Baseball

Though the series started on a positive note, things sort of ended with a flop as the Cubs continue to struggle offensively, along with rolling out shaky starters who you can never completely trust to hold it together for a quality 5-6 innings. I’m not sure what exactly I expected out of this series, but I was certainly hoping for at least a split — obviously that didn’t happen as the Dodgers starters were able to shut down the Cubs offense for the most part. Let’s break these games down.

June 24, 2021
Cubs 4, Dodgers 0
WP: Davies (5-4) LP: Buehler (7-1)
Box Score

I must say, I was not confident in Zach Davies’ abilities at the posting of the last wrap, but he was finally able to put up a good game today — a combined no-hit game, in fact — against the Dodgers, and against Walker Buehler, whose ERA was over 1.00 points higher than Davies. However, he gave us a quality start of 6 innings, being a big part of the no-hitter tonight and striking out four batters. He also walked five people, something he definitely needs to work on, but it was all in all a solid outing for him.

Meanwhile, on the offensive front, our home-run-happy Cubs continued to hit some home runs, if you can believe that. Javier Baez started things off on the right foot in the 1st with a solo dinger, and then in the 6th Willson Contreras hit a home run of his own, scoring Bryant, who walked to start the inning off.

An offensive rally began in the 7th inning when Jason Heyward was able to hit a single, dashing to second base after an ugly Dodgers throwing error. He had two hits this game after being quite invisible offensively for most of the season.

Eric Sogard, the king of singles, was able to send Heyward to third base. And once again, the pinch hitters put up a hit, as Jake Marisnick hit for Davies and was able to poke one to the outfield, scoring Heyward. Pederson was hit by a pitch to load the bases, but after that a Bryant strikeout and a double play against Baez ended the inning.

Teamwork makes the dream work, as Ryan Tepera and Andrew Chafin both threw an inning each to keep the team no-hitter intact. Once again we were all blessed to watch a Craig Kimbrel save unfold before our very eyes, and there was a celebration abound as the Cubs threw the first combined no-hitter in MLB since 2019. Congrats to all.

June 25, 2021
Cubs 2, Dodgers 6
WP: Treinen (2-3) LP: Tepera (0-1)
Box Score

This game didn’t go nearly as well, as Jake Arrieta starts are wont to go these days. However, it wasn’t Arrieta on the hook with the loss this game, and he was able to stay in the game for 5.0 innings, which is…progress? He allowed five hits, three walks and two runs in his time on the mound, however, which can definitely be improved upon. He allowed a single in the second inning, and a steal and two groundouts that advanced a baserunner made it 1-1 at the bottom of the 2nd. (Kris Bryant hit a solo dinger during the second at-bat of the game.) Then Arrieta allowed a homer to start the 3rd inning to make it 2-1 Dodgers. A walk and a double put runners in scoring position, and an intentional walk loaded the bases with two outs, but he was able to lineout to end the inning.

Arrieta allowed no more runs in his time on the mound, but tonight the bullpen was not as sharp as it usually is. Keegan Thompson and Andrew Chafin combined to allow no hits in the 6th and 7th innings of the game, but it was Ryan Tepera and Tommy Nance who collapsed in the 8th inning, allowing two homers and four runs total between the two of them. Definitely a forgetful ending to this game, for sure.

June 26, 2021
Cubs 2, Dodgers 3
WP: Price (3-0) LP: Thompson (3-2)
Box Score

It was Alec Mills’ time to start in the rotation, and he only threw four innings, giving up hits almost immediately and wracking up eight total on the night. Two doubles in the bottom of the 1st put the Dodgers ahead immediately, and a wild pitch by Mills advanced Max Muncy to third base. It just took another single for the Dodgers to make it 2-0.

However, Mills gave up no more runs for the next three innings, thanks in part to Willson Contreras making one of a few highlight-reel plays for him this game. In the 2nd inning, he was able to catch Chris Taylor stealing third, getting the ball to Patrick Wisdom to throw him out. This inevitably saved the Cubs a run that would’ve put them in a 3-0 hole, as a groundout right after this ended the inning.

The rest of his start, Mills walked two pitchers and allowed three singles. It was once again Contreras keeping the Cubs in the game, picking off Chris Taylor yet again at third base in the 4th inning. Anthony Rizzo hit a solo homer the half-inning before, and it was Contreras’s defensive ability to allow the Cubs to tie the game just a half-inning later on two doubles from two players who’ve been a mess offensively all year: Jason Heyward and Ian Happ.

Heyward continued to produce, even hitting a solo homer in the top of the 7th to give the Cubs the lead…or did he? Not according to the officials, who decided to overturn the call on the field with no evidence that the ball went foul, and when the video review was similarly inconclusive, the overturned call stayed. Umps explaining calls to fans when?

