Baseball

He’ll never say it, I’ll never prove it, but I can’t shake the feeling that Theo Epstein has been thinking about this day since somewhere around Game 6 against Cleveland. That was the night that Joe Maddon first panicked, up five runs with Jake Arrieta on the mound. That necessitated Aroldis Chapman coming in to get four outs, after he had throw 2.1 innings in Game 5, and of course left him scorched for Game 7. And then there was the pulling of Kyle Hendricks for little reason (not no reason, you could squint and see it) the next night. We don’t need to re-litigate this. You know the story.

But it felt like then Theo realized that Joe wasn’t going to manage the team as he saw the game. And it feels like that only got worse. Which maybe is why on the day after the most accomplished manager in Cubs history, and the most accomplished we might ever see, I don’t feel much of anything about his departure.

There’s two competing outlooks on the past couple seasons that probably have me stuck in the middle on the whole thing. The first is that I refuse to buy the argument that the ’18 team underachieved. 95 wins with half of a Kris Bryant, a hole in the rotation until Hamels showed up (and that’s with Chatwood in there) a bullpen disintegrating throughout the season, that played for 45 straight days. It’s being judged on two games at the end of the season, which seems wholly unfair based on the 162 before. We know the Cubs front office was upset about the handling of Brandon Morrow at the end of May. That has always screamed of ass-covering for a truly bad signing that had every chance of not working out, which it didn’t. That goes along with my feeling that the ’17 team didn’t underachieve either, given that Schwarber wasn’t quite ready for a starting role, Happ and Almora in center was iffy, Baez hadn’t achieved his higher plane yet, the entire pitching staff regressed, etc.

On the opposing side, whatever last year is categorized as, this was a season where the Cubs were supposed to play with urgency and have something to prove. Yeah, we can go back and forth on the offseason and the roster construction all day. That doesn’t change the fact that the players on the roster played looser, less focused, far more mistake-prone than they’d ever been under Maddon. The Cubs were simply not as locked in as they’d been, and it cost them games. In the field, on the basepaths, and on occasion with runners on base, the Cubs were simply not a tight enough unit. That’s on Maddon. This team did underachieve.

Did the Cubs set up Maddon to fail by not extending him, and essentially telegraphing their intentions before the season even started? Probably. But if Maddon truly had a hold on this team and everyone’s loyalty and attention, the constant looseness just would not have happened. That doesn’t mean the Cubs had totally tuned him out or were ignoring him, but they weren’t as attentive to his message. I get the impression they still liked him without totally buying in to whatever he was selling anymore. That generally only goes one way from there. So it feels necessary.

As with any manager or coach firing, Maddon isn’t wholly responsible for what went on here. We’ve spent all summer talking about the failures in ownership and the front office and what they provided. The bullpen at the start of the season was simply negligent. None of the younger players were ever ready to take on an everyday role. The hitters simply refused to change their approach ever.

I guess you could put some of the blame on the lack of development of some of the young players on Maddon. That’s a stretch though when he’s the manager for Rizzo, Byrant, Contreras, and Baez who have all flourished under him. Maybe they’re just such supreme talents it doesn’t manager what the manager is, but I have a hard time buying that and you’d have a hard time selling that.

Perhaps my general shoulder-shrug on this is I don’t think baseball is like hockey or football where there’s like five good coaches and you’re fucked if you don’t have one. You can find another manager. They’re out there, though I’m queasy about it being David Ross, which has a feel of placating the masses about it, whatever his managing acumen might be.

Some have speculated that Theo wants a hard-ass. Does that even exist anymore? Does that really work? I look around at the best teams and I don’t see any red and nude managers. Dave Roberts? A.J. Hinch? Aaron Boone? Alex Cora? Brian Snitker? I don’t think players respond to that anymore. I hope that’s just speculation. Sure, things seemed like they got too relaxed with Maddon, and you want a tone set for the whole season. That’s all the Cubs need, I think. They don’t need Sargent Hartman in blue pinstripes.

Perhaps that feeling of “it just had to be” comes from Maddon himself. He seemed to make it clear that he didn’t think he had much more to give to this team yesterday, though maybe that was just dealing with the situation. He certainly couldn’t ignore all the mistakes his team made throughout the season and how he couldn’t seem to stop it. It doesn’t feel like five years is a very long time for someone’s shelf life to run out, but things move quicker now.

Maybe that’s just the shelf life on Maddon, too. He only won 77 games in his last year in Tampa, though there are obviously other considerations there. Perhaps it’s something about his style.

