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…

Everything Else

vs.

RECORDS: Brewers 68-65   Cubs 72-61

GAMETIMES: Friday-Sunday at 1:20

TV: WGN Friday, NBCSN Saturday/Sunday

WE WHO ARE ABOUT TO DIE: Brew Crew Ball

PREVIEW POSTS

Depth Charts & Pitching Staffs

Brewers Spotlight

We should know better than to get all hot and bothered and moist over the Cubs after their sweep of the Mets. We’ve been here all second half, where they look great for a series or two, and then right about the time you’re ready to buy in, ease the seat back, reach down between your legs, they barf up a lung. It looks poised for them, because sweeping the Mets–including getting one over deGrom and Thor–after a gut-punch of a series against the Nats feels like a good recovery. It feels like a landmark. And three dates with a Brewers team that is begging for the needle seems a launchpad for something bigger. But we know better. Tread lightly.

That said, the Cubs can absolutely put the Crew out of their misery this weekend or next, as they have seven games with these goofs that have definitely gone off the boil. Since June 1st, they are 36-39, and the reason is pretty obvious. They can’t get no damn pitching. Adrian Houser and Jordan Lyles have kept the roof from collapsing, but Gio Gonzalez, Zach Davies, and Chase Anderson have looked like that kid throwing firecrackers in Boogie Nights. And those are the three the Cubs will get, so….FIRE!

You’ll be amazed that a team that got a surprise season out of a no-name bullpen and then tried to run it back again this year has found that didn’t work, but it’s true. Of late, their new additions to the pen have again been propping up the ceiling, but mainstays like Jeremy Jeffress and Josh Hader have been straight up bad. Same goes for Curse Of The Spread Matt Albers, so Craig Counsell has been making a lot of Craig Counsell faces.

Offensively, the Brewers have been fine, but when other units are less than fine they need more. Christian Yelich remains a football in the groin, and Ryan Braun has rolled back the years the past month and we know what happens at Wrigley with him (shudder, shudder). But Grandal lost his power in August, maybe due to a season behind the plate, and Lorenzo Cain might be dead. Keston Hiura and Mike Moustakas aren’t easy outs, but this is the same group the Cubs waltzed past just a few weeks ago. Not that much has changed.

The Brewers come in only three and a half games behind the Cubs, so they’re probably viewing this week as a last stand. But winning both of these upcoming series will see the Cubs likely six and a half ahead with a mere three weeks to go, and you could stick a fork in them. The Brewers had a chance to stake their place with six games against the Cardinals, and they lost four of them. And they mostly got pumped in those losses. They’re barely hanging on here, and it’s past time to stomp on their fingers and send them plummeting to the rocks below.

To the cliffs…

Baseball

While Christian Yelich took home the MVP trophy and most of the plaudits for the Brewers rise from the muck (not fair, Milwaukee is surprisingly lovely but we’ve got a role to play here) to a game from the World Series, Lorenzo Cain had his part to play as well. He was back to his Royals-best, nearly a six-WAR player, setting a career-high in batting average and playing an exemplary centerfield. Certainly he brought a swag to the Crew that helped them to their best season in recent memory.

So it would probably be fair to also point some arrows at him now that the Brewers appear to be resigned to their fate, sinking back into that muck from whence they came with little resistance.

Cain has fallen off a cliff offensively this year, suffering a 50-point drop in his average, 70-point drop in OBP, and a 60-point drop in slugging. He’s been worth a 77 wRC+, which is simply awful, 23 points below average. He’s been worth one win, due solely to his defense, a precipitous drop from ’18.

There are some easy causes to spot. His walk-rate has dropped from 11.5% to 8.4%, though the latter number is much closer to his career mark and last year was the outlier. That’s certainly not helping his on-base much. He’s also seen a 63-point drop in his BABIP, so he’s been a touch unlucky. Cain usually carries a higher-than-normal BABIP because of his speed, but that might be on the wane as he’s got half the steals from last year (30 to 16) with less than a month to go.