That didn’t keep Heyward from being productive that at-bat, though, although the single he hit was much less than productive than the go-ahead homer would’ve been. The Cubs weren’t able to score in this situation, though, and it ended up being a game-deciding call, as the Dodgers walked it off in the 9th inning with a solo home run. This was definitely a game stolen in part by umping, and those are always tough ones to swallow.

June 27, 2021
Cubs 1, Dodgers 7
WP: Kershaw (9-7) LP: Alzolay (4-7)
Box Score

This game wasn’t stolen by umping by any means. Unfortunately, Adbert Alzolay had a tough night, as the game went off the rails in only the 2nd inning, when he loaded the bases through only walks and hit-by-pitches and then let Zach McKinstry hit a grand slam to make it 4-0. Javy Baez made a fielding error to allow Mookie Betts to reach after his at-bat and then Cody Bellinger hit another two-run homer in the same inning to make it 6-0 Dodgers. Alzolay was pulled after just three innings.

Baez tried to make up for his fielding gaffe by hitting a solo home run in the 4th inning, but by that time it didn’t seem feasible that the Cubs could come back from this. It would be the Cubs’ only run during the game, and one of only four hits—the other three came from Joc Pederson, Eric Sogard and Patrick Wisdom.

Tommy Nance and Rex Brothers came out of the bullpen to give guys like Tepera and Chafin some time off. Nance pitched three innings, allowing only three hits and striking out five batters. He gave up a run in the 6th inning to make it 7-1 Dodgers after allowing a Mookie Betts triple, but other than that he had a pretty good outing all things considered. Brothers pitched the other two innings and allowed no hits for the Dodgers.

The Cubs’ next couple of games couldn’t be more important as far as late-June baseball is concerned; they’re heading to Milwaukee to start the week with three games against the Brewers. Since the Cubs have been sliding, the Brewers are now 2.5 games ahead in the standings with a 43-33 record, first in the Central. If this team has a prayer of winning the division, they need to win AT LEAST two out of three to stay in the mix. Otherwise, the Brewers could easily pull way ahead of the entire division. (The third-place Reds are already 6 games back.)

From what I’ve seen, unfortunately, I just don’t think the Cubs can do it — not with this rotation and the offense in the freezer, falling back down to 28th in the league with a .224 team batting average. The Brewers have won five in a row (granted, against garbage teams like Arizona and Colorado), and they have solid pitching to go with it. Not only do they boast starters like Brandon Woodruff with a 1.89 ERA for the year, but they also have two other pitchers, Freddy Peralta and Corbin Burnes, who have a better ERA than Kyle Hendricks, who leads Cubs starters with a 3.84 ERA. Plus, the Brewers have Josh Hader, another incredibly talented closer like Kimbrel. It will be a tough test for the Cubs — let’s see if they survive. Go Cubs go!

Baseball

Someone always says it better than you. So let me allow The Ringer’s Michael Baumann do it for me…

This trade is a disgrace for the Red Sox and for the league. I don’t understand why the owner of such a prestigious ball club—a de facto public institution—would charge his baseball operations department with ridding the team of a once-in-a-generation player when he could keep that player and continue to rake in unspendable profits. It’s such a mind-bogglingly greedy and self-defeating move that I resent being made to try to understand it.

It’s been 100 seasons since the Red Sox sold their best player in such a transparent cash grab. If there’s any justice, they’ll have another 86 years to regret it.

You can copy and paste this when and if Tom Ricketts gets his way on Kris Bryant. Although with the Dodgers out of the market on Bryant now (you’d hope but the fact that they probably still have the pieces to do that if they wanted is frightening and depressing), the Braves really are the only team with the juice to even contemplate it and they don’t even need to. You can fuck right off with the Mets, Nationals, and Phillies. Ain’t gonna happen. Also seeing what the return for Betts was–one of the few players clearly better than Bryant–should show everyone just how stupid the idea of trading Bryant is.

Anyway, Baumann is right. The Red Sox have the most expensive ticket in baseball. Which they sell every single one of. Unlike the Cubs, they have a functional network of their own and have for years, with none of the silliness in distribution that the Dodgers have gone through. They are an institution not just in a city, but an entire region of the country. They practically own everything from central Connecticut north. Oh, and FSG just happen to own one of the richest soccer clubs in the world.

(Full disclosure, I profit personally, emotionally, if FSG is indeed sacrificing their baseball success for soccer success, and also when my Red Sox fans friends finally suffer for once. Now that’s out of the way…)

They do not suffer for cash. This is not a “can’t afford” Mookie Betts. This is a “won’t afford.”

Most of the offseason, you’ve seen me rant and rave here about the behavior of the Cubs and the Red Sox. Make no mistake, trading Mookie Betts is a baseball crime, especially when all you get back are a moody and possibly tool-ish young outfielder, and someone who probably projects as a Josh Hader-type reliever at best, and of course FINANCIAL FLEXIBILITY, which is going  on every jersey of every child from Quincy to Maine I’m sure (along with the #69, because that’s the sense of humor in New England).

