Baseball

The Cubs got the three wins they needed to put them back over .500 and place themselves second in the division this week against the struggling Nationals. They did this while battling injuries; the injury bug continues to make its way around the clubhouse, as we continue to see new starting position players get injured in Anthony Rizzo and, most recently, Jason Heyward and Justin Steele. (Please can Kris Bryant NOT be next?)

Despite these injuries, the Cubs were able to outscore the Nationals 21-10 this series as the offense continues to putter along. The bullpen pitching is finally looking solid also, which is quite good considering our starters still can’t survive very long into any game, it seems. Without further ado, let’s break down this week’s games.

May 17, 2021
Cubs 4, Nationals 3
WP: Alzolay (2-3) LP: Lester (0-2)
Box Score

Things started off badly relatively quickly for Jon Lester, making his first start at Wrigley in a Nationals uniform. Just about everyone in the top half of the Cubs lineup was able to hit off him. First it was a couple of singles by the top of the order in the 1st and a sac fly by Anthony Rizzo to score a runner. Then Jason Heyward hit a two-run bomb to center to make it 3-0 Cubs in the 2nd inning. Contreras’s second hit of the night was a solo homer in the 3rd, and by this point just about everyone felt a little bit, just a teeny bit, bad for Jon Lester. But hey, at least Marquee didn’t cut to commercial in the middle of the 1st inning to show the fans of Wrigley giving Lester a standing ovation before he put up this performance!

That being said, our starter, Adbert Alzolay, wasn’t exactly nails either. Although he kept things scoreless through the first two innings, he allowed a Trea Turner home run in the 3rd inning to give the Nationals a little bit of life. To rub salt in the wound, Kyle Schwarber hit a two-run homer in the 3rd inning to cut the Cubs’ lead to only one, but the Nats’ bats would die after that.

The Cubs scored one run per inning in the 6th, 7th and 8th. Javy Baez hit a solo homer in the 6th to give the Cubs some insurance. Eric Sogard was able to single on a ground ball to Schwarber, which scored Nico Hoerner. Finally, in the 8th, a Heyward single was able to drive in Anthony Rizzo, who had a double of his own earlier in the inning.

Alzolay survived five innings and didn’t put up a single walk during that span. He had five hits and two home runs, and limiting those homers is something he can work on in the future. The bullpen pitchers that were trotted out after Alzolay did well allowed only one hit between the four of them.

The Cubs also saw a new pitcher make his major league debut, as Tommy Nance pitched the 8th inning. Called up since Alec Mills was put on the IL, Nance isn’t exactly young at 30 years old, but he’s definitely a new face to Cubs fans unless you frequent Iowa Cubs games. He struck out his first big league batter and had some pretty sweet pitches, including this nasty one:

May 18, 2021
Cubs 6, Nationals 3
WP: Thompson (2-1) LP: Harris (0-1)
Box Score

The Cubs put up another win in this game, pushing the team to back over .500…again. Zach Davies, the starter of the day, allowed all three Nationals runs in 5 innings pitched. He allowed a homer, a walk, and 7 hits total. Luckily for the Cubs, the bullpen and the offense were able to come through for the win this game.

Scoring for the Cubs started in the 3rd inning when David Bote and Nico Hoerner both singled. Willson Contreras singled after a Davies sac bunt to score both of them.

After the 4th inning, Anthony Rizzo left the game to deal with back tightness as a “precautionary measure,” because the injuries won’t stop rolling in for the Cubs. Kris Bryant moved over to first base, because the man can play anywhere nowadays, and Jason Heyward went to right field.

Immediately after, at the top of the 5th, the Nationals were able to get three singles in a row against Davies which tied the game up. Never fear, however; MVP Kris Bryant is here! (For a few more months, at least). He was able to bat in both Hoerner on a ground ball to give the Cubs the lead.

The game continued to stay tight as the top of the inning featured an immediate solo homer by the Nationals to tie the game up again. After Davies allowed another single right after that, he got yanked in favor of Keegan Thompson, who got the three outs for the inning with two strikeouts.

