Baseball

This series started on a surprisingly positive note and then ended with a disgraceful excuse of a baseball game for the Cubs. The Phillies continue grasping blindly at a final wild card spot despite being 2.5 games back thanks to the shellacking they brought upon us, whereas Cubs fans are now wondering if Kyle Hendricks being the #1 starter next year will even be enough to propel them to the playoffs since this is Totally Not a Rebuild. I love Hendricks, but I’m not sure if he’s the answer.

There’s a lot of crap to muddle through here, so let’s get on with it.

September 14, 2021
Cubs 6, Phillies 3
WP: Sampson (1-2) LP: Gibson (10-7)
Box Score

The Phillies needed this win much more than we did as they continue to attempt (in vain) to catch any of the four teams ahead of them for a wild card spot. And yet, they were still able to lose this one against this meaningless Cubs team, despite going up early on a solo homer against Adrian Sampson in his third start of the year and Kyle Gibson, the Phillies’ starter, at one point striking out five batters in a row.

Gibson dominated against the Cubs for four straight innings, allowing no hits until the 5th when the game was cracked wide open for the Cubs. A hit by Willson Contreras and Patrick Wisdom’s Kris-Bryant-rookie-record-tying home run gave the Cubs a lead they wouldn’t surrender. Immediately after, Alfonso Rivas hit his first major league dinger, which excited the entire bench. Ortega was able to hit a barely-fair ball to left field to score Sergio Alcantara in that inning, making it four runs in the 5th for the Cubs and ending Gibson’s day.

The Phillies didn’t give up, and in the 6th inning ended up scoring two runs thanks to a Bryce Harper hit that was difficult to field and some aggressive yet successful baserunning on their part. Another hit that poked its way through both Cubs outfielders and an unsuccessful play at the plate put the Phillies at only a one-run deficit. The Cubs answered back immediately with pretty sweet outfield hits by Frank Schwindel and Ian Happ to score two runners and wrap up this ballgame.

Sampson pitched pretty well all things considered, going five innings and only allowing two runs. (The bar is low in this neighborhood.) Manuel Rodriguez allowed the third Phillies run, walked a batter, and allowed two hits in his one inning, which isn’t good. After him, however, the Cubs bullpen allowed no Phillies hits, with Tommy Nance and Scott F-Ross pitching an inning each and F-Ross getting two strikeouts. Rowan Wick even struck out three batters in an impeccable save appearance.

September 15, 2021
Cubs 5, Phillies 6
WP: Kennedy (2-1) LP: Megill (1-2)
Box Score

I guess the Cubs should get credit for not giving up on this one, as they came from behind to tie the game multiple times. However, it never ended up being enough, as the Phillies were able to walk it off with a run scored in the bottom of the 9th.

Alec Mills pitched three scoreless innings before things started unraveling in the 4th. The teams traded bases-loaded, no runs scored situations in the 3rd inning. By the 4th, a few well-hit balls to the outfield that were hard to field gave the Phillies a one-run lead, but a double play fielded by the Cubs later on in the inning meant that the incoming two-run homer made the game 3-0 instead of 5-0. Good job, everyone.

The most amusing part of the game was when Frank Schwindel hit a two-run homer in the next inning and Schwindel’s extended family of like fifty people went nuts in the stands. At least someone’s happy about this current Cubs team, am I right?

The 5th inning was not good, with a hit and an intentional walk for Mills before getting pulled for F-Ross. Then F-Ross allowed a single to score a runner that made it 4-2. It wasn’t until the 8th inning when the Cubs were able to tie it with another two-run dinger, this time by Robinson Chirinos.

The next three half-innings had the Cubs and Phillies each trading runs with each other. JT Realmuto hit a solo dinger in the 8th, and then Matt Duffy hit a homer in the 9th, but the Phillies walked it off again after Trevor Megill gave up a hit, a sac bunt, a sac groundout, and a passed ball by Chirinos that ended up scoring the winning run.

September 16, 2021
Cubs 8, Phillies 17
WP: Neris (3-6) WP: Rodriguez (3-3)
Box Score

Usually when you go up 7 runs on a team in a game it’s enough to net you a win. Not for this garbage-pile Cubs team, however, who almost instantly gave up 7 runs of their own to tie the game and then gave up 10 more runs to lose in the most embarrassing possible way there is to lose a baseball game.

It was the bottom of the 4th inning when Hendricks collapsed and gave up four hits, four walks and five runs before he got yanked for Michael Rucker, who on his third pitch of the game gave up the extra two runs to tie it on a line drive single to center field. Rodriguez proceeded to give up three more runs in the 6th inning and another two runs in the 7th inning to become the losing pitcher. Rex Brothers, Rodriguez’s mid-inning replacement with no outs, immediately gave up a three-run homer on his first pitch to make the game 15-8 Phillies for good measure. Dillon Maples gave up a few more runs in the 8th, too, just because everyone else was doing it.

Despite a deluge of Cubs offense in the 3rd inning that gave them a 7-0 lead on three hits, a home run, and four walks, the Cubs then went completely flat with only four hits in the rest of the game, because of course they did. The Phillies wanted and needed this game more to stay in the fateful playoff race, and they went out and trounced us here. It was awful baseball.

