Baseball

It probably helped that Fernando Tatis Jr. went 1-for-12 at the plate for the span of this series, but the Cubs were able end this first of two west coast road trips on a higher note than how they started. After getting the doors blown off of them in the first game thanks to not being able to outhit their pitching woes, the Cubs were able to beat on the Padres this week, holding them to only one run in the final two games of the series.

More importantly and amazingly, they were doing this without some of their best players—most notably absent this series was Javier Baez, who was on a roll offensively in the last Padres series. Jason Heyward has had no hits since returning, and the Cubs are still without Nico Hoerner, as well as David Bote, if that still matters to any of you. And the injuries keep on coming, as it was announced Adbert Alzolay would be added to the 10-day IL after an ugly start to this series.

Despite these obstacles, the Cubs came through offensively and were able to hold it together defensively to get the job done, even getting the win over Yu Darvish, who for all intents and purposes should still be pitching on this team. As we like to say here, the indignities never cease. Let’s break these games down.

June 7, 2021
Cubs 4, Padres 9
WP: Weathers (3-2) LP: Alzolay (4-5)
Box Score

Considering the Giants series we just came from, who could’ve guessed the Cubs’ starting pitcher would collapse in a game again? Alzolay allowed the Padres to get up early in this one, allowing two Padres runs in the first two innings of the game and having to throw over 50 pitches to get to the 3rd. By the 3rd inning, he had struck out Fernando Tatis Jr. for the second time of the night, along with Eric Hosmer, but a walk and a home run right afterward put the Cubs in a pretty dicey 4-0 hole.

After only two singles in the first three innings, the Cubs’ bats woke up just in time for a rally to make the game a one-run contest. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo singled, and Patrick Wisdom walked to load the bases. Jake Marisnick, back in the lineup playing his first game in almost a month, hit a single that scored Bryant and Rizzo to make it 4-2. Ian Happ decided to come up and bunt for some reason, getting out at first but advancing the runners. Sergio Alcantara, the knockoff Baez replacement whenever he is needed, was able to RBI Wisdom on a sac fly, and then it was 4-3 Cubs.

Alzolay then proceeded to put up a four-pitch walk to start the 4th inning and Rossy yanked him. Alzolay was not happy with his performance, throwing his glove in the dugout and looking pretty pissed. Soon after the game it was announced he’d be put on the 10-day IL for a blistered finger. It was a tough outing for the young pitcher who is currently the only bright spot in the Cubs’ rotation that exists at all, but he’s gotta be better than tonight if the Cubs have a chance at the division or the playoffs.

The Dodgers scored two runs in the 6th and piled on three more in the 8th inning, allowing them to run away with the game. Rex Brothers, in to relieve for Alzolay, allowed no hits in his inning out, but Keegan Thompson allowed a hit that scored the runs in the 6th inning and Cory Abbott’s 1.1 innings at the end of the game allowed four hits and three runs, only one of them earned. The Cubs scored a measly run in the 7th inning thanks to a solo homer by Ian Happ, but other than that the Padres were able to successfully come out on top this game.

June 8, 2021
Cubs 7, Padres 1
WP: Davies (3-3) LP: Lamet (1-1)
Box Score

For once during his tenure with the Cubs, Zach Davies didn’t look half bad on the mound as he faced his team of yore. Despite this, the Padres’ starter in Dinelson Lamet was pitching well also, and we went the first three innings with no score. However, Lamet collapsed to start the 6th inning, giving up two singles and a double to score Joc Pederson and Kris Bryant, added onto the solo homer he gave up to Willson Contreras in the 4th. His reliever could only get the first out of the inning before allowing Patrick Wisdom’s 8TH DINGER IN 15 GAMES to blow the game wide open, 5-0 Cubs.

Certainly Zach Davies is no Yu Darvish, and I don’t think anyone else complains about that more than I do. However, Davies pitched a full 6 innings, allowed only one hit, walked only two batters and had 4 strikeouts. It was the lowest number of hits he’s allowed in a game all season, and by many numbers it was the best game he’s played generally since his season debut on April 4. Credit where credit’s due here.