Bote homered at the bottom of the inning after a Matt Duffy walk, and the Cubs never looked back. Ian Happ had a solo homer in the 8th to make the final score 6-3. The bullpen pitched well generally, allowing two hits and striking out six batters between the four of them. They also allowed five walks, but the defense prevailed this game, as is wont to do with the Cubs.

May 19, 2021
Cubs 3, Nationals 4
WP: Scherzer (4-2) LP: Arrieta (4-4)
Box Score

Runners in scoring position once again killed the Cubs this game, as any other competent team would’ve made something happen in the bases-loaded situation in the 6th inning. However, Contreras and David Bote could not convert enough runs to beat the Nationals’ four. Ian Happ, at least, was able to single to make it 4-2 then, and Javier Baez hit a solo home run in the 9th to make this game at least seem close. However, when you’re facing really good pitching on the mound, sometimes the offense just shuts down.

Max Scherzer, hall-of-famer that he is, struck out eight Cubs, allowing five hits and only two runs. The Cubs had similar issues with the Nats’ bullpen tonight, not being able to convert when in RISP situations and getting struck out five times in the final 2.2 innings of the game.

At least Joc Pederson showed signs of life offensively, after being in the leadoff position for a few games. He had two hits today, leading the team. Poor David Bote was left on base on four separate occasions today, and Arrieta had a hit, surprisingly.

Arrieta’s pitching…well, it was not up to snuff when you take a glance over at the opposing dugout. He allowed seven hits and only struck out two runners. In fact, Tommy Nance again, the first reliever for Arrieta in the 6th, was able to strike out one more runner, and allowed no hits for another pretty impressive outing. More please.

May 20, 2021
Cubs 5, Nationals 2
WP: Steele (2-0) LP: Ross (2-4)
Box Score

Despite the wind blowing quite strongly out of Wrigley Field, the Cubs were able to keep the Nationals to only two home run hits, by Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber…again. Sigh. However, Ian Happ was the star of the show today with two homers, solely responsible for three of the five Cubs runs.

Joc Pederson had another good day, also, with two hits total and an RBI. Anthony Rizzo also had two hits, coming back after sitting out the previous game due to the aforementioned back injury. Luckily for the Cubs, he seemed to get better just in time for Jason Heyward to be put on the 10-day IL today. Covering for him today and through the future is Nick Martini, who debuted quite marvelously with a sac fly RBI to score David Bote and put the Cubs on the board in the 2nd inning, along with scoring on a Joc Pederson single in the 4th to put the Cubs up 4-2.

Trevor Williams allowed the two Nationals’ runs, while also striking out five batters and allowing only two walks. However, he did not survive until the 5th inning, being replaced by Justin Steele. Steele was doing great, allowing no hits, three strikeouts, and only one walk through 1.1 innings until he exited the game due to an injury. Ryan Tepera replaced him, striking out three. Andrew Chafin was able to get out of his inning with no runs thanks in part to yet another amazing Nico Hoerner diving play to save a hit, and Craig Kimbrel got yet another save today with three straight strikeouts in the 9th inning.

After this three-win series, the Cubs have now secured themselves quite precariously in 2nd place in the Central Division, three games back of the 1st-place Cardinals, who the Cubs ironically face this weekend.

The Cardinals are much better than the rest of their division so far, being quite a few games over .500, unlike every other team in the division until the Cubs’ win today that put them over .500 again. The Cards most recently completed a two-game sweep of the Pirates (not hard at all to do) and got trounced by the Padres, getting spectacularly swept themselves last weekend.

On a personal note, I am going camping tomorrow in an area with no TV or internet, so I’m sorry to say I will be unable to cover this weekend’s excitement, despite this being the first series of any actual meaning we’ve had all season. Luckily for all of us, I’ll be back next week to cover the next three game series of the Pirates/Cubs series, because God knows we’d all like to watch more of that.

See you then, and go Cubs go!

Baseball

The Rickettses finally allowed Jed Hoyer to make some sort of “splash” this offseason by signing World Series champion Joc Pederson to a one-year, $7 million deal. And then, a few hours later, their splash was overshadowed by a blockbuster Nolan Arenado trade to our division rival. Cubs fans can never have nice things for long.