Speaking of awful baseball, it will likely continue this weekend when the Cubs get inevitably pummeled by the first-place Milwaukee Brewers this weekend in what will surely be an embarrassment of a series. I’d turn on the football if I were you. Go Cubs go?

Baseball

It’s bad, folks. The team is not good; despite ending their double-digit losing streak on Wednesday, the Cubs got beat down every other game, including getting blanked last night 8-0. Every facet of the team is now somehow to blame, from the starting pitching, to the streaky offense, to the imperfect defense, to scraping the bottom of the barrel with catchers available in the system so Contreras can have a day off, to the bullpen finally wearing out.

Jed Hoyer said yesterday he’s been taking calls to sell at the deadline. Brace yourselves, everyone: a fire sale is coming.

July 5, 2021
Cubs 3, Phillies 13
WP: Brogdon (5-2) LP: Brothers (2-2)
Box Score

I’ve spent the last week-plus talking quite poorly about this team, as you know if you too subject yourself to too much inconsistent, crappy baseball. Perhaps you too felt a flicker of hope when, in the bottom of the 1st inning, the Cubs were able to load the bases thanks to two walks and a single by Anthony Rizzo after only 1 out. However, we came back to reality after watching both Patrick Wisdom and Joc Pederson get struck out to strand all three baserunners. It was a sign of things to come.

The things to come were just more of the same. The Phillies tied the game a half-inning later, and the Cubs were able to score in the bottom of the 3rd again, thanks to a Kris Bryant single and a Javy Baez double. Once again, the Cubs would score all their runs in the first few innings of the game and then proceed to collapse late in the game, a sign that the bullpen is exhausted.

This was Zach Davies’ start, and he allowed two of the runs early. He also allowed four hits and two walks in only 5.0 innings pitched. Both his runs were home runs, but the numbers still aren’t pretty.

Rex Brothers allowed two more Phillies runs to start the 6th inning. He only pitched a third of the inning, and we got to watch Rossy get ejected after that walk was called, arguing balls and strikes with the umpire in a show of frustration not usually seen from him. It wouldn’t help to rally the offense by any means, of course. For the rest of the game the Cubs only had two singles and a Baez solo home run. Meanwhile, the Phillies put up six more runs in the 8th and three more in the 9th, absolutely lighting up Adam Morgan to the point where he allowed three runs without even a single out. Kohl Stewart threw the rest of the inning while allowing three runs and a walk, and we got to watch Eric Sogard pitch for the third time this year, which becomes more of a disgrace every time I have to watch it.

July 6, 2021
Cubs 10, Phillies 15
WP: Nola (6-5) LP: Arrieta (5-9)
Box Score

The time to part ways from Jake Arrieta has long since passed, sad as it may be. But loading the bases in the 1st inning, with no outs, and allowing a grand slam to put this team in the hole to start out the game is just unacceptable. Trevor Williams was activated from the IR today, finally recovered from his appendix surgery, and at this point even he seems like a better option.

The Phillies were able to score again in the 2nd inning after Joc Pederson committed an incredible two errors on a single play, dropping the ball, allowing it to bounce away and off his shoe and dropping it a SECOND TIME before throwing it to Sergio Alcantara at second base. Of course, the runner was safe. A ball hit to him just a few batters later resulted in yet another bases-loaded situation, and this time Ian Happ wanted to get in on the errorpalooza, unable to properly field a hit to center field, resulting in yet another runner scoring.

By this time it was 7-0 Phillies. In the 3rd inning, a Cubs rally finally ensued to let everyone know we weren’t watching a bunch of lifeless bodies out on the field. It started with the bottom of the lineup, too, as Alcantara and Rafael Ortega both hit singles. Pederson’s offensive attempts to make up for his defensive blunders somewhat succeeded when he doubled to score a run. Kris Bryant singled as well and scored a second runner — good thing he’ll be gone at the deadline, am I right? Baez was so close to a three-run homer, but a sacrifice fly to make it 7-3 is better than nothing in this situation.

The Phillies scored two more runs in the 4th inning, in which we saw Trevor Williams come out to the mound. He pitched longer than anyone on the mound for the Cubs, at 3.2 innings. However, he allowed seven runs total, just as much as Arrieta, so I guess scratch him being a better option. Pitching’s just not good.

The Cubs had a measly solo home run in the 6th thanks to Baez again, but just a half-inning later Williams’s collapse of two singles, a fielding error and a home run this inning made it 12-4 Phillies. Bryce Harper immediately homered off of his replacement, Dan Winkler. The Cubs were able to string some offense and hits together for the last few innings, with a slew of singles, doubles and a pair of homers from Baez and backup-backup-backup catcher Robinson Chirinos. Despite scoring 6 runs in the last 3 innings, the hole the Cubs dug themselves into in the first two thirds of the game was insurmountable. Surprised?

