Baseball

It doesn’t fit for this front office to say they put on a show to justify making the choice they wanted to make the entire time anyway. Maybe they did, but while they don’t always get it right, I would be hard-pressed to ever accuse Theo Epstein’s regime of not being thorough. I don’t think there’s any move they’ve made where they were just tossing a football around the office, never even looked at a sheet or screen, and said, “Yeah sure whatever.”

So I don’t think the two interviews for David Ross were just for the sake of doing it because they gave Joe Espada two interviews. I don’t think they were just making it seem like they were doing their due diligence while they actually just got drunk with Ross and made fun of ESPN personalities (which probably did happen in addition, to be fair). My guess would be they put Ross through a pretty heavy ringer to be comfortable giving him the manager’s job.

Does the familiarity help? Sure, of course. But that goes both ways. The only thing I’m sure of with the Cubs’ manager search is they wanted a guy who will run the team in the same vision they have for it as they put it together. That doesn’t mean they’ll be calling down to the dugout during the game and telling Ross or whoever else they might have hired what to do. But when they put together this team this winter, whatever and however that’s going to be, anyone would have a clear idea of how they want the pieces moved on the board. Whether that vision is correct or not…well, that’s what a baseball season is for.

So yeah, they probably want their bullpen used more creatively than 7th- and 8th-inning guy, and then closer. Especially as it’s likely to have at least two guys–Alzolay and Chatwood–who can be used for multiple innings. They probably want that in close games, not just mop-up situations or when there’s no other option. They want a different environment for younger players, as this one kind of stalled out for some (assuming they can actually play). They probably don’t want Albert Almora leading off ever again. They want things to definitely be tighter than they were this year.

But for anyone to say, “Oh Ross will do this or that. Or he’ll bring this or that to the clubhouse…” We don’t have any idea. He doesn’t have any idea. Neither does Theo. We can guess and they might have a stronger inkling thanks to the interviews and their relationship with him, but no one knows.

Sure, he doesn’t have any experience. But he also spent his entire career as a backup catcher, which means he spent most of his career watching from the dugout, seeing how things play out. And if he thought he wanted to be a manager at any point, which he obviously did, it was probably in that context at some point long ago.

Yes, he has a relationship with some of the players, and all of the core. Maybe that means he holds them accountable better. Maybe it means he thinks he’s still their buddy. Maybe it means he knows exactly how to get through to them and immediately get on board and bring the rest of the team with them. We don’t know, and probably won’t until July.

Maybe he sets a harsher tone. He was a great clubhouse leader as a player. I mean, everyone says so. Except that all of those things that made him so are things we never saw. We take their word for it. The volume of it makes it probably true, but how does that play as a boss? He acted as something of a conduit from the manager to the players in both Boston and Chicago, so he’s not unfamiliar. But I’m not going to take him yelling at Anthony Rizzo one time in spring training as a basis for how he’ll run an entire team for an entire season and more.

But the tangible stuff? We don’t have any idea. Can he get players to change their approach at times? A few hitting coaches have failed at it now, so why will Ross be any different? He could. He might not. We don’t know. Can Ross make Quintana discover a new pitch or new way of delivering one of the ones he has to find more success? Maybe? Who knows?

Ross will probably look like a good manager if he gets a starter to slot either right below or right in the middle of Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish and definitely above Q and Jon Lester, along with two more bullpen arms. I bet he looks pretty smart then. Oh, and Ian Happ hits out of center and Nico Hoerner is ready to take over at second by no later than Memorial Day.

All we can say for sure is that in those interviews, the outline or vision Ross had for how this team should look and be deployed lined up with what the front office sees. But we don’t know what that vision is, they’re not going to tell us. We’ll find out during the season.

My fear is that Ross’s name and esteem amongst Cubs fans and media is part of the appeal, in that he’ll buy some breathing room and time for the rest of the organization in case they have plans they know we won’t like. That’s probably some of the appeal, but not all.

But in the end, we don’t know. We’ll fill this vacuum of nothing with our thoughts and opinions and most of all our guesses because there’s nothing else to do and you can’t leave a vacuum a vacuum, duh. But you don’t know. I don’t know. They don’t know.

And by the time we do know, it could be too late. Or it could be perfect. It could be anything. That can be exciting. That can be daunting. Again, anything.

