Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Cubs 5, Mariners 1

Game 2 Box Score: Cubs 6, Mariners 1

And here we go again, it’s never gonna end… The Cubs went from a sweep of a mediocre team in the Mets, to pretty much shitting their drawers against the Brewers, to doing exactly what they should have against a Mariners team that’s made of silly putty. Monday’s win felt like drunk sex, and tonight’s win just felt like what should have been. At least it got there in the end.

Let’s…

-This season has gotten to the point where I’m being threatened with basically a defenestration (though off a roof is not technically that) simply so someone can feel again. How else do you sum it up?

-A team actually intentionally walked Albert Almora. Anything is possible kids, as long as you believe hard enough.

-Schwarber got the big hit off a lefty pitcher, which only makes some earlier lineup choices even more infuriating. That doesn’t mean I think The War Bear is automatic against lefties, but at this point there’s just enough balance between he’s earned the chance of late and there being no one else that he needs to start every day until the season is over.

-Good god the Mariners are terrible. Is there anyone you think about seeing in the future?

-Against any representative team, Lester probably gets shelled tonight. Luckily, the schedule says he didn’t have to.

-Unluckily, it also says the Cardinals didn’t have to either.

-For a long time I’ve hoped that Ben Zobrist would be some kind of answer for this team, but recently I’ve come to the conclusion he won’t be any more of one than Robel Garcia or Ian Happ. Prove me wrong kids, prove me wrong.

-The fact that Bryant took a seat again tonight in recent memory almost certainly means he’s not healthy, be it knee or shoulder. The Cubs are three back with three to go. Unless you absolutely can’t, you’d be starting your best players every game. You rest them earlier for that exact reason.

-Hey does anyone remember the last time Heyward was on base?

-Is it weird that Kimbrel didn’t get an inning either yesterday or today? Especially with an off day next? Because the last time he came out of the pen throwing 95 and nothing on his curve, as he did Sunday, he was on the IL for two weeks the day after. Is he healthy? Is anyone sure?

-It’s good to see Schwarber higher up in the lineup, but he should be hitting leadoff and no one should give him any shit about the kind of hitter he is there. Because there’s not anyone else to do it, unless you want to see the Joy Division song in baseball form that Heyward is there.

Onwards…

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Cubs 5, Mets 2

Game 2 Box Score: Cubs 10, Mets 7

Game 3 Box Score: Cubs 4, Mets 1

While the Cubs may be the only team, or fanbase, that still gets shivers when thinking about the Mets, it’s also important to remember they’re still the Mets. Which means they can METS at anytime, and it just might be for your benefit if you time it right. There was no better cure for the Cubs than the Mets on a downswing, And once again, this team looks on the upswing, and we’re just going to have to get used to the ride if you haven’t already.

Let’s..

-I wish Yu Darvish‘s overall numbers reflected how good he’s been lately. This fucking baseball, amirite? It’s something when walking one dude is newsworthy, but the Mets weren’t anywhere close to him. Then again, no one has been lately except for that weirdness with the Giants. He apparently struck out Jeff McNeil with a knuckle-curve he just decided a week ago to fuck with. That’s the good stuff, baby. It’s gone to where you’re actively looking forward to his start Sunday.

-Of course Kyle Hendricks would fail to get through five with a nine-run lead on the same day I went at it with Joe Sheehan about calling him a #3 starter. Timing, Cerebral Assassin!

-It can be a little upsetting when Baez busts out by going the other way and up the middle, because he should never get away from it. But as long as he gets back there, because the Cubs will need him.

-Ok, that’s enough of Jason Heyward in the leadoff spot. Yes, he doesn’t want to be moved around, but he lost the right to complain by not being able to hit a bull in the ass with a banjo since he moved there. Back to Schwarbs, now.

-The first inning off Thor might have been the most enjoyable inning of the whole season. Not only did the Cubs tee off on a premier starter we had turned into Darth Vader in our heads, but it contained some true Mets-iness with Rosario’s error that started it all. Without that, they might not even get one.

-Remember when everyone was shitting themselves that the Cubs didn’t have a backup catcher? That Willson would die of exhaustion because of it? Good stuff there.

-It felt like it was going to be one of THOSE Lester starts. Itchy, sweaty, twitchy, yell-y, bad. When he gets through five or six innings well, it still doesn’t feel like it. You kind of wonder how he did it. But if we call him the 5th starter, that’s what 5th starters do. It’s never really comfortable unless you’re blessed.