But it’s not that simple. While Cain is hitting more line-drives this season, even with the Titleist balls he’s seen a drop in his hard-contact rate while most everyone else is going the other way. And Cain has had issues with breaking and off-speed pitches, which is usually an indication that he’s leaning out a bit on fastballs, something of a marker of age. And he is 33, which is bordering on old.

Last year, Cain his .240 on change-ups, .271 on sliders, and .394 on curves. Those numbers this year are .164, .247, and .211, while his marks on fastballs remain just about the same. However, Cain might consider himself seriously unlucky, because his line-drive rate on all of those pitches is significantly higher than it was last season. That said, his whiff-rates on curves and changes, the real off-speed stuff, has gone up significantly too. So he can’t curse the gods about everything.

There also seems to be a shift in Cain’s approach. Last year, Cain had a 4.9 average launch-angle, which is way below what he used to do. This year it’s back up to 6.4, but it’s come at the price of what he’s doing at the bottom of the zone.

It’s the same story with slugging as well. Perhaps a fixation with getting the ball up in the air, or just not on the ground as much, has left him vulnerable.

Still, it’s a concern. The Brewers are not a young team by any stretch, and there isn’t a lot of help coming in the next year or two from the system. Whatever help there may be is already there, in the form of Keston Hiura and now Trent Grisham (who might push Cain off of center one day soon). Cain has three years left on his deal, which will take him to 36, and it figures that more and more of his speed is going to go on him.

Considering Braun is aging as well, and Grandal is only around for one more season after this one, and the state of the pitching staff, it could go out from under the Brewers in a hurry. Shame, that.

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Cubs 6, Brewers 2

Game 2 Box Score: Cubs 4, Brewers 1

Game 3 Box Score: Cubs 7, Brewers 2

I think I dislike this team more when they beat the shit out of opponents now than I do when they lose.

Because that looked effortless. That was a display of what we thought/think is the gulf in class between these two teams. The Brewers, especially after the injuries they’ve had, can’t come close to the starting pitching the Cubs have. We saw that in ways last weekend as well. So they scored five runs, and only three of them off the Cubs trio of Quintana, Hamels, and Darvish.

But the difference is the Cubs offense treated the Brewers starters, except for Gio Gonzalez because of course, as they’re supposed to be treated. And the only difference is that they were at home instead on the road, which you’ll never convinced me should be that big of a factor and is just something weird. The Cubs came into this one game ahead of the Brewers and they’ll leave it four ahead now, which for a team like Milwaukee that has about two starters right now is a little more than it sounds.

Especially today, when the Cubs were happy to just take things to the opposite field and take their walks and get the hits they needed to make this one pretty uncompetitive after the second inning. Hell, they even got good bullpen management today with Chatwood getting the old school save, something we haven’t seen enough of.  Fuck, they got seven runs today with no Bryant or Contreras. IT COULD NOT BE ANY SIMPLER, LUANNE!

So why is this so hard? Can’t you do this most of the time? Fuck, even three more weeks of play like this probably wins the division as long as you don’t vomit blood the rest of the year. It just can’t be that complicated.

Anyway, to it…

The Two Obs

-Of course, it can’t all be roses with the Cubs. Contreras’s injury hangs over all, and that looks to be of the three-to-four week variety, maybe more if you want to be safe. We saw this injury make the 2017 season end something of a slog. While Victor Caratini has been serviceable, this is where you fear he’ll be exposed.

It would be easy to rant and rave about the Cubs having three catchers not a week ago, and Maldonado at least gives you the defense. But there’s not much you can do about that now, and Kemp probably gives you the same value. Hell. Taylor Davis can catch the ball at least.

The Cubs could more easily survive if Bryant was healthy, which one day off isn’t going to make him. And now there’s less chance of an IL stay for him to try and get healthy. Rizzo’s four hits today are how you make up for it, Castellanos helps, and Schwarber binge wouldn’t go amiss either.