Still, he’s the manager who ended our GREAT BURDEN. The Cubs don’t win it without him, even if you only want to credit him for creating an atmosphere that allowed the players to take all of that head on which had asphyxiated every other team before them. With something as huge as 108 years, just as it was with the 86 in Boston, you have to have a team that can smile and laugh at it all the way through while the rest of us are losing our minds and screaming about why they aren’t. You have to find a team to embrace the ridiculousness of it and not treat it like a plague. Maddon did that. His name will live forever here because of it. He as the perfect guy at the perfect time for Rizzo and Bryant and Baez and Contreras and Hendricks and everyone else.

And now he’s not. And that’s ok. I’d trust the front office to get this one right. It’s a job most everyone would want. There’s still a ton to work with here, especially if the that front office doesn’t get silly and do something just to do something this winter.

Thanks for everything, Joe. It was quicker than we thought, but it was everything it was supposed to be.

 

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Cubs 75-63   Brewers 71-67

GAMETIMES: Thursday/Saturday 6:10, Friday 7:10, Sunday 1:10

TV: NBCSN Thursday/Friday/Sunday, WGN Saturday

KHALIL IS COMING FOR THEM TOO: Brew Crew Ball

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Try it again, assholes.

The Cubs had a chance to end this stupid Brewers season and annoyance last weekend, and after looking like they might actually do the things they said they were going to in the offseason–y’know, the stuff about being ruthless and getting that extra win instead of being checked out and putting teams away and really the things actual really good teams do–in the first game they promptly went to sleep like an old family dog for the next two. They didn’t score a run, they didn’t look like they wanted to score a run, they didn’t look like they knew how even if they wanted to, and this Brewers thing is still hanging by a thread.

So now the Cubs will have to do it in what has been something of a house of horrors this season. The campaign’s first weekend saw the Cubs get mutilated up there, and then the next trip saw them have two of their dumber losses of the season in the late innings. This is the time for that happy horeshit anymore.

And the Brewers need at least three of these, possibly all four, though a split probably keeps the last rites away for a few more days. They’re four games behind the Cubs for the second wildcard spot, which makes the division lead pretty much unattainable for them. They also have to leap the Phillies and Diamondbacks to even get at the Cubs. so this is desperate shit. Which means three Cubs wins ends the Brewers season, which would be at least something to feel good about at the moment.

Since you last saw this outfit, they split two games with the Astros at home. Jordan Lyles somehow danced around and through the Astros lineup made of monsters and mutants for their win, while their Labor Day loss came in extras after Christian Yelich once again pulled their ass out of a sling in the bottom of the 9th. However you slice it, this is pretty much the Brewers’ last stand. Then again, it should have been last weekend, and yet here we are. They’ll probably think if they can really take hold of this series, their schedule is pretty light afterwards and the possibility of a ridiculous closing kick like last year is still there.

They get the Marlins for four after this before a stop in St. Louis. After that it’s Padres, Pirates, Reds, and Rockies for them, which yeah, is something a team that had to could tear through if so inclined. Whether this Brewers bunch with its two starters and a bullpen made up of 1st round Punchout characters can is another debate.

For the Cubs, they’ll show up pretty wounded, but having to gut it out. There’s no telling if Javy Baez and Kris Bryant are actually healthy, but they’ve each gotten two days off now and the hope is that’s enough. There isn’t another off-day for two and a half weeks, so the words “suck it up” are going to reverberate around. Yu Darvish is apparently good to go for Saturday as well.

With the Cards losing last night, the lead is still claw-back-able. But they get to play the Pirates on the weekend, so the Cubs can’t really afford any slips here. And let’s but to the truth, it’s enough of the horseshit. Either you are you keep saying you should be, or you are what you’ve showed us for five fucking months. This Brewers team is aching to be put out of its misery, and it’s time the Cubs finally dong-whipped this team around for a few. Now that they’ve won two road series in a row, they don’t have to answer those questions. There are eight games here agains beatable teams. So beat them and shut up.

TIME TO MAKE THE CHIMI-FUCKING-CHANGAS.

 

Baseball

First off, let me say right at the top that I’m guilty of this as anyone, as baseball is perhaps the last outlet where I regularly leave any rationality behind and just want to stomp my feet, whether in anger or joy. So I know what I said yesterday, but after a night to think about it, I think I’m at least back in the neighborhood of lost rationality. It’s at least an area code away.