-This pen can make last night’s game interesting, and then smother for nine outs tonight, because they hate us. I kind of wanted to see if Chatwood could take it to the house, but with Kintzler not having thrown on Wednesday it’s fine. I’m not going to lose a kidney over it.

-I was going to shit a chicken over removing Schwarber and Happ for Lucroy and Kemp against deGrom, as it felt like Maddon felt that two of three was enough and tonight was a bonus. The Cubs have lost that right. But hey, whatever works. Though I don’t need to see Kemp start again, I really don’t.

Can end the Brewers season over the next week. Onwards…

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Cubs 69-61   Mets 67-61

GAMETIMES: Tuesday-Thursday 6:10

TV: NBCSN Tuesday/Wednesday, ABC 7 Thursday

OUR DAY WAS RUINED: Amazin’ Avenue

PREVIEW POSTS

Depth Charts & Pitching Staffs

Mets Spotlight

It feels like this season is on the precipice now, doesn’t it? And three games in Queens only exacerbates that. Queens. The Black Cat. Victor Fucking Diaz. The Goddamn Mets. Arrieta running out of gas in ’15. Daniel Motherfucking Murphy. If they asked you where any Cubs season was most likely to come totally unglued, you’re picking right off the 7 train and you know it.

The Cubs sit three games out, which feels significant, though the Cardinals won’t get to play the Rockies and decomposing Brewers the rest of the season. They’ve just come off getting swept at home, and are now staring down the gun of the meat of the Mets pitching staff. Their lineup feels like it was exposed against the Nationals, though that’s just three games. They have a whole bunch of questions and a dearth of answers. That teetering feeling is real.

So what do the Cubs have to get past here to remain on terra firma? They already spent a week not getting Jeff McNeil out earlier in the season, so that’s on the list. It’s not a great offense in Queens, as past Alonso and McNeil there isn’t that much. Michael Conforto has the sweetest swing and looks like he should hit .330 every year, but he hasn’t yet though he still gets on base a ton. J.D. Davis has juiced the lineup a bit from left field, though he probably should be playing third, but it’s a top-heavy crew. Still, Alonso already has 41 homers and can get the Mets close to a lot of wins by himself. When the Cubs need big out against him or McNeil or Conforto…well, you know the drill.

A string of Marcus StromanNoah SyndergaardJacob deGrom is just about the last thing you’d ask for when you need at least two wins, but the Cubs blew the chance to get past the Nats when they didn’t have to see Scherzer or Corbin and actually came out tied with Strasburg. So now they have to do it the hard way. Stroman doesn’t get the mass amount of grounders he used to, and has had pretty big walk problems. Thor and deGrom are Thor and deGrom though, so Hendricks and Lester are just going to have to be at the top of their games. No other way around it.

And if you can hang close with the starters of the Mets, the bullpen is aching to give it all back to you. Edwin Diaz has been a mess all season, same goes for Jeurys Familia, and they’ve been making up the rest along the way. Of late, they’ve been counting on Justin Wilson for big outs, which is a choice. Luis Avilan has been good the last month, but never count on Mickey Callaway to make the right choices at the right times. Again, this is the Mets. You have to allow them the platform to be the Mets.

And they come in licking their wounds as well. They just got swept at home by the Braves and their wildcard hopes are on the line here. They’re two games behind the Cubs, which is something the Cubs have to be aware of now. Since that big streak to get back into things they’re 5-7, so they need to find it again.

There’s also the road woes to consider for the Cubs, which eventually might be their undoing. On the other side, they did win their last road series in Pittsburgh/Williamsport. We keep saying it’s time for the Cubs to stand up, be counted, show what they really are. But at this point, it’s hard to conclude they’re anything else than what they’ve shown. Which means if they continue their wayward/doofus ways this week, they may find the division is already over. And then the questions they’ll have to answer are a lot harder than the ones they biffed after last season.

Baseball

How the entire weekend looked, down to the white spy having a hole in his bat

Game 1 Box Score: Nationals 9 Cubs 3

Game 2 Box Score: Nationals 7 Cubs 2

Game 3 Box Score: Nationals 7 Cubs 5 (11 innings)

So a couple weeks ago I run into Fels at a Cub game where the As just completely steamrolled the Cubs. Me, kind of missing writing, and also being in possession of spectacularly bad judgement, decide to tell Sam, “Hey, lemme know if you ever need anybody to write about the Cubs.” So he reaches out after Friday’s shit fiesta and asks if I’d like to recap. I figure, sure, I’m going Saturday anyway so why not?