Pederson is here to essentially replace Kyle Schwarber, and besides them both being lefties, his numbers indicate him being pretty Schwarber-esque on the field. Schwarber’s batting numbers from last season are all a little bit better than Pederson’s, but Pederson also played 16 less games than the former Cubs outfielder. Pederson’s strike out percentage of 24.6% is slightly better than Schwarber’s 29.5%. His batting average is also better, comparing .190 to .188.

What might be slightly better news for Cubs fans to hear is that Pederson also went through a bit of a slump in 2020, like Schwarber. If you look at his stats from 2015-2019, the years he played over 100 games, he averaged 24.6 home runs and 57.4 RBIs. Additionally, Pederson also crushed it in the 2020 offseason with the Dodgers, with nearly all of his batting metrics getting better. His batting average went to .382, his strikeout percentage went down to 16.2%, and he had 2 homers and 8 RBIs for the Dodgers. I would assume his 2020 regular season numbers are just a temporary slump and he will continue to improve over a longer, slightly more normal 2021 regular season.

The Cubs were sorely lacking an outfielder before this signing, and it looks like your staple guys in the outfield for 2021 will now be Pederson, Ian Happ, and Jason Heyward, respectively. Doesn’t seem like an awful combo, if I say so myself.

While we’re here, let’s also touch on the Cubs’ new starting pitcher signing that happened this weekend. Welcome to the Cubs, Trevor Williams! This offseason has been a nightmare for us but at least you aren’t wasting away on the Pirates roster anymore, am I right?

Williams has inked a 1-year, $2.5 million dollar deal, according to SOURCES. Williams’ best ERA was coming up on three seasons ago, in 2018, where he was sporting a 3.11. Last season, his ERA was 6.18.

How much of this can you blame on the fact that he was on the most God-awful team in the league? Let’s give this guy the benefit of the doubt. His velocity numbers certainly haven’t decreased, and because we are owned by the Rickettses we didn’t pay out the nose for him. There aren’t really any more Yu Darvishes available in this league, and even if there were we’d trade them away for no return. Try to find the positives in this baseball offseason, I guess.

Baseball

I’m one of the few who take Kyle Schwarber as a given. And even I think that feeling is fragile. Schwarber gave us a half-season of a dominant hitter. But it’s only a half-season. And it took us a while to get here. Which means it feels like it could easily slip back into the whiff-happy, Dave Kingman routine again. But this is what our large adult son has always been billed as, and the organization was so patient with him to get this, it feels like this has to be the time. Will it be?

Kyle Schwarber 2019

155 games, 610 PA

.250/.339/.531

.357 wOBA  120 wRC+

11.5 BB%  25.6 K%

-7.1 Defensive Runs

2.6 WAR

Overall, the numbers don’t look gargantuan. It’s the second half that has people staining their shorts, where The War Bear went .280/.366/.631 for a 151 wRC+. And that came about without a huge spike in BABIP, or an abnormal amount of fly-balls leaving the park, and what it did involve was making more contact. Schwarber’s walk-rate dropped in the second half by a couple percentage points, but his strikeouts went from 28.3% to 21.0%. And considering how hard Schwarber hits the ball, hardest on the team, the more balls he gets in play the better it’s going to be for everyone. So can he keep it up?

YES! YES! YES!: So in order to figure out if Schwarber figured something out and that 151 wRC+ is something he can do something like that over a full season (which is obviously patently ridiculous because that would make him a top-10 hitter in the league)?

One adjustment for 2019 was Schwarber being able to take fastballs up in the zone the other way and with authority. And he was able to make more contact on them:

And in the second half, Schwarber was able to make more contact on pitches just high in the zone and a little above, and as we said, more contact means more good things for Schwarber. And you. And me. And the world. So that feels like a permanent swing change.

Which means Schwarber is going to have to be on the lookout for breaking pitches now, Considering he slugged .561 on sliders in the second half last year, and hit .267 against curves, he might have already made that adjustment. Things will always change in baseball, and eventually Schwarber will be attacked in a different way, but he seems more equipped than he was before.

