this offseason wondering whether or not Craig Kimbrel will be a good closer in 2021, I am truly not sure what to tell you. He was injured/awful for most of last season until he got hot for the last month of it all. Now he’s back to letting 40% of the batters he faces get on base. And he has a 12.15 ERA in 7 games this spring training. But remember, spring training tells you nothing. Let’s try not to put too much stock into it. …Right?

Rex Brothers, a non-roster invitee, has found the good side of Rossy, even with his 8.10 ERA over three games played last season. He has been good during spring training, however. He played in 9 different games and has a 0.00 ERA over spring training. Let’s be cautiously optimistic?

Dillon Maples kind of sucked during spring training, but what else is new? He pitched 10.1 innings and allowed 8 hits and 9 runs, 6 of them earned. He has issues with control and seems to easily go from an 0-2 count at bat to walking the batter thanks to a HBP. In two appearances last season he gave up 1 hit and 3 runs for an 18.00 ERA. Ross says he’s throwing more strikes and will continue to improve.

Fielders
Anthony Rizzo, David Bote, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Joc Pederson, Ian Happ, Jason Heyward

This team needs to be nails defensively thanks to this wacky bullpen we are throwing in front of them. Luckily, defense is what the Cubs do well, most of the time.

I’m honestly not hating this outfield lineup at all. So far, Joc Pederson has been ripping it up offensively in camp, leading the entire team in hits with 17 and home runs with 8. If he continues go off like this during the season, he will be a great Schwarber replacement. Ian Happ also had a nice spring training, with 44 at bats, 14 hits, 15 runs, 2 homers, and a 1.002 OPS. Jason Heyward, not the player of yore, had 10 hits, 8 runs, and a .729 OPS, but hey, maybe those numbers will improve during the season.

Thought you’d be seeing Nico Hoerner at 2nd this season? You are incorrect. IT IS DAVID BOTE’S TIME, so he will be starting the season with the club. Expect Hoerner to come back up from minors regularly if anyone gets injured or things go sideways. The good news is that Hoerner crushed it during spring training, and Bote wasn’t too shabby himself. Hoerner had 16 hits over spring training and 2 homers for a 1.055 OPS. Bote had 14 hits, 3 homers, 7 runs and a .990 OPS. Neither of these numbers are bad. I think we have two great second basemen this season.

For some reason, the Ricketts family is not negotiating with face of the entire damned team, Anthony Rizzo, for a contract extension. Because reasons. Because money. Because the literal billionaire Ricketts family does not have money to sign an extension. Remind me why I watch this team again?

We’re all breathing a sigh of relief that Willson Contreras is still on this team. He is a rare catcher who is productive on offense and defense. He was also one of the better players at the plate for the Cubs last season, leading the team in runs scored and second only to Happ in hits.

Javier Baez is supposed to improve on this season now that he has the all-important video review at his disposal, but so far his spring training results are a little…meh. He did hit 2 homers, but he only had 9 hits in 52 plate appearances, making for a .184 batting average. Hopefully he figures it out and fast, because it’s a contract year, my friend.

I’d talk to you about Kris Bryant but he’ll be dealt by the end of this season anyway.

Bench
Eric Sogard, Jake Marisnick, Matt Duffy, and NEW SIGNING Tony Wolters

With Victor Caratini going the way of the western wind with our beloved Yu Darvish, the backup catcher role became whoever’s for the taking. Austin Romine, the veteran catcher, is currently sidelined with a knee injury (a recurring knee injury, so buckle up, everyone). We all assumed it would be PJ Higgins as the backup catcher while we wait for Romine to get better, but then just hours ago the Cubs announced the signing of catcher Tony Wolters, recently of Rockies fame.

Wolters’ numbers from last season kind of suck, but it seems like most teams are throwing those stats away and chalking them up to a weird year. He only had 10 hits all year with the Rockies for a .230 batting average. However, the rumor is Wolters is pretty good defensively, which is probably why the Cubs snatched him up. We love defense here, don’tcha know. His caught stealing rate is 32.8% lifetime, which is above the 27% league average. We’ll see how he fares as our backup.

Additionally, Jake Marisnick is an outfielder who, though missed some of spring training with an injury, came back and hit four home runs in only eight Cactus League games. Eric Sogard is a utility player who had 12 hits during spring training, along with a homer, for a .375 batting average. Maybe he can continue his hitting so his batting average improves on his abysmal .209 number with the Brewers last season season. Finally, Matt Duffy is another utility player who didn’t even play in the 2020 season. In fact, the 2018 season was his last season with major playing time, where he had a .294 batting average. He also has a track record of reliable defensive prowess, so hopefully that continues with the Cubs.

The season starts tomorrow. Check back to this glorious website after every Cubs series to get my thoughts on what’s going on. And if the Cubs bore you and you want to enjoy some exciting baseball, you can always turn on the Padres and root for Yu Darvish. Go Cubs go!