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

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RECORDS: Cubs 82-77   Cardinals 90-69

GAMETIMES: Friday 7:15, Saturday 6:15, Sunday 2:15

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Cardinals Spotlight: The Next One

Two years ago, which seems like an eternity now, the Cubs came into St. Louis in the last week of the season. They put the NL Central to bed in front of their greatest enemy, and then the next night ended the Red Menace’s flickering wildcard hopes even though the game meant nothing to them. Fate can be cruel.

Having ended the Cubs playoff hopes, the Cardinals will likely celebrate taking the NL Central right in front of them and their fans deluded enough to enter the gates for this one. Perhaps an interested or even breathing Cubs team could knock the Cards down to a date with Max Scherzer on the road on Tuesday night, but that is not this Cubs team. It’s also incredibly beat up now, which won’t make for much of an excuse as they watch that celebration.

The Cubs will roll into this one with Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish shelved for the season to protect themselves from themselves. Cole Hamels is only getting a start to try and prove to prospective suitors in the winter he’s not in fact dead. The lineup is going to be utterly hilarious, and you can already hear the Brewers bitching about it from Denver. This is what the Cubs have become, and it does not feel good.

The Cards still have plenty at stake. They need to match whatever the Brewers do in Denver to avoid a 163 and/or wildcard, plain and simple. That’s motive enough you would think. So Dakota Hudson and Adam Wainwright are the first two out of the chute, with Jack Flaherty waiting for a 163, wildcard, or Game 1. It could be any of those. He could even go Sunday if the Cards need it. Considering the lineup the Cubs might put out that day, he could throw a perfect game in 80 pitches.

That’s where it stands. the ultimate humiliation for the Cubs. Who knew it could fall so far in just two seasons? We thought a sea-change had been engineered, and yet here we are forced to watch yet another installment of St. Louis getting one over the Cubs. Perhaps it’s an image that will serve to light a fire under next year’s team, but they’ll need more than that. What is pretty clear is that this is Joe Maddon‘s last series as a Cub manager. Though every fan has been back and forth on what Maddon is and what maybe he should have been, what he definitely was is the most successful manager in the team’s history. It hardly seems like it was only five years ago that his hiring signaled something new about the Cubs, the combination of hope and expectation. If this is how it ends, no matter how you feel, you can’t deny it’s bene a ride.

That article can be written another time, though. And it will.

On a sentimental level, it’s perhaps the last time we’ll see Nicholas Castellanos in a Cubs uniform. There are others who could be doing so for the last time as well. That’s a worry for another time. This is just about getting through it, or pretending it isn’t happening as I’m sure a lot of you will understandably opt for. Some pains are too great to endure first hand. Just knowing it’s happening is enough.

 

Baseball

It’s strange, because there’s not much more that’s new to say. I’ve written series recaps before that pointed out how that given series was a perfect demonstration of the systematic failure at every level of the Cubs this year. Ownership, front office, managing, training staff, players. Every single thing has simply not been up to par this season, and in some ways the Cubs are getting exactly what they deserve in the most humiliating fashion. And yet, I bet you and I are a lot more upset about it than the Ricketts family right now.

The thing I kept coming back to is arrogance. Arrogance of the whole organization that things would simply work out because it was the Cubs doing it. The arrogance of Theo Epstein that he would be able to buy his way out of all the mistakes he’s made, and then having no plan when he couldn’t. The arrogance that any player coming through the system would come good, simply because it was the Cubs system. The arrogance that not producing one pitcher until Rowan Wick would be fine. The arrogance of the manager who simply refused to learn how to adapt to a game that has rapidly changed on his watch. The arrogance of players who have burned through three hitting coaches now because they refused to change anything they did in the biggest situations. The arrogance of a medical staff that waited a week to get Javier Baez an MRI, or had Cole Hamels clearly pitching hurt for a month, which had its knock-on effects, or Kris Bryant on one leg for longer than that, or the more I can keep mentioning.

And that has led to a season of Hail Marys to try and save it. Calling up Ian Happ before he had really dominated at Iowa was a Hail Mary. Robel Garcia was a Hail Mary. Ben Zobrist after four months out was a Hail Mary. Craig Kimbrel with no spring training was a Hail Mary. Anthony Rizzo on one leg was a Hail Mary, though one that ended up pretty much working. The Cubs didn’t have a foundation, so they just had to throw everything they could at the wall.