July 7, 2021
Cubs 8, Phillies 3
WP: Mills (4-2) LP: Wheeler (6-5)
Box Score

The Cubs finally won a game, which is technically progress. They did it thanks to the help of Alec Mills, who pitched five scoreless innings against the Phillies, allowing only 2 hits and 1 walk during those innings, before tiring out in the 6th and allowing a single, a double and a home run to score three batters.

Thanks in part to the pitching, the Cubs were able to get going offensively and stay afloat. They scored three runs in the 1st inning off of four singles and a fielding error by the Phillies. They scored two more runs in the 2nd inning after two singles and a triple by Anthony Rizzo. Although the bats slowed down in the middle of the game, the Cubs were able to answer to the Phillies’ three-run 6th inning with three runs of their own at the bottom of the inning. It was Patrick Wisdom with two RBIs in that inning who scored Ian Happ and Joc Pederson; Pederson’s single scored Nico Hoerner, who singled to start off the inning.

The Cubs are a little banged up, what with Sogard on the IL and Baez getting benched amid a hot offensive streak because of his finger again. Kris Bryant left this game with hamstring tightness, also, but Wisdom replacing him ended up being not too shabby. Will an injury now plummet his trade value, however? You know the Rickettses are worried.

The team came through with a win despite the shabby lineup. Hoerner was in good company with Rizzo and Pederson; all three had two hits on the night. Rafael Ortega, known for getting on base in pinch-hitting situations, had a rough go of it with three strikeouts, but other than that everyone seemed okay. The bullpen of Rex Brothers, Andrew Chafin and Craig Kimbrel gave up no runs, of course, and only one hit to close out the game effectively.

July 9, 2021
Cubs 0, Phillies 8
WP: Elfin (4-6) LP: Alzolay (4-9)
Box Score

Alzolay did throw some good pitches last night, getting five strikeouts and only one walk in five innings. Unfortunately, he’s still bleeding hits, with five in this start, leading to four runs by the Phillies. He was at first able to keep the damage down to a minimum, allowing a run in the 2nd and 3rd innings, giving the offense lots of time to score runs of any caliber. By the 5th inning, though, he gave up a single and a home run, and without the Cubs scoring any runs it seemed all but over by that point.

Good thing Cory Abbott is here to save the day in the bullpen! He pitched the 6th without allowing any runs mostly thanks to the fielding behind him not committing an error. He was able to get out of the inning in a bases loaded situation but would not be so lucky in the 7th. He allowed a single, a home run, a double and another home run to give the Phillies a commanding 8-0 lead that would stay that way the rest of the game.

I don’t even want to talk about the offense, do you? The Cubs only had five hits; I’d say they weren’t coming from their big guns but the only “core” players playing last night were Rizzo and Heyward. The team left 12 runners on base, but only two of them ever made it to scoring position. It was an ugly game to end an ugly series, one that cemented the fact that Jed Hoyer is going to be selling this team for parts, and stat.

Nothing matters anymore, so why not play the Cardinals this weekend? They are exactly tied with us in the standings except they’ve won six of their last ten as opposed to us only winning one. It’s going to be an ugly series by every stretch of the imagination; watch only if you dare, but as always, go Cubs go!

Baseball

If the early signing of Yasmani Grandal gave you a perhaps unrealistic amount of naive faith that things might be changing for the White Sox when it comes to the free agent market, Zack Wheeler signing in Philadelphia may have brought you crashing back to earth. If you feel as though you match this description, you are not alone. Despite my very best efforts, even after the Grandal signing, to not get my hopes and expectations up for the White Sox this offseason to avoid crushing disappointment like I felt in late February after the Machado ordeal, I started to truly believe the Sox were going to sign Wheeler, both because of my own naiveté and because of some info I was being relayed by folks I know with more connections than I have (which is zero).

The irony of my disappointment with the Sox losing on Wheeler  is that when I saw the contract he signed he signed in Philly was for 5 years and $118-million, my initial reaction was that I was very fine with the White Sox not giving him that kind of money. Then it came out that the Sox actually offered Wheeler more than what he took in the city of Brotherly Love, and he took John Middleton‘s money over Jerry Reinsdorf’s because his fiance is from Jersey. Poor guy.

We can argue until we are blue in the face about what Wheeler’s value is, and after two strong seasons in a row and being worth 4+ fWAR in each of those years before hitting FA at 29, it’s hard to argue that he isn’t worth the money he got, but the injury history and lack of a track record before these last two years was reason enough to be a little gunshy with him. I’m not personally convinced he is a $24M pitcher, let alone the $25M guy the Sox apparently valued him at (Bob Nightengale, who is Kenny William’s media mouthpiece, reported the Sox offered Wheeler 5/$125M), but my opinion is worth jack and shit in this regard. For what it’s worth, FanGraph’s “player value” projections have Wheelers 2018 and 2019 being worth more than $30M each, but I also don’t trust that teams use the same kind of $/WAR valuations that FG does across the board.

In the end, it’s hard to be mad at the White Sox for not getting Wheeler here. They offered him a full million-plus more per year than he accepted, it just wasn’t enough to convince him to pick money over the happiness of his fiance. But based on some of the reports that came out after the fact, like the one from Jon Heyman below, I am a bit suspicious as to whether or not the Sox ever had a real chance.

