Baseball

Though he is technically listed here the Sox #4 starter in their 2020 rotation, the reality is the front office (and us as blog writers and fans) see Dylan Cease as at least the #3 starter of this team going forward. If that’s going to happen, however, there are a few things that need to happen both with his delivery and the results associated with them. While there were a few bright spots and moments of dominance for Dylan Cease in 2019, there were also times when his command disappeared for long stretches, leaving his fastball very hittable.

If Cease is to take over the 3 spot in the rotation, the year to state his case (hopefully) is this one. He’s been working in the off-season with Lucas Giolito to hone the control of his fastball (which worked wonders for Giolito this past year), and now has a new weapon behind the plate in Yasmani Grandal which should snag him a few more strikes each start. Honestly the more I write about the pitching staff, my level of happiness with the Grandal signing goes up. Will it be enough to break Dylan Cease out this year? Let’s take a peek.

 

2019 Stats

14 starts  73 innings

4-7 Record

5.79 ERA  5.19 FIP

9.99 K/9   4.32 BB/9  1.55 WHIP

45.7% GB-rate  68.1 LOB%  21.4% HR/FB

128 ERA-  0.7 fWAR

 

Last Week On Nitro: Man, those are some unsightly numbers, aren’t they? Looking at those, you’d think that 2019 was a total bust for Dylan Cease and that all hope was lost, right? WELL FUCK THAT SHIT. Granted, 2019 was definitely not the season that Cease was hoping for when he was called up to start on the 3rd of July. Sox fans hoping for some early fireworks were sort of let down. He went 5 innings, giving up 3 earned runs while striking out 6 and got the win so all good! Except he also walked 4 guys and hit two of them. The start was also against the Tigers, which is basically the baseball version of the Red Wings.

His next 4 starts were all losses, with him never giving up less than 4 runs and him only making it out of the 6th inning once. He got back in the win column again almost a month later (against the Tigers) but was still having issues with his control. Then came the start against the Rangers on August 23rd, and we all got a taste of why Dylan Cease was so highly regarded as he was. The first inning was more of the same, 32 pitches and a 3 run bomb by Willie Calhoun off a fastball that just spun at the top of the zone instead of slicing out of it.

Sox fans had seen this show plenty up till this point, but Cease flipped the script. Those 3 runs were all he was giving, and suddenly the fastballs were unhittable and the curveballs were dropping out of the bottom of the zone. The Rangers had no answers for him, and the Sox bats came alive and reminded Lance Lynn that he was, in fact, Lance fucking Lynn by dropping 7 on his head. Cease struck out 9 and only walked 1 in 5 dazzling innings after the first clunker.

One inning per start seems to be the one that prevented Cease from achieving a solid rookie year in the bigs. One inning where his command abandoned him, and his fastball failed him and his curveball hung there, waiting to be pummeled. The rest of the year was consistently inconsistent. Cease followed up his gem against the Rangers by getting tuned up by the Twins for 8 runs. Then he went 7 against the Tribe while striking out 11. The last 3 starts of the year were positive steps, as he only gave up 1 in each of them, leading us to wonder which Dylan Cease will show up this year?

Too Sweet! (WHOOP WHOOP): Best case scenario for Dylan Cease is he becomes Lucas Giolito Redux and breaks out this year in a ginormous way. If he’s able to control his fastball at the top of the zone, there aren’t too many hitters outside of Aaron Judge and Mike Trout who have the bat speed and eyes to catch up to it. Combine that with his spike curveball which, according to Statcast, has the 5th nastiest movement in all of MLB. Seriously, just look at this big bowl of filth.

Throw all those things together and you get a recipe for a big ole Breakout Pie. In what will (in theory) be a shortened season there is hope that Cease can K around 100 hitters and keep his ERA a respectable 3.70. He also won’t have any innings limits, so Renteria can feel free to let him off the chain. More importantly, he learns to avoid the Big Inning and is able to go deeper into games, averaging around 6+ innings per start. That’s a hell of a number 2-3 starter for a team with contention aspirations.

You Fucked Up! You Fucked Up!: Worse case scenario here is he actually stays the same as 2019. The Big Inning continues to plague him, he can’t get out of the 5th inning and each start proves that instead of a number 2 starter, his ceiling is actually that of a number 5. Without that bullet in the chamber, the Sox are forced to rely on Carlos Rodon coming back healthy to round out the rotation.

Instead of having a glut of starters and potential trade pieces down the road the Sox are left with merely 5 starters, two of which are coming back off of major elbow surgery. I don’t believe this is going to happen, as the Cease we saw against the Rangers and the Indians is far closer to the one we will get than the guy who got the tar pounded outta him by the Twins. You can’t discount the possibility, though.