-I was not a fan of Maddon’s handling of the staff on Saturday, but he got away with it. In the sixth, after the Cubs were never going to get more than five out of Hamels, he sent out David Phelps to deal with the top of the Brewers lineup. It went about as well as you would have thought, though it’s not like Cain crushed his infield single. To me, that’s the big point in the game there, and the thought should be by the time the top of the lineup rolls around again it’s the 9th and Kimbrel is dealing with it anyway, or it’s the 8th and Kintzler is. And to be fair to Phelps, Braun’s RBI single was a piece of shit desperation heave that the other nine times out of ten is an out. Still, I’d rather have Wick or Ryan working through the top of the lineup and then Phelps dealing with the top, and I don’t really care what inning it is.

-Everything Castellanos hits has been a line drive of late.

-Why did it take this long to just let Heyward bat leadoff? I know he’s hated it in the past but he seems amenable now and well, look how it’s going.

-Quite the world when Ian Happ is considered a defensive replacement.

Onwards…

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Brewers 57-53   Cubs 57-51

GAMETIMES: Friday-Sunday 1:20

TV: NBCSN Friday and Saturday, WGN Sunday

PAT LISTACH ’92 FOREVER: Brew Crew Ball

Whatever the hell this is continues on the Northside for the weekend, as the Brewers and Cubs will bash their heads together and see if anything comes out this time. Most likely, they and the Cardinals in Oakland will continue to stare at each other, wondering how they got here but knowing for sure there’s no way they can leave. This is where they all belong, fighting over a busted rubber ball while the rest of the baseball world tries to decide if they’re adorable or sad or both.

We’ll start with the Cubs this time, who responded to New Toy Day with Nick Castellanos and Tony Kemp last night by having all the enthusiasm of a biopsy in an 8-0 loss to Jack Flaherty and the Cardinals, completing a pure acid-vomit of a road trip at 3-6. It was the pivotal stretch of the season, and the Cubs comprehensively failed it. But thanks to the forgiving/bumbling nature of everyone else, they left tied for first and they return only a game back, because nothing is ever truly dead (or alive) in the NL Central.

They’ll bank on their home form, which has been great, and where they were last seen going 7-2 out of the break to convince far too many of us that things were swinging up. They won’t be here that often in the month, so they have to make this count if they’re indeed serious about making this season anything other than a dirge and a middle finger to their owner. That is to be determined.

The headline, other than the debuts of the trade acquisitions at Wrigley, is that Cole Hamels will return on Saturday. Hamels had been dominant before going on the IL, maybe the Cubs best starter over the season, and perhaps the sight of a prideful veteran can crack this team out of whatever haze it’s been blasting itself in the face with for the past two months. Hope springs eternal.

The Brewers spent the interim between the two I-94 summits playing three nail-biters with the Oakland A’s. They lost two of them, one in extras and one yesterday when Josh Hader was taken to San Jose by Matt Chapman in the 8th. It was the first time Hader had pitched three days in a row, and now Craig Counsell will be putting that tactic back in the “Bad Idea” box, never to be unearthed again.

They’ll send Zack Davies out there again, with his last start being the weekly Kyle Schwarber-has-figured-it-out game. Gio Gonzalez will also be around to befuddle the Cubs for absolutely no reason other than the gods hate you and you’ll never truly love or be loved because of it. Adrian Houser tossed five good innings in Oakland on Tuesday and will wrap this up on Sunday for the Brew Crew.

We’ve been saying this for two months, but there’s no reason the Cubs can’t use this as a springboard for more. And they probably have to, because the A’s are hardly pushovers and weird things happen in Philadelphia before they get decapitated in Pittsburgh. They have the advantage in every starters matchup here, and you would hope as long as you keep Christian Yelich from levitating and turning various colors, it’s an offense you can keep in check. And the Cubs did last weekend, they just could stop going up to the plate with a flute up their nose. Castellanos definitely gives the lineup more length, so maybe today Baez or Contreras can take one pitch or maybe Rizzo can emerge from his slumber. Fucking anything. It’s been so hard to watch. We’d just like to feel again, thanks.

CHIMI-FUCKING-CHANGAS.