Obviously we can’t know for sure if my suspicion is true, and I can only go off aforementioned reports and “info” I’ve gotten, but it feels to me like the Sox got used here. For weeks, most of the reports regarding Wheeler tied him to the Sox, Twins, Reds, and/or Rangers, none of which are east coast teams. Then all of the sudden Wednesday morning the Phillies are involved, then not long after that the Rangers aren’t, and then a few hours later Wheeler signs in Philly and we’re told it’s because of his girl and because he preferred east coast. If the Sox offer was indeed 5-years for $125M and he ended up taking less in Philly because it’s closer to where he wanted to be, that feels an awful lot like the Sox were just an ends to a means. “Look, Phillies, I want to come there, but I can get a lot more money in Chicago.” Acceptable offer from preferred location roles in, job done.

Basically what I am getting at here is that, despite White Sox Twitter’s best efforts to turn the White Sox offering a free agent the most money he was offered into a bad thing, because some of these motherfuckers are miserable just to be miserable, the Sox did all they could. Wheeler just viewed them as a backup option if more preferred destinations didn’t get involved with good offers.

Now, if you want to place blame on the Sox for anything in this situation, it has to be that last part. Being a backup option for top tier free agents is clearly not ideal, but it’s a bed the Sox put themselves in. While it’s tough to accept as a fan, the Sox clearly have something of a bad reputation in the market place, and it’s not as if they haven’t earned it. Even with signing Yasmani Grandal to a franchise record contract, they still have a lot more to prove both the free agents and their own fans when it comes to playing in this market, because that record deal was still just $73M, which is relatively routine in today’s MLB. Now sure, the Sox offered Machado $250M and Wheeler $125M, but until those offers go from hypothetical to actual pen on paper, there isn’t a great deal of solace that the team can expect folks to take in them, and it’d be a bit naive of the Sox to assume that players should want to come here just because they’re offering fair market money.

That reputation they have as a cheap organization, mostly among fans, is evident every time they miss on a free agent they clearly wanted. As the reports came out about the Sox offer to Wheeler being more, it was met with various reactions of “of course they’re saying this” or my personal favorite “no one works harder to tell you they just missed than the Sox.” And while being speculative of those reports and/or mocking the Sox for working so hard to to get said reports out there quickly is very fair, I again find it hard to blame the Sox for doing so. If they don’t work to make sure that people know they actually made a fair offer to Wheeler, and one that was actually more than he took, then the hive-mind, assume-the-worst reaction from baseball fans and Sox fans especially would run rampant. Until they shake the reputation, they do admittedly have to run this kind of damage control.

The baseball world writ large seems to recognize that the Sox have the a young core in place that could be the makings of something special. But in the same sense as the contract offers only being significant once they come to fruition, this solid young core may have to deliver a bit more in terms of overall team results before it can serve as the kind of team that other players look at and want to be a part of for reasons other than money. Yasmani Grandal saying he likes what the team is building toward when he signed may help that out a bit, but it clearly has not accomplished it to any extent Rick Hahn and company would hope for. Until the Sox can find someone to take their 9-digit contract offers and/or put an actually competitive team on the field when they mean to, their earned reputation will proceed them.

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Phillies 4, Cubs 2

Game 2 Box Score: Phillies 11, Cubs 1

Game 3 Box Score: Phillies 7, Cubs 5

If you’ve come here for a rant and rave…well, you might get one. I’m not sure. I don’t really plan on it, but it might just happen. Once you start talking about this team, the anger and bile just tend to flow.

Let’s get one thing straight, no matter what you’re thinking about Joe Maddon, any selection of brain-addled morons should be able to get six outs with a five-run lead. I was actually with Joe after seven, thinking that pulling Yu there with an extra day of rest will leave him full tank for his next couple starts after that. And hey, it’s five runs. If you think he should have left Yu in for the 8th, I don’t think you’re wrong. There shouldn’t be a wrong answer, because it’s a five-run lead with six outs to go. There are tons of ways to get those.

The one problem I would point out is that once you hit Kemp for Darvish, then he should stay in the game. He’s your best second baseman defensively, and that’s what matters. Happ has no range and no hands. I don’t want to get too upset with Bote, because he’s not really supposed to play short but has to once a blue moon.

So yeah, I’m not advocating for him to be on the team ever again, but all those who kept wailing about why Addison Russell was still playing even though he was going up to the plate with a toothbrush, it’s defense. He was good at second, despite the errors you remember and were looking for. It’s hard to remember too many other games that the Cubs lost because they were simply bad defensively, but aside from mistakes. Sure, they’ve made errors and bad decisions, but that came from everyone. Just being unable to actually play the position…well here you go.

And Joe even has his hands tied with the pen. Kyle Ryan and Rowan Wick have probably the ones you can count on most there lately. They couldn’t get it done. Now you’re into the clown’s mouth, literally. Strop’s fastball has been missing to arm-side all season, and he had no business trying to throw it inside because of that. He doesn’t have the control. Start it above the zone in the middle. But no, that’s too simple.

Six outs. Anyone should get six outs with five runs to play with. You have to actually work to blow that. And all the Cubs did.