Bah Gawd, That’s Dylan’s Music!: I think once Dylan Cease is able to take the mound this season we will all see an improvement over his inconsistencies of last year. The Big Inning will not totally disappear but the 2nd half of his season will be a little closer to what we see. There will still be burps and hiccups where he’s not able to get out of the 4th inning, but he’ll be going deeper and deeper into games the more he pitches. A 4.15 ERA with (more importantly) a 1.21 WHIP is not out of the question, with an increase in his K/9 to 10.55 and a decrease in his BB/9 (which at 4.5 last year wouldn’t take much to be considered an improvement) down to 3.30.

He’s going to be helped quite a bit by Yasmani Grandal, but hindered as well by the defense behind him. The other thing to remember is this is a kid who has all of half a season under his belt, so inconsistencies aren’t surprising in the slightest. All told, this second step in his career as a starter will be considered a success, with his status as number 3 starter of the future cemented. A 40+ home run left fielder and a number 3 starter with upside, all for Jose Quintana. Rick Hahn gets a gold star for this one, as the future continues to be bright for the Sox. Now if we could just have some baseball to look forward to…

 

Baseball

Gathered the three baseball wisemen here to go over the offseason again. The Sox appear to be done…and so do the Cubs, but in wildly different fashion. How are we all feeling?

So we’re just over a month away from pitchers and catchers, and it feels like the Sox are pretty much done. Everyone feeling their oats?

Air Traffic AJ: It’s pretty hard to look at this off-season and not feel positive about it, especially considering the absolute duds the previous two had been. The Twins signing Donaldson last night in a clear response to Hahn’s moves makes me think the Central may not be as up for grabs as I originally thought. The ceiling of their starting pitching is lower than the Sox staff, however, so it’s gonna be interesting. Most importantly it’s gonna be fun and watchable.

Wes French: Echoing AJ, the Donaldson singing takes some air out of the sails. The White Sox did a lot of work towards becoming a viable AL Central threat, but looking at that Twins lineup leaves you feeling like it’s all a 2nd/3rd place effort even with a lot of the remaining uncertainties becoming positives – How Robert starts, what Kopech gives, how the rotation looks after Giolito/Keuchel/Gio.

AJ: Sam, you’ve been pretty vocal thus far about the off-season the Cubs have had. If the ultimate goal for them is to be under the luxury tax cap this season and it costs them Quintana is there enough pitching to keep them up with the Cards and the newly resurgent Reds?

Sam: Fuck and no. 

I’m not wholly in on the Reds yet because I don’t think the lineup is that good as Joey Votto is continuing to decompose. They’ll still beat the Cubs 13 of 19 infuriating times though. The only hope if Q were to be moved is that Lester discovers something that can make him more effective at 36 than 35, but everything is trending the wrong way and he’s not exactly the most flexible guy when it comes to changing what he does. Not only does Chatwood in the rotation make it more volatile, but it robs them of an at least an interesting bullpen weapon. He and Alzolay together would have given the Cubs two possible multi-inning pieces out of there which could have covered for some of the shortness of the rotation. You could easily see Lester continuing to decline, Chatwood being the Pollock painting he’s always been as a starter, and some combination of Alec Mills and other goofuses getting continually rocked without Q. 

 That said, a Q trade is more palatable than a Bryant one. 

 Speaking of starters and bullpen switching, is Reynaldo’s future as something of a Hader-type? Come in and fire smoke for two-three innings 50 times a year or so?

 AJ: I think Reynaldo has a three month audition window to show he belongs in the rotation. I want to see what his numbers look like with a premier pitch framer like Grandal scoring him a few extra strikes per game. One of Lopez’ biggest issues is nibbling once he gets ahead in counts, and if Grandal can turn some of those nibbles into Ks he could be a viable 4th-5th starter easy. If that’s not in the cards for him, I very easily could see him coming in the 7th and just unleashing devastation for an inning and a third. He’s gotta have that chance to be a starter, however. Rodon coming back healthy is no guarantee, and it’s never a bad thing to have too many young viable starters.

 Wes: I think I would already have Lopez ticketed for such a role if i were making those sort of decisions. Alas, I have not been given any kind of say in the matter and I think that they’ll bring him along and keep working with him like he’s a viable starter at least until June this year. If everyone can stay healthy and show signs of success outside of Lopez, Cease/Kopech/Dunning/Lambert/Steiver (at various levels of the org), and Lopez doesn’t show any kind of consistency or improvement I think it needs to be strongly considered. The bullpen is going to need a power arm from somewhere, and the other internal options like Zack Burdi, Ian Hamilton, and Jayce Fry aren’t exactly encouraging at this point. It’d be ideal to not have to spend a truckload on the bullpen as this thing starts trending in the right direction and Lopez is the easiest to transition to that type of role, especially being the farthest removed from his debut and having plenty of shots at sticking in the rotation. 

 AJ: What’s the expectation for David Ross this season? Is he an advanced stats guy, or is he the more media friendly reincarnation of Robin Ventura? I personally think the Cubs could benefit from the use of an opener, especially if Quintana is traded for a pack of Topps cards and a copy of MLB the Show 2014. Also what kind of leash does he get from ownership?