Betts is just about the only player on the planet who can claim to inhabit the same atmosphere as Mike Trout. Mookie-types come around once a generation. You don’t peddle them simply because you can’t be bothered to pay their expense. You should dream of having the opportunity to pay that expense.

You’ve heard all this before. The system is clearly broken…though….everywhere?

It’s easy to point to Boston or the Cubs as proof that something is off when the richest teams are like, “Nah, I’m good.” And something is wrong when teams like Pittsburgh or Colorado or Florida or one or two others aren’t even trying, given what the industry’s profits are.

But would fans in Cincinnati think the system is broken right now? Or Philly (even though they’re going to win 82 games again because it’s law)? The Mets are just incompetent, not so much evil. Well, evil too but you get my meaning. Anaheim? The Rangers were after everyone too. Maybe those in Milwaukee would? On the Southside?

Certainly no one in LA would, but we’re years from their due date. The reason you hire a GM out of Tampa like Andrew Friedman or Chaim Bloom is not only are they exquisitely talented at spotting and producing talent, but they do it for cheap. They had to, and now the Dodgers and Red Sox are hoping they can do it with bigger budgets but without using all of the bigger budgets. Do we know what the Dodgers will do when the bills come due? Cory Seager is two years from free agency, and that’s what Gavin Lux is for. Mookie might walk, but who else do they have to pay? Bellinger is still four years from free agency. Buehler isn’t even into arbitation yet. Muncy is three years from free agency. And in the meantime, Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen come off the books to the tune of over $40M. The Dodgers may never have to spend serious money on payroll.

The problem, obviously, is that MLB has a luxury tax but no luxury floor. As Joe Sheehan pointed out, on some level it’s probably fucking tiresome to FSG, or the Steinbrenners, or the Ricketts family to pay the tax and watch so many teams just pocket the cash. What’s the point? Would they feel differently if that cash had to be used on players for those teams? Or if those teams had to pay some penalty for not spending up to some level? Somehow I tend to doubt it.

Still, I’m a Cubs fan and I live here and that’s what matters to me most. And the Red Sox are in the similar situation. This isn’t about staying solvent. It’s just about the degree of profit they want to make. And until they open their books, there’s no reason to believe a word any of them say. There’s no reason to believe that a $250M or $300M payroll would cause John Henry or Tom Ricketts to make less money for themselves than you or I would see in 11 lifetimes.

But Henry can point to four parades over 15 years. In a city as championship drunk as Boston is, they probably will only sell a handful less tickets. They’ll get away with it. And that’s probably what’s more infuriating about it all.

Baseball

We might have to start calling Rob Manfred “Baghdad Bob” soon.

Anyway, if you didn’t see this yesterday, here you go. That’s Ben Lindbergh summing up at how the baseball is different this postseason than it was in the regular season. And if that’s not enough, you can use Rob Arthur’s Twitter account to basically give you the same stuff. Or his own article on BP. Or, if you watched Will Smith crush that ball in the ninth of Game 5 against the Nats, flip his bat, assume he was about to be LA’s biggest hero for a night and dreaming of all the velvet ropes that would be cast aside for him, only to watch it gasp for air and then wheeze out of life on the warning track, you knew something was up. Hell, even Howie Kendrick’s series decider, which he was celebrating in the box, only scraped the other side of the wall. There are other examples in the division round, but clearly what players knew all season to be homer contact/sound isn’t quite that in October.

We just went through a regular season where homers were flying at record and downright silly rates. And no matter what team you root for, you can think of a couple by your guys that when they were hit you couldn’t believe went out. For me, Schwarber’s arms only flip to the opposite field for his third homer of the day in Milwaukee immediately springs to mind. And yet for months, MLB and Manfred clung to the excuse that Rawlings had been “centering the ball” better as a reason for the greater aerodynamics of the baseball being used.

They finally relented, as if we could just ignore the fact that MLB itself bought Rawlings last season and this was the first time they were making baseballs under that umbrella for MLB. An organization worried about the lack of offense in the game. So MLB wanted you to believe that it either had no control over HOW A COMPANY IT OWNS MANUFACTURED THE VERY STARTING POINT OF ITS GAME, or that these things just happened naturally.

However, with the ball seemingly changing for its most important games, MLB has basically told you that what went on in the regular season is, at least somewhat, farcical. What they’re telling you is that they were terrified of some ridiculous homer deciding a series, a season, turning the direction of one or two teams for years possibly. Which means they think that homers in the regular season weren’t worthy of that, or hence not fair, or not right. They’ve essentially, partially negated all that went on between the end of March and the end of September. They’ve provided their own asterisk, which is a word that makes every baseball fan make a “blech” sound.

It’s not all that different than the NHL throwing shootouts out of its regular season tiebreakers and moving to remove overtime results from them as well. They’re moving in the direction of saying, “Yeah that’s fun to watch and all them but it really shouldn’t count. That was a sideshow.”