Baseball

When you absolutely have to have a Cub do a kind of adorable yet still annoying gender reveal, David Bote is your man. And he might be the man for the Cubs at second and occasionally third and short, because there’s always a chance that Nico Hoerner stalls out in Iowa and there’s a much bigger chance that Jason Kipnis and Daniel Descalso are still dead. And while he causes more teeth-gnashing amongst Cubs fans for someone who came from basically nowhere and has been fine, if the Cubs had to turn to him it really wouldn’t be the end of the world. And then there are too many who mistake one ultra-dramatic home run for career-long success. There’s so much noise around a bit-part player. Let’s study the star man.

David Bote 2019

127 games, 356 PA

.257/.362/.422

.336 wOBA, 106 wRC+

12.4 BB%  26.1 K%

-1.4 Defensive Runs

1.5 fWAR

Bote had a pretty weird year last term. For one, he was a righty who couldn’t hit lefties, which doesn’t make any goddamn sense but it’s what we’re dealing with. Against right-handed pitchers he had a 115 wRC+, and against southpaws it was 80. Which was the complete opposite of what he did in 2018. So hey, if he could split the difference!. Also, he really started to hit after Joe Maddon had moved him out of the everyday lineup in the second half. And Maddon stopped playing him against lefties in the second half, giving him only 30 ABs against them. Which he did crush, but it’s only 30 ABs so who knows?

It wasn’t hard to figure out where to attack Bote though, as he couldn’t get to high fastballs nor lay off curves in the dirt, which doesn’t make for a very good combination.

Bote graded out as fine at second, though hardly superlative. But as the Brewers proved with the old-dog mobility of Mike Moustakas, you can kind of cover that up with shifts if you’re so inclined. The Cubs didn’t shift as much because Baez covered half the Earth anyway, but it might be something they try. Bote also graded out higher than you’d expect at short when Maddon finally figured out that Baez was dying of exhaustion, which might be something to consider if Hoerner isn’t up for a while.

YES! YES! YES!: For Bote to be more than just scenery, or slightly above scenery, he’s going to have to figure out how to hit a pitch above his waist. We know he has serious power low in the strike zone, and it’s something of a mystery why pitchers keep throwing him pitches there. But even just up in the zone, not above it, and Bote has been pretty much helpless. His desire to catch up to pitches there has made him susceptible to curves that tease being there and then gleefully dive for the sanctuary of his toes and his whiffs. If that continues to be a gaping hole, then this is his limit. If he shortens his swing a bit and can get there, than his plus-on base skills play even better.

And fuck, if you take simply his .362 OBP last year, put it in the nine-spot ahead of Bryant in the leadoff spot, he’ll score a fair amount of runs you’d have to believe. Really, you could do a whole lot worse as a placeholder for Hoerner, however long that might be.

You’re A B+ Player: Bote can’t close up that hole at the top of the zone, pitchers actually read a scouting report every time and his already too-high K-rate for a supporting cast member goes up. And he loses walks, which is what’s keeping him above water overall. Hoerner never claims the second base spot, and we’re left watching two corpses try and ooze their way toward competence between Kipnis and Descalso and Ross has to euthanize them in the 6th inning of some game in July behind a big blue curtain (assuredly sponsored by Sloan). At 27 when the season starts, it’s hard to picture how Bote improves that much but there is some room. He also watches his glove deteriorate and can’t even claim breaking even in the field.

But no matter what, he’ll be part of the Cubs pregame highlight reel for the next five years.

Dragon Or Fickle?: I’m higher on Bote than most, mostly because of the walks and the passable glove and occasional power. I don’t think he’ll completely split his ’18 and ’19 and be useful against both handed pitchers, but I also think there’s a decent chance he’s not an abortion against either as well. If he can just take high pitches the other way for singles enough to not have to see curveballs or get fastballs lower, he could end up being a real weapon. He’s clearly a player you don’t want to be in the lineup every day, but you’d rather see him than Descalso or Kipnis. If Hoerner can claim what’s rightfully his relatively quickly, then having Bote cycle in at a couple spots two or three times a week is ideal. And that’s probably what you’ll get.

Baseball

It’s funny that a bench player generates so much debate amongst a fanbase. Maybe it’s a result of signing a unique and somewhat unprecedented extension before the season. Maybe it’s just that David Bote was forced into more action than was ever planned thanks to Ben Zobrist’s four-month journey to catch the General Sherman. In the end, David Bote ended up being what David Bote was always intended to be: a pretty decent bench player. And he could be again.