 Sam: We were just talking about this on the podcast. First off with Ross, no one has any idea and if they say they do they’re lying. He’s obviously exactly in tune with how the front office sees the team, but who knows what that means given the restraints. I think they feel like players walked on Maddon a bit or tired of his shtick or both, and Ross definitely commands respect from the vets so you’d think the younger players will follow. I hope/suspect he’ll be a little more advanced in-game than Ventura, but again, no one can be sure. 

 I’m with you on the opener. The Cubs do have two intriguing, multi-inning possibilities out of the pen in Chatwood and Alzolay. The latter certainly can’t take on a starter’s share of innings this year, if he ever can. They both have electric stuff, though with varying problems with that stuff. You don’t know what you’ll get out of Lester, but if Q were to stick around you’d have three dependable (at least innings-wise) starters and Lester. You could easily have each of Chatwood and Alzolay throw 2-3 innings twice a week to cover for what you don’t get from Lester and a hole at the #5 spot. 

 But the reality is that they’ll trade.Q merely to save money, slide Chatwood into the rotation where he’s yet to prove he can be, and now both the rotation and pen are short. 

 Maybe I’ll just get on the Mariners train now and enjoy the fruits in three years. 

 Wes: Julio Rodriquez is gonna be a monster, we’d all be smart to buy shares now and revel in our intelligence in 2022-23. 

 I have a feeling the Cubs are gonna struggle to pitch the ball all season long and we’re in for some “fun” 14-10 type games. I think the NL Central is full of flaws, so 84 wins might just do it, but from the way you’ve spoken all winter, Sam, it seems you believe the Cubs could have trouble breaking even that number. 

 Of course, Yu, Hendricks and Q could all throw 175+ masterful innings and then you just need to survive the Lester clunkers and get to .500 in 5th start spots. Craig Kimbrel being his pre-2019 self would go a long way, too. 

 AJ: Question for all of us: If Lopez advances in his skills and both Rodon and Kopech come back healthy, what do the Sox do with their rotation?

 Wes: Assuming the rest of the staff is healthy/effective, I’d think that Gio G switches to a swing man/relief role that he was very effective in with Milwaukee last season. But you’re still looking at six guys with Giolito, Keuchel, Kopech, Cease, Lopez and Rodon.

 They’re going to want to bring Rodon along quite slowly, I’d think, being that he’ll come back in the 2nd half of the season, so he’d probably spot start during some long stretches where a 6th could be introduced to help rest everyone else/be used in longer relief situations to better control his workload and keep his innings as effective as possible. Cease is also going to top out around 160-175 innings, so I’m sure having too many SP options come August wouldn’t be too much of an issue. 

 This would be a very awesome problem to have. 

 AJ: I think at the end of the season if Rodon comes back healthy, Lopez advances like we all hope he does, and Kopech comes back in good shape you would have a six-man rotation from August on. You would be able to manage Cease, Kopech and Rodon’s innings as need be as well as give Gio Gonzalez some time as well. If September comes around and the playoffs aren’t an option Dane Dunning could conceivably be thrown into that mix as well. Like Wes said, it’s an excellent problem to have. 

 Sam, what’s your take on the Sox this year as a Cubs fan (for the time being, at least)?

 Sam: I think they’re exciting and am looking forward to watching them but I don’t think they’re a sure thing. Neither do I think the Twins are either, to be fair.

 I’m not as high on the Keuchel signing as some. He was regressing last year and his margin for error is so small. The batted ball numbers aren’t encouraging. Which still makes for something of an iffy staff. Giolito is great, but we have no idea what Cease is and it’s all questions from there on out, be it health or development. Wes, you may get your share of 14-10 games on the Southside, too. 

 That said the Grandal signing seems perfect for them, and even though I think Mazara sucks when Robert and Madrigal are up it’s hard to find a true hole in the lineup. It’s also hard to see anyone regressing, though I guess I could see where Abreu’s age kicks in a bit along with playing the field every day. Maybe TIMMY! can’t keep his BABIP around .400 again, which will really hurt his output because he never walks and still hits too many grounders (though that’s trending the rifht way). But again, this feels more around the edges than the heart of it. 

 They definitely need Kopech to come back healthy and contribute. You’ll never get me to believe in Rodon and I think his future is a lot like Reynaldo’s in that he’d be a great reliever. He just walks too many guys right now. 

 All that said, I feel like this will be the most fun season on the Southside in a very long time. And now with no Hawk around, I can watch comfortably!

 

 

 

Baseball

Dreary Fridays lend themselves to notes and the like. So we’ll do that for baseball too today.

-As the Cubs still look for ways to dig under the luxury tax threshold like Fantastic Mr. Fox, one option that will probably gain steam (if it hasn’t already) is moving along Jose Quintana. It certainly wouldn’t cause the hysteria that a trade of Kris Bryant or Willson Contreras would. Q doesn’t have the same sheen as those in the eyes of Cubs fans, mostly because he walked into Theo Epstein’s office in July of 2017 with a shotgun and made him give up Dylan Cease and Eloy Jimenez for him, both of whom has since shot to multiple All-Star game appearances

Wait, I’m being told that’s not what happened. Huh.