The Cubs were able to score two more runs in the 7th inning to make the game really over, and thanks to our trusty bullpen the Padres never really got back in the game offensively. Andrew Chafin, Tommy Nance, and Alec Mills all pitched one inning each. Chafin had a strikeout and only allowed one hit, while Nance had two strikeouts and no hits at all. Alec Mills, making his first appearance on the mound for the Cubs in nearly a month, allowed the only Padres run of the game after walking two batters and letting Ha-Seong Kim hit a double. However, two strikeouts later he was able to end the game for the Cubs.

June 9, 2021
Cubs 3, Padres 1
WP: Brothers (2-0) LP: Darvish (6-2)
Box Score

The Cubs are finally looking back to their winning form, able to win the series against the Padres despite having to face old demons and current elite pitching by Yu Darvish. It was Jake Arrieta who was up to the task of battling against him, and this game was a pitcher’s duel all the way until essentially the 7th inning, where the Cubs took the lead on an RBI double play by Rizzo. The other two runs were scored by solo homers for the Cubs, with Joc Pederson doing it in the 4th inning and Sergio Alcantara doing it in the 8th inning.

Like I said, it was a pitcher’s duel, and though Yu Darvish played the longer game, he was the one with the loss. Veteran Jake Arrieta only pitched five innings compared to Darvish’s seven, but he allowed only one run to Darvish’s two runs despite Arrieta allowing one more hit. The Cubs bullpen, and I know I sound like a broken record, got it done. Rex Brothers got the win with two strikeouts in his inning in the 6th. Tepera and Kimbrel also allowed no hits, despite Kimbrel having 0 strikeouts to close the game — very uncharacteristic of him.

The Cubs were intentionally sitting some important players this game in order to give them two days off before a big series this weekend against the Cardinals. In doing so, some younger players in the pipeline were able to show their skills, and Alcantara was certainly one of them again today with his important run and keeping things together at shortstop as Javier Baez took this series off. Additionally, we saw PJ Higgins catching for Willson Contreras and Rafael Ortega in for a stint. Props to these guys for sliding in and not being horrific — hell, even contributing at times.

Like I said, the Cubs have a day off tomorrow and then they come back to Wrigley where they will face off against the Cardinals for the first series at 100% fan capacity. The Cardinals have dropped a bit in the standings since we last played them, being 3.5 wins back of the Cubs and first place. Don’t look now, but the Cubs and the Brewers are neck and neck at the top of the Central Division, so any wins we can get against the Cardinals will be important, especially since the Brewers get the much easier matchup this weekend against the Pirates. Go Cubs go!

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Cubs 76-66   Padres 66-76

GAMETIMES: Monday-Wednesday 9:10, Thursday 2:40

TV: WGN Monday, NBCSN Tuesday/Thursday, ABC 7 Wednesday

LOOKING FOR THE SUIT STORE: Gaslamp Ball

SERIES PREVIEW POSTS

Depth Charts & Pitching Staffs

Padres Spotlight: Manny Machado

I may have waved the white flag at this team, or something a lot more impolite, but there are those out there that haven’t. And maybe the players haven’t either. They can’t say they have. We’ll find out real soon. If they do plan on making a fist of this season, and not just waiting around for the Diamondbacks or Brewers or Phillies to come and slip the quiet knife between the ribs, it should probably start….cue Denis Lemieux…RIGHT FUCKING NOW.

The Cubs head out to the West Coast for the fourth time this season (because that makes sense) for four games with the Padres before returning home for a 10-game homestand that definitely has the feel of 2004 where everything will go wrong. But before we get there, it’s this series against the Padres, one of the NL’s most exciting teams…next year.

The Fathers sit 10 games under, and suffered through a brutal July where they went 8-16. They recovered for a 13-15 August, and just won a series off the moribund Rockies (whom the Cardinals get to play soon. Oh joy!). They also took three of four off the Giants to end August, though getting swept by the D-Backs is also in there.