Baseball

One would think that after being one game from the team’s first World Series in 36 years, the Brewers would have wanted to build on that this season. The offseason came, and they sort of did with the signing of Yasmani Grandal, which was certainly an upgrade at catcher. Still, the team’s bugaboo–the rotation–remained untouched. It made some sense, as full seasons from Brandon Woodruff and a returning Jimmy Nelson would have improved the team’s weak link by themselves.

But those things didn’t happen. Both Woodruff and Nelson have been discovered to be made of leftover moving boxes and used engine oil, and rotate on and off the IL every couple of hours. Gio Gonzalez was once again scavenged from whatever forest discarded toys go to live, and the Brewers have made up the rest along the way. Jhoulys Chacin couldn’t rediscover whatever potion some witch in a hut gave him last year, and he’s hurt as well now.

But thanks to the Cardinals and Cubs also engaging in a season-long “Who can kick their own ass the hardest?” contest, the Brewers remain perched near the top of the division. Surely a move for a starter or two was in the offing. No, Zack Greinke was never a candidate, as the Brewers don’t have the system or the money to bring that aboard. But maybe they could find something with Aaron Sanchez? Or Marcus Stroman? Mike Leake would have probably been an improvement on what’s here. One or two other names would certainly be an alternative to openers and Housers and whatever other flotsam the Brewers have been sending out to the mound on a piece of driftwood.

And yet nothing. The Brewers love to claim small-market whenever possible, and yet they have one of the best attendance marks in the league and drew three million fans just last year. Certainly the profits are there, at least for a couple of months of someone.

All the Brewers did was bring in another converted-starter in Drew Pomeranz, who admittedly has looked good as a reliever. It’s just a doubling down on what went on last year, as the Brewers will essentially ask their starters not to strangle themselves and hope the hopped-up pen can take the rest.

It’s a gamble, because while Josh Hader is still striking out the world he’s been getable. Notice just yesterday his coughing up of a lead to Matt Chapman on his third day of use in a row, the first ever time he’s ever done that. He won’t be doing that again anytime soon. The Brewers also don’t have Knebel around this time, as they did last year, who was having nearly as dominant a season. Jeremy Jeffress is the perfect example of reliever roulette that a team plays when counting on anyone but the very top percentile of relievers. He can be anything on a given day.

And the Brewers might not have any future answers either. They’ll certainly have to try Woodruff and Nelson again next year, but Nelson will be 31 and Woodruff 27, so you might already know where they are. Zack Brown, their highest and closest pitching prospect, has been getting his skull turned into paste at AAA, and other pitching prospects are at least two seasons away. They very well may have to dip into the free agent market, and their fans will probably be whispering the word, “Gerrit” all winter.

Because the Brewers’ window isn’t all that big. Lorenzo Cain is already aging, and most of all Christian Yelich only has two years left on his deal before he makes the moon and maybe one of Jupiter’s as well. Are the Brewers going to pay that? Only Keston Hiura can be considered a young star, and maybe not the kind you can pivot a team around. We don’t know yet. Feels like there should have been more urgency around this deadline considering their standing.

But then again, maybe they feel like we do about the Cubs, and think if you’re knee-deep in this muck, you’re probably not that good anyway.

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Brewers 3, Cubs 2

Game 2 Box Score: Brewers 5, Cubs 3

Game 3 Box Score: Cubs 11, Brewers 4

Whatever hopes I had of the Cubs turning into an actual plus team, or at least one that can fake it, pretty much died this weekend. That doesn’t mean they can’t win the division. They still very well might, and I am tempted to say probably might. They could even win a series or two in the playoffs. Stranger things have happened.

But that’s just it. I’m now sort of relying on the “stranger things have happened” portion of my baseball brain/fandom. This was a chance for the Cubs to play like the big boys they claim to be. They didn’t do it. And there are just enough flaws0–the bottom half of the roster and the bullpen–that can’t be entirely fixed before the trade deadline and will just keep the Cubs from ever ripping off 14 of 17 or something like it to put this division to bed.

It’s going to be the drunk sex-est version of the last two months possible. Let’s run it through.