Anyway, the actual act of finding takers for Quintana should be far easier than for Bryant and Contreras and their rightly astronomic prices. Quintana does make essentially nothing for this season–$10.5M–which for a #3 or #4 starter is still a bargain. and Q was a little better by some metrics than you might think, with a FIP under 4.00 and a fWAR of 3.5 (much higher than Darvish, to illustrate). Teams are going to want that.

Still, on the other side of the coin, there’s something more depressing about trading Q. With Bryant and to a lesser extent Contreras, while the main goal has always been the money there was a companion argument of replenishing the pipeline with some arms the Cubs simply don’t have and at least providing more that will be here after 2021. If you squinted, you could see the benefits of it while acknowledging they don’t come close to outweighing the drawbacks.

But with Q, you feel it’s just a salary dump. Surely you wouldn’t get anything in the rotation in return that was cheaper, unless it was a flier on some prospect or two. And they almost certainly wouldn’t be anywhere near major league ready. Which means you would have stripped your rotation even further, and the rotation wasn’t good enough last year after Hamels got hurt. Which means you rotation would be the Kyle Hendricks (pretty much a known at this point), the hope that Yu Darvish’s second half is the new normal, the four-to-five innings you’re getting out of Jon Lester at 36, and then praying to whatever god happens to be listening at that moment (hat tip to The Dag for that one, and also hit me up).

Doesn’t really feel like you’re going anywhere with that, does it?

Even sadder, there hasn’t been any mention of the Cubs getting below the the luxury tax this year so they can spring out ahead of it the following season with no repeater penalties, as the Yankees and Dodgers have done in recent years. You would think the theory was that by that time the money from Marquee would allow the Cubs to do that, except now the prevailing wisdom is that they’ve royally boned this whole network thing, sparked by not having a deal with Comcast yet, and that windfall might never actually come. Say, why does Crane Kenney still have a job?

The fear is that the Cubs will always want to be below the luxury tax, which means they might lose more than you already thought they were going to before the Free Agent-acolypse of the winter of ’21-’22. Or at least until we know what a new CBA looks like, which means the Cubs might be half-assing two seasons instead of one. That’s fun.

Of course, there’s always the hope the Cubs could make a baseball trade for Quintana, or at least use what little wiggle room it would give them to bolster this year’s roster with…well, maybe it’s best to not look at what’s still available. This was all well-timed.

-Kris Bryant and the Cubs settled for $18.6M and avoided arbitration. Hopefully this isn’t the last time they talk, and that money is going to seem a complete joke if he stays healthy all season and put up another 7-WAR season.

-Jayson Stark was having some fun today about predictions for the coming decade, and one idea I’ve kicked around here before. It’s bringing a modified DH to the NL and AL, where your DH stays in the game as long as your starter does. Basically instead of one guy hitting for a spot, he hits for a specific player. From there, you’d have to pinch-hit for every reliever or let them hit for themselves.

It seems to split the happy medium of those who cling to the “strategy” of the NL game and those who have no need to see pitchers hit anymore. How long do you leave your starter in? If he’s getting torched and has to go in the 2nd, how do you stretch your bench throughout the rest of the game? Would relievers who can go multiple innings be even more valuable? Could you leave in another DH for a reliever who does go two or three innings and whose spot comes up multiple times? Would this end the idea of an opener?

To me all those questions are kind of exciting. Certainly with a 26-man roster now the answers are a little more available. I hope this is what they go to soon.

-There’s also a bit about automated strike zones, and how they zone will probably have to be amended to deal with the strict interpretation that cameras would give you. I say “FUCK. THAT.” The example Stark uses is a pitch that nicks the bottom of the zone and a catcher catches an inch off the ground.

But that’s been the problem. Strike calls shouldn’t have anything to do with where the catcher catches it. Hitters shouldn’t even be looking at that, and neither should umps. That’s where the zone is, so adjust. It might lead to some ugly arguments or controversy for a couple months, but you’d get past it. I suppose it won’t be the end of the world if the zone is moved to the top of the knees or wherever, but the idea that we’ll all lose our shit because of where the catcher catches a pitch is the exact problem we’re trying to solve.

Baseball

I’m with you, dear reader. I know you’ve come here of late, perhaps the past couple months, and all you find is anger and despair. That’s not very fun. And we could sit here and say it’s not our fault. We didn’t make the Hawks, Cubs, and Bears so frustrating, and the White Sox a bit confusing. Thank god we don’t cover the Bulls yet! There’s probably a more reserved tone we could take at times, maybe see the long view a bit more. Find the positives. Find the path to happiness again and such.

But then I read this like this.