As for the rest, I’ve seen enough of Albert Almora Jr. for my life. Tuesday’s loss pivoted on him trying to yank another hairball that human sweat-stain Jason Vargas coughed at the outside corner, when it’s all he can do. Almora shouldn’t be playing, which is weird to write after just complaining about the defense. He can play late in games then, but Happ’s bat is probably more needed, especially with Heyward and Baez at least ailing.

You have to do better than two runs off Jason Vargas, with his jersey yellowing by the third inning. Is that on Joe? Can they blame another hitting coach? Or maybe it’s that Theo and Jed filled out the lineup with players who aren’t any good? Just a hunch.

I thought about writing something today about the home and road splits, except on the ground it’s basically the starters have been much better at home than the road, and Wrigley has played to the pitchers more this year. That’s the big number you see. They score the same amount of runs, basically. The bullpen sucks just about anywhere. So whatever.

Still, maybe it’s because they lose on the road all the time now, but maybe it’s because they just don’t like being around each other. Sure feels that way. At home they get to go to their own homes. On the road they’re stuck with each other. But that’s a stretch. A guess. I don’t really know. No team looks like it’s having that much fun when they’re getting their dick kicked in on the road night after night.

The easy call is to say it’s Maddon’s fault. I don’t see it. I think this team is maxed out. He has had no bullpen to work with, whatever missteps there have been in games here and there strategically. Everyone he turns to out there is either terrible or hurt or both. I don’t know what he’s supposed to do.

Is it his fault that his starters seem to share the belt of “Tonight’s my night to get turned into dog vomit?” It seems like they do that at least once per turn through the rotation. It’s not his fault that he wasn’t provided any depth that this team had enjoyed the previous four seasons. You can blame the front office. You can blame ownership. They’re both at fault.

I would say one of Maddon’s strengths, and a bigger portion of a baseball manager’s job than we think, is to create a comfortable atmosphere and keep players loose. Well, the front office decided he can’t do that anymore, so what’s left? A bunch of players on edge with not enough talent to just stroll through the regular season and ease those fears through wins they just accrue because they’re that good. The talent base isn’t Maddon’s problem.

Me, I’m curious to see if this is the breaking point. If this is the finally the point in the season where someone like Rizzo or Bryant (not his style) or Baez (old enough?) closes the doors to the clubhouse and tells everyone to get their head out of their ass and start playing like it. Would it matter? With this pen in this condition? I guess we could find out. They can either look at this as the bottom and decide it’s time to knock it off, or they can use it as an excuse to quit.

But if they quit, it won’t be on Joe. At least not completely. It’ll lie with the front office that failed to buttress a roster that wasn’t the sure thing they wanted you to believe it was. A front office that bought into its own products far too much, and ones that haven’t helped. It’ll be the fault of ownership that for reasons they have yet to explain to anyone decided it couldn’t spend to secure the bullpen and maybe a bench player or two. And maybe the players that are here felt just a tiny bit abandoned by those above.

There’s been a malaise to this team. If you want to use those intangible reasons for tonight’s and this week’s performance, I won’t stop you. Or you can simply look at a pen that is missing its three top arms and simply doesn’t have enough after that. Maybe both are right.

Onwards…

 

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Cubs 64-54   Phillies 60-58

GAMETIMES: Tuesday-Thursday 6:05

TV: NBCSN Tuesday and Wednesday, WGN Thursday

AND HIS HOUSE TOO: The Good Phight

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After escaping Cincinnati with a split that you’re more glad to get against a sub-.500 team than would normally make sense, the Cubs will attempt to actually surge forward on the road in the Keystone State, including one game in the middle part of the state lovingly referred to as “Pennsyl-tucky.” It starts with a three-game set against the Phillies, who are doing a damn fine impression of the Mets these days.

It all started so well for the Phils, as they were 33-24 on June 1st and atop the East. They then watched the Braves go nuclear, the Nationals not far behind, and of late the Mets have become something of a farce, all the while piling up a 23-27 record in June and July. August hasn’t started much better at 4-7. losing series to the White Sox, Diamondbacks, and Giants. Yuck.

It’s not hard to figure out why. This team doesn’t really hit all that well, nor do they pitch all that well either out of the rotation or the pen. That’s a rough combination. The offense should be better, at least that’s what you’d think when you hear the names Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, and J.T. Realmuto. The latter has been everything they wanted defensively, perhaps the best actual receiver in the league. But his offense has been exactly average, as additional Ks to what he did in Florida have kneecapped him. Harper has merely been ok-to-good, but not the star he has fooled a lot of people into thinking he is every year. He pops that for seasons here and there, but not every year. Hoskins has been everything they want.

But there were too many dead spots. Left field was one after Andrew McCutchen had knee-death, which they’re trying to fill with Corey Dickerson now after getting him from Pittsburgh. They still get nothing out of center. Second base is another black hole. Jean Segura has been ok at short but he’s never going to provide much more than average offense. You know you’re in trouble when you’re trying Jay Bruce at all.