One reason for the ho-hum record is that this isn’t a very good offense. Producing a good one in that park will be the challenge for GM AJ Preller going forward, as Petco seems to gobble up offense even in the face of demonic baseballs. Of late, only new kid Josh Naylor is hitting, taking Hunter Renfroe‘s job in right field. Naylor is playing to lock down a spot next year, which is a common theme amongst this team at the moment.

They weren’t helped by Fernando Tatis Jr. going on the shelf for the season either. Wil Myers has been the only other regular to hit the past month, but he doesn’t always get playing time either in left, center, or first, though you might see him at the latter as Eric Hosmer has been emitting a weird smell all season. Recent promotion Nick Martini, and all the Groucho Marx jokes that come with him, has hit since arriving as well and gets most of the time in left.

The Cubs missed Chris Paddack when the Padres invaded Wrigley right after the break, but they won’t do so this time. However, the second half has been much rougher on the rookie, with an ERA a rest stop or two away from 5.00. He’s still carrying near a 5-to-1 K/BB ratio, but the Fiendish BABIP Kung Fu Treachery has gotten him in the second half, and he’s giving up more fly balls. These days, that’s not going to work out well. They’ll miss Joey Lucchesi, who has been great over the past month, and they will see Cal Quantrill who is carrying an ERA over 9.00 in that span. Ronald Bolanos will only be making his second start in the majors, so look for him to throw six shutout innings in true Cubs tradition.

The Cubs would be well advised to get to the starters, because you don’t want to have to stare down Kirby Yates and Craig Stammen late in the game, or a few others. The Padres always seem to fashion a plus-pen out of whatever’s lying around in true MacGeyver fashion, and this year is no different. Luis Perdomo has returned from injury this year into the pen and has been lights-out of late. This is just not the unit you want to try and come back against, not that this Cubs outfit as currently molded has much interest in doing that against anyone these days.

The Padres are not a doormat, but they’re not offensively charged and their starters can be had. Then again, that description could be thrown at the Cubs, and they don’t have the bullpen the Padres do. At some point, if only out of embarrassment, you’d think the Cubs would turn the levels up just a tad, and it would have to start here. But hey, if they fuck this up, with the Cardinals getting the funeral dirge that is the Rockies for three games, then at least you know the division will be over.

If you need a reason to watch and hurt yourself some more, Nico Hoerner will be up to take over at short with Baez and Russell out. Isn’t this fun?

Clean it up, assholes.

Baseball

There was no avoiding the winter debate over Manny Machado devolving into the much of the stupid and deranged. Machado has had just enough incidents on the field, and comes from somewhere other than these shores, that the justification for freezing him out until spring training was always going to include something beyond collusion. Which we know is all it was. So “attitude problem,” “lazy,” “doesn’t hustle,” and various other dog-whistles were brought to the fore for teams that didn’t sign him. Even the Padres took their sweet time, though got their man at a price to anchor a team on the rise.

Sure, Machado brought a fraction of this on himself with some petulant displays here and there, none of which have anything to do with how hard he runs to first. But you always knew it would get overblown. Whatever, he’s getting $30M a year now, so do you think he cares?

The Padres might, because what they’ve gotten in their first of a 10-year investment is a lot of the confusing player the Orioles saw in 2017.

Machado has seen a 37-point drop in his average, 43-point drop in his OBP, and a 68-point drop in his slugging, to go along with the highest strikeout-rate of his career. He has put in some sterling defense at third, which helped keep him a three-WAR player this season. But you don’t pay $30M for a three-WAR player. You pay for the six-to-seven one Manny was last year, and in ’15 and ’16. So where did that guy go?

In ’17, when Manny had his first “down” year at the plate, it was mostly blamed on luck. And that wasn’t untrue, as he suffered through a .265 BABIP, some 35 points of his career norm and league average. Still, that year his line-drive rate tanked, which didn’t help his batted-balls find the Valhalla of open spaces much. Machado’s line-drive rate has only risen a tick above that in the proceeding two years, and is at 17.1% this year.