2019 Stats

127 games, 356 PA

.257/.362/.422

12.4 BB%  26.1 K%

106 wRC+ .338 wOBA  .785 OPS

-1.4 Defensive Runs Saved  1.5 WAR

Tell Me A Story: The season started for Bote when he signed a five-year extension that averages out to about $3M a year, though the actual salary escalates every season. It’s rare, maybe even unheard of, for a role player to sign an extension before even hitting arbitration. Or more to the point, it’s rare for a team to agree to it. It was Bote’s idea, and you can see why. What did the Cubs get out of it?

Well, you have to look past the contract a bit. One, Bote had been a loyal soldier, who’d been in the minors for six years before making his debut in 2018. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to show all the other guys in that spot that if you keep working, and stick with it, the Cubs will reward you. Second, Bote is a player who took to changes the Cubs wanted him to make because he was hitting the ball extremely hard in the minors but almost always on the ground. He took off after the changes, and again, it’s not a bad thing to show the rest of your system that if you listen and take notes and do the things they tell you, you’ll get rewarded. Whatever, Bote’s salary isn’t breaking the structure here or anything.

The original plan for Bote would have been to cycle in occasionally at second, third when Bryant went to the outfield, and probably start no more than two-three times a week. If that. But that all got blown up when Zobrist first didn’t hit at all, and then left the team. That made Bote essentially the starting second baseman, not something that was ever in the design.

And much like 2018, Bote started out really hot, with a 127 wRC+ in March and April, and an acceptable 106 in May. But also like 2018, there was a period where it felt like the league figured out that if you didn’t throw him low fastballs, you would get him out. He was awful in June and July, but closed hard in August and September, mostly through walking a ton (21% in August, 17% in September). He also slugged .565 in August, so he recovered or discovered something.

Perhaps what confounded Joe Maddon and the Cubs a bit is that Bote was reverse-split this season. 115 wRC+ and a.349 wOBA against righties, 80 and .296 against lefties. Which kind of combines with Bote doing better and better work as the season went along on breaking balls, but ones that broke away from him. And he actually ended up struggling on fastballs as the season went on.

Bote seemed to be concentrating on getting the ball in the air more, and he did better work up in the zone this year than last. It cost him so hard contact though, as his exit velocity went from averaging over 90 MPH last year to just 87 MPS this year. But his line-drive rate went up five points, and his launch-angle doubled. The dream would be if he could ever blend the two, and the Cubs might be inclined to think he can.

The problem for Golden Years here is that he makes contact way too infrequently. It’s below 70%, which is miles away from league-average. And the Cubs are going to be seeking contact wherever they can get it. Much like Happ, Bote can miss in the zone, which is something the Cubs are going to have to find a way to lessen. And seeing as how Bote will be 27 next year, the room for chance and improvement isn’t as large as it would be for a younger player. Doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

Defensively, Bote was mostly fine at second and better at third, his natural position. He could have gotten the Cubs out of more games at short to give Javy a rest than Maddon ever tried, but that’s not a huge cudgel to bash Maddon with. His versatility is probably what will keep him around.

Contract: Signed through 2024 for a total of $15M, two team-option years after at $7M per

Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass: Considering he only makes $960K next year, there would be no reason to not have him back. And the only way you’d lose him now is via trade, and even in that he’d probably be something of a throw-in. Or a very minor deal returning maybe a reliever? But there’s no need. The plan is likely to just keep second base warm until Nico Hoerner is ready to take over full-time, be that April or June. Bote and Happ can certainly give you league average production for a month or two while waiting, and then be more than serviceable bench players after that. Obviously the trap door to that strategy is if Hoerner never claims the spot, and Bote and Happ are left staring at each other for a whole season there. Assuming both are here.

Bote walks a ton, so that mitigates some of his swing-and-miss ways a bit. If he can find a way to make more contact in the zone–he was another who eschewed going the opposite way and probably needs more of that–as well as rediscovering some of his hard-contact, he has the chance to be a real weapon. You can do a hell of a lot worse than Bote as a fifth or sixth infielder.

Baseball

What Cubs fans will tell you is most infuriating or disappointing, or confusing, or infurapusing, about this season is that before it, Cubs ownership/front-office didn’t show much urgency about it. Now, we’ve been having the debate about how much urgency a team coming off a 95-win season with half of a Kris Bryant really needs to show, but it’s some. You’re in your window, you’re supposed to be competing for a World Series every year, every chance is precious, so there’s built-in urgency.

During the season, there’s been some. It’s easy to point to the Craig Kimbrel signing and say the Cubs truly do care. Except they were almost shamed into that with the bullpen they did engineer for this season. There was almost no choice. And they only did that because Ben Zobrist‘s salary came off the books. Nicholas Castellanos‘s acquisition is another, though it cost pretty much nothing and wasn’t as big of a splash as they could have made. It certainly worked out that way, though.

Still, the overriding feeling of this season was basically running it back and seeing what happens. And the team itself has certainly played that way, only enhancing the feeling that the whole organization is in some sort of malaise or fog. Every time they’ve had a chance to surge forward they’ve turned it down, no one seems to be taking a step forward other than Darvish and Castellanos in a contract drive.