We went over the rotation’s problems, and they’e throwing out Jason Vargas and Drew Smyly in this series, both midseason acquisitions. Arrieta is sounding like he’s not going to be able to put off the surgery on his elbow bone spurs until after the season as he’d hoped to do. So they’ll have to fill that spot, and internally now thanks to the passing of the one deadline to rule them all.

The pen has been extremely beat up, as all of Seranthony Dominguez, Adam Morgan, Victor Arano, Tommy Hunter, and supposed closer this year David Robertson are on the shelf. And all save Robertson were key contributors last year. That’s part of the reason Eflin and Pivetta are in the pen now, but when you’re closing games with Hector Neris, you’ve broken the glass.

For the Cubs, they’ll hope to get both Brandon Kinztler and Craig Kimbrel back from the DL this series, though likely the former much more than the latter. They somehow have survived their reliever-ocalypse this past week, at least so far. Kyle Ryan is coming off the Bereavement List today as well, so that will help.

Other than that, the Cubs merely have to keep the momentum of Sunday’s win, which did feel important, rolling. This Phillies team is looking for a reason to roll over, and the Pirates are a roll over right now. A first successful road trip since the beginning of time, or so it feels, is just beckoning. Yes, weird things can happen at Citizen’s Bank considering it’s a launchpad, but this is a team that just gave up 25 runs to the Giants over four games, and the Giants have a couple of sock puppets and broom handles in the lineup right now.

Feast.

 

Baseball

Fourth place is not where the Phitin’s thought they’d be at this point in the season. Behind the Mets isn’t where anyone plans to be, though trying to plan for what the Mets might be is like trying to chart a Dali painting. Yes, they’re only two games out of a wildcard spot, with only two teams to leap, and two very limited teams in Milwaukee and the Cardinals at that. But they must have thought before the season, after getting Bryce Harper to defect intradivisionally (we get to make up words now), that they were the favorite in the NL East, or at least poised to run with the Braves. They’re nine games back of that outfit, so it clearly hasn’t worked.

It’s a variety of factors. Harper has been merely good, not uplifting to an entire team. The pen has been pretty much a mess all season. The lineup hasn’t hit too many other places, though the acquisition of Corey Dickerson is meant to address that. Still, it’s hard not to look at what the rotation was supposed to be, what it actually is, and wonder if something is amiss.

Sure, betting on young pitchers is always a huge gamble. They get hurt, they lose control, they try things that don’t make sense, the learning curve is rock-wall steep. And they’re still getting good work out of Aaron Nola, though he’s fallen off from his second-tier in the league status of last year.

Still, when they drew it up in Florida in March, the Phillies were probably thinking Nola, Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta, a returning Vince Velasquez, along with Jake Arrieta would make for a pretty stiff rotation. Well, Arrieta’s elbow is currently a barroom brawl of various, floating entities and might put him on the shelf for the rest of the season. Pivetta couldn’t even make the team out of spring training, even though last year he had one of the best strikeout-rates in the National League. He came up in the middle of this season, couldn’t get anyone out, and is now being tried as a late-inning weapon in the pen, while also making way for human tub of cottage cheese Jason Vargas, whom the Phils picked off the Mets scrapheap. Clearly the Mets miss him.

Pivetta’s problem is he throws basically only two pitches, a fastball and a curve. And while he throws the fastball hard, nearly averaging 95 MPH, it gets hit a ton. Hitters are waffling it to a tune of a .732 slugging percentage. And his curve doesn’t generate that many whiffs, though it does get a ton of grounders. Pivetta would do well to throw it more often, seeing as how his fastball is consistently becoming something the FAA is aware of.

It’s been a similar story for Eflin. Until July 1st, Eflin was actually pretty effective, with a 3.34 ERA. Though he had a 4.44 FIP which suggested he rode his luck a bit, it didn’t suggest he would spend all of July decomposing into a puddle of sadness. Eflin’s ERA in July was 11.88, he walked nearly five hitters per nine innings, and he was giving up 2.70 homers per nine innings. Again, Eflin really only threw two pitches, though he had a two-seam and four-seam fastball. Whatever it was, along with a slider hitters tuned him up in July for a slugging percentage over .700 on all pitches. He’s now in the pen too for science experiment Drew Smyly.

Velasquez is now in his second season removed from a major injury, and the strikeout and walk numbers look pretty good. He’s been undone by some bad sequencing, with his left-on-base percentage criminally low for a second-straight season. But he’s still got an ERA over 4.00 and a FIP over 5.00, and mostly it’s because he’s getting hit hard when he gets hit (46.1% hard-contact rate). Again, V-squared only used two pitches mostly, a fastball and a slider. He spots in a curve here and there, but only about 7% of the time. Of late, like the other two, his fastball is getting mutated into some sort of element. He only throws his slider 20% of the time, but he might consider upping it.

That’s three young pitchers the Phillies were hinging on, as well as an aging Arrieta who everyone knew was a declining value bet, and it’s left them barely .500. Something has to change a bit.