After a weekend sweep, watching every grounder the Nationals hit find a hole, them never striking out when the Cubs absolutely needed them to, it would be easy to point out that difference between the two teams and say this is why the Cubs are where they are and the Nats are where they are and why they seem pointed in such opposite directions. Except even after that sweep, they’re four games apart, which I could just as easily point to their top of the rotation being better than the Cubs top of the rotation, and the Nats getting far more dates with the Marlins than the Cubs do and moving along (they’re currently 10-3 against Miami).

Yes, the Nats do put the ball in play more than the Cubs do, and the Cubs whiff a lot more than the Nats do. And that’s certainly an issue. Is it THE issue? Not so convinced.

Sure, the more balls you put in play the more chance you’re going to find a hole. But there’s also a chance that you find someone’s glove for a double play, especially when it’s on the ground as often as the Nats were this weekend. Jose Quintana gave up five earned runs in just four innings, four earned, and he didn’t give up one hard-hit ball. Sorry, he gave up one, according to FanGraphs. 75% of the contact he gave up was on the ground. On another day, that’s probably seven innings of shutout ball, assuming Anthony Rizzo wasn’t having a backiotomy on the field.

Yes, I know, the more balls you put in the play the more will turn into hits even if you’re percentages are the same. I was good at math, can’t you tell? But is finding holes with your grounders really a skill? It’s not. The Nats as a team have a BABIP nine points higher than the Cubs, good for second in the NL, non-Rockies division. And yet if you go by contact, team-wide, the Cubs make the same exact kind of contact the Nats do. Since the Nats went nuclear from June 1st on, their BABIP is 15 points higher than the Cubs, and they’ve hit the ball slightly harder, but have also made more soft-contact than the Cubs.

Of course, with that added BABIP the Nats jus have more of a sample, as they strike out far less (about 6%). So yes, you are right to bemoan the Cubs lack of ability to not strike out when it matters, but it’s more complicated than just getting the ball in play. I don’t know that the Cubs would be all that much better off with grounders instead of strikeouts, given they really have little team speed. They’d have to get awfully lucky, let’s say.

Digging deeper, much like Kris Bryant, the Cubs just don’t hit the ball very hard. Since that June 1st date, they rank dead-ass last in hard-contact rate as a team, and are 12th overall in the NL. Strangely, right ahead of the Nationals. Only Castellanos since he came over has a hard-contact rate over 40%, And 40% is just about the median rate in MLB right now. How can a team with Baez, Contreras, Bryant, Rizzo, and Schwarber not hit the ball all that hard collectively? And this is where their whiff-rate doesn’t come into it, because it’s solely about when they do make contact.

Right now the teams that sit atop the hard-contact rate standings in MLB are the Dodgers, Twins, Brewers, Cardinals, Rangers, with the Braves and A’s right behind that. That’s four first-place teams out of eight, and another playoff team, with only the Rangers and Brewers being outliers. Your bottom five are the White Sox, Orioles, Mariners, Mets, and Pirates.

So yes, the Cubs do whiff and chase a lot, and that’s a problem. But they’re not doing enough when they do make contact either, which might be just as big of a problem. How can in our year of the lord JUICED BALL, only Schwarber be on a pace to blow by his career-high in homers? Or he and Contreras nearing career-highs in slugging? Again, the whiffs and lack of contact come into it, but that much?

The Cubs have hit a good amount of homers at 203, yet they’re 11th in doubles. And I would argue only ranking 5th for this team in homers and slugging…it’s not enough. And only some of that can be blamed on the wind mostly blowing in at Wrigley and the weather being barf until the middle of June.

It’s a dual-track problem, and they’re most likely not going to solve it in the next 32 games. Which means this is probably going to get bumpier.

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Brewers 57-53   Cubs 57-51

GAMETIMES: Friday-Sunday 1:20

TV: NBCSN Friday and Saturday, WGN Sunday

PAT LISTACH ’92 FOREVER: Brew Crew Ball

Whatever the hell this is continues on the Northside for the weekend, as the Brewers and Cubs will bash their heads together and see if anything comes out this time. Most likely, they and the Cardinals in Oakland will continue to stare at each other, wondering how they got here but knowing for sure there’s no way they can leave. This is where they all belong, fighting over a busted rubber ball while the rest of the baseball world tries to decide if they’re adorable or sad or both.

