Baseball

BOX SCORES

Game 1: Reds 1 – White Sox 7

Game 2: Reds 1 – White Sox 6

 

In a 2 game stint against a team clinging to playoff contention with a single fingernail, the Sox walked to the edge of that cliff and stomped squarely on that finger, sending the Reds to the bottom of the sea. Both Reynaldo Lopez and a diminished Carlos Rodon were able to hold a disinterested Cincinnati offense at bay, while Luis Robert continued to put the rest of the league on notice that he’s coming for his seat at the Table Of The Upper Echelon.

In other news, word broke yesterday that Tim Anderson somehow landed himself a 3-game suspension for supposedly “making contact” with umpire Tim Timmons (clearly a fake name) during the benches-clearing fracas stemming from Jose Abreu getting plunked for approximately the 6,548th time this season. In video posted to the internet, you can see Timmons and Timmy (new jazz-fusion group name) face to face but really nothing comes of it. The suspension is being appealed, and won’t affect Timmy’s availability for the postseason. I guess we’ll just wait and see what actually happened down there.

 

NUMBERS DON’T LIE

GAME 1

-Reynaldo Lopez continues to make a solid case for him to be on the postseason roster with another excellent outing. His 6 innings of 2 hit ball were only slightly marred by an Eugenio Suarez bombshot in the 5th inning. Even better, he only needed 80 pitches to get through 6, showing his newfound efficiency. Nice work.

-Luis Robert had two dingers on the night, the second of which was absolutely murdered and briefly showed up on our radar here at work. He’s been a force of nature recently, and has matured into the world destroyer Rick Hahn was hoping for when he coughed up that international signing money.

-In addition to Robert’s two blasts, Yoan Moncada and Gavin Sheets each added solo shots of their own. Sheets is another one who I would say has absolutely earned himself a playoff roster spot, as that kind of insane power from the left side will be very useful going forward.

-Jose Ruiz, Aaron Bummer and Matt Foster all added scoreless innings of relief, and while only 2 of those 3 will be pitching in the postseason it’s good to see.

GAME 2

-Carlos Rodon looked solid in his final tune-up before postseason play, though his velocity was still considerably down. Instead of dominating the Reds lineup with 98-mph fastballs, he kept them off kilter with 85 mph changeups and sliders then occasionally peppering them with a fastball that topped out at 93. Whether or not he was holding back due to the impending playoff pitching he’ll be asked to do (I don’t think this is the case), he was definitely good enough to hold down a depressed Reds offense. Will it be enough next week? We’ll see, but either way his arm strength will be one of the biggest storylines heading into the Astros series.

-Oh look, more dingers from Gavin Sheets.

-Michael Kopech finally got to go more than 2 innings, and made the most of the 3 he was given. The 2 walks weren’t great, but the overall performance is exactly what you’d want to see out of him.

-Leury Legend continued to swing a hot bat, going 2-4 with an RBI and run scored. Once Adam Engel is fully stretched out and ready for the playoffs, it’ll be interesting to see how much Caesar Hernandez actually plays.

 

 

Next up is the final series of the regular season. Naturally it’s against the team involved in the bench-clearing incident from the other day. I would fully expect things to be less chippy this time around, and wouldn’t be shocked if both teams start with umpire warnings in effect.

With the Astros 1.5 games ahead of the Sox in the standings, the odds of home field advantage are pretty long. The ultimate goal this weekend is to get out of the series unscathed, so expect to see pretty short outings from Giolito and Lance Lynn. In addition to that, it should be the last appearances for guys like Mike Wright Jr and Matt Foster so just one more time to deal with that. Stay healthy and get through the weekend, then it’s time to fuck up the Asstros.

Let’s Go Sox!

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

Right field has been a black hole of SUCK on the Southside going on, oh, a decade? Magglio Ordonez and Jermaine Dye are the last great players to man the position for the White Sox, and the ineptitude of management to fill the O-E-O/WS MVP sized hole is a bit jarring. Yes, dead last in the entire MLB in 2019 in OPS jarring. The likes of Carlos Quentin, Avi Garcia, and Adam Eaton were passable if unspectacular in stints over the years, but the Sox have also trotted out the likes of Jason Coats, Willy Garcia, Andruw Jones (the ol’ KW past his prime special!), Brent Lillibridge, Rymer Liriano, Alex Rios, Moises Sierra, Michael Taylor, Blake Tekotte, Trayce Thompson and Dayan Viciedo since Dye hung em up in 2009. Folks,,,,, that’s not great!