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: White Sox 4, Phillies 3 (15)

Game 2 Box Score: Phillies 3, White Sox 2

Game 3 Box Score: White Sox 10, Phillies 5

No matter where the Sox rebuild goes, how long it takes, Sox fans will have the night that it took two innings to get a position player pitching, got a runner thrown out at home from left by another pitcher, and nearly completed the feat again in the 15th. The Phillies basically waved the white flag on that game, and it still took the Sox a couple attempts to accept the surrender. That’s the good stuff.

In the end, the Sox have only muddled the NL East/Wildcard picture more by getting swept the Mets but then going on the road taking two of three from the Phillies. Also, the Phillies are a goddamn mess. They can’t hit, two-fifths of their rotation is now in the pen, and their manager might be a lunatic. But then when is anything with the Phillies ever sane?

Let’s clean this one up too.

-The Sox got another decent start from Ivan Nova, which now seems like a waste. Nova didn’t pitch well enough soon enough to be flipped for anything useful at the deadline, and now one wonders if those starts and innings could go to anyone who might be here when the Sox are playing games that matter again. Cease is already up, There really isn’t anyone else. Guess you just enjoy the show.

-The offense is still a tough watch without Moncada. They put up 10 runs off scrapheap rescue Drew Smyly, yes, but a sweep was possible and 15 innings weren’t necessary on Friday.

Which means a little talk about Eloy Jimenez. Parroting what Joe Sheehan had to say in his newsletter, but Eloy came up in the 8th last night against Nick Pivetta with a chance to win the game, and Pivetta never more than a couple pitches away from self-immolation. And Eloy never had a chance. He swung at three curves he didn’t come within a foot of, and that’s happened too often. There is still all the potential in the world, but a .294 OBP is what it is. He gets enough walks, and that will improve more, but there are times when you have to get the bat on the ball. He’s a long way from that yet.

-Shouldn’t the Phillies be better than this? They only have three hitters you need to worry about, and Harper is barely qualifying as that right now as the Sox got him out in every big situation they needed to, other than his one homer. There are a lot of outs on this team, there’s only one starter you fear now that Eflin became ash, and the pen is a mess too. Not one functioning unit here?

-When Ryan Goins is taking your best ABs, you know that’s a problem.

-James McCann dropped to 7th in the lineup on Sunday, though with Ricky Renteria that might be what he thinks is cleanup considering how long Tim Anderson was there. It’s been a constant slide for McCann since June 1, which is throwing some plans into flux. He could use a finish here.

-Shouldn’t you assume the one thing a pitcher in left field can do is throw powerfully and accurately?

-The Phillies managed one hit off Carson Fullmer. That alone should probably disqualify you from playoff contention.

Baseball

vs.

Records: White Sox 46-60 Phillies 57-51

GAMETIMES: Friday-Saturday 6:05 pm, Sunday 12:05 pm

TV: NBCSN Friday/Sunday, WGN Saturday

Gabe Kapler – Still Here, Still Beefy: The Good Phight 

The Phillies have to be excited to welcome in the White Sox after seeing what the inept Mets were just able to do to the Pale Hose in Chicago earlier this week. Hell, everyone with the Sox coming up on the schedule has to eager for their arrival. At 4-16 since the break, the White Sox are who we thought they were before a few first half flashes had some of the fan base dreaming on a Wild Card run. The Phightin’s are what those Sox fans had hoped for, as they come into the weekend firmly in the discussion for a playoff spot in the NL albeit tied with 1/3 of the league for that right. They’re 7-4 in their last 11 to help pull into said tie, but that includes six wins against SF, DET and PIT with a series loss to NL East leaders ATL sandwiched in the middle. There will be no David Robertson revenge game as his season was finally, mercifully ended yesterday with the announcement of elbow surgery on the horizon.

The Phillies will not only be pleased to see the White Sox stumble into town having just been blanked by their rivals in New York, but they’ll also miss Lucas Giolito and take favorable match ups on Friday and Saturday with Ivan Nova and the return of BIG BOSS Ross Detwiler before getting a resurgent Reynaldo Lopez on Sunday afternoon. The Phaithful will get their first glance at new acquisition Jason Vargas in the opener, who has been quietly much better of late. Considering his 2019 campaign began with 13 earned runs and 35 base runners allowed in six April appearances and a flirtation with being both DFA’d and murdered by half of New York, a stretch of 3 ER or less in all but one start since April 13 makes him a solid addition for the stretch run. He’s posted two quality starts in his last three, coming one out away from a clean sweep in that time. They’ll round out the weekend with pitching acquisition #2 in Drew Smyly taking his third turn since joining the rotation, looking for his own streak of three consecutive quality starts. Staff Ace Aaron Nola takes the ball in between, looking to continue recent success. He had his best month of the season posting a 2.52 ERA with 43 strikeouts in 39.1 July innings.

The Philly offense is currently all over the map. In the aforementioned 7-4 run, they’ve scored six runs or more in four games while putting up four or fewer in the other seven. That struggle for consistent runs is a theme throughout the year, as they’re the only other NL team in that tight Wild Card race with a negative run differential at -16, one better than the Brewers. They’ve relied on the long ball to carry them to victory, with J.T. Realmuto and Rhys Hoskins the heroes of late. $330M man Bryce Harper hasn’t exactly been the force Philadelphia had planned on when they signed him in the spring, but July did see his best splits thus far for AVG, OBP, OPS and wRC+. He also carries a very appealing 138 wRC+ at home and will likely increase that number against the soft underbelly of the Sox rotation.