We’ll start with the Cubs this time, who responded to New Toy Day with Nick Castellanos and Tony Kemp last night by having all the enthusiasm of a biopsy in an 8-0 loss to Jack Flaherty and the Cardinals, completing a pure acid-vomit of a road trip at 3-6. It was the pivotal stretch of the season, and the Cubs comprehensively failed it. But thanks to the forgiving/bumbling nature of everyone else, they left tied for first and they return only a game back, because nothing is ever truly dead (or alive) in the NL Central.

They’ll bank on their home form, which has been great, and where they were last seen going 7-2 out of the break to convince far too many of us that things were swinging up. They won’t be here that often in the month, so they have to make this count if they’re indeed serious about making this season anything other than a dirge and a middle finger to their owner. That is to be determined.

The headline, other than the debuts of the trade acquisitions at Wrigley, is that Cole Hamels will return on Saturday. Hamels had been dominant before going on the IL, maybe the Cubs best starter over the season, and perhaps the sight of a prideful veteran can crack this team out of whatever haze it’s been blasting itself in the face with for the past two months. Hope springs eternal.

The Brewers spent the interim between the two I-94 summits playing three nail-biters with the Oakland A’s. They lost two of them, one in extras and one yesterday when Josh Hader was taken to San Jose by Matt Chapman in the 8th. It was the first time Hader had pitched three days in a row, and now Craig Counsell will be putting that tactic back in the “Bad Idea” box, never to be unearthed again.

They’ll send Zack Davies out there again, with his last start being the weekly Kyle Schwarber-has-figured-it-out game. Gio Gonzalez will also be around to befuddle the Cubs for absolutely no reason other than the gods hate you and you’ll never truly love or be loved because of it. Adrian Houser tossed five good innings in Oakland on Tuesday and will wrap this up on Sunday for the Brew Crew.

We’ve been saying this for two months, but there’s no reason the Cubs can’t use this as a springboard for more. And they probably have to, because the A’s are hardly pushovers and weird things happen in Philadelphia before they get decapitated in Pittsburgh. They have the advantage in every starters matchup here, and you would hope as long as you keep Christian Yelich from levitating and turning various colors, it’s an offense you can keep in check. And the Cubs did last weekend, they just could stop going up to the plate with a flute up their nose. Castellanos definitely gives the lineup more length, so maybe today Baez or Contreras can take one pitch or maybe Rizzo can emerge from his slumber. Fucking anything. It’s been so hard to watch. We’d just like to feel again, thanks.

CHIMI-FUCKING-CHANGAS.

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Cardinals 2, Cubs 1

Game 2 Box Score: Cubs 2, Cardinals 0

Game 3 Box Score: Cardinals 8, Cubs 0

Here’s what will definitely happen. Either in the postgame tonight or before the game tomorrow, Joe Maddon will tell the press that the Cubs have to get back to grinding out at-bats. They have to dig out some offense. They have to fight through this. And then they won’t, which either means Joe is telling them this along with whatever hitting coach they’ll fire this time around as a smokescreen, and they’re not listening. Or he’s not even bothering to tell them and is going straight to the press, because he knows and the players know he’s getting punted no more than five minutes after the final out of the season.

Here’s what very well might happen. The Cubs will peter out somewhere, either after Game 162 or in the Division Series or coinfli flip game after the balloon-handed nature of both the Brewers and Cardinals gifts them a spot somehow. And either Theo Epstein will find out the purse strings are still being yanked by the Ricketts and he’ll walk, or he’ll hope letting Maddon walk is enough of a cover again to mask that his system has produced exactly his dick in his hand since 2016 or so.

Really, what this road trip has shown is that there has been a systematic failure at pretty much every level of this organization. On the biggest swing of the year, the Cubs best players all went turtle. None of them have hit. And you’d be tempted to say that’s just the vagaries of baseball, except we’ve been talking about this in some fashion for two months. Baez was dominant in the season’s first two months by actually occasionally taking a walk and going the opposite way almost as much as he pulled the ball. So he’s going to spend six weeks swinging at everything and trying to pull everything. Contreras is going to swing at the first pitch he sees. Bryan is going to have to gut out an injury that clearly should have him on the IL because the bottom of the roster is non-existent. If Addison Russell didn’t suck out loud, they could go without Bryant for 10 days. If David Bote didn’t suck deep pond scum they could go without Bryant for 10 days. But they do, so he has to play and do a pretty mean David Bote impression for six games. Anthony Rizzo is nowhere. All when they have to be here.