The Cubs have had this habit all year of turning Wrigley Field into their own ivy-covered death star, obliterating teams that have the audacity to come in with any idea of winning games or series, using homestands to lift them into first place, and making us all think they’ve finally turned the corner, and all the talent they have would finally start translating into wins, before shattering those illusion on the subsequent road trip. I guess winning the last two games away from the Friendly Confines threw the schedule off, because they spent this weekend being perfectly generous hosts to the Washington Nationals, up to and including letting them have the last beer and slice of pizza.

Let’s…

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…

Baseball

(30 for 30 voice)

What if I told you that Jon Lester is actually better than last year? You probably wouldn’t believe it, right? That tends to happen when you have as ugly a start as Lester did on Tuesday against Oakland. Or when you’re as happy to beat yourself up as Lester is, because he never sugarcoats anything for you. If he thinks he sucks, he’ll tell you. Maybe in comparison to the rest of the starters of late, especially Darvish and Hendricks, he can look worse than he might actually be. But it’s true, and it’s probably even better depending on where you slot Lester realistically on the staff. That’s the thing about the Cubs staff, they don’t really have “an ace.” They don’t have a #5 either. It’s kind of shapeless. Which can be good. Sometimes bad.

I will always use any excuse to get this into a post.

Still, every peripheral on Lester is actually better than last year, and not by tiny margins either. He’s striking out more hitters, he’s walking less, he’s getting more ground-balls. In fact, his K and BB numbers look pretty much exactly like his first two years here, when he put up a 2.92 FIP in ’15 and a 2.44 ERA in ’16. That’s a good starting point.

But he’s not putting up that end-product, and it’s easy to point out why. Lester is giving up basically twice as many homers as he did then. In 2015 he gave up 16 all season. The next year it was 21. Hell, last year it was 24. This year he’s already given up 21. But Lester’s HR/FB rate (15.7%) isn’t even the highest of his career. That came in 2017, just a tenth of a point higher. So is that because he’s old and slowing down? Or because of bad luck and a baseball hopped up on goofballs? The strikeouts and walks suggest it’s more the latter than the former.

The bad luck theme continues for Lester. His BABIP is .340, a full 50 POINTS higher than last season, and 41 points higher than his career-mark. Yes, Lester is giving up way more hard-contact than ever before, at 39% which is eight percentage points higher than last year and a full 12 over his career-mark. You know who else is giving up more hard-contact? FUCKING EVERYONE ELSE. If you go by the StatCast method, his 88.3 average exit velocity is decidedly middle of the pack. He shouldn’t really be dealing with this much damage.

Lester has also been unlucky in his left-on-base percentage, which speaks to sequencing of hits. After all, you can have five hits in one inning and give up three, or give up five in three innings and surrender none. He’s benefitted from some big-time luck in the past on that, with percentages over 80% two of his seasons in Chicago (average is about 75%). This season it’s just 70%, which is on the low-side and around his ’17 mark where he also couldn’t get much to break his way.

That doesn’t mean Lester hasn’t changed his approach, and we went over some of this last season. Lester has gone to a cutter more and more this season, as his four-seam fastball has lost a full three MPH from his career norm and barely breaks 90 MPH. He only uses the four-seam 30% of the time, the lowest mark of his career by a distance. And his cutter usage is up to 34%, the highest mark also by some distance in his career.

It used to be that Lester would only use his cutter to get in on the fists of righties, like so:

This season, he’s trying to find both sides of the plate with it:

And it might just be that Lester has to do that, because the cutter doesn’t have enough juice to consistently get inside on righties, who have the ability to turn on it.

Even off the plate inside, if not low, is getting pumping bomber’d. Whereas he’s been much more controlled outside, as long as it’s not thigh-to-waist. Which basically means Lester is trying to morph into Tom Glavine. It’s a transition, to be sure. In addition. Lester has always lived at the bottom of the zone, if not lower. But as we know these days, hitters are focusing on lifting that pitch, and pitchers are trying to be up in the zone more. Lester is as well, but he did spend over 10 years doing something else. So to expect him to instantly be able to pick his spots high in the zone would be a touch unreasonable.