Let me help you out with the hammer:

Trading Schwarber and Bryant would seem excessive for a team that intends to contend in 2020. The Cubs, however, are hellbent on avoiding the fates of teams such as the Phillies, Giants and Tigers, who entered down cycles after going all-in for extended periods in recent times. The Giants and Tigers are headed for their fourth straight losing seasons. The Phillies have not had a winning season since 2011.

The Cubs are three years removed from their World Series title, and their window is starting to close. Left-handers Jon Lester and José Quintana are entering the final guaranteed years of their contracts. Schwarber, Bryant (assuming he loses his service-time grievance), shortstop Javier Báez and first baseman Anthony Rizzo are under club control only through 2021, Contreras through ’22.

The clock is ticking. A recalibration is in order. Let’s not forget, the Cubs are changing managers from Joe Maddon to David Ross. If the front office does nothing, it would place unfair expectations on Ross to win with Maddon’s team, a team that was less than the sum of its parts in finishing 84-78 last season.

I don’t even know where to start. And this isn’t Ken Rosenthal’s doing, he’s just reporting what he hears. So let’s just take it in order.

First of all, the “intends to contend in 2020” is goddamn laughable when you’re out here so publicly flogging your best player, the best player you’ve had in a generation, and the best player you’re going to have in a generation. Even more so when you’ve made it clear you’re not trying to trade him for help right now. I would argue until my dying day, which the Cubs seem intent on bringing about sharpish, that this is still a team that needs more minor tinkering and moves around the edges to win the Central again, but we’ve been down that road.

It’s the “hellbent on not being the Giants, Phillies, or Tigers” that is just…I mean galling doesn’t even get there. Enraging? Exasperating? Utterly incomprehensible? Pure nonsense? You can mix and match your own adjectives and see what you come up with.

I really shouldn’t have to point out that the Giants won three World Series in five years, and their being bad now is a trade I doubt you’d find any Giants fan unhappy with. We all know there’s a price of success, especially success at that level. And the Giants certainly made their missteps afterward and maybe even during, though anything built on that level of power pitching has an itchy foundation. The Giants also had another playoff appearance two years later (you may remember it), so in total they had seven years of being a relevant team at worst. Seven, keep that number in mind.

So to the Phillies. They won a single World Series, just like the Cubs have and seem intent on only doing. Except they went to two consecutive Series, made the playoffs five straight years, and weren’t all that far from adding a second consecutive title. Yeah, the crash was hard, but the core of that team when it was all over were all in their mid-30s, something NONE of the Cubs current core will even be in 2021 or 2022. The Phils’ success came later in their careers. The oldest at that time of reckoning for the Cubs–or so they seem hellbent on telling you it will be– will be Rizzo at 32. The youngest of the Phillies was Utley at 33 when their cycle came to a close. It’s just not a clean comparison.

Right then, the Tigers, who don’t come with any of the flags that the previous three teams mentioned have. They do have two WS appearances, which the Cubs have yet to manage, but fine, no one cares when you only win a total of one game in them. The Tigers were competitive for seven season out of nine. A couple dice rolls here or there and they add a third or maybe fourth Series and maybe even win one. Again, nine seasons. Seven competitive.

The Cubs have managed five. That’s if you even include this past one, which I will because they were better than their record, or should have been. But you don’t have to, which makes it four. Five. How is five years an acceptable run at it? Especially what’s already here? And why would we assume punting on this one and maybe the next one guarantees anything beyond that, given that you still might see the Ricketts not pay whoever’s left or whoever develops into another piece in that time?

Rosenthal mentions their window closing, and uses Quintana’s and Lester’s contract situations as reasons why. Except they’ve pitched themselves to the bottom of the rotation and also their contracts ending opens up $35M+ of payroll that you could, oh I don’t know, improve the team with? I know, I’m fucking nuts and should be locked away from society for your safety. Out here with ideas like that. I mean, starting with Baez, Bryant, Rizzo, Contreras, Schwarber, Hendricks, and Darvish with $35M in space to use however you see fit seems like a nice base to me, but again, the sky is plaid in my world.

The last sentence is just weird and paradoxical, because if last year’s team was less than its parts it would seem that David Ross is kind of in a sweetheart spot as the team would have an excellent chance of improving simply because of market corrections and health. Not that you’d want to count on any of that, but still.

And again, this is all horseshit, a word that’s becoming synonymous with everything Cubs right now. The Cubs aren’t trading Bryant because they think it improves anything, short-term or long. It’s because they don’t want to pay him what he will earn in two years, and they don’t even want to pay him what he will get this year in arbitration. It’s not a “strategy.” It’s simple greed. The new buildings are up, the luxury suites are in, and Ricketts doesn’t have to do much to watch the money flow in. So he’s not going to.

I recognize that Ryu at $23M a year or so is a risky investment, and he’s just about the only difference-making starter on the market right now. And I will accept a baseball trade of Contreras to find another starter, if possible. What I won’t accept is the idea of an extra $20M-$25M breaking the Cubs financially. There is nothing the Yankees have, or should have, that the Cubs don’t.