The final hurdle for Schwarber is to succeed in high-leverage situations, which has been something of a bugaboo. If you believe in that sort of things, which a lot of people don’t. Overall, Schwarber was average last year in them at a 96 wRC+, after putting up…deep breath…-64 in them in 2018. So you’d have to say that was an improvement, Captain Obvious. Likely to be batting fourth behind Bryant, Rizzo, and Baez, you’d have to guess he’s going to have a chance to take a run at 120 RBI here. Even being average as he was gets him near that.

Given the thinness of the lineup, Schwarber might have to hit against lefties a fair amount of the time. Which he did well in the second half, though he did strike out nearly a third of the time as well. The Cubs could go Happ-Almora-Souza on those days…but those aren’t days you’re going to want to watch much. If he does play against lefties, it’s sliders breaking away from him that he’s going to have to watch out for. He whiffed on over half of the ones he saw.

You’re a B+ Player: The amount of ABs Schwarber has with men on base and medium to high leverage gets to his head again, and suddenly those high fastballs aren’t something he does anything with but goes back to whiffing on. Or popping out softly. He begins to lean that way, and then suddenly the curves and sliders he was waiting for are being jumped at. Which means more grounders, as his success was partly based on getting more balls in the air. He gets worse in the field, and now that he doesn’t have many chances to throw guys out with his arm, he provides even more negative value. And then it will feel the Cubs have missed on the window to cash in on him at his highest value. That sound like a lot, doesn’t it?

Dragon Or Fickle?: I’m all in on Schwarber, making the top of the Cubs’ lineup as dangerous as you’d find in the National League (though a tad K-heavy). Something definitely clicked for Schwarbs, and at 27 now this is his time. Andrew Cieslak’s favorite Cub is going to be tearing down padding on. the outfield wall all season.

 

Baseball

I’m not suggesting that Anthony Rizzo will keep a cardboard-cutout of a naked Tom Ricketts in the clubhouse next year, that the Cubs will slowly reveal with every win. And if they actually did that’s probably more of a morale killer which will end up with the 82-win season the front office and ownership seem so desperate to have to prove that this team’s window is over after just six seasons and they have to blow it all up–i.e. save money. But then again, I’m not in the business of predicting what Anthony Rizzo would do to entertain himself.

I mentioned it here in passing last week when talking about the Kris Bryant grievance being over, but when the Cubs make it to Mesa, Bryant trade or no, one thing that should be the focus for everyone covering them is just where this team is mentally. To me, I think it could be a fascinating study.

Because it could go one of two ways. What we do know is that the core of this team–Rizzo, Bryant, Baez, Contreras, Schwarber (yeah I’m including him so stuff it)– have spent the winter either hearing their names in trade rumors, or hearing their close friends’ names in rumors, having their offer to talk about extensions to stay here forever squashed, or being offered extensions that clearly weren’t up to acceptable standards. What we can say for sure is that these players, who y’know, won the most famous championship in town just slightly over three years ago, have spent the winter hearing that they’re pretty much not good enough and need to be reshaped if not totally rebuilt. You can throw Darvish, Hendricks, Lester on to this as well if you’d like.

While they could feel any way about it, you’d have to think they all think at the very least that’s pretty goddamn weird. They’ve basically been bus-tossed by an ownership and front office they were handpicked to justify not so long ago. They were the chosen ones, and really in what amounts to not much more than a blink of an eye, they’ve been told in various ways to shove off.

So where does that leave them this season? You can easily see where Rizzo, the unquestioned backbone of this team, closes ranks and keeps it about just the 26 guys in the clubhouse and a manager who’s still freshly out of said clubhouse, point out that their bosses have made it clear they only have two years or less together because they’ve totally given up on the idea of keeping them together because they’re cheap so they might as well make the most of it. So they play on in spite of their owner and F.O. and are in first come the trade deadline and really give no one any choice. And this team, as weirdly constructed as it is now, is more than capable of that.

And you can just as easily see this team thinking, “Well they don’t believe in us, they certainly don’t want to pay us, and in two seasons we’re pretty much all out of here anyway,” and go completely in the tank without the support of an entire organization pulling in the same direction. You can understand why they might feel like the rug has been pulled out from under them. And if only Baez feels like he’s going to get paid what he’s earned, just why would any of the rest of them sell out for this organization that is in the process of selling them out?