In the end, both teams are using the same ball, so it’s not like one team gets an advantage out of it or anything. But again, MLB will want you to believe that this just happened and they didn’t do anything to change the ball. We of course know this is horseshit, unless they think we’re that stupid. And they might.

Still, we can assume that MLB hyperactivated its baseballs because it thought that’s what fans wanted. And then when the most fans are watching, they kind of made a constipated face and thought, “Yeah, that was all kind of stupid, huh?” Which gives one the idea that MLB doesn’t really know what its fans want or how to get new ones, as TV ratings and attendance keep trending the wrong ways.

Me? I’m more along the lines of homers being dramatic and rarer than the mere “holding serve” feeling they took on during this season. That doesn’t mean that’s what everyone should want or the way MLB should go. I honestly don’t know. I just enjoy watching an entire league basically admitting it fucked up and not having the stones to see it through when the most important matters are decided.

Either MLB is deceiving everyone, or it simply cannot regulate how the actual baseball is produced. Neither speaks to a terribly competent organization.

Baseball

The Houston Astros and the LA Dodgers are the league model from building their teams from within, there’s just no way around it. Even when they have players going down with week to week or month to month injuries there’s a seemingly endless pile of high end prospects clamoring over each other to get playing time at the big league level. The most recent of these for the Astros is Yordan Alvarez, who has been nothing short of astounding for them since they called him up in mid-May of this season. Through 170 at bats so far this season, he’s slashing a gaudy .355/.431/1.164(!!!) with 17 dingers and 41 RBI.

Alvarez was traded to the Astros at the 2016 deadline from (SURPRISE!) the Dodgers for Josh Fields. The Dodgers had signed Alvarez to a $2 million signing bonus when he defected from Cuba, but had yet to play a single game for LA at any level. At the time, the Dodgers were looking to shore up their bullpen for an extended postseason run, and Fields fit the bill. Alvarez was an unknown quantity at the time, and the need was immediate. Now, Fields is a journeyman AAA pitcher, and Alvarez seems destined for Rookie of the Year honors.

So far, Alvarez has scored rookie of the month honors in June and July with these nutty numbers. The question everyone who didn’t pick him up off the waiver wire in their fantasy leagues wants to know is: are they sustainable? Looking at the advanced stats as they sit now Alvarez has has an ISO of .378, BABIP of .407, wRC+ of 204, and a wOBA of .469. Just at a very quick glance, every single one of those seem completely unsustainable were it not for the small sample size. His wRC alone would be one of the best in the history of the stat. So we can assume that some regression is due for young Mr. Alvarez, the question being just how much?

Taking a peek at some of the other stats available to us that might give a hint at how much regression is due shows that Alvarez has an excellent eye for the strike zone. His current 11% walk rate is above average, and his K rate is what you would expect from a rookie (24.4%) seeing MLB pitching for the first time. Looking at his whiff rate, it’s about what you would expect from a rookie as well, vulnerable to low and away and the high and outside pitches:

Nothing too crazy here. What about his slugging percentage vs the whiffs?

Oh my. Well what about just his batting average?

Yeesh. So apparently Yordan has the ability to cover the entire plate with pretty impressive power. He has to have a weakness somewhere, every Death Star has an exhaust port. Well his 33% fly ball to HR ratio isn’t gonna last. His .400 BABIP is pretty unsustainable, though even if he regresses .050 that still would probably project out to a 40 HR/100 RBI season in that juggernaut of a lineup. The kid has a good feel for the zone, and can get to pitches out of the zone with power and frequency. All this says to the Sox pitching for this series is they need to tread very lightly when Alvarez is up. Nova and Cease in particular need to work the top of their zone with the hard stuff, away if able. If they aren’t going to be precise with that stuff and leave some over the plate, Alvarez is going to hurt them. Though to be fair, that goes for pretty much the entire Astros lineup.

 

 

Baseball

A few caveats before you wade into the following muck. One, losses to the Cardinals make me irrationally angry. Losses to the corpse of Adam Wainwright make me more irrationally angry. This piece’s purpose is to show how two things can be true at once. It very well might not make any sense. It could also be completely wiped out contextually by the Cubs winning the next five games. Yeah, well, life is strange, said Slim.

Ok, to it.

I’ve been thinking about the ’85 Bears a lot lately, which you know if you follow me on Twitter. The parallels are getting too hard to miss with the Cubs. A life-defining, long-overdue championship. A manager/coach that is seemingly on every ad, and seemingly more interested in celebrating his style than actually managing the team. At odds with the front office. An ownership that seems content with the one. Follow-up seasons that are short of expectations. Competitors passing by and seemingly for good. Trying to balance the elation of that one night and how much it meant, that season meant, with the disappointment of what’s come after. Do I have a right to be disappointed? Am I disappointed enough? Am I erasing 2016? Did it mean too much?