And it’s come to a head over the last six games. And funny enough, it starts with the starting rotation, which was supposed to be the one thing they could count on. For weeks, Jon Lester has been a fifth starter, and given his age and odometer, that’s not really surprising. Jose Quintana decided that looked like fun and didn’t want to stick around for more than three innings. Hamels as previously mentioned.

Which meant that even a September bullpen was charred, to the point where the Cubs had no choice but to let Yu Darvish try and finish this one out today. There was no one else. It led to rushing Kimbrel back when he clearly was not ready on Thursday or yesterday. It led to Joe Maddon having to make a lot of in-game decisions, which isn’t what you want. Which is why you have a Make-A-Wish like Danny Hultzen trying to pull Q’s ass out of a jam yesterday to give up a lead.

Yesterday’s game is a stinger in another way, as when the Cards did take that 5-3 lead they did it by simply lining a single up the middle or the opposite way with men on base. If the Cubs had taken that approach more often this season and only trying for the world-ending bomb when it was on offer, where might they be? Nah, we’ll just whiff on another high fastball. It’s going great for us.

But hey, the offense put up eight runs yesterday. They just can’t string any innings from the pen together. Here’s a question, how does Tyler Chatwood throw a third of an inning this series? Is he hurt too? The Cubs had a chance to have a multi-inning piece all season with him in the pen, to shield all the things they didn’t have. Maddon refused because he doesn’t see the game that way. Let’s try James Norwood some more.

At the end of the day, I don’t know how upset at the offense I can get when Baez is out, Bryant is clearly hurt and not on cortisone shots anymore, and Rizzo is also on one leg. Might have helped if Willson Contreras took a pitch this week, which he didn’t. But it’s the rotation, rotation, rotation. It left Yu without a net. Final nail.

When you lose four one-run games, and as many as the Cubs have this year, it’s easy to point to luck, and that’s part of it. The bigger part for this team is the pen and they simply don’t make all the plays like they used to. They find a way to give up another run, or keep an inning going, or walk a guy to keep turning the lineup over. They haven’t been as locked in this year as they have been, and they’re now a middling defensive team. This is a big deal. It’s mostly the outfield, as the infield still ranks among the top in groundball efficiency. You’ve got to make the plays. The Cubs didn’t today, they haven’t a lot, and they lose.

They’re going to win less than 85 games, likely. That should never, ever happen with this roster.

Heads will roll now, unlike the only-promised bloodletting of last offseason. Maddon’s toast, to be replaced by whatever automaton that will run the team exactly how Theo sees it. I guess that’s fine, though I wonder how Theo sees the game now. It’s felt like he’s been caught and passed by other front offices, and without an unending checkbook, he can’t find a way back. We’ll see. For the first time here the daggers will be out this winter and a heavy focus on what they do.

There will be talk of trading a major piece. I don’t see how you get equal value for any of them and not create a hole in your lineup you can’t fill properly. If I had to wager, Contreras’s name will be the one you hear most, and I guess if you get a genuine centerfielder out of it, and maybe a pitcher, you’d have to listen. I don’t know that Victor Caratini wouldn’t be exposed with a full slate of ABs, and just how many .900+ OPS catchers do you think there are out there?

Still, these questions would have easier answers if the Cubs had produced anything out of their own system the past few seasons. The Dodgers can’t fit all of them in. Neither can the Astros. The Yankees had a whole team injured and might end up with the best record in the game. You have to keep reloading. The Cubs gave you Robel Garcia.

And I don’t know the future is any brighter in that sense. It would be the same mistake the Cubs made on Almora, on Happ, even on Russell back in 2015, to just hand the 2nd base job to Nico Hoerner in Mesa. He has too little experience. But the Cubs might have to given financial restraints. Which are in place because they’ve blown so many big contracts.

There’s a way out of this. But it’s an awfully dark tunnel to get there, with a lot of pits and wrong turns that have to be avoided. I can’t tell you I’m 100% confident the Cubs can negotiate it, given what we’ve seen over the last eight months.