Both seem just as plausible.

If I had to guess though, and maybe this is where the hiring of Ross comes in, I would shade to the former. You can see Ross easily drumming up everyone to row in the same direction with middle fingers raised, even if they know it’s only for a limited time. This team scrapped together 95 wins two years ago with a battered team, had two bad days in a row and were called losers for it. They had a rough go of it last year because their management left them short of a bullpen and bench simply because, and now are being told they’re past it. That has to sting some pride, if nothing else.

Still, I can’t help but wonder what the relationship is between players and front office. I don’t think the players much care what goes on at the ownership level, as they wouldn’t see Tom Ricketts nearly as much as they do Theo and Jed. And it used to feel like that was all pretty harmonious. Certainly Theo has bosses that he can’t just outright disobey, but he also wasn’t brought here to do two rebuilds or to discard the players he unearthed simply because his bosses don’t want to pay them what they’re worth. And yet we haven’t heard a word of discord from them. Would the players now feel he doesn’t have their back? That he finds them just as disposable as the owner does?

Maybe Theo genuinely doesn’t care. Maybe he’s getting paid so handsomely, with his place in Cooperstown pretty much assured, and just enjoys it here so much he’ll go along with anything. Maybe the two years left on his contract means he’s already planning his exit and he’s not going to raise a fuss before the clock runs out. As media savvy as he is, if he were upset about having to claw at the team he built simply to please his greedy and idiotic ownership, you’d think something would have leaked out by now. Or maybe he draws enough water that he can just stall out until spring training. There’s a lot we don’t know.

Certainly leaves us fans in the middle too. I ask myself, and have been asked my friends who aren’t Cubs fans, how we all continue on like this. But it’s still an easy group of players to root for. They’re still very easy to like, if they remain here as is for this season. Hopefully they feel the same way, and do it for themselves. That feels like just about the only hope this season.

Baseball

I don’t know if center field was all that high on the wish list–emphasis on “wish”–of most Cubs fans when this offseason began. That’s before we really came to see how Scrooge-tastic the Ricketts would get this winter. The Cubs definitely needed another pitcher in the rotation (didn’t get it) and they needed an arm or two in the pen (maybe got it? Who the fuck knows?), but center field seemed an obvious hole as well.

And it’s still there.

A lot was focused on Nick Castellanos, which of course didn’t solve much about center. It would have pushed Jason Heyward to center a lot of time, or to the bench a lot of the time. That clearly didn’t happen, which leaves Heyward in right and…well, my only guess here is that the Cubs are wagering (or have been forced into wagering) that Ian Happ will grab the centerfield spot every day. Or that Steven Souza Jr. will light it up in Mesa and claim it, even though he needs a Razor to get around the space.

So that leaves in Happ. In theory, if Happ were to match his numbers from 2019’s cameo-plus appearance for a whole season, you probably wouldn’t notice Castellanos’s absence that much, especially if Heyward is only restricted to facing right-handed pitchers and puts up his 115 wRC+ from last year again. Remember, Happ’s final slash line was .264/.333/.564 for a 127 wRC+. That’s really good!

And defensively, he was actually not bad at all. Even good! If you go by the metrics, that is. +2.9 defensive runs, 32.2 UZR/150. Which we’d seen before, though on a lower scale, in his debut in 2017. It’s not ridiculous to think he could actually handle the position for the majority of the time.

Of course, there’s a caveat with Happ. A lot of his numbers came out of an incredible last week of the season, when the Cubs were already toast. In the last six games of the season, Happ went 10-for-22 (.454), with four homers, with a slugging of 1.136. It’s a nice week, but considering Happ was only up a couple months, it distorts things a bit. Without that week, he hit .228. He slugged .457, which isn’t bad obviously but isn’t near the season-finishing mark. And he still struck out a quarter of the time. That makes the question marks a lot bigger.

Again, the front office has probably been bullied into hopes on Happ. This isn’t part of the plan. They have no other choice. Still, if they were looking for hope, they’re probably looking to the guy who will stand to Happ’s right in left field for most of the season.