It is hard to not be infuriated with this team right now. This was/is the biggest road trip of the season. They’ve fallen on their face so far, pretty much. They haven’t played like a team that even wants to win the division, much less can. The offense has simply gone away at the worst time, and there haven’t been any Scherzers or Strasburgs or deGroms doing the disappearing. It would be next to impossible to not be frustrated. How did this happen?

I keep looking at this lineup. Is this really the best we can do not even three seasons after having the best offense in baseball? Should it fall this far this fast? You’re pinning your hopes on Robel Garcia, a tinder-swipe of a hope if there ever was one? Ian Happ?

It’s much more fun and much easier to yell at the Ricketts, and they would deserve it. But let’s cut through to the heart of it. The cash the Ricketts aren’t opening up for Theo and Jed is for them to buy their way out of the holes in the team the system they made hasn’t filled. Since 2015 and basically Javier Baez’s recall (who wasn’t their draft pick, remember, though that doesn’t mean they didn’t develop him), who has come up through the Cubs system and proven a piece? You can search all you like, you won’t find one.

But is that fair? Because after a stretch of developing or acquiring Rizzo, Arrieta, Bryant, Baez, Contreras, Hendricks, Rondon–all at least unproven before arrival–is it really the expectation you can keep at that pace? Well, yeah, because others are doing it, but that is two Cy Young finalists/winners and two MVP finalists/winners.

Still, it feels like from standing on top of the baseball world not yet three seasons ago, the Cubs have been passed by the Dodgers, Astros, possibly Braves now, Yankees, Red Sox, and you might even convince yourself or me to throw one or two other teams on there. They deservedly beat the Dodgers in six games but from that October night, the Dodgers have added Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Walker Buehler, Alex Verdugo, rehabilitated Joc Pederson, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and still were able to trade for Yu Darvish and Manny Machado in that time, and still have one of the best systems in baseball, with Gavin Lux just twiddling this thumbs waiting for a spot.

It feels like the Dodgers have sprinted miles ahead, with their better records in ’17 and this year…except the Cubs won more games last year in a tougher division. But they didn’t beat the Rockies at home, the Dodgers did. Am I really going to hang that conclusion on a coin-flip and the small sample size of the playoffs?

This team won 95 games last year with half a Bryant, basically no Darvish, and bullpen crumbling as the season went along like it was sent from the Acme Co. We bitch and moan about Maddon now, but sure that was actually excellent managing, no?

The Astros created their super team, swung trades for Verlander and Cole, and still have Yordan Alvarez punching holes in the sky, and Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley waiting. Now maybe the latter two will turn out to be nothing…but with their track record, is that what you’re betting on?

Meanwhile, back here at the ranch, it’s Ian Happ being rightly demoted. It’s the stock in Kyle Schwarber they kept telling us they had to buy that has yet to produce 1 WAR this year in his nearly fourth full campaign. It’s whatever iteration of sadness Albert Almora is today. It’s Carl Edwards being wheelbarrowed to the zoo. It’s Addison Russell hopefully being locked in a dungeon to never see the light of day. It’s ANY pitcher that doesn’t actually exist.

And what’s on the way? Nico Hoerner? The 12 minutes Alzolay will be healthy? Miguel Amaya three years down the line when everyone may have left by free agency already?

Am I going to be that guy in 25 years (no, I’ll be long dead but go with this) barking at some poor kid about how he missed out on 2016, just like I’ve heard about 1985 a zillion and a half times? Yes, I absolutely will be, because 2016 was that worth it and also very well might be all we have. And that kid will long for the season he remembers just as fondly, only so he or she can stop hearing about 2016 again. And if that season also should end for them with Rex Grossman fumbling away the World Series, boy wouldn’t the symmetry be complete?

Should there be more money? Of course there should be. They’re worth $2 billion, after all. But that doesn’t absolve the front office either. The trade for Aroldis Chapman was “necessary,” (only convinced of this after Strop and Rondon both got hurt that year, but had they stayed healthy also think they would have been enough). The Quintana trade was worth it. But as stated above, your rivals were trading for All-Stars and top of the rotation pieces. And their systems survived those culls. Yours hasn’t. Why?

And yet…we’re talking about two seasons? 2017 and 2019? Because 2018 saw them win the most games in the NL. Can we really be that upset about that? And 2017, it was kind of understood it was going to be a slog from the get-go. Then again, that’s when they told us their “second wave” would start. Well, I’m still sitting on my board in the sun, and it’s getting hot and I’m getting burned.

It’s not good enough. It was more than good enough. And here we are, stuck in the middle with this.

 

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Dodgers 7, Cubs 3

Game 2 Box Score: Dodgers 5, Cubs 3

Game 3 Box Score: Cubs 2, Dodgers 1

Game 4 Box Score: Dodgers 3, Cubs 2

There was a chance to get out of this road trip in better health. With a record that didn’t make you wince. There were essentially three coinflips on this swing, the first game in Colorado and the last two in Los Angeles. The Cubs only got one of them, and they really have the pen to thank. Jim Deshaies was pointing out last night, before the Cubs got their first win of the season when trailing after six, that the reason that record is the way it was, and is, is that their pen can’t keep deficits down. We kvetch about the blown leads, but that’s almost as important. You saw the proof of that Saturday, though it helped that the pen was only asked to provide three outs before turning over a lead to Strop. Kimbrel will obviously help with this, but it won’t be a cure-all.