But as always…

Onwards…

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

Game 1 Box Score: Cubs 10, Brewers 5

Game 2 Box Score: Brewers 7, Cubs 1

Game 3 Box Score: Brewers 3, Cubs 2

Game 4 Box Score: Brewers 8, Cubs 5

To review: the past two weekends, the Cubs had the chance to end the Brewers season, separate themselves in the wildcard race (which should only be viewed as the faintest of consolation prizes) while maintaining a gap on the Cardinals that would be easily manageable in the seven games that are left with them. And to remind you, this is a Brewers team aching to be given a lethal injection, as they’ve been nothing but .500 for 60 games now.

All the Cubs managed to do was make themselves the team that needs to be put out of its misery, keep everyone involved, and maybe make the Cardinals, the definition of a mediocre outfit, out of reach. They did so a shining example of how every level of this team has failed from the end of last season (importantly, not during it). The ownership that wouldn’t spend, the front office that needed to be bailed out by cash because of all its mistakes, the manager who doesn’t see the game or his team for what it is, and players who have refused to grow, or change, or adjust, and are simply not good enough.

I would love to tell you the Cubs are finished and you can go about your lives. My hunch is that they’ll death spasm for a week to make the last week or two matter or something, and all that will be is a chance for all of these systematic failures to rear their ugly head again.

Let’s review it all. They win the first game, because the offense isn’t quite bad enough to go quiet for four games. But then Cole Hamels, who clearly was rushed back from an injury that he had struggled to come back from before, had to hump it up to even crack 90 MPH and was labeled. Ok, that happens. It happens too much to this team but it happens.

Saturday night is everything. It was their third look in just over a month at Gio Gonzalez. Their manager, who clearly electrocuted himself in his office before the game in some bizarre experiment, starts Albert Almora at leadoff, even though he might as well go up there with a fish. Almora along with everyone else still hasn’t figured out that Gio is not going to come inside, or to the middle of the plate, or even to the outside corner, unless you make him. But there’s everyone trying to yank the baseball out to Minocqua and rolling out to third or short, including Almora in a huge spot after the Cubs got two on with no out. Inning over.

This is after you’ve learned Javy Baez is probably done for the year, and while breaking a thumb is no one’s fault, he was breaking down long before that because the front office provided no depth to get him a day off other than Addison Russell occasionally, who is too stupid to go up there with a fish (or the manager’s utter terror to even try Bote at short for a game or two). So your offense is limited, and gets shut down by Gonzalez once again. Your manager, while attempting to turn discarded sunflower seeds into wine, says that his team struggles against Gio because they keep expanding their zone. Did he bother to tell his players this? Did they not listen if he did? Either way, this seems like a flashing light about why the door is going to hit Joe on the ass on September 30th.

Still, thanks to Yu Darvish, you’re in it, and generate a rally against Josh Hader. You take the lead, but Kris Bryant can’t extend it because he’s on one leg and has been for a month at least, again because the depth provided hasn’t allowed him to get the additional week or two off he clearly, desperately needs. He hasn’t hit a fastball above his mid-thing hard for weeks. And he can’t. Somehow, Ian Happ is good enough to pinch-hit against Hader but not good enough to start against Gonzalez ahead of Almora, despite having one of the best handles on the zone on the team.

Then Joe Maddon goes to work. Brilliant, glorious, galaxy-brained work. You’re up one in the 8th of a game you really need. It’s 2-3-4. This is not a time to match up. This is not a time to get cute. You send your best guy out there, and figure out how to get the thoroughly unimpressive bottom of the Brewers order in the 9th later. You do not send out David Phelps, something you found in the Toronto storage room. You do not send out Derek Holland, who has earned nothing while being here, much less the right to face the reigning MVP in the 8th inning of a tie game. You send out Wick. You send out Kinztler, that’s all you have. And because of the mishegas in the 8th, you only assure yourself of having to face Yelich again in the 9th.

Your “backup” shortstop, the one with cold oatmeal for brains, makes an error to let a runner on. You get through Grandal by some miracle, and then you walk Yelich. He’s all that’s left. He’s basically all they have. The manager himself said he’s like Bonds now, except he didn’t treat him like Bonds. You don’t walk him, baseball thinking be damned. And when you don’t do that, you allow Yelich to do stuff like this:

That’s a good pitch. Maybe it’s a little high, but it’s barely ticking the zone. But Yelich doesn’t miss right now. He hasn’t missed in two years. There isn’t away around him. Fairly sure there’s a way around Eric Thames. Just a hunch.