That doesn’t mean I’d expect Lester to mow everyone down for the last six weeks of the season, and as you saw yesterday finding the outside corner with his cutter for him is still tricky. But it really isn’t as bad as Lester himself would like you to think it’s been. If he gets any sort of market correction in the season’s last month and a half, he’ll look something like you remember.

 

 

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Cubs 12, Reds 5

Game 2 Box Score: Reds 5, Cubs 2

Game 3 Box Score: Reds 10, Cubs 1

Game 4 Boxscore: Cubs 6, Reds 3

Considering all that’s happened against the Reds this year, how annoying they’ve been, how every hitter turns into Barry McGwire Mays against the Cubs, I’m taking this split of four games and sprinting for the airport. Series wins against the Phillies and Pirates would mean a 6-4 roadtrip and yes I’ll have some of that. Sure, it’s still a below-.500 team and you’d like to think the Cubs will find the form to beat teams like that more routinely. But hey, when you get a boil off your ass you don’t really worry about how elegantly you did it.

The thing is it was so close to being better. There was a lot of people trying to remove their own tongues through their neck on Friday night, but if Javy Baez’s hard-hit grounder is two feet to either side of where it was it scores two and it’s 5-4 with no outs and two on. Shit happens sometimes. Sometimes Hendricks or any starter doesn’t have it on that day. You live with it, it’s just that there have been so many other boneheaded losses it gets harder to do.

Most of all, after I complained and moaned after St. Louis that the Cubs didn’t fight or scratch or claw their way back into ABs and games on the road, today they did. Hell, you could argue they did on Thursday too when Hamels gave up a big lead and they just poured it on some more. But today especially, against Luis Castillo-whom they weren’t really close to in the game’s first five innings–they took advantage of some lackadaisical location and selection and found a way back. Helps the Reds pen hasn’t been any good since the break, but you take it.

Oh, and they made Thom Brennaman cry. Good day all around.

Let’s…

-I thought Jon Lester had fucked it today, but that wasn’t totally fair. The 3-0 pitch to Eugenio Suarez wasn’t as bad as a I thought:

That’s more good hitting than bad pitching. He even tried to stay away from Apollo/Aries/Yahweh Aquino, and he still went outside the zone and got it. He kept it close enough, which after that outing on Tuesday is good enough for now.

The real upset was that the pen was flawless, with only one hit and one walk in four innings or work. They may have lucked into Rowan Wick, but he was the main star, going two innings and going through the meat of the Reds lineup to give Strop the easier part. He even figured out to give Aquino nothing below his nose or above his ankles.

-I kind of had it wrong all weekend on Aquino, too. He had a decent 7.9% BB-rate in the minors this year, so he’s not the hack-a-thon I thought/hoped he was. Still, when he’s raining fire down upon you, the Cubs could have figured out to not be over the plate as much if only to avoid damage. Then again, when you’re already down eight…

-Very weird start for Darvish, who gave up four runners all night and all of them scored. He didn’t get away with one mistake, which almost seems unfair. Have that start again and he might go eight shutout next time.

-I want to believe that this IL stint is the rest Cishek needs that Maddon would never give him, instead of the abusive use shredding the hip he’s already had surgery on before. That’s what I want to believe.

-I was just thinking to myself that with the ball being a Titleist, 22 homers for Bryant seemed a touch on the low-side. I’ll take the 23rd and shut up now. The Cubs are seriously just one Bryant binge away from hiding from the Brewers and Cardinals.

-And good on Joe for letting Mills take the last four innings in a blowout to not have to use anyone who will matter. That left Phelps, Wick, and Strop fresh for today. I still want to believe Maples will matter one day, but I’m probably the only one now.

-Y’know, if Ian Happ keeps hitting, it doesn’t really matter if Ben Zobrist makes it back or not.

-My one quarrel with Friday is that with two outs and Amir Garrett on the mound, one of the tougher lefties in the division, Schwarber shouldn’t be given that AB. I know that Bote or Almora is hardly a step up, but presumably Bote is still here because he might actually hit a lefty sometime. Fairly sure Schwarber won’t, especially in a clutch situation. Oh well.