So the Cubs calling up Nico Hoerner today smacks of a desperation they just haven’t shown at all this year. Yes, they’re out of shortstops, as Javier Baez has a broken thumb and Russell a broken face, and Russell has been an offensive black hole as it is. Hoerner at least can provide similar defense as Russell, and just might make more contact.

But it feels like it would have fit perfectly for this Cubs team, from top down, to just throw David Bote at short until Russell was healthy again and try to make do. Joe Maddon hadn’t wanted to do that all season, which led to Baez being turned into a fine paste by playing every single day, but both the front office and now the players don’t seem to give a flying fornication what Maddon wants to do these days.

Calling up Hoerner also feels like exactly what happened to Almora or Happ or Russell even, though what happens next year will be more telling of that. All three of those players were promoted to the majors without an extended period of offensive dominance, or even success in Almora’s and Russell’s case really, and all three have failed to consistently hit at the top level. Hoerner has 70 games at AA. So one has to believe this is just an emergency and he’ll start next year back at AA or AAA if he really balls out in spring training or something.

The Cubs may just be out of options, and feel like taking a flier. Just like they took on Robel Garcia, or Happ again, or Carlos Martinez for eight minutes, or Zobrist now (which is somewhat working). Hoerner doesn’t strike out, though we’ll see if that continues with the jump to MLB pitching, makes contact, and is fast, three things the Cubs have had next to zero of all season. He can play the position too, though his long-term future is obviously at second or in center thanks to Baez. Fuck, at this point Cubs fans will be happy if he just doesn’t throw the ball into the next county like Russell had an affinity for.

What an intro it will be for a young kid to walk into a clubhouse in mid-September for a team competing for a playoff spot full of players that just seem like they want to go home. Hopefully he isn’t paralyzed by confusion.

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

Game 1 Box Score: Marlins 6, Cubs 5

Game 2 Box Score: Cubs 5, Marlins 2

Game 3 Box Score: Cubs 3, Marlins 2 (11)

Game 4 Box Score: Cubs 4, Marlins 1

If I were truly miserable and wanting to pawn that off on the rest of the world to dissipate my pain, I would complain about the Cubs not sweeping this sad sack outfit. But hey, they’ve gone 6-1 against this excuse to siphon public funds, and after sweeping the Cardinals you’re probably allowed one hiccup. 6-1 on the homestand will definitely play. Let’s wrap it up.

The Two Obs

-There is some worry right at the top. Pedro Strop’s injury, which is going to take a few weeks, leaves the Cubs even more shorthanded in the pen. It also leaves them without a for-sure strikeout option. Don’t worry about not having a closer, as the Cubs can finally just match it up in the late innings which they should have been doing anyway. But unless Carl Edwards Jr. finds it, there is no one out of the pen who can get through an inning without any contact. The Cubs have survived the past two games, and a big thank you to Mike Montgomery, but this is a AAA lineup they were facing at best. There are much bigger challenges and outs to get coming, and the Cubs have no sure thing to get them right now. And the answers to those are probably as far away as Strop’s recovery. Teams don’t make trades in May, but the Cubs might have to find a way.

-Secondly, this is Strop’s second hammy injury in two seasons, and you have to be a touch worried this is just going to be a thing that keeps happening. And he’s as close to indispensable as they have.

-Anyway, good thing Kris Bryant has gone plaid lately, because some of the other pistons in the offensive engine have gone…well, whatever pistons go that’s bad. I’m not a car guy. Bote is hitting .196 the last two weeks. Schwarber has one extra-base hit in a week. Heyward is 2-for-his-last-24. But hey, this is how it’s supposed to go. One part goes down, the other goes up. Hey, that’s kind of like pistons!

-They’re going to have to lower beer prices at Wrigley when Yu Darvish pitches. I can’t afford to drink at that pace. It’s the same thing we’ve talked about before, where he’s trying to be too perfect and is afraid of any contact on his pitches. He had a plethora of hitters down 0-2 or 1-2 but wouldn’t come anywhere near the plate. This isn’t about injury. Darvish has come back from a long absence before. It’s not about ability, because he’s never been this wild before. It’s in his head. But they’re still winning his starts, and winning around them, and have bought him time to figure it out. The Cubs haven’t needed him yet. They will though.

-But Montgomery gives them some options. So does Chatwood. They may have to keep one always in reserve to piggyback on Darvish. But this would be the way to mask your holes in the pen, wouldn’t it? Just have Chatwood or Monty throw a couple or three innings and keeping everyone else to a couple innings a week? That’s a solution. It’s worth trying I think.

-The Brewers have moved into second place. They move in here tomorrow. Maybe time to stamp some authority on this bitch.

 

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…