So fuck off with all of this.

Baseball

Jose Quintana has probably lost his chance to win over Chicago Cubs faithful now, given that the return for him has washed up on the shores of Comiskey Bay. It’s hard not to cast longing eyes at Eloy Jimenez’s bat, even if I’m skeptical that Dylan Cease will ever have enough control to be as effective as the stuff promises. And even if Q had one more season to create a legacy, you can certainly see a scenario where that season will be shipped somewhere else. Let’s take a look at Q, and where it went wrong for him this season.

2019 Stats

31 starts   171 innings

4.68 ERA   3.80 FIP

8.00 K/9  2.42 BB/9  1.39 WHIP

44.5 GB%  38.1% Hard-Contact rate . 12.1% HR/FB

107 ERA-  3.5 WAR

Tell Me A Story: I hadn’t really looked at Q’s season closely until now, and what’s kind of weird is that even with the last third of it being so bad, it was still a way better season in terms of WAR or FIP than 2018. Which I’m having a hard time reconciling. It might have to do with luck, as Q was laced with a .326 BABIP this year whereas he had .282 one the previous season, both of which nestle comfortably 20 points either side of his career norms. So while his ERA was markedly better in ’18, what the underlying numbers are telling us is that it probably shouldn’t have been. Q cutting his walks and homers significantly this year also speak to that.

Q came into the season saying he wanted to use his change-up more, and for the most part he did. He had never used it more than 6% of the time in previous seasons, but was up near 12% this time around. He got gun-shy with it at times early in the year, but overcame that. The problem was it became less effective as the season went along, and was pulverized by hitters in September where everything went wrong. The whiffs-per-swing rate on it in the season’s final month was a paltry 16%, and hitters ran up a .462 average against it. The problem was that it lost its sink as the season went along…

That’s one reason Q’s September looked so horrible, with an ERA nearing 6.00. Another was that in the last month, when the Cubs really needed him, Q had a BABIP of .447. And that’s with his contact numbers remaining the same. I can recall off the top of my head two starts, against the Nats and the Padres, where he couldn’t get his defense to make an out if they had that Bugs Bunny glove.

But still, Q gave up way more hard contact this year than we’d seen in the past. Then again, that was the story for most pitchers this year. There was a change in approach from Q, who went to a sinker more this season than ever before and also tried elevating his fastball more when he did throw it. Q used to try and Lester it by burying his four-seam on the hands of righties, but maybe he didn’t feel he has quite the hop on hit anymore to get in there. The zone-look on his career and this year’s fastball due bear that out.

Which makes you wonder where he goes from here, as it’s unlikely that his fastball is going to pick up a tick in his 30s. He’s a pretty smart pitcher, so you’d have faith he’ll come up with something. As September showed, hitters could just start leaning out and taking balls on the outside corner wherever they wanted, which is noted by the 43% pull-rate hitters had in that month even though Q was concentrating most of his stuff on the outside corner.

Contract: $11.5M team option for 2020, $1M buyout, then free agency in 2021

Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass: Even if the Cubs would rather move on from Quintana or upgrade in the three or four spot, to be more kind, picking up his option is a no-brainer. Even half-dead fifth starters make more than $11.5M, so Q remains an absolute bargain. He would have some trade value simply due to that, and then add whatever bounce-back an interested team would anticipate on top of that.

There are obviously big warning signs. The decreasing velocity and the inability to get inside on righties. His durability isn’t what it was, as he hasn’t come near 200 innings in the past two seasons. That was one of the draws. The WHIP and contact numbers are headed in the wrong direction.

Still, the Cubs need an upgrade in the rotation even with Q in it. Moving him along means they would have to fill two spots, and Q as a #4 or #5, which is what he was really supposed to be this yea before Hamels got hurt and basically was, it a good spot to be in. If the Cubs can find one other starter to slot ahead of him and Lester and up among Hendricks and Darvish, they’ll be just fine. If Q can find a way to get inside on righties or find a way around not being able to, he’s an excellent candidate for a return-year.

The urge to upgrade is reasonable. The path to doing so isn’t so easy, and considering what he costs and what the Cubs might have to spend, having him slot at the bottom of the rotation is nowhere near a death sentence.

Baseball

We don’t need that many words now. This was a team that saw it season evaporate at home, and is trying to get to the door hoping not too many people are looking. They certainly weren’t in Pittsburgh. But that didn’t stop the Cubs from basically capitulating. The Pirates had lost a million in a row. But once the defense and Kyle Hendricks’s location went south on Tuesday, this team just wants it to be over. So let’s just do a few notes and get on with our lives.

-Jose Quintana is really backing the Cubs into a corner now. They have to exercise his option, as it’s only $11M. But his September of gasoline is not going to make him worth much in trade value, and they might already have a fifth starter in Jon Lester for next year. I would have to guess Q is hurt and has been, but his velocity has held steady. His change has lost fade, and his curve a little break, making both hard to locate or easier to hit. Which means keying on his fastball. He’s one of the bigger reasons this month went completely balls-up.