Onwards…

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Cubs 6, A’s 5

Game 2 Box Score: A’s 11, Cubs 4

Game 3 Box Score: Cubs 10, A’s 1

I know what you’re thinking. If you’ve been around these parts for any length of time, you’re probably either ready to label me with or for me to project that I’ve motherfucked the Cubs into brilliance with my declaration that they weren’t going anywhere after that beer fart in St. Louis. And it’s close, but the Cubs have to take it on the road before we can officially declare that. We know they’re good at home. They were brilliant this time around, going 5-1 against a division competitor and a playoff contender from the American League. They could have their biggest lead in the division all season when it’s all said and done. Now if they could actually get things moving on this 10-game road trip, with nary an impressive opponent on it, we might be on to something.

Let’s…

-I guess I’ll start with Ian Happ. I’ve never been a huge believer in Colonel Happ, but he always seduces you with that swing and his discipline. At this point, the Cubs don’t have much to lose by playing him at second most. We know Kemp and Bote just aren’t going to hit, and you can mitigate some of Happ’s defense with shifting. Five hits in the series, and even more hard contact. Even when Happ was struggling he still worked an AB, and the Cubs need more of that. If it works over the next month then you don’t have to hinge anything on Ben Zobrist, which we probably shouldn’t be anyway.

-Monday was an adventure, but with this state of the pen I don’t know what else it’s going to be. The Cubs are going to need the rotation to pick it up for a week or two, even more than they have, and get to the 7th inning consistently. From there you can just throw the masses out to get six to eight outs, as messy as it’s going to be.

-Speaking of which, Duane Underwood is going to get himself a couple more looks before Kimbrel comes back. He’s the only one with options so he probably has to go down when that happens. It was a great debut, but some salt grains required. He’s been good as a reliever in Iowa, and he’s another guy who at least throws hard, which the Cubs haven’t had enough of. That doesn’t mean he should be in high-leverage situations tomorrow, but again, what do the Cubs have to lose here? I don’t need more David Phelps in my life, and anything that gets Cishek rest at this point should be welcome.

-As for Jon Lester, there’s not much reason to panic as long as the other four starters keep doing this. As we’ve said, his margin for error is so thin, and now it’s a wonder if he can get inside on righties at all. But as a fifth starter, fine. We’ll deep dive on this at a later date.

-Castellanos is a danger to himself in the field, but he seems to do everything right with a helmet on. And there is something he’s brought to the club with his energy and bounce, which is very welcome in August.

-Anyone bitching about Quintana now?

-Is this Hendricks’s best stretch in his career? Seven starts, 10 earned runs, 37 Ks, 11 walks. He’s almost automatic right now.

-I’ll say I was there the night the Cubs had three catchers on the field, and none of them were Willson Contreras.

Onwards…

Baseball

Ok, so it was less than a month ago that I was writing about being hopeful about Jon Lester. I never said I would ever make sense or be consistent. Lester might have said he would be, in some ways, but I’m just following him. Also, wasn’t it just yesterday I was here trying to make myself and maybe one or two others feel better about Hamels’s last three starts? This one is a little more dispiriting, as Lester had the Astros’ B-team lineup in front of him last night and still gave up seven runs. I was particularly galled in the 6th, with the Cubs have clawed back into the game, Lester wouldn’t give in to Derek Fisher ahead of Alex Bregman, clearly the biggest weapon the Astros had last night. I know Lester’s whole thing is that he never “gives in,” that “giving in” is for weaklings, and “giving in” is what’s ruining this country and whatever else. Still, it’s your last batter of the game, and it’s Derek Fisher. I’m finding out what he can do instead of what whatever clown comes out of the pen can do against Bregman (which took one pitch to find out and the conclusion wasn’t good).

Much like Hamels, Lester’s last three starts have been bad. 14 innings combined, 16 earned runs, four homers, 25 hits. That’s a whole lot of woof. When we last looked at this, we noted that Lester’s BABIP on the season was a hilariously low .231. Well, now it’s .333, which is also way above his career-average. The last three starts, that number is .411. That’s not just a violent market correction. That’s a market correction that is zippering open your chest and feasting on your liver nightly.

But it’s not like some or most of that isn’t deserved. If Lester qualified through innings, he’d had the third-highest hard-contact rate against right now. That’s not necessarily a death-sentence, as the one right behind him is one Madison Bumgarner, and he’s having at least a respectable season. Though Bumgarner also resides at Oracle Park, which requires a bazooka to get a ball out of most nights. Shane Bieber, Cleveland’s hot new thing, is also around this mark, and he’s got a 3.11 ERA that’s real. So does Robbie Ray, but both ray and Bieber strike out more hitters than Lester does. Still, it’s much higher than it’s ever been and that’s worth worrying about.