John Jay was brought in as part of the “recruitment” of Manny Machado last offseason and thought to be the everyday right fielder, but injury kept him out a majority of the year. The cast of characters used to fill in were all way, way under-qualified for every day MLB duty – Ryan Cordell, Charlie Tilson and Daniel Palka all saw far more at bats than any competent team would dare give them and they responded with that league worst performance at the position at the dish. The defense was also meh at best, but with a suspect free agent class the Sox don’t really have the current lineup to hide a defensive wizard they get no offensive production from (otherwise they’d just stick Robert in RF and let Adam Engel patrol CF, but alas).

So who out there is available, plays RF (even barely), can get on base, park a few baseballs into the Rate bullpens and would actually be willing to take Rick Hahn’s checks? Dear reader, you already know him, or got a small taste of him after last year’s deadline.

Nicholas Castellanos, come one down!

Why Him? Castellanos can hit a bit, as the Sox know all too well from being the victim of his bat for almost six years as he came along in Detroit. His 2019 is a little misleading as his high average (.321) helped him to 16 homers and 36 RBI in just 51 games after a trade to the Cubs. That comes out to a scorching 154 wRC+. Prior to the trade, though, he carried just 11 homers and 37 RBI on a .273/.328/.462 line for a wRC+ of 105 in 100 games.

This does help to give him two straight years over 121 wRC+ and that makes him exponentially better than any Sox RF in 2019. He’s also gone .337 and .354 the last two seasons in OBP while averaging 25 homers and 81 XBH, and if he can continue that trend the White Sox probably wouldn’t care if he just hung out in the Goose Island section or had a beer with the #108 guys every half inning.

He’s also only 28, making him pretty young to be a free agent. He won’t come with a QO compensation penalty. Since JD Martinez isn’t available, Castellanos also represents a chance to sign an impact bat this offseason, deal with the defense for a year or two, and plan to use him at DH/LF with Eloy down the road and develop or sign your next RF later. Maybe that plan sees them sign Edwin Encarnacion on a Nelson Cruz-like one year pact (OR SIGN GRANDAL ALREADY LIKE AJ SAID) and just like that you’ve got some instant impact offensive upgrades to a team that sorely needs it.

One other plus – signing him would mean he can’t kill the Sox anymore (or maybe he’d find fun ways to ruin them from within…). This is some recency bias, but since 2018 Castellanos carries 7 HR/22 RBI/.413 OBP/1.065 OPS(!) in 28 games against the Sox, good for a wRC+ of about 185, or otherworldly. Small sample size and all that, but fuckin’ a does he MURDER White Sox pitching of late.

Why Not Him? Oh, that “defense”. Castellanos debuted as a third baseman and Detroit was all too generous to let him try and be that for four seasons while they lost a million games. He made the move to right field in 2018 and is the worst defensive RF in that time, posting -28 DRS (defensive runs saved) and a -17.6 UZR. I don’t know if that all actually makes him the worst RF since 2018, but being responsible for 28 runs scored against seems really bad.

If you want some kind of silver lining, Castellanos did actually improve by 10 full runs in DRS over 2018, and by 8+ points on his UZR, giving him a more palatable -9 DRS/-4.4 UZR in 2019. Still not good by any metric, but not comically bad. He might even be improving, and maybe he gets to a point where he’s league average and look at that I just talked us into Nick Castellanos, league average RF for the Chicago White Sox by 2021.

Honestly, if you sign Castellanos and you already have Eloy Jimenez being the ungraceful elk that he is in LF, you probably need to be ready to take him out of the field within a year or two. So the knock is, will he hit well enough to cover occasionally killing you in the field. And if you’re already looking at re-signing Jose Abreu and you’ve got Gavin Sheets and Andrew Vaughn on deck…is this really the best way to allocate funds/roster space?

How Much Is This Free Resort Weekend? MLBTR comes in with an estimate of 4/$58M and Fangraphs is in agreement with a 4/$56M estimate of their own. Unless some wild market creates itself out of nothing for lil Nicky here I can’t really see him getting more than 4/50, possibly even having to settle for something like 2/25 or 3/35 and a few option years. The bat has enough juice to get him a multi-year pact, sure, but that defense is brutally awful and the game is no longer kind to players of his abilities. Damned kids and their analytics. Without 30+ annual HR potential or a near .400 OBP, there just isn’t any one tool that really carries the weight to justify giving Castellanos that much term, so you’re really banking on his being younger than the rest of the FA OFs and hoping that defense is really improving and the 2018/Cubs version of the bat is the one you’re buying. Whole lotta optimism in there.