After that…well who cares? Jon Lester is your fifth starter and you get whatever you can, which sometimes isn’t much. And it’s truly symbolic that in the 5th, when everything went off, was a result of the Brewers doing exactly what the Cubs refused, or can’t, or both to Gonzalez, and that is just taking those pitches on the outside to right field over and over. Eventually you’ll get the mistake you want when the pitcher is wary of that. Goodnight.

I’m genuinely angry I have to keep watching this team. They’re not enjoying it, we’re not enjoying it, and everyone wants to just go home and be done with it. Do I think an utter collapse would cause changes? Not the ones you want. The Ricketts Family told you when it became public how Tom sold the purchase to Daddy. They’ll sell out Wrigley no matter what. That’s why they bought the team. They have all the buildings now. There was an urgency once, otherwise you wouldn’t hire the best available front office mind in Theo Epstein to overhaul your whole operation. But there isn’t now. They’ve got the property, they’ve got their channel, and they’ve got their one bauble to point to to justify it all. Whatever comes this winter is more likely to resemble deck chairs, or a move backwards.

Oh sure, Maddon will go. Maybe that’s enough, but I don’t know what a new manager does with the players from the system who have proven inflexible and not up to the standard of the Dodgers or Braves, or now not even the Cardinals. Those players were threatened withe expulsion last winter, but they’re all still here. There are no young pitchers coming to save the day. Alzolay will basically have to be a mutli-inning bullpen weapon due to his lack of innings. That’s it. That’s all there is. And Gerrit Cole or an opting-out Strasburg aren’t coming through the door either.

Just shoot it, this season. End the misery.

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Cubs 7, Brewers 1

Game 2 Box Score: Brewers 2, Cubs 0

Game 3 Box Score: Brewers 4, Cubs o

The temptation to rant and rave and declare it all over certainly is strong, and probably even justified. By the time the night ends the Cubs could be four back with 26 to go, which sounds daunting. At the same time, both the Cardinals and Cubs are so mediocre that this race probably has a turn or two left, and as long as either are in touching distance of the other when they get to the seven in 10 against each other that ends the season, nothing will be over.

Even yesterday, I don’t feel like I want to throw things out the window over. The Cubs made a lot of loud contact and line drives that just kept ending up caressed in leather instead of finding open spaces. That happens sometimes. It’s frustrating when it comes at the end of a season where you’ve pissed away so many games in stupid fashion, and I keep writing this. But they happen to everyone.

Today feels more toward unacceptable. A second-straight bullpen game against with the only true dominant reliever the Brewers have not coming up for air until the game was already over. Some pretty baffling lineup decisions, then in-game ones, as well as more simply bewildering performance, and an inability to simply put the bat on the ball when it matters. You just can’t have that, or you can’t if you’re trying to claim to be something it’s obvious you’re not.

But at the end of the day, this is what the Cubs are. Three steps forward, two and a half back, then two steps forward with three steps back, going nowhere.

And what should really be galling, either to the front office or the media that covers it, is this is the type of weekend the Cubs told you they needed to have more focus on, more killer instinct, before this season started, when they were reacting so bizarrely to a 95-win season. They had a chance to put the Brewers to the sword here, and basically end their season (they’ll get another chance next weekend, but don’t bet on it). And they passed. They limped away. Good thing they got rid of all those themed roadtrips, huh?

Let’s…

-Ok, let’s do today first. Joe Maddon got away with a goofy lineup on Friday because Chase Anderson is awful and Nick Castellanos had himself a day. But that was a lineup shorn of Bryant, Rizzo, and Contreras. That doesn’t mean trying it a second time was all that advisable.

Fine, Rizzo needs a day as he comes back from his back problems. Really the only move I’m talking about here is not starting Schwarber. Yeah, he’s not great against lefties, but neither are Addison Russell, or Albert Almora, or Jonathan Lucroy. Schwarbs has been just about the best hitter next to Castellanos of late, and this team can’t really go without his bat when two of the “Core Four” aren’t around. And this game could have come down to an AB or two before Craig Kimbrel had nothing.