It would be easy to believe that the deeper dimensions of Petco Park and the marine layer have hurt Manny’s power, but he’s actually got the highest home run/fly ball ratio of his career. So that’s not it. His hard-contact has gone up along with everyone else’s, enjoying the use of the juiced ball, so it’s not there. Manny is making more soft-contact though, and that might be where the trouble spots are.

Manny is making less contact than he ever has, which means he has the highest swinging-strike percentage of his career. All offspeed and breaking pitches have seen an uptick in whiffs, though not violently so. Manny’s work with fastballs has remained steady and damaging, but everything else is a gooey mess.

Change-ups: .154 average

Sliders: .217

Curve: .195

And again, all have seen an uptick in whiffs/swing, which generally is a signal for someone cheating on the fastballs, fearful they can’t catch up anymore with normal timing. But that’s not what should be happening to a player at 27. That’s for players that are 32 and above.

Another warning sign is that Manny’s slugging in the upper part of the zone has taken a hit, especially on fastballs:

And all his whiff rates at the top third of the zone have increased, including nearly doubling on the inside-high section. But again, Manny is just 27, so this can’t be the start of a decline. On the other side though, Bryce Harper–his free agency contemporary-also seemed to develop a hole high and in this year on fastballs. Except when facing Derek Holland, of course.

More likely this is a one-year glitch. Something in his swing or approach. Pitchers aren’t attacking him with anything terribly different this time around, he’s just not getting there. Perhaps he’s carrying something. The Padres had better hope so, otherwise this is going to be a long ride for everyone.

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Cubs 6, Padres 5

Game 2 Box Score: Cubs 6, Padres 5

Game 3 Box Score: Padres 5, Cubs 1

Huh. The Padres scored five runs in every game. Only won one. That’s weird, right? Anywho, the temptation is to bitch that the Cubs didn’t get the last one of the homestand to make it a glittering 8-1. But 7-2 is way beyond acceptable, Morejon and Quantrill were absolutely dealing today, and sometimes you’re just not getting it. Considering the Cubs came out on the right side of a couple one-run decisions in the first two games, you’re probably due for a clunker. What’s really important is what comes on this roadie, as it’s one of the hottest teams in baseball followed by your direct competitors. We’ll take 7-2 on that too, thanks.

Let’s clean it up.

The Two Obs

-Still, today was frustrating because once again, the back half of the bullpen cannot keep the Cubs within a run. They probably weren’t going to score off Yates today anyway, but you’d at least take your chance. The impulse to lambast Maddon for bringing in Carl Edwards Jr. in a high-leverage situation right in the middle of it is understandable, but there really wasn’t anyone else. Cishek and Kintzler had to be down for the day. Strop most likely. Kimbrel would never be used there. Brach and Ryan had already gone. Your only other choice is Chatwood, and he’s no sure thing either.

And the time for babying Edwards is over. Either he’s a guy who can handle this or he’s not and we can all move on with our lives. Judging by the fact that his fastball was barely touching 92 today, I know which way I’m leaning.

-While on the pen, Strop gave up another lead on this third best pitch, a two-seam fastball that doesn’t do anything. Sometimes I wonder if two-seam is just the label they’re putting on a splitter that doesn’t do shit, but either way Strop needs to lose this pitch. Hitters have been losing it for him enough. His four-seam isn’t overpowering but he at least spots it well, and he should be going down with either that or his slider. He doesn’t need a starter’s repertoire.

-Considering the conditions, the work the Cubs got out of Lester and Quintana is good stuff. They won’t go down as quality starts, but they were considering the environment.

-How nice was it to watch the other team kick the ball around to lose a game on Friday?

-I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the wind turn around like that instantly as it did yesterday.

-Looks like I motherfucked Anthony Rizzo just right. You’ll notice his grand slam came to left field, so in that sense, I’m a genius.