The Sox have already been reported to have interest, which probably doesn’t need to be read much into as they should have interest in any OF available via trade or free agency this winter. They’d probably be wise to explore other options and make Castellanos a plan B, waiting out the diminishing market for his type of player to mitigate the commitment for such a walking red flag.

Now that I’ve thoroughly fleshed out that I’m not really on board with a run at him, I have to admit that if the Sox do end up with Castellanos it will be a massive upgrade over the trash heap of career minor leaguers and Machado friends and family that Hahn tried to float by the masses last year. It could absolutely be worse, but I’d hope they explore a few more avenues or wait to see how many other teams are really falling over each other to add what might just be a slightly over league average DH to play everyday RF.

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

 

 

Game 1 Box Score: Cubs 17, Bucs 8

Game 2 Box Score: Cubs 14, Bucs 1

Game 3 Box Score: Cubs 16, Bucs 6

 

Morph

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

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

Let’s…

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…

Baseball

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

Game 1 Box Score: Nationals 9 Cubs 3

Game 2 Box Score: Nationals 7 Cubs 2

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

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

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

Let’s…

Baseball

I guess it’s Kyle Schwarber Week here at the lab. Then again, it’s always Kyle Schwarber Week here at the lab.

There’s still a lot to be sorted this season, and even thinking about another confounding and infuriating offseason–as the next one is assuredly going to be because the Ricketts Family can’t manage a piss-up in a brewery–is a great way to make yourself miserable. But this season is already kind of miserable, and also I want to get out ahead of an already growing movement.

You can hear it in the wind, and you can see it in the sky. Greater Cubdom is starting a “Re-Sign Castellanos!” movement. You can certainly understand why, as after two weeks with the team he’s hitting .370 as a Cub and has a wRC+ of 194. He’s been a spark, at times, for a team that clearly looks like it needs it far more often than it has in the previous five years. To only focus on these two weeks is obviously a flawed process, so it’s better to be looking over the whole.

Even with this Cub-binge, this isn’t even Castellanos’s best season. That came last year, mostly because he hit the ball slightly harder. Still, Castellanos is only 27, and has at least two or three years of prime production left. The Cubs will clearly need a bat (or two), as Nico Hoerner isn’t going to be ready in 2020 thanks to his wrist problems this year. It all comes together for bringing Castellanos back.

But the issues are clearer than most want to see. The Cubs simply cannot get away with an outfield defense of Castellanos in right and Heyward in center for a full season. especially with Heyward getting a year older. J-Hey isn’t all that good in center, he won’t kill you there but he’s far from the stud he is in right. This might be especially true as the Cubs are likely to lose one of their biggest strikeout pitchers and ground-ball pitchers in Cole Hamels, who negates a bit the need for a good defensive outfield .And unless the Cubs are going to sign Gerrit Cole, that’s an issue. And they’re not going to sign Gerrit Cole (though they should). The need for outfield defense becomes slightly more acute.

Also, if you’re going off simply two weeks, you’d be tempted to hand next year’s centerfield job to Ian Happ, but that’s why we don’t do these things.

You have to project out what you think Castellanos will be. He only has a career 111 wRC+, which is good but not the kind of production one loses their mud over and centers their offseason plans around. However, if you take the last four seasons, where you could say the light went on, it’s 120. That might be a player you center plans around.

A theme that the local scene has been eager to pump is that the change from Comerica to Wrigley will boost his slugging and homers. That’s true to an extent, but how many more homers are we talking? Five at home? Maybe seven? That seems the extent. But even if you add ten more bases to Castellanos’s totals this year (five homers instead of doubles), his slugging goes up 20 points. So a consistent 115-120 wRC+ player is hardly out of the question, and with a couple bounces more than that.

But the defense. You can’t have that. The Cubs are already one of the ten-worst fly-ball defensive efficiency teams in the league. And that’s with Almora out there in center and Heyward in right a decent portion of the time. How much worse do you really want that to get?

Which means signing Castellanos puts him in left. And you already have someone there. The question one would have to ask is will Schwarber ever produce that kind of offense consistently for far cheaper than Castellanos on the open market (leaving you more money to address other concerns)? Keep in mind that Schwarber’s ’18 is about as good as Castelllanos’s current campaign (no fooling, 115 to 116). Castellanos has reached 130, and if you project that he’ll get near there again in the next three years however many times, can Schwarber ever do so? He’s only done it for 70 games four seasons ago now.