Like Happ, Schwarber had partial-season success after being called up, and quickly. Schwarber’s 2015 was over 69 games and Happ’s 2017 was over 115 games, so Happ was up for nearly twice as long. Still, immediate production. When Schwarber did get back into the lineup every day (after a knee injury which probably delayed development even more), he had at least a season and a half of scuffling, including his own demotion to Iowa. Of course, Schwarber’s boom was in the first half of 2018 instead of the second. And it was last year when Schwarber finally “popped,” with a 120 wRC+, including a 151 in the second half of the season. Now, Schwarber is a given.

Happ himself had two seasons of waywardness, and like Schwarber had a demotion to Iowa (which lasted much longer). The hope is that last week of the season was the sign something clicked, and he’s going to have his Schwarber coming out party from center this year. If he does…well, it solves a lot of the lineup questions and probably frees Ross up to bat Rizzo leadoff most of the time. Really it would only leave second base as a guess, and the thing is David Bote has been better than most think and Hoerner may grab it anyway.

But that’s an awful lot riding on one hot week when the chips were already counted. That’s the corner that the Cubs have been backed into by their owners.

Baseball

WITNESS ME BLOODBAG!

2019 Stats

155 games, 610 plate appearances

.250/.339/.531

38 HR  82 RBI

11.5 BB%  25.6 K%

120 wRC+  .357 wOBA  .871 OPS

-7.1 Defensive Runs Saved  2.4 WAR

Tell Me A Story: There probably isn’t a better lesson in development not being linear than Kyle Schwarber. It was a given after his Doomsday 2nd half in 2015 that Schwarber would be taking aim and eventually bringing down the scoreboard in right field. But it didn’t work that way, as The War Bear got hurt, then spent ’17 and ’18 going through the growing pains he was supposed to go through in 2016. There was the cursed leadoff spot (which I will still contend he was good at and could be again if the Cubs really needed him to be). It got to the point where some fans and media had given up on him. And hell, it even took until the second half of this season for people to be convinced that Schwarber was going to be anything like we thought he would.

Overall, Schwarber’s season is really good. If you were to focus on just the second half, where he slashed .280/.366/.631 for a wRC+ of an astronomic 151 (for comparison, a season-long 151 would have ranked 7th in all of baseball right behind Anthony Rendon), then it’s really ya-ha time. The question for Schwarber and the Cubs and all of us is whether or not Schwarber is that guy from just the second half. Of course, most teams would settle for the whole of ’19 from their left fielder. Perspective is king, people.

There isn’t too much to suggest it simply can’t be. His BABIP in the second half was .287, which is high for Schwarbs simply due to the shifts he sees but hardly out of line by league-average standards. His hard-contact rate was above 40% in both halves of the season, which would suggest he was a touch unlucky in the first more than lucky in the second (though somewhat boosted by the 54% hard-contact rate he had in September). And nothing really changed about his approach, as the direction of his hits and contact remained pretty steady from first half to second half. And on a team that had trouble hitting the ball hard, Schwarber ranked 9th in all of MLB in average exit velocity. You wouldn’t get that long of odds on him repeating the second half for a full season, let’s say.

If there’s a problem area for Schwarber, it had been breaking balls. And overall, his numbers on sliders and curves this year aren’t impressive. But at the end of the year, in September, he blistered them for a .308 average and a .373 wOBA. Now maybe that’s just a one month spike, or maybe it’s an adjustment to how pitchers adjusted after getting weary of seeing their fastballs and sinkers turned into confetti somewhere over the right field wall. We’ll need more than a month to know, but it’s at least an encouraging start.

Could it actually get better? Maybe? The thing is Kyle’s walk-rate was the lowest of his career, at a still more than decent 11.8%. It was over 15% the year before, and over 13% in his rookie year. There are more walks in there. Some of that is Kyle being a little more willing to go get things a little outside because he can still do things with those pitches, But if he’d had ’18’s walk-rate this year he would have had 23 more walks, which would have boosted his OBP from .339 to .375. There is more in there in that sense. That would see his OPS crack .900 for the year, which is where we all picture The War Bear to be.