Steve Cishek is a good reliever, and it’s not like he’s getting continually shelled all season. But he does leak runs here and there, and that’s not good enough. Especially when you’re playing teams like the Dodgers where the margins are so thin. Cishek exits the game with a 3.38 ERA, which is not an embarrassment. But successful pens are trotting out relievers with ERAs under 3 or even around 1.00. The Cubs don’t have that. This wasn’t a trip of the pen having the world crash around them. Cishek twice, Montgomery once let runs just leak in. Get those two wins and suddenly it’s a 4-3 trip and that would be a success. On such margins are things decided.

Losing three of four to that team that’s 23-4 in its last 27 homes games doesn’t make this team a failure or anything resembling. And who knows what each could look like come October. But it does plant a seed of doubt about how the Cubs would find a way around that monster. Even a pen augmented by Kimbrel and one or two more arms is not automatic to get through that lineup. And remember, they didn’t have Seager either. And the Cubs can’t think about October when they’re still a game back and merely seven games over. There’s a lot more woods here.

The Cubs have built a really good team, and one that very well might get better. It just might have been timed to keep running up against a team that’s just better in just about every area.

Anyway, let’s run it through.

The Two Obs

-If Albert Almora didn’t run like old people fuck, the Cubs tie that game or maybe even win it. I’ll never be not amazed at how he can be such a good center fielder, which he is, and be that slow. Oh well, he is what he is so this is shouting at the rain.

Cubs Insider ran a pretty interesting piece on why Jon Lester can’t seem to get his change-up to be that effective. It was definitely a problem on Thursday night, and you can’t get through this lineup with two pitches.

-You’re never going to feel comfortable about a pitcher going on the IL with shoulder inflammation, as exciting as getting a look at Adbert Alzolay will be. If that’s the route the Cubs go, that is. It feels like if the Cubs are truly careful with Hendricks, he’s going to miss three or four starts. This is not something you want to fuck with.

-Still, Anthony Rizzo kept this from becoming a complete disaster, and who knows how big that homer could be down the road.

-The only Dodgers starter the Cubs got out before the 7th inning was Clayton Kershaw, which is something.

-Baez is definitely slumping. His line-drive rate is down to 11% in June and his hard-hit rate dropped 13 points from May. And he hasn’t walked once. He’s never going to walk much but he at least did it enough in the season’s first two months to let pitchers know he was capable. He’ll have to get back to that, and he will.

-Hopefully this is a springboard for Darvish, and it should be. An awakening will soften the blow of Quintana struggling to find it right now and any Hendricks injury layoff. One walk in his last two starts is highly encouraging.

-You’ll never convince me Dave Roberts has any idea what he’s doing, and the 6th inning was an excellent example of that. Getting one more inning from Ryu was hardly worth leaving him in to bat with one out when you can take the lead. And then you know that the Cubs are going to bring in a lefty to face Pederson, which is hardly better than Hernandez facing Kintzler right now. Should have taken more advantage.

Onwards…

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Cubs 38-29   Dodgers 45-23

GAMETIMES: Thursday and Friday 9:10, Saturday 8:10, Sunday 6:05

TV: NBCSN Thursday, WGN Friday, ABC Saturday, ESPN Sunday

WE KNOW YOU LOVE LA, THERE’S NOTHING LEFT TO SAY: True Blue LA

PITCHING MATCHUPS

Jon Lester vs. Clayton Kershaw

Kyle Hendricks vs. Rich Hill

Yu Darvish vs. Walker Buehler

Jose Quintana vs. Hyun-Jin Ryu

PROBABLE CUBS LINEUP

Kyle Schwarber – LF

Kris Bryant – RF

Anthony Rizzo – 1B

Javier Baez – SS

Willson Contreras – C

Albert Almora Jr. – CF

Addison Russell – 2B

David Bote – 3B (batting 9th)

PROBABLE DODGERS LINEUP

Enrique Hernandez – LF

Justin Turner – 3B

David Freese – 1B

Cody Bellinger – RF

Chris Taylor – SS

Max Muncy – 2B

Alex Verdugo – CF

Austin Barnes – C

 

The only thing that could make a frustrating series in Colorado with it’s Peewee’s Playhouse rules is backing that up by having to deal with the National League’s best team for four nights. Which makes it pretty damn tough to get out of this road trip over .500, as that would mean taking three of four in a place where the home team is 25-7. Good times all around.