In essence, you’d basically be guaranteed a push by swapping out Schwarber for Castellanos in left, though you’d cost yourself spending power which is a concern over there because the Ricketts are so poor, don’t you know? You might do better. Depending on what the return is on any Schwarber trade, maybe you’re a better team. Or then maybe you watch Schwarber pop for 42 home runs in Tampa or something as a DH and you feel shame, especially if his trade value has been neutered over the past few seasons.

If Castellanos keeps this up for the season’s last six weeks, he’s probably looking at a $20-$25M payday per season. That’s essentially Hamels’s money, leaving you with some of Zobrist’s to play with after arbitration raises and such, along with other free agents maneuvering in and out.

This the debate. It’s not so easy, is it?

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

Game 1 Box Score: Cardinals 2, Cubs 1

Game 2 Box Score: Cubs 2, Cardinals 0

Game 3 Box Score: Cardinals 8, Cubs 0

Here’s what will definitely happen. Either in the postgame tonight or before the game tomorrow, Joe Maddon will tell the press that the Cubs have to get back to grinding out at-bats. They have to dig out some offense. They have to fight through this. And then they won’t, which either means Joe is telling them this along with whatever hitting coach they’ll fire this time around as a smokescreen, and they’re not listening. Or he’s not even bothering to tell them and is going straight to the press, because he knows and the players know he’s getting punted no more than five minutes after the final out of the season.

Here’s what very well might happen. The Cubs will peter out somewhere, either after Game 162 or in the Division Series or coinfli flip game after the balloon-handed nature of both the Brewers and Cardinals gifts them a spot somehow. And either Theo Epstein will find out the purse strings are still being yanked by the Ricketts and he’ll walk, or he’ll hope letting Maddon walk is enough of a cover again to mask that his system has produced exactly his dick in his hand since 2016 or so.

Really, what this road trip has shown is that there has been a systematic failure at pretty much every level of this organization. On the biggest swing of the year, the Cubs best players all went turtle. None of them have hit. And you’d be tempted to say that’s just the vagaries of baseball, except we’ve been talking about this in some fashion for two months. Baez was dominant in the season’s first two months by actually occasionally taking a walk and going the opposite way almost as much as he pulled the ball. So he’s going to spend six weeks swinging at everything and trying to pull everything. Contreras is going to swing at the first pitch he sees. Bryan is going to have to gut out an injury that clearly should have him on the IL because the bottom of the roster is non-existent. If Addison Russell didn’t suck out loud, they could go without Bryant for 10 days. If David Bote didn’t suck deep pond scum they could go without Bryant for 10 days. But they do, so he has to play and do a pretty mean David Bote impression for six games. Anthony Rizzo is nowhere. All when they have to be here.

This team doesn’t fight. They don’t dig deep in close games and find a way to get on base, to score, to win. They find ways to lose. And maybe that’s just what happens when a team thinks no matter what it does the bullpen is just going to blow it anyway. There’s no gumption about this squad.

But why should there be? They heard their GM say that there would be changes, that production would be all that mattered. And then nothing changed. No one’s on alert. Addison Russell got another chance. So did Bote. So did Almora. So did Schwarber. Who’s on edge?

But then why would this team feel their front office and ownership is fighting for them? They watched the same team basically come back, the one that wasn’t quite good enough last year. The Cardinals added Goldschmidt. The Brewers added Grandal. The Phillies added Harper. The Braves added Donaldson.

Here’s an exercise for you. Go and watch two interviews with the Astros right after they got the news their team had traded for Zack Greinke. See the bounce. Do you think any Cubs were doing that when finding out about Castellanos and Phelps? Castellanos is only here due the failure of multiple players, not to boost something that already is working.

This team plays entitled. Like nothing will happen. Because really, it won’t. This is all set up to burn down after 2021 anyway, and everyone in the organization looks like it’s just going to sit around waiting for that.

The urgency, the desperation, the fight, the want-to, whatever you call it, you find it on this team. I can’t. They accept what’s happening to them because that’s been the nature of the whole operation. Oh sure, they’ll get wins when Hendricks or someone else tosses a gem, or Kyle Davies places a “HIT ME” sticker on a barely-fastball. And this doesn’t mean the Cubs won’t win the division, based on the aforementioned nature of their competition.

Well, maybe not “win’ it, so much as just open the front door and see that it’s been left there so they might as well take it inside. That’s what the Ricketts Family, Epstoyer, Maddon, and everyone have created here. And there’s no reason to think it will change.

This team isn’t going anywhere. Someplace might land on them, but it will still be standing still when it does. And that you can believe.