But what do you do? Even for a bottom of the rotation guy he’s affordable. You have to hope he figures out something in the offseason or in Mesa and can be the effective middle guy he was in the middle of the season. Otherwise the Cubs have a much bigger problem in the rotation than they already do.

-As for Lester, the answer for him is just age. We saw last year he was getting hit harder and walking more guys, and there’s no reason that’s not going to continue into next year when he’s 36. This is the devil you meet when you hand a pitcher six years on a contract, and overall Cubs fans will be happy with what they got. But they still have next year to deal with, and the Cubs can’t go into next season thinking Lester is a #3 starter. Maybe he can find another mile on the fastball with different training or something. Or try a new approach, but the expectations should be low.

-I wanted Ian Happ to be good. He’s such an athlete, and you see where having him be able to play a few spots would have been a real boon. But it looks like the time in Iowa was for not. He can get beat in the zone with a fastball, which was the problem in the first place. Did he work on anything? His keen eye does no good when he can’t catch up to strikes. Along with Almora and Russell, you’d have to say his Cubs career is almost certainly toast.

-Other than that, who cares? It’s been over, and the Cubs played like it. One more weekend and then we all get sweet relief.

 

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

vs.

RECORDS: Cardinals 85-67   Cubs 82-70

GAMETIMES: Thursday 6:15, Friday-Sunday 1:20

TV: Fox Thursday, ABC 7 Friday, WGN Saturday, NBCSN Sunday

I DON’T LIKE YOU EITHER: Viva El Birdos

SERIES PREVIEW POSTS

Depth Charts & Pitching Staffs

Cardinals Spotlight: Doing What They Wouldn’t

And so it’s come to this. After a four-year stretch where it generally felt like the Cubs had switched the dynamic on THE AULD RIVAL FROM THE SOUTH, everyone in blue is prepping for the most gruesome of deaths. Maybe it comes this weekend. Maybe the more cruel twist comes on the final weekend of the season. Either way, a feeling you thought you might have left behind has come roaring back. It’s almost comforting in a way, because we’ve lived with it for so long.

Oh, but there’s hope too. A hope that this infuriating, unsatisfying, unenjoyable season could find salvation. Perhaps the previous five and a half months wouldn’t sting as badly if it ends by sticking it to the Cardinals over seven games in 11 days. Perhaps the stale and foul taste of this season can be washed away. It’s possible, it’s just that it’s not something we’re accustomed to.

In all likelihood, the Cubs have to take at least five of the seven games on offer from The Red Menace. And even that could only likely ensure a tie, as in the interim the Cubs have the Pirates while the Cardinals have three games that looked like they might be treacherous a couple weeks ago against the Diamondbacks, but assuredly aren’t now. Anything less than a sweep of the Pirates could doom the Cubs. But we’ll get there.

A split here and it’s over. Three games down with six to go means even a 6-0 finish isn’t going to be enough. And of course there’s the small matter of the Brewers lurking as well, and they finish with one against San Diego today, and then Pirates, Reds, Rockies. It could open up for them if the Cubs and Cardinals hold each other in place.

And the real fear is that the Cardinals can expose two of the bigger problems the Cubs have through their rotation. One is that the absence of Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez is just too much to carry. The second is that the inconsistency within the Cubs rotation is another they can’t overcome thanks to the solidity of the Cardinals’ staff. The second one is debatable, as the matchups have come out ok. Both will throw top of the rotation guys in Kyle Hendricks and Jack Flaherty tonight. Both will throw question marks in Jose Quintana and Michael Wacha tomorrow, though you’d trust Q slightly more than Wacha. The weekend finishes with what look like advantages for one team (Saturday for the Cards with Hudson, Sunday for the Cubs with Darvish). But baseball doesn’t work that way.

While the Cardinals offense over the whole of the season hasn’t been impressive, it’s been more than enough of late to go by the Cubs as they sat around poking a carcass with a stick. Perhaps it was their own. Tommy Edman, the kind of young go-getter the Cardinals always produce that pop for a few weeks and make you want to reach through the screen and either throttle him or just yourself before they sink back into anonymity, has been their hottest hitter. Right behind him is the Shit Demon behind the plate, and you’re already picturing some piece of garbage off his fists landing softly enough over Zobrist’s head to not actually make a sound to drive in two in the 7th of one of these. You’ve seen it too many times. Kolten Wong and Paul Goldschmidt are both on one as well, so the challenge is set.

And you don’t want to be trailing this team late, because they’ve fashioned quite the shutdown pen of late. I wouldn’t trust Carlos Martinez with anything valuable, too many memories of him going to the zoo at the slightest hint of trouble, but he also hasn’t given up an earned run in a month. Ryan Helsly, Giovanny Gallegos, and Dominic Leone have all been great the past month. The Cardinals know exactly how they’re getting to the last out. The Cubs have to guess every night.