So where to start with the Dodgers? Maybe Cody Bellinger doing a damn fine Mike Trout impression for two and a half months?That’s what he’s been doing, cutting down his strikeouts while losing none of his power and becoming a plus right fielder even though he’s a first baseman (still convinced he has rohypnol in his house though). There’s Joc Pederesen cutting down his strikeouts and still providing the power he always did. There’s latest lab project Max Muncy providing offensive force from a variety of positions. Or maybe Justin Turner and his dependable dominance. Perhaps we should stop.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s twofold: One, the Cubs are catching them right after Cory Seager had his latest twang and he’s out for a month at least. Second, the Dodgers effectiveness against lefties is still not nearly as strong as the other side, and the Cubs will be tossing two of them. That brings Enrique Hernandez into the lineup and Chris Taylor, and both have been not good. But it’s not much, as both Muncy and Bellinger still hit lefties really well, Turner is still around…and well that’s enough.

Going to the rotation won’t provide any solace, as the Dodgers have five starters with sub-4.00 ERAs. And Kershaw has maybe been their third or fourth best starter as he ages. It’s a wonder how anyone hits Buehler at all given his stuff, and Rich Hill is still here TO SHOW YOU HOW MUCH IT MEANS TO HIM GODDAMMIT HE CARES SO MUCH CAN’T YOU SEE HOW MUCH HE FUCKING CARES GOD HE CARES SO MUCH. Ryu has been the best starter in the NL. So even if they don’t bash your skull in with the bats, they’ll probably smother you with the pitching.

If there’s been anything resembling a bugaboo, it’s the pen. So they’ll be competing with the Cubs for an arm or two in the trade market, using pieces from their system that’s become a goddamn assembly line. Kenley Jensen hasn’t been as automatic, though still very hard to break through on, and the bridge to him has been rickety. Joe Kelly got a contract to solve that even though he’s always sucked. Pedro Baez has been his usual highly effective while making everyone understand Nietzche while doing so. Ross Stripling has been a touch unlucky, while Yimi Garcia has been straight up bad. But generally, they only have to get 3-6 outs per night which just about anyone can manage, even Dave Roberts.

So yeah, four with all that. The Cubs got two of three from the Dodgers in April, before they ascended to whatever plane they’re on now. There are no such things as markers or measuring sticks in a season this long, but there’s more than a small chance the Cubs and Dodgers will renew their blood feud in the NLCS come October. It would be refreshing for us, not the players, if they looked like they belonged on the same field this weekend. It’s always fascinating to see Kyle Hendricks go against a lineup this high-powered, and it’ll be another test for Darvish.

No one said this will be fun.

Baseball

It’s bad enough that the Dodgers have a weaponized, flexible, young lineup that’s been punching holes in the ozone all season. The Dodgers have run roughshod over the National League now for basically two and a half seasons. Sure, last season’s record and needing a 163rd game to win the division doesn’t sound like it, but any of their underlying stats told you that they were the class of the Senior Circuit. They apparently are determined to set that record straight this season.

In the past couple seasons, the Dodgers rotation has been good, but beyond Clayton Kershaw it had been more to the functional side than dominant. Perhaps that’s what kept them from capping it all off with a World Series wins, as true nuclear lineups like the Astros and Red Sox essentially pummeled them.

Not so anymore. Kershaw doesn’t even have to be Kershaw anymore, and they’re still rocking five starters with ERAs under 4.00. Walker Buehler promised this last year, Rich Hill infuriatingly has been this effective his whole tenure there. But Hyun-Jin Ryu is the real surprise. Then again, the real surprise is that he’s been upright for more than four or five starts.

Ryu hasn’t made 30 starts in six seasons, and he’s only crossed 20 twice in the five seasons since. So taking the ball every fifth day already this season is something of a win. And of course, when he is, no one has been able to touch him. He currently has a microchip of an ERA of 1.36, a WHIP of 0.80, and a FIP of 2.62. All of which lead the National League (he’s second in FIP behind Scherzer barely) and make Ryu your clubhouse leader for the Cy Young.

Ryu has been using a sinker more often this year instead of his fastball, but it’s his fastball that is showing a heightened effectiveness. Whereas in the past hitters managed a .283 average against his fastball, it’s only .203 now. Ryu is getting more whiffs and foul balls off it, but the contact is just about the same. But Ryu seems to be combatting the new swing planes of hitters by using it only in the upper part of the zone. See for yourself:

Another change is that Ryu is using his change more. He’s throwing it a quarter of the time, up from 18% last year. That’s how he’s been getting all the grounders, as nearly 60% of the changes that are put in play end up with grass stains. It’s become his go-to, as he throws it more than any other pitch with two strikes.

There is an element of mirrors to Ryu’s season so far. He’s got a .248 BABIP, which is some 40 points below his career average. And he’s getting a 94 left-on-base percentage, which clearly won’t last. The Dodgers have a great infield defense of course, so the higher number of grounders should lower the BABIP. But more of those runners will score. Ryu’s 1.6% BB% is simply ridiculous, and would be the lowest since Carlos Silva’s 1.2% in 2005 and no other marks since 1980. Maybe he can keep it up, but it hasn’t been done in a very long time or at all.