Speaking of that rotation, what can really be said to this point that hasn’t already? Nova is just going through the motions, with the simple hope he can make it five or more innings to keep from having to exhaust the bullpen like they are in any non-Giolito/Lopez starts. Detwiler takes this turn after Dylan Covey failed to get a single out last Sunday, so while that bar is pretty easy to clear the second half of the season is all about continuing to lower the bar for this sad excuse of a starting five or six. Lopez represents the best hope of the weekend having turned his season around since the break. He’s allowed a total of six earned runs over his last four starts, a major improvement over the nearly four he averaged per start for his first 18 of the season. This probably has a lot to do with a season-best 19% K-BB ratio in July, so if he can keep pumping strikes he can carry the success into August.

The Chicago offense continues it’s downward spiral into the deepest reaches of hell, ranking dead last in the entire league in runs (55), Home Runs (15), Total Bases (226) and all of AVG/SLG/OPS (.602!) for the holy trinity of suck. Jose Abreu and James McCann are the biggest offenders here, as they come in at a combined five XBH (4 HR) and .210/.175 OBP, respectively. McCann has been especially horrific in July, posting a THIRTY-FOUR, 3-4, wRC+ for the month. That is….atrocious. The team sorely missed Eloy Jimenez and Tim Anderson for most of this paltry stretch, but even in return they’ve been more hurtful than helpful with two hits over seven combined games since coming of the IL. Add to that Yoan Moncada and his 33 total bases/.821 OPS landing on the IL earlier this week and….you get the picture. Everyone sucks, more so than usual, and the one guy that hasn’t sucked got hurt. White Sox baseball, CATCH THE FEVER.

The Phillies should expect to take this series and take it going away, and even if their bats can’t solve Nova, Detwiler or Lopez they might be fine with a combined five runs for the series if they can spread ’em out. That’s all it’d have taken the Mets in three games earlier this week. The White Sox COULD have taken this slide and turned it on it’s head by conducting a mass promotion of overly qualified talent at Charlotte, but they’re all still working on their salary suppression clocks instead.

What a time to be alive, Sox fans!

 

Baseball

You’ll never convince Cubs fans that Bryce Harper wouldn’t have fixed everything that’s wrong with them. Big splashes feel good. You learned that when you were four at the pool (unless you were like me and your father showing you “Jaws” at age four had you terrified of any body of water until you were like 10. It was an odd childhood). Harper would probably be a slight upgrade on Nicholas Castellanos now, and certainly would have provided more than Albert Almora Jr. did in center, or whatever various combinations the Cubs have tried.

Still, the Phillies–or more to the point, their fans–might just be wondering if this is all they’re going to get from their $330M man. Because it’s easy to sit and point out that his average, his on-base, his slugging are all below career-norms, as are the encompassing numbers like wOBA and wRC+. It would be natural to conclude that it will go up from here, that is if you were the optimistic type. Phillies fans have rarely been confused with that, though.

But this is hardly the first season that Harper has put up above-average but hardly Titan-mashing numbers. His wRC+ is 118 this year. He has a 111 season on the resume, and a 115. He’s shown this before. And none of these numbers are bad, but they’re not worth the armored truck he’s getting paid on a weekly basis.

And you have to ask how much his incredible 2015 season, which featured a 197 wRC+ and a .461 wOBA. Even without that season, his averages for his career are that of a very good, if not great, player. But he’s hardly a metronome. It’s not that he’s past his peak, it’s just that the Phillies can see it from where he is now.

So how do they get him back to that 2015 form? Or even 2017 when he was fantastic before getting hurt? Which is also a patented move for him.

That’s a tough answer. Harper has seen a small surge in his contact numbers, just liek everyone else this year thanks to the Titleists that are posing as baseballs these days. But hardly a surge, and pretty much in line with what he’s done most of his career.

What has flummoxed Harper this year is that he’s been nearly helpless against breaking pitches. He whiffs on half the swings he takes against them, which is a bit obscene. Against sliders and curves he’s not even close to hitting .200. He hasn’t been much better on change-ups. Harper has always struggled with slower stuff, but this is pushing it. Might make one fear he’s cheating on fastballs, which at the age of 27 would be something of a nightmare. It’s still tough to get a fastball by him, but he can’t be selling out for that now. And he is whiffing a touch more on those as well.

And it would appear that pitchers have found a soft-spot on Harper with the fastball: Check out up and in in the zone on him and outside for his career and then this year, in terms of slugging:

Now with the pop-up rate this year:

Seem like he’s having trouble catching up? Care to guess where most of the whiffs on sliders and curves come? You know, we don’t have to show you.

It’s hard to believe that with Harper’s other-worldly bat-speed he can’t get to fastballs in tight anymore, but that’s the way it looks. He’s not going to see anything else until he solves this, and solve it via another way then just getting out in front even more. Otherwise, the next 11 years in Philadelphia he’s going to find are less than sensitive.