It doesn’t shape up well. But it doesn’t have to. A Bryant or Schwarber binge. Quintana rediscovering what worked in August to join what Hendricks and Darvish have continually been doing. A meltdown from any Cardinal reliever, and it could all swing back.

The Cubs have a lot to overcome without even considering the opponent, like injuries and general malaise. We’ll find out if they can ever truly lock it in as they claimed they would all season, or if they’ve always wanted it to just be over like most of us have.

Pessimism is for assholes. C’mon Cubs, give us a reason to keep hoping for at least another week. We’ve got nothing else to do anyway.

Baseball

When you score 55 runs over four games, your other foibles tend to be overlooked. That’s an old baseball cliche, y’know. So this morning, everyone’s a little less concerned about the Cubs being without half of their “core four” for the rest of the regular season because of all the runs pouring like an avalanche comin’ down the mountain. On the other side, the Cubs will soon stop seeing the confused and despondent cooking-school rejects that have taken the mound for the Pirates and Reds the last four games. It actually starts tonight with Sonny Gray, and the Cardinals will sport real live pitchers for those seven games to decide the fate of us all.

So the worry is that when the Cubs need to fight fire with fire, pitching-wise (which is probably ice with ice given that offense is always considered the hot weapon and defense the cool one so “fight Sub-Zero with Sub-Zero?”), they only have two of five guys who can do it right now. If it wasn’t for Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish, this season may have already been taken out to the curb. The three lefties have been woeful of late. Now maybe that’s something you can paper over for 12 more games, which is all that’s left. But the Cubs have been trying to get around it for a few weeks now, so there just might not be that much sand left in the top chamber here.

Two of them are easily explicable. Jon Lester might simply be past it, and the thin margins of error he already had the past couple seasons are simply now imperceptible and unreachable. His fellow over-35 southpaw, Cole Hamels, is coming back from an injury that derailed his career once already for a year and a half, and he seems completely lost or hurt or both. To expect these two to be anything more than what we’ve seen is almost certainly optimistic at best, deluded at worst. We have the evidence of why this is happening.

Jose Quinana, on the other hand, is a stranger case. There’s no injury that we know of. He’s only 30, though has certainly piled up his share of innings. So health and age aren’t the concerns for him that they are for Lester and Hamels. And yet his recent stretch is worrying as well. With three starters rolling, you figure the Cubs could close this season out triumphantly. With only two, it becomes more of a stretch of imagination as the Cardinals spend a majority of those games making sure the Cubs aren’t actually putting up a touchdown or two.

It’s easy to forget, even if it was just a month ago, how good Q was in August. He had an ERA of 2.02 with 39 Ks and only six walks. He had a four start stretch where he gave up just four runs over 26 innings. And the numbers could have actually been better. He had an extremely weird start against the Nationals where he literally did not give up one hard-hit ball, almost all of it was on the ground, and yet it all found holes or the Cubs starting throwing it around like a shuttlecock. Even his last start of that month was good, though Maddon got a little panicky and pulled him with two outs in the sixth even though he hadn’t given up a run.

But September has been puke-tastic. He’s only seen the 4th inning once, and has given up 13 earned runs in just 10.1 innings. Again, some of this is weird, as his start in San Diego was essentially sabotaged by defense again. But it’s not like Q to fall apart after something like that, which he promptly did after Ben Zobrist did a fine Mitch Trubisky impression on a double-play ball (too soon?).

So is there something going on? On the surface, there’s isn’t a lot of change. There’s no velocity drop, it’s not like his walks have risen hugely, or anything else we jump to first. When digging around a bit, it does look a little like his change-up has flattened and lost some drop:

The past two starts he hasn’t gotten a swing-and-miss on it, which is a problem.

Still, there’s an element of weirdness, as there always is in baseball. Quintana in his last three starts has been getting way more ground-balls than he did during his brilliant stretch in August, which you would think should be a good thing. In those August starts he only got half of his contact-against on the ground once. He’s done that in every start since and including that Washington one, but with these results. Does he miss Baez the most?

What he hasn’t gotten in his last couple outings is any whiffs on anything but his four-seamer, and that’s got to change. As you’d think, or hope, that with the greater amount of grounders, even adding a smidge of Ks to it would get Q back on top sharpish. It’s likely the Cubs will need that.

Baseball

 

 

Game 1 Box Score: Cubs 17, Bucs 8

Game 2 Box Score: Cubs 14, Bucs 1

Game 3 Box Score: Cubs 16, Bucs 6

 

Morph

You thought you were only getting one LFO joke? HA! Morph is still a genious.

The Cubs arrived back in Chicago for their final home stand of the 2019 regular season with the stench of desparation and a shiny new shortstop who had hearts all over the City of Broad Shoulders aflutter. Fortunately, their dance card had the Pittsburgh Pirates for the first three numbers. Meanwhile, they knew down in Dogpatch the Cardinals and Brewers would be beating each other’s brains out.

Let’s…