The Two Obs

-Let’s start right at the headline of the weekend and that’s Joe Maddon’s handling of his pitching staff. Now, according to any spreadsheet or analysis, pulling Hendricks after five on Friday is actually the right move. The value of one more inning out of Hendricks, the max you would get, is not equal to Kyle Schwarber taking that AB which essentially became a leadoff one after Bote homered with no outs. In a vacuum, or usually, that would be the right move.

Usually.

However, that doesn’t factor in the utter shambles the pen is right now, and Joe’s plan to get 12 outs involved absolutely nothing going wrong. With this bullpen. It’s the same thing that got Joe in Game 163 last year (what is it about the Brewers?). Normally, not letting your starter see the lineup for a third time, as Joe chose to do back in October, is the right call. But that assumes you have anyone who can consistently get outs from the pen, which you don’t have. In this case, the actual tools at Joe’s disposal outweigh what the “right” call is.

So things don’t go right, everyone throws too many pitches, and you have to use Strop. Who can claim he’s healthy all he wants but it’s pretty clear he isn’t.

-Then again, we’re not talking about any of this, probably, if Eric Thames is rightly rung up. Check out #3 here:

Or there was a pitch to Hiura before that that was a strike. If I want to be Sammy Sunshine, then the Cubs take two of three and we don’t worry so much. On such margins…

-Let’s skip to today and then get to the rest. Still up four runs, Joe pulled Q to get to a pen that just set the season on fire again. Yes, it was a bad 5th inning, but it’s not like Q was getting whacked around. The walks were bad, but he had gotten Saladino to strike out, Cain to lazily fly out, and Yelich’s double was off his fists and simply flared out to the right spot. Yes, you’ve got the off day tomorrow, but you still need innings from your starter. Joe got away with this, but had it gone balls-up it was not hard to see Joe looking for a job by Tuesday.

-Of his last eight outings, Cishek has only managed a clean one in two of them (no hits, no runs). He’s going to be toast earlier this season than last because Joe goes to him five times a week. Using him in the 8th last night was inexplicable, and Wick getting the Cubs out of it only made it more so. Yeah yeah yeah, not wanting to toss an untested kid into big spots and all that. Well that’s if the rest of your pen isn’t disgruntled clowns. He’s here, he has to pitch. This isn’t so hard.

-Right, to Kimbrel. I feel like anything this season we’re just going to have to live with, given the weird build-up for him. The dude probably hasn’t had March-June off since he was like eight years old. Most of the time he’ll look fine if not great. But there are going to be spotty outings, and that’s even with ceding the fact that sometimes the reigning MVP will just do that to you sometimes.

-Maybe moving out of the leadoff spot leads to the Schwarber binge. Maybe it’s too much pressure. That’s two high-leverage situations he finally homered in, so that’s a whole thing. That second homer is a juiced ball joke there, as that was a defensive swing. Then again, so was Yelich’s last night, so it giveth and taketh away.

-The importance of walks and hustle. Happ extends two innings for Schwarber. Contreras beats out some shoddy Brewer defense before Caratini’s homer. At least this was the kind of shit the Cubs weren’t doing earlier.

-Bryant looked terrible the past two days, and it would be a major surprise if he escapes an IL stint to deal with the knee that’s bothering him.

Hey, it could all still look ok with a sweep of the Cardinals. Onwards…

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Cubs 55-47   Brewers 54-50

GAMETIMES: Friday 7:10, Saturday 6:10, Sunday 1:10

TV: NBCSN Friday, ABC 7 Saturday and Sunday

YA HEY DERE: Brew Crew Ball

PITCHING MATCHUPS

Kyle Hendricks vs. Gio Gonzalez

Jon Lester vs. Chase Anderson

Jose Quintana vs. Zach Davies

PROBABLE CUBS LINEUP

Kyle Schwarber – LF

Javier Baez – SS

Kris Bryant – RF

Anthony Rizzo – 1B

Willson Contreras – C

Robel Garcia – 2B

David Bote – 3B

Ian Happ – CF

PROBABLE BREWERS LINEUP

Lorenzo Cain – CF

Christian Yelich – RF

Yasmani Grandal – C

Mike Moustakas – 3B

Ryan Braun – LF’

Eric Thames – 1B

Keston Hiura – 2B

Orlando Arcia – SS

 

Let’s cast our mind back to 2008. At the end of July that year, a Cubs team that had stormed out of the gates had a bit of a slip, and the Brewers behind them had gotten within touching distance. A series at this time was billed as a division decider, or at least a big indicator. The Cubs proceeded to turn the Brewers brains into mush for four games, and the division was never under discussion again.