This team doesn’t fight. They don’t dig deep in close games and find a way to get on base, to score, to win. They find ways to lose. And maybe that’s just what happens when a team thinks no matter what it does the bullpen is just going to blow it anyway. There’s no gumption about this squad.

But why should there be? They heard their GM say that there would be changes, that production would be all that mattered. And then nothing changed. No one’s on alert. Addison Russell got another chance. So did Bote. So did Almora. So did Schwarber. Who’s on edge?

But then why would this team feel their front office and ownership is fighting for them? They watched the same team basically come back, the one that wasn’t quite good enough last year. The Cardinals added Goldschmidt. The Brewers added Grandal. The Phillies added Harper. The Braves added Donaldson.

Here’s an exercise for you. Go and watch two interviews with the Astros right after they got the news their team had traded for Zack Greinke. See the bounce. Do you think any Cubs were doing that when finding out about Castellanos and Phelps? Castellanos is only here due the failure of multiple players, not to boost something that already is working.

This team plays entitled. Like nothing will happen. Because really, it won’t. This is all set up to burn down after 2021 anyway, and everyone in the organization looks like it’s just going to sit around waiting for that.

The urgency, the desperation, the fight, the want-to, whatever you call it, you find it on this team. I can’t. They accept what’s happening to them because that’s been the nature of the whole operation. Oh sure, they’ll get wins when Hendricks or someone else tosses a gem, or Kyle Davies places a “HIT ME” sticker on a barely-fastball. And this doesn’t mean the Cubs won’t win the division, based on the aforementioned nature of their competition.

Well, maybe not “win’ it, so much as just open the front door and see that it’s been left there so they might as well take it inside. That’s what the Ricketts Family, Epstoyer, Maddon, and everyone have created here. And there’s no reason to think it will change.

This team isn’t going anywhere. Someplace might land on them, but it will still be standing still when it does. And that you can believe.

Baseball

If you want to be truly embarrassed by the spot the Cubs find themselves in the standings, tied with the Cardinals for first, consider that in terms of fWAR, Paul DeJong is the best player on the Cardinals. By some distance actually, as he’s accrued nearly twice the WAR of Marcell Ozuna in second. And that’s with DeJong unable to hit a bull in the ass with a snow-shovel since April. Some of that is Paul Goldschmdit’s struggles and playing first base (thus getting little to no defensive credit), and Matt Carpenter being ouchy, old, and grizzled (the official motto of St. Louis). But yeah, the Cubs are tied with a team whose best player got there almost entirely through defense.

If you feel like the Cardinals have been advertising DeJong as a future star for half of eternity at this point, and being influenced on another level by some big homers against the Cubs, you’ll probably be shocked to learn he’s still only 25. But their version of Javy Baez he has not become, nor anywhere close, and let’s all revel in the fact that Cards fans so desperately want their own version of Javy who also happens to be white.

For a minute there, DeJong looked like he might just be that in April. That month saw a .342/.403/.607 slash-line, good for a 163 wRC+. To go along with his spectacular defense, and it looked like you had a real player here, and us lamenting the Cardinals finally being right about a product of their system.

DeJong has been living in an abandoned boxcar since with one can of baked beans, at least offensively (by defensive runs he’s been the best SS in the NL). He hit .200 in May, .218 in June, and .225 in July. His wRC+ have been 95, 66, and 100, as he walked a ton in May (17%), and slugged just enough lately to barely claim average.

It’s not hard to find the discrepancy in DeJong’s start and the rest of the season. DeJong’s BABIP in April was .389. It hasn’t been above .236 since. And yet DeJong, for the most part, has hit the ball extremely hard. Only in June did DeJong not have a hard-contact rate above 45%. Since May 1st, DeJong has the worst BABIP in the National League.

It’s weird. DeJong doesn’t hit an abnormal amount of flies, which tends to lower one’s BABIP because they don’t just fall in when they don’t go out of the park all that much. He doesn’t hit a ton of line-drives, which would help, but that rate isn’t so low as to explain three months of taking it in the moon fortune-wise.

It doesn’t really work to say the past three months have just been market correction on DeJong’s April, because that would entail a higher force equaling out DeJong’s numbers simply to balance the universe. And as we all know because we’ve been told all our lives, if there’s a higher power it definitely works for the Cardinals. Still, DeJong’s numbers are right where they should be according to Statcast, as his batting average and weighted on-base are right in line with his expected-batting average and expected-weighted on-base.