The concern with Schwarber, as it is with pretty much everyone now, is the lack of contact. Both his in-zone and overall contact rates were below league-average, and we know the Cubs would like to boost this where they can. I would think Schwarber’s overall production, especially in the second half, would outweigh that, but what do I know? And on breaking pitches, Schwarbs still has some swing-and-miss problems. That’s going to have to be the next step.

The other knock on Schwarber was his historic and mystifying incompetence in high-leverage situations last year. Well that certainly improved this year from -62 (my brain bleeds just seeing that number) to 92 in wRC+. Of course, even in his great second half, that number was just 81 in those spots. Perhaps that’s because pitchers, at least the ones able to execute a plan, know where to go with Schwarbs when they have to get him out. This is clearly the thing he’s going to have to correct come next year.

The funny thing with Schwarber is that even with his improved offensive numbers, he had a lesser WAR than ’18. That’s because his defense didn’t grade out as highly. And that’s because he didn’t really get the chance to throw out runners this year, as the book is out on his arm. Much like Willson Contreras, he contributed to his own sliding metrics on defense because of how good he was at one thing that he negated more chances to do that one thing. We know he’s not a great left fielder. Probably not even a good one. We also know a team doesn’t need to be great in left.

Contract: 2nd of three arbitration years, projected at $8M.

Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass: There are whispers about trading Schwarber to the AL every goddamn year. I’m sure this won’t be different. And it’s not that he’s untouchable. For a top of the rotation starter, you’d have to think long and hard about it. But that’s about it, at least to me. We got a half season of the hitter he can be, and was in 2015. So this isn’t like it came from nowhere. He’s an adjustment or two from being one of the most dangerous hitters in the league. And even with the arbitration more thandoubling his salary, he’s cheap and young. True, for the first time since 2015, he’ll actually have some real value. But other teams would be wary of a backslide. And if you move Schwarber you have to replace that production in left. There really isn’t an in-house candidate, other than Ian Happ who is a lot farther from being that hitter than Schwarber is. To do it from the outside would be expensive, even if it’s everyone’s darling Castellanos. And if the budget is selfishly and callously limited again, then what room there is has to find pitching first.

As with everything, it depends on return. But the chance the Cubs regret moving Schwarber along rather than enjoy what they got back seems a lot bigger than the reverse.

Baseball

I saw this tweet everywhere yesterday in the aftermath of the Cubs complete self-immolation/hydrogen bombing of their season. I know why it happened, but first…

It’s undeniable that Nicholas Castellanos brought a different energy to the Cubs. He also hit the shit out of the ball, which helped. Jason Heyward has brought a different energy to the Cubs for the four years he’s been here, but no one really cares because he doesn’t hit. It was easy to see with Castellanos of course, the way he bounced out of the box and in the dugout and out to the field.

And we all want and like that. It is a kids’ game after all. And this kind of picture at least makes us feel like the players are as upset and depressed as we are. Or that they feel playing in Wrigley Field and being a Cub is truly special. To some it is, to even fewer it matters more than getting paid the most they can for as long as they can. Which will assuredly be Castellanos’s aim come November, as it should be.

But cold, dead-eyed analysis should tell you that the Cubs have different priorities this winter, no matter what you think of the offense. First, let’s compare some numbers:

Player A since August 1st: .325/.370/.675  164 wRC+

Player B since August 1st: .292/.282/.636  156 wRC+

You’ve probably figured out the second player is Kyle Schwarber, and yet you will still hear a great many fans and media types saying it’s Schwarber who should be traded and Castellanos re-signed, even though Schwarber is younger and cheaper and keeps a great deal more financial flexibility. You might not think the last part matters, or more to the point don’t think it should matter given the financial might of both the Cubs and the Ricketts family. And I would agree with you, except it’s going to anyway, and we should probably deal with reality. Though that’s never really been our strong-suit around here, which is why we still think Teuvo Teravainen is a Hawk.

You might also think that it doesn’t have to be an either-or choice between Castellanos and Schwarber, but it kind of does, and it kind of has to do with Jason Heyward. We’ll circle back to this.