To 2015. The Cubs had gotten into the wildcard discussion, but entered a four-game series against the wildcard leading Giants three games back. They beat the Giants every which way twice for four games, moved into the wildcard spot behind the Pirates, never looked back.

2016. The Cubs had stomped all over the NL for the entire season so they never actually had to worry about this shit.

2017. A little later in the season, but a Cubs team that kind of muddled through the whole season trying to find ways to shove its head up its rectum faced six games in September against the Cardinals. They took five of them, including clinching the division in St. Louis and making them watch.

2018. The Cubs faced a decisive Labor Day weekend series in Milwaukee. They got what appeared to be a season-defining, game-turning homer from Anthony Rizzo off Josh Hader, and everything seemed poised to right itself.

Then Carl Edwards Jr. went to the zoo, and you know how the rest goes. See the difference?

It feels like the rest of this road trip is one of those moments for these Cubs. Six games against the other competitors in the Central. On the road, where they have to unfuck themselves tout suite if they have any designs of being something. A scuffling Brewers team that can’t get a start from anyone and has a couple players decaying rapidly in the outfield. The Cubs can’t end the Brewers season here, not with two months to go and the gap so small. But they can certainly make it more challenging, and they can throw some serious questions the Brewers would have to wrestle with. Although, they could end up doing the same to themselves.

Since June 1st, the Brewers are 22-24. In that time, they have a 5.22 ERA from their starters and a 4.69 ERA from their relievers, which is worse than the Cubs even if you don’t believe it. They haven’t even hit that well, though fifth in the worse-than-you-thought NL in the past seven weeks. But that’s what’s kept them somewhat afloat, though the generous nature of the division hasn’t hurt them either.

Yelich you know about. Hiura has done his part to fill in as well, but Moustakas has cooled off considerably since his mega-start. Ryan Braun will occasionally flash the form of old, and he assuredly will again this weekend because that’s what we’ve been sentenced to for our perceived sins, but a lot more of the time he looks like he got his foot stuck in a garbage can. Eric Thames has taken up the mantle after Jesus Aguilar went back to whatever upside-down he emerged from last year, but hasn’t quite matched the production of Aguilar of ’18. Lorenzo Cain died, and yet still hits leadoff for this team. You could argue Craig Counsell has been beholden to name value too much, as Braun and especially Cain probably don’t deserve to hit as high in the lineup as they have based on what they’ve done this year.

He’s got bigger problems in the rotation, though. Brandon Woodruff just went TWANG! and is out until September. Chase Anderson and Kyle Davies have kept the ship afloat of late, but Jhoulys Chacin went back to being Jhoulys Chacin and Gio Gonzalez has been meat for everyone but the Cubs for years now. The Cubs will get a chance to put that right tonight, though consider their struggles against lefties–i.e. having to play some or all of Almora, Bote, and until now Russell–don’t hold your breath. If any lefty can get the Cubs bats going, it’s Gonzalez, who is striking out all of two hitters per nine the past month.

The problems extend to the pen as well. It was never going to match last year’s dominance, because that’s not what pens do. Hader has been good, at times more so, but at other times gettable as he’s actually given up homers this season. Freddy Peralta has some scary strikeout numbers of late but also some scary walk numbers, too. You go ahead and trust Jeremy Jeffress long term if you choose, you can get your pleasure through pain, y’know. Junior Guerra? Get outta here.

For the Cubs, they made a small move today in telling Tim Collins to do one while picking up Derek Holland from the Giants. Holland’s numbers are horrific, but mostly as a starter. Here he’ll be asked to get lefties out, which he’s done pretty effectively. This is exactly the kind of move you make for a bullpen. Costs you nothing, might get something.