And yet that low of a number over three months seems a tad harsh. DeJong doesn’t have an abnormal amount of flies not leaving the park, as his HR/FB rate is about league average at 12%. As we said, he doesn’t hit an abnormal amount of fly balls. It’s just weird.

Still, with all of that DeJong is a couple of weeks away from his best season in the majors, which was 3.3 fWAR. And if he finds any luck at all in the next two months, he might give Baez a run for title of best shortstop in the National League (0.5 fWAR behind right now). It’s been an odd year for him, and you wonder what the Cardinals might conclude about him if it doesn’t change. They’ve given up on better players, y’know.

Baseball

Instead of our usual spotlight, for the Crosstown series the three of us who have been covering baseball so far this year–yours truly, Hess, and AJ–got together to talk about the status of each team heading into this two-day gimmick on the Northside. 

Fels: We used to joke around here that these games meant little to Cubs fans and everything to Sox fans, because lord knows in the past I’ve come across more than enough Sox fans who had a “DEY COULD WIN TWO GAMES ALL YEAR BUT IF DERE AGAINST DA PACKERS I’M HAPPY” attitude about these. But it seems in the past couple Sox fans also regard these crosstown games as a ginned-up gimmick. That about right?

AJ: I would agree.  The fact that CSN (now NBCSN) has tried to turn this thing into an NCAA Football kind of rivalry with some Monopoly token kind of trophy has had the opposite effect and actually highlighted how goofy the concept is.  That, and the fact that in our heart of hearts most Sox fans that follow the team closely know the best we could hope for these past few years was a series split.  I’m wondering if now that the team is trending upward we might see a resurgence of that type of behavior.  I know personally that as much as I’d like the Sox to smoke the Cubs it’s far more important to not get clobbered by Minnesota so if they lose 3 of 4 I’m not gonna be too pissed about it.  

Hess: I am right there with you both, but I still think it is fun and kind of important that they play each other. Is it a true rivalry? No. The most heated moment in the history was the Barret-Pierzynski fight, and even any Sox who thinks they wouldn’t punch AJ when aggravated and they had the chance is a liar. But there is something fun about having them play one another, especially with the teams in the current states, as the Cubs represent everything the Sox are hoping for out of the rebuild. And the NBCSN commercials for it are nauseating.

Flipping to you, Sam – The Sox are set to see Jon Lester on Wednesday, who seems to be having more hills and valleys with his play this year than the Rocky Mountains the Cubs left behind last week. What’s been his deal?
Fels: Well, he’s old. Lester’s stuff has definitely declined a bit, which makes his margin for error somewhere in Hendricks range. Lester hasn’t been able to blow anyone away in a while, which is fine, because he could just beat the corners into submission. But now as his stuff plays even lower, he really has to hit the corners and nothing else and when he misses it’s ya-ha time. He’s been trying a new approach and trying to get inside more than just merely staying not the outside corner, but again, he can’t miss. Some days he doesn’t. Some days he does and he gets shelled. There seems to be no in between. He also hasn’t quite figured out how to make his change as effective as it should be.

Looks like this week could be the debut of another Sox toy, in Zack Collins. Is this just a Wellington injury fill-in? Is he here for good? How worried are you about the swing and miss in his game?
AJ: At this point with the hilariously bad production out of the DH spot (.191/.294/.357!?!) I’m excited to see what he can bring to the table.  I’ve set my expectations fairly low, so if he can make me forget Yonder Alonso is a thing that is here then I’ll be thrilled.  The swing and miss portion of his game seems to fit right in with most of the hitters in MLB now anyways, what with the Three True Outcomes and all, so that part doesn’t concern me as much.  What does concern me is his ability to actually stick at catcher.  If he’s unable to play there at least half time then we are looking at a career DH, as the dearth of 1B prospects the Sox have are probably gonna boot him from there.  My guess is that he’s here until Castillo is healthy, as the Sox want to try and feature The Beef as much as possible to trade him in 2 weeks.
Hess: The funny thing about the swing-and-miss in Collins’ game is that in all reality, he doesn’t swing much. He’s one of the most patient hitters I have ever seen, and only really swings if he either really has to or really gets a pitch he likes. That has resulted in hilarious strikeout and walk rates in the minors so far, as he’s basically walked or struck out in half of his MiLB PA’s. But a 15%+ walk rate is nothing to scoff at, even if it comes with a ~30% K-rate. I echo AJ’s catching concerns, but I saw him do it in person and was actually encouraged, and I also saw him play a competent 1B in person. If he can be a C/1B/DH combo with a high OBP and big power, you will never hear me complain. In terms of who he might be replacing, I would think Collins is here the rest of the year, and either Castillo or Alonso get DFA’d on August 1 if the Sox can’t get anything for them.