-So then you get to the sixth, and whatever the fuck that was. It’s not like Joe wouldn’t have seen Claudio warming up, and known that pinch-hitting for Almora with Heyward (0-for-his-last-18 at that point), would see him come into the game. So he would have to know that Heyward-Claudio is what he’s going to get, and if he’s uncomfortable enough with that that he needs to bunt (NEVER BUNT), then just have Almora do it. But again, don’t bunt.

-Also, bunting in assuming that Addison Russell is going to give you a good AB next is some galaxy brain abstract thinking. Does Joe know he sucks?

-And still we go on, as the Cubs finally get a leadoff hit from Bryant, and then the next three guys strikeout. There it is right there, the main problem it’s always been. Sure, it’s not really fair to Caratini who’s been really good of late, or Rizzo who was rung up on a pitch outside the zone (LOVE THE HUMAN ELEMENT SO MUCH I’M LIGHTING MY SCROTUM ON FIRE). Heyward never had a chance because he’s bad. You can’t have any of this. Caratini has to take the walk or pull the ball. Someone’s got to get a bat on the ball. I don’t want to hear the rest of it.

-Speaking of Heyward, I don’t want to hear it anymore. He can bitch and moan all he likes but when it’s all over where you bat in the lineup shouldn’t make a damn bit of difference. The idea is always the same. So don’t tell me putting him in the leadoff spot sent him into a tailspin and don’t tell me that you can’t move him when he starts again because he’s requested that he not be. Hit the damn ball or get out of the way.

-And speaking of Bryant, his big homers against Cincy, Pittsburgh, and the Giants have masked the fact that he’s been thoroughly mediocre for a month. With Contreras out and Rizzo hurting, the Cubs need more from him. That’s if he’s healthy, and you won’t convince me he is. But a 94 wRC+ for a month isn’t good enough. The Cubs have their weak spots, and that’s not going to change. With no Rizzo, you only have Schwarber and Castellanos that have been performing at a “star” level. Again, it’s not enough.

Anyway, onwards…

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

Game 1 Box Score: Cubs 5, Giants 3

Game 2 Box Score: Cubs 12, Giants 11

Game 3 Box Score: Cubs 1, Giants 0

And now back on top of the rollercoaster. The Cubs return home, where they’ve looked like a genuine class team all season, and though they did their best to drop one or two to the Giants, they also couldn’t break their own resolve. A resolve they only seem to have when donning the blue pinstripes. Still, they’ll enter the weekend in first place, no matter what the Cardinals do with the Rockies tonight. They won every type of game–a shootout, a pitcher’s duel, and your conventional one. Why does the rest have to be so hard?

Let’s…

-You wouldn’t suggest Cole Hamels is “back,” but he had at least enough stuff and enough savvy to kind of Forrest Gump his way through Tuesday’s opener. It was sort of the Jon Lester thing where you feel like he’s about to give at any moment, but gets through the inning and start simply because he wants to. After what he’d done his two previous you’ll take it, but we’d much prefer the dominating one from earlier in the season back.

-It had been a while since Rizzo had won a game for the Cubs on his own. You have to say though that a mark of a great player is that they’re still finding ways to help even when the power game goes. Rizzo has gotten on base consistently even if he wasn’t slugging, but a slugging binge is what the Cubs need.

-I was worried that with two recent starts for Tony Kemp that Joe Maddon had overreacted to two grounders that were outside Ian Happ‘s limited range during that collapse in Philly, but that fear has subsided since. And thank god for that.

-There isn’t much to say about Nick Castellanos at this point, but it is important to remember an unsustainable binge shouldn’t influence you or the Cubs on whether he should be re-signed this winter or not. There’s going to be a huge push to do so, and that may be the right decision, but just try to keep the whole picture in mind. He’s not a .400 hitter. He might be entering his prime right now and could be better than what he’s been before, but let’s try and keep reasoned here if possible.

-There is so much to say about Wednesday’s win I don’t know if I have time. We’ve been over Yu’s work, so we don’t have to go over that again. There were some curious decisions from Maddon, which he got away with because his offense decided they were going to win no matter what. He definitely got caught cold with how quickly it blew up on Darvish, which meant only Derek Holland was warming up. And when he got through two lefties who both got on, that meant he had to face a righty which he never should have to do. Secondly, Joe never seemed to realize that Little Yaz has been better against lefties than righties all season, even having Kyle Ryan deal with him today (which he also got away with).