In addition, Ian Happ is up, though no word if he’ll go straight into the lineup or not. You’d have to believe he will though, and he’s been better this year right-handed so that’ll just about do it for Almora’s playing time for a while. He could also be playing left for Schwarber to sit against a lefty. We’ll see.

No more bullshit. The Cubs have it in their hands for the next seven days. Do the thing, get yourself out ahead, and play with a lead. Time to play like you were designed or to shut the fuck up about it.

Baseball

Christian Yelich will tell you there haven’t been any swing changes. He’s not trying to make a more uppercut swing. Cubs fans will tell you it’s all the product of strange vents and signals at Miller Park. Brewers fans will tell you they just got the right player at the right time. There’s obviously way more to it and different than that, but whatever the cause, the Brewers have a player who is living in Trout-land this year (you really need to take a minute to consider that as bananas as Yelich’s season is, this is the year Trout puts up every time out. This is just the norm for him. He just shits them out).

While it certainly hurts that the Cubs placed calls to the Marlins about Yelich only to watch him go up the wrong side of I-94, they never could have matched the package the Brewers sent south, nor could anyone have predicted this is what the Brewers would get. While Yelich was certainly entering or had just entered his prime upon moving from Miami to Milwaukee, you don’t expect this kind of spike. “Spike” probably doesn’t even convey it correctly. “Eruption” comes closer.

So what’s fueling the jump from his Marlins days to last year, and last year to this year? Appears to be a couple things, but we’ll see if we can’t find out.

As a Marlin, Yelich used to be your gap-to-gap, line-drive guy. And he still hits a fair amount of line-drives, but over the past two seasons he’s been less and less concerned with going the opposite way. Though when your home stadium rigs your pulled fly balls to ride the jet stream into the bratwurst of Bob and Beverly from Fond du Lac, why wouldn’t you pull the ball as much as you could? Yelich’s opposite field percentage dropped to 27% last year from its usual perch around 30%, and this year it’s a mere 20% as he’s gone whole-hog on the grip-and-rip-it school of hitting philosophy.

He’s taken that last part to a bit of an extreme this year, as he’s swinging at almost 10% more pitches in the zone than he did last year. For the first time in his career he’s above league-average in that department. And much like Anthony Rizzo, there doesn’t seem to be too many places you can go on him now that he can’t get to and do something with. Look at this stupid chart:

So like, low and in is just about the only place. But he can cover all the way past the outside corner while also being able to turn on anything on his hands, keep it fair and send it far. That’s a pretty small target to hit to find salvation on him. Even compared to last year, you really have to go to the extremes to make him miss, and he’s still awfully disciplined so he’s not going to chase the ridiculous:

So yeah, you can’t throw strikes to him because he’ll crush those, and he won’t chase but if he does he’ll probably get to those too and deposit it in a gap somewhere. Great.

Yelich is also hitting the ball harder than just about anyone else, though he always has. His average exit-velocity has always been 92 MPH or above, except for his last year in Miami. So all the Brewers had to do was to encourage him to get it higher, and well here you go. There’s been a ridiculous spike in that this year, with 38.5% of his contact being considered fly balls, compared to just 23% last year. And this is where you might see some swing changes:

So everything in the middle of the zone he’s sending up now, same goes for high in the zone, and even above the zone he’s putting into the air. And in case you think he’s wasting his time going above the zone, he’s slugging over 1.000 in each of the three spots above the strike zone. You can’t beat him high. But go low in the zone and he thwacks those for the line-drives he still puts up and slugs over 1.000 there too. So yeah, you’re fucked.

And the Brewers have needed it to hang on in the Central, thanks to Lorenzo Cain turning into a fine paste at the plate and Jesus Aguilar running dropping and breaking the vial of magic elixir he had leftover from last year. No one has backed up MVP wins in the NL in a decade since Pujols did it. Cody Bellinger will have a say, but the Dodgers are going to be fine if he drops off a bit. The Brewers need every single bit of this from Yelich. Lucky it looks like this is what he is now.