What you have to decide is whether you think Castellanos, or Schwarber, is the player they showed the last two months or more the player they’ve been for years. Over the season, Castellanos has put together a 124 wRC+, which mirrors his 130 of last year. Here in his prime, that’s probably just about what he is? 120-125? We can’t expect this kind of binge every year. This will end up being Schwarber’s best season since his rookie campaign, and I would wager that’s what he will be going forward as well, as his numbers don’t have quite the inflation to them that Castellanos’s does.

But again, financial considerations come into this. You may think the Cubs have Hamels, Zobrist, and Morrow coming off the books for a cool $45M or so in flexibility. Doesn’t work that way though, as most of Zobrist’s money has been swallowed up by Kimbrel’s contract. And there are raises coming. Willson Contreras is probably getting a $3M-$5M raise from this year. Anthony Rizzo gets a $3M one. Kris Bryant is in line for another $3M or more than he got this year. Same goes for Javier Baez. Oh, and Schwarber too. Kyle Hendricks’s salary for sure bumps up $5M with his extension. Right there, that’s $20M gone, conservatively.

Castellanos is in line for, and this is a guess, 3/$54M contract or thereabouts. Given his age, maybe he gets four or five years. Give him that, and your flexibility is severely limited, even with a rise in the luxury tax threshold.

And quite simply, the Cubs have greater needs, even if the offense has caused you to dent your own skull. Right now the rotation for 2020 is Hendricks, Darvish, Lester, Q, and some mishmash of Chatwood or 80 innings of Alzolay or whatever’s behind door #3. Both Chatwood and Alzolay, given the amount of work he can provide, are almost certainly better used as multi-inning pieces out of the pen. Even if you slot Chatwood into that rotation, with the way Q and Lester have finished the season, you really think you’re going somewhere with that? Hamels is only coming back if he takes half of what he just got or less and for one year, and I don’t see that happening.

The free agent class blows, and that would still be the case if Stephen Strasburg opts out and the Cubs by some miracle want to give him more than the $25M and four years he’s owed. Still, there are improvements to be made.

Same goes for the pen, though that really shouldn’t be nearly as expensive.

But the most important factor is you simply can’t go a full season with Heyward in center between Castellanos and Schwarber and expect him not to simply get Thanos’d. A league average offensive hitting season out of Heyward is fine, just barely, when he’s giving you plus defense in right. When he gives you that at the plate and substandard defense in center–which is what he’s done–you have a black hole on your roster. And Heyward isn’t going anywhere. At least, not unless the Cubs front office I Dream Of Genie’s it.

Of the top 10 teams in fly-ball efficiency (fly balls turned into outs) six are playoff teams. Of the bottom 10, only Tampa is there and they hardly ever give up fly balls anyway. The Cubs are middling in that department and in the bottom-10 when it comes to line-drive efficiency.

Now maybe the calculous changes if the NL miraculously adopts the DH for 2020 (it won’t). Or maybe someone just takes Heyward away because and you can plug in a genuine centerfielder who won’t go John Henry having to pinball between Schwarber and Castellanos. But their defense is not something they can ignore, given the parameters they have.

It hurts to say. Nick has been a delight, and there’s nothing more he could do, with the injuries to basically everyone else. But the Cubs need to get back to catching everything and also limiting the amount of things they need to catch. Castellanos doesn’t really help with either of those.

Baseball Everything Else

Game 1 Box Score: Cubs 10 Dads 2

Game 2 Box Score: Dads 9 Cubs 8 (10 innings)

Game 3 Box Score: Dads 4 Cubs 0

Game 4 Box Score: Cubs 4 Dads 1

Not the hero we need, the hero we deserve.

Not the hero we need, the hero we deserve.

 

For guys of a certain age (old), the thought of the Cubs going to San Diego in a must-win situation can still conjure up visions of 1984, with Steve Garvey walking the Cubs off in a game that looked as good as won, Jim Frey leaving Rick Sutcliffe in during Game 5 while he had Steve Trout rested and ready to go, then the ball getting past Leon Durham/s Gatorade-soaked mitt. So, good times.

Let’s…

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 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…