Speaking of new faces, the Cubs are still waiting patiently for Craig Kimbrel to arrive in full. Is he going to solve their bullpen issues well enough, or are they still gonna need to look elsewhere? And relatedly, do you think they’d be wanting enough for back-end help to pay up for Alex Colome from the Sox?
Fels: Kimbrel definitely won’t solve everything, but he’s an improvement over what they have. It pushes Strop to be the fireman of sorts, or would if Maddon were in any way creative with his bullpen usage. They’ll still be on arm short, maybe two, because Maddon may have broken Cishek last year. Right now, Kintzler and Strop are the only ones they can consistently count on. Edwards was good upon his recall, but his hurt again and you can never quite trust him. There’s a chance Alzolay ends up being another arm late in the year, but even that will leave them one short I think. And while I’d love to tell you it’ll be my guy Dillon Maples…

Colome is a name they will definitely be connected to but I think their preference is going to be someone who throws left-handed. Will Smith maybe. And I don’t think they’re going to be too interested in forking over the boat for any other reliever.
The Sox are floating around .500 without surpassing it, but that won’t change their plans much. Still, other than Colome is there anyone they can get meaningful things for at the deadline now?
AJ: The only other players who might be worth anything at the deadline would be James McCann or Jose Abreu and at this point the offer would have to be fairly impressive for the Sox to budge on either.  Though Tim Anderson has come a long way I think Abreu is still the face of the franchise, and having him here to mentor the other Cuban kids matters more than most may think.  

As for McCann, even though his BABIP is insanely unsustainable his defense and his work with Giolito combined with his super affordable price make him pretty unmovable unless a team came along with a deal Hahn couldn’t refuse.
Sam, what’s up with Javy right now?  Is this just the inevitable result of his free swinging ways catching up to him?  Or is this something more to do with the foot injury he was nursing for a few weeks?  Maybe a combination of both?
Fels: You always worry about injuries lingering, and if it were they definitely wouldn’t tell you. But mostly I think this is just how Javy is, that there’s going to be a couple weeks or month, maybe even six weeks, where he makes you tear your hair out (if I had any) and then the rest of the time he’s the best show on Earth. He’s definitely gotten a little pull-happy and whereas in May and April he was actually taking a noticeable number of walks he hasn’t walked at all in June. Maybe the heel injury has slowed his swing a touch, we’ll never know. Once he starts going back to right field again, he’ll probably put up stupid numbers again. Javy doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I learned long ago to stop questioning it.

All right, feels like we’re ready to go for these two stupid games. Let’s get through it.
Everything Else

Game 1 Box Score: Cubs 4, Cardinals 0

Game 2 Box Score: Cubs 6, Cardinals 5

Game 3 Box Score: Cubs 13, Cardinals 5

Let’s get it right at the top here. Back in first place. Best winning percentage in the NL. Best run-differential in baseball. Won seven in a row. 16 of 20. It was utterly pointless to be trying to tear your heart out of your chest with your fingernail after nine games. Everyone has a bad nine games. Fuck, everyone has a bad 20 games. I understand the microscope is more focused at the start of a season. I understand it was an unpleasant winter and everyone already had the knives out and wanted to be the first to say, “I told you so.”

But it was always a good offense. Possibly great. It was always potentially a really good rotation, and one that survived an IL stint to Jon Lester. You have those two things, the pen doesn’t matter as much. The Cubs have six players with a wRC+ of 115 or higher. The only regulars who aren’t there are Schwarber, Zobrist and Descalso. And Schwarber’s is 129 over the past two weeks.

So yeah, I don’t want to hear it. This is a really good team, a team that is essentially the one that won 95 games last year and gets to use Yu Darvish and a healthy Kris Bryant. It’s been even able to carry a struggling Zobrist. They’re really good. Everyone on board.

Let’s do the thing:

The Two Obs

-I find it funny that it took Hendricks and Contreras about an inning or two to figure out that the Cardinals were trying to jump on The Cerebral Assassin early in at-bats, proceeded to cut through them like a daisy cutter, and yet the Cardinals never bothered to try anything else. Hendricks threw seven pitches in the 7th. Nine in the 8th. 10 in the 9th. Good thing they hired Shildt full-time, huh?