We also noted in that last post that Lester has gone to his cutter far more this season, and is trying to use it on both sides of the plate instead of just in on the hands of righties. It hasn’t always worked, and the last three starts…well…

Lester has gone away from using the outside corner with his cutter the last three starts, and when he hasn’t gotten it low and inside, he’s getting murdered. Lester has decreased the use of his cutter the last three starts, upping the use of his change and fastball. But the fastball hasn’t been doing much better, with a .571 slugging against in those three starts. He’s also getting next to now whiffs on it.

Lester had made reference to Sahadev Sharma in The Athletic that he just feels off, and this searching for a release point the past three starts speaks to that a bit:

On the plus side, Lester’s velocity has been climbing a bit in the past few starts. On the downside, it’s still down overall this year. It might just be that Lester doesn’t throw hard enough anymore to miss his spot at all, and that righties seem to be getting to fastballs off the plate inside suggest that.

We’ll have to see what Lester does in the next few starts to change, whether that’s more cutters trying to nick the outside corner or junking it up a bit with curves and changes. The Cubs are going to need something.

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Phillies 5, Cubs 4

Game 2 Box Score: Cubs 3, Phillies 2

Game 3 Box Score: Cubs 8, Phillies 4

Game 4 Box Score: Phillies 9, Cubs 7

The Cubs should have won on Monday, but didn’t. The Phillies should have won on Tuesday, but didn’t. And each scored over eight runs in their other wins, so a split is just about right. In the words of Gennaro Gattuso, “Sometimes maybe good, sometimes maybe shit.” And considering these are two of the three first-place teams in the NL, splitting seems about right that way as well. And because everyone else in the NL East is intent on doing a damn fine Mets impression, or is the Mets, you get the feeling the Cubs and Phils might do this more than a few times more before the boxes are packed. Let’s clean it all up.

The Two Obs

-The big story of the series is the bullpen, and I suppose that’s only right. Darvish was a touch unlucky to give up three runs over six, and I thought Brad Brach was a touch unlucky to give up a run in the ninth. Segura fists one over the head of Rizzo, and that seemed to be the theme for the rest of the series. The Cubs seemed to get their fair share of BABIP Kung Fu treachery all series. Kintzler got a grounder from McCutchen in the second game, it just happened to find a hole. Happened again today too.

Still, the pen gave up runs in all four games, though the last two it was asked to go for five full innings. Chatwood took all of them yesterday, so two runs over five innings is fine for one pitcher. For some reason it’s not fine for multiple, and I thought Not John Wick was Kung Fu Treachery’d as well today for one of the runs.

We all know that the return of Pedro Strop isn’t going to fix anything, especially because he won’t be used anywhere but the 9th. Moves will have to be made. So let’s not harp on it.

-While we’re on the pen, Carl Edwards needs to drop the slide-step. He’s not Pedro Strop, who can control it. He struck out the side today, so it seems odd to nitpick. But his velocity drops when he uses it, which he was with no one on base today for some reason. He also loses most of his pitches high to arm-side because his arm can’t catch up. For someone who has such trouble repeating his delivery, just have him worry about one.

-Lester’s last two starts comprise 8.1 innings and nine runs, 17 hits. There’s going to be market corrections like this, because Lester is giving up an obscene amount of hard contact. 41% to be exact. He’s been able to raise his Ks and lower his walks, and up his grounders, but he’s going to have to find a way to limit the loud noises he’s surrendering. It was thunderous today. A quarter of the contact today was line-drives, half in the air, and with the wind blowing out that’s a problem.

-The Cubs have been through a dicey turn of the rotation, and they went 3-3. Hendricks was iffy on Sunday, with Lester iffy the day before that. Darvish and Quintana were good, but Hamels and Lester were not. You’ll take breaking even when you didn’t break even on good starts.

-The War Bear has four hits in his last two games, eight in his last seven, and has been on base 11 times in that stretch. Nothing definitive yet, but the start of something?

-Almora took the plaudits last night, as he should, but when he came up with the bases loaded today you kind of knew it had to be a soft grounder. Even in this upturn in May, he’s still nearly at 60% grounders. You can’t find success that way.

-Javy sure made it look easy, didn’t he? If he’d got backspin instead of topspin on that ball in the 8th today, the Cubs probably tie it.

Onwards…