Combined with Buehler, Kershaw, and Hill, the Dodgers have a rotation that can slice through anyone in a playoff series, which obscures perhaps their one mini-weakness which is the bridge to Kenley Jansen (who hasn’t been his normal self this year). As if they didn’t have everything already.

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Dodgers 15-9   Cubs 10-10

GAMETIMES: Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:05, Thursday at 1:20

TV: NBCSN Tuesday and Thursday, WGN Wednesday

THINK BLUE: True Blue LA

PROBABLE PITCHERS

Kenta Maeda vs. Jose Quintana

Walker Buehler vs. Cole Hamels

Ross Stripling vs. TBD (possibly Lester, possibly Hendricks)

DODGERS PROBABLE LINEUP

Joc Pederson – LF

Corey Seager – SS

Justin Turner – 3B

Cody Bellinger – RF

A.J. Pollock – CF

Max Muncy – 1B

Enrique Hernandez – 2B

Austin Barnes – C

(note: with lefties on tap, Freese could start at first, Taylor could move into the outfield with Bellinger moving to first, or some combo thereof)

PROBABLE CUBS LINEUP

Daniel Descalso – 2B

Kris Bryant – 3B

Anthony Rizzo – 1B

Javier Baez – SS

Jason Heyward – CF

Willson Contreras – C

Kyle Schwarber – LF

Ben Zobrist – RF

(note: Could see Bryant move to right with Bote at 3rd)

If the Cubs had gotten somewhat healthy by getting to face some dregs and drain-scrapings in Arizona and Miami, and to a lesser extent the Angels shorn of Mike Trout, that all changes tonight as the Cubs welcome the National League’s aristocrats in the form of the Los Angeles Dodgers. If you want to know how the Dodgers have ascended to the top of the league’s standings, I’ll refer you to John Paul Jones’s impression of all drummers who were foolishly compared to John Bonham, “UGH. BASH. UGH. BASH.”

The Dodgers are second in the NL in homers to the Brewers. They lead in runs, and only trail the Mariners in all of baseball. They’re second in OBP. First in slugging. First in wOBA. So yeah, they pack something of a punch.

The Dodgers are led by the infuriatingly good and handsome Cody Bellinger, who you’ll never convince me doesn’t have Rohypnol somewhere in his house, who already has 11 homers, is slugging around .900, and is carrying a wRC+ of 252. So don’t pitch to him. Corey Seager has returned from missing all of 2018 and is doing Corey Seager things. Joc Pederson and his moon-face are having a career year, as he’s got 10 homers as well. Even Enrique Hernandez, the one you know as the one you’d like to hit with a tire iron, is slugging .551. There are very few places to hide. Pollock is struggling but has historically killed the Cubs. Tormund Turner hasn’t hit his stride yet but always looks like he’s about to. Austin Barnes seems to be the only breather here. And that’s before they bring Bruce Banner’s brother Chris Taylor off the bench.

What the Dodgers haven’t gotten is the starting pitching they were expecting, but once they do it’s a problem for America. It’s been fine, and certainly good enough when they’re turning every game into pop-a-shot. Walker Buehler has been let down by his defense a bit, has seen an ungodly number of runners score instead of stranded, and his strikeouts are down just a touch. But you’d bet on him figuring it out. Clayton Kershaw isn’t really a descendant of Zeus anymore, but you’d bet on him finding a way to carry a sub-3.00 ERA anyway. Ross Stripling is getting a ton of grounders, Julio Urias has started to look like what they said he would three years ago, Ryu has been even better, and Rich Hill isn’t even around yet to scream and make sure everyone knows just how much he cares. It seems like every season the Dodgers have seven or eight starters and none are worse than a #3. Fuck these guys, seriously.

If there’s one problem area, it’s in the pen. The Dodgers signed Joe Kelly to try and bandage that from last year, except Joe Kelly has always sucked no matter how many lame-ass YouTube videos he comes up with or how much he parades around his ring that the Red Sox were terrified of letting him try and contribute to. Kenley Jansen hasn’t been automatic this season, and neither has human filibuster Pedro Baez. Caleb Ferguson has been the best weapon out of there so far.

For the Cubs, they’re likely to try and stack their lefties against the Dodgers, as the main threats of Seager, Bellinger, and Pederson all hit from that side and with Turner still finding it they don’t have much of a counter. It’s just less bad with a lefty, not advantageous. Lester is eligible to come off the DL for Thursday’s matinee, though that isn’t much of a landing for him. The Cubs will see three tricky-to-tough righties, which means Anthony Rizzo coming in from the cold would be welcome. Of course, when the Cubs get into their pen, and the Dodgers will almost assuredly make sure the starters aren’t around that long, it’s going to be an adventure and a half right into hell.

There probably is no path out of the National League without seeing these guys. Might as well see how you stack up.