-Saturday, the right decision was definitely to walk Schwarber to get to Taylor Davis. That doesn’t mean Michael Wacha had to throw him a batting practice fastball that any competent profession baseball player is going to hurt. I thought the Cardinals were smart?

-Yu Darvish is Javy Vasquez. If you remember Little Game Javy, as Yankees fans so lovingly referred to him as, he had five or six different pitches, all of them effective. But it Javy’s world, and apparently Yu’s, no one should make contact on him. Which means he pitches that way, which means he misses, which means walks, which means problems. Until Yu starts pitching to contact and taking the strikeouts when they’re there, this is what you’re gong to get. He’s never had great control, but it’s within him, he simply chooses not to. Remember, before he got to Chicago the previous two seasons saw him carry a BB/9 under three. He’s at 7.44 this year. It has to stop.

-I don’t really care how the Cubs pen does it, but they’ve been among the best in baseball since the first week. And I don’t care. It’s a bullpen, it doesn’t have to make sense.

-This is the rotation the Cardinals are going to take us down with? Ok.

-Quintana wasn’t as vintage as he’s been this year, but he was able to muscle through it which is a really good sign. Also helps that the Cubs catch everything and play defense all over the field.

-Between Bryant, Heyward, and Baez, Cardinals fans aren’t going to know who to boo when the Cubs go down there later this month. And I’m fine with a team of villains.

Onwards…

 

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Cubs 6, Mariners 5

Game 2 Box Score: Cubs 11, Mariners 0

The thing is I like Pearl Jam. It’s like this..

They’re fine. And I get that Eddie Vedder has nominated himself the #1 Cubs fan forever, even though he doesn’t know who Steely Dan is according to his own goddamn documentary (not that he should, but if you’re going to be music’s self-appointed ambassador, you’d better). But if you’re in Seattle and you’re going to make a big deal of your intro and outro music, try someone else. Off the top of my head I can name a dozen better Seattle bands:

Nirvana, Soundgarde, Dinosaur Jr. Screaming Trees. Green River, Mother Love Bone, Alice In Chains, Mad Season, Mudhoney, Sunny Day Real Estate, Heart, the Sonics. There, done. Try any of them. Honestly.

Oh right… the baseball…

The Two Obs

-Here’s something I like. With Jason Heyward and Willson Contreras cooling off just a bit, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have arrived. Bryant might not have enough to show for it, but last night he managed four balls with an exit velocity over 100 MPH, and Rizzo added two homers in two games, including a big one last night. And let’s not forget The War Bear, who has hit .381 the last week and won Tuesday’s game with a homer that turned the baseball oblong. If the thunder don’t get ya the lightning will.

-It’s been overshadowed by his injury absence, but the Cubs are getting serious work from Jon Lester. He’s got a WHIP of 0.96 on the year. So far this season he’s eschewed his four-seamer for more cutters and more change-ups, and if these are the results I’m here for it.

-You still can’t trust this pen as far as you could throw it collectively, but I’m hoping that just one day off after whatever that was on Sunday just wasn’t quite enough. But then I also think that Brad Brach just sucks, so here we are. I hold out some hope that Brandon Kintzler has some use, and he did get a seriously needed double-play last night. But he also served up one to Edwin Encarnacion that landed somewhere near Victoria.

-Cole Hamels had to get too many outs, and two earned over 5.2 innings should be enough normally. He wasn’t hit all that hard so we’ll just let it pass.

-Good lord are the Mariners helpless defensively. In my shitty high school league the first thing our coach told us was, “Get the ball in play. In this league, amazing things will happen.” That’s the same for the Mariners. We said it in the preview but Encarnacion and Santana should be DHs and Bruce probably should too. But because Dan Vogelbach would probably just eat his glove, they all have to play in the field. This could be a pretty good offense and if King Felix can at least be competent it’s not a hopeless rotation, but they’re going nowhere because they’re never going to catch the ball.

-I will take anything I can get when it comes to Dillon Maples, and striking out the side in the 9th in an 11-0 game is still that. Encarnacion was diving out of the way of strikes. So was everyone else. If he could ever just keep his fastball in the zip code, he’s the doomsday device out of the pen we’ve wanted. Seriously, he could be Josh Hader from last year, if his control wasn’t a Pollock painting.

-I guess that was Javy’s response to being asked if he wants to give up shortstop.

Onwards…