In the 7th last night, Joe seems determined to make sure that Steve Cishek warms up and comes in double the amount now to make up for the appearances he missed while on the IL. Right into the fire. But there were runners on, lefties up, grounders needed, which is what Brandon Kintzler does. Cishek got out of it with only a sac fly given up, but you wanted things on the ground or Ks. Kintzler probably should have started the inning. Of course, Kintzler gets out of the 8th relatively cleanly. Coudl have used that in the 6th or 7th.

-Luckily, Kris Bryant is still a Cub. That’s three games in a week he’s pulled the Cubs’ ass out of a sling.

-Today’s game looked a lot like one where both teams played too late last night. The sun was the offensive MVP, and the Giants only real chance came after Castellanos got pretty dizzy chasing what would have been a homer from Crawford on 75 other home dates. Still, the Cubs got six outs from the pen to protect a one-run lead without needing Kimbrel or Cishek. That’s an upset.

-Those two outings were the best Kimbrel has looked since becoming a Cub. I won’t count on it to be a trend, as it’s just going to be a weird season for him given the preparation, but 98 MPH is 98 MPH.

Onwards…

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Pirates 3, Cubs 2

Game 2 Box Score: Cubs 2, Pirates 0

Game 3 Box Score: Cubs 7, Pirates 1

It was inches away from being a sweep, and coming home with a 5-5 road trip, which would not have been acceptable given the circumstance but wouldn’t have felt like some punitive prison punishment that this has turned into. And yet, despite all their cock-ups and idiocy, the Cubs end this roadie in first place, though having to share it. And they’ll return home for six games, where they’re 12-3 since the break. And while they do that, the Brewers and Cardinals will be throwing their fake teeth and harvested manure at each other, so if the Cubs continue to play at home as they have they’ll be gaining games on someone. Thanks to the balloon-handedness of the division, and despite their own nincompoop ways, they still have it all in their own hands.

Right then, let’s…

-I guess we’ll start with Friday night’s what-have-ya. First off, you should never be muzzled by Joe Musgrove like that unless you’re intentionally trying to do so. The Cubs didn’t much look interested Friday night, which is a luxury they’ve lost with all the other games they’ve spent trying to light their own farts.

But hey, Maddon even got away with letting Tony Kemp bat, against a lefty no less, and you get the lead. There was sone consternation about bringing Brandon Kinztler straight from the DL into this bonfire, but what choice was there? Cishek and Kimbrel are hurt. Strop is broken, and along with Wick was part of the monk-immolation in Philly the night before. Really, the only mistake was Kintzler not throwing the ball down the middle to some rookie hitting .196 and seeing just exactly how far he could hit it.

-There was also daggers being tossed at David Bote, and the whole rigamarole about using Bryant as a defensive replacement is a touch weird. Bote is just unlucky to get another ball like that, and one if he even fields cleanly he might not have a play on. This is just sequencing again. Whatever the faults of Bote, defensively he’s been just fine, and more so at third. Proclaiming him a plague on society is overly strong.

-The Cubs didn’t look all that more interested against Steven Brault either yesterday afternoon, but  the Pirates can’t even take two games in a row that they’re being handed. Lester made some huge pitches and dodged and weaved out of trouble, and while he’s not what he was and probably won’t be again, he still can pull these efforts out when the Cubs need them most.

-Use Chatwood for multiple innings more often. Thank you for your time.

-Kris Bryant to the rescue again on Saturday, but it still feels like he’s having a weird season. Given the baseball and what others are doing, shouldn’t he be heading for a career-high in homers too? Or anywhere near it? Or are the 39 in his MVP year the aberration? His slugging is the second-highest of his career, so you can’t complain, it just seems like it would have been more.

-Since July 1, Jose Quintana has been the seventh best pitcher in the NL in terms of fWAR and FIP. But keep stabbing yourself in the heart about Eloy Jimenez and his .293 OBP.

-I would like to think getting to do something as goofy as play in Williamsport for a night and hang out with the kids will remind this team what it’s like to have fun again, but I became way too cynical about these sorts of things way too long ago to truly mean it.

Onwards…