-It’s really starting to feel like we’re seeing the last of Albert Almora Jr. around here. He’s completely lost at the plate, to the point where even his plus-defense doesn’t cancel it out. We’ve had more than enough ABs in his career to conclude he’s just not going to be much of a hitter. Joe Sheehan can wail about his playing time all he likes, but a .666 OPS tells you everything.

-One thing I’ve noticed Maldonado does, and Caratini for the most part too, that Contreras doesn’t, is that he doesn’t drop his glove when setting up and always presents the target. Pitchers must love that, and should be an easy correction for Willson to make.

-Give the Padres two years and a clean bill of the health and they might muddle up this Dodgers nightmare the NL West has lived through.

Onwards…

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Padres 46-50   Cubs 52-44

GAMETIMES: Friday-Sunday 1:20

TV: NBCSN Friday, ABC 7 Saturday, WGN Sunday

FISH TACO ENTHUSIASTS: Gaslamp Ball

PITCHING MATCHUPS

Eric Lauer vs. Jon Lester

Joey Lucchesi vs. Jose Quintana

Cal Quantrill vs. Kyle Hendricks

PROBABLE PADRES LINEUP

Fernando Tatis Jr. – SS

Eric Hosmer – 1B

Manny Machado – 3B

Hunter Renfroe – LF

Franmil Reyes – RF

Franciso Meija – C

Ian Kinsler – 2B

Manuel Margot – CF

PROBABLE CUBS LINEUP

Albert Almora Jr. – CF

Javier Baez – SS

Kris Bryant – LF

Anthony Rizzo – 1B

Addison Russell – 2B

Jason Heyward – RF

David Bote – 3B

Martin Maldonado – C

 

The main story of this series probably won’t have to do much with either team, but the conditions they’ll spend the first two games in. Jon Lester might end up looking like the senator from the first X-Men movie by the 4th inning today. It is going to be hot, and gross, and sticky, and all other bad words to describe a 98-degree day with a fair amount of humidity. Basically, St. Louis.

But hey, that’s baseball, that’s summer in Chicago sometimes, and the Cubs have work to do. And while the Padres are poised to be the next big thing, next means it’s not here yet and they’ve only won four of their last 13 games. They’re coming off losing a series to the Marlins and got swept by the Braves out of the break before that, and the Cubs catch them at the end of a long road trip. So yeah, very few excuses here.

Overall, it’s not a very good offense, ranking bottom-five in runs, wOBA, and wRC+ as a team, But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some danger spots, mostly at the top. Fernando Tatis Jr., the player that makes all Sox fans hang their head in shame, missed a third of the season through injury but has been everything they could have hoped for when present. He strikes out a ton, but walks slightly more than average and hits for a ton of power for a shortstop. Considering he’s 20, getting upset about the Ks would be the height of pettiness. Manny Machado you know about, and Hunter Renfroe has hit some annoying homers against the Cubs already. Franmil Reyes is the rest of the pop with 20 homers. Manuel Margot has been hot of late, slugging over .800 the past two weeks.

The Cubs catch a break in missing Chris Paddack, probably the best rookie starter in the NL right now. Eric Lauer and Joey Lucchesi have been functional without being eye-popping, but Quantrill has had his struggles, though he did shut out the Braves last out over six innings. Lauer comes in on a roll as well, giving up three runs over his last three starts, though one was just four innings.

The Padres always seem to find a closer, and that’s true once again with Kirby Yates. He’s been about the only bright spot in the pen though, with a host of characters playing the role of gasoline this season. The Pads pen has the lowest walk-rate of any pen in the National League, though, so they don’t just give it to you. But other than Yates, only Craig Stammen has had sustained success and he’s had his problems lately.

For the Cubs, they’ll get Carl Edward Jr. back this weekend, at the expense of Randy Rosario so you know I’m delighted. Both the Brewers and Cardinals won last night, so the cushion is minuscule. It’s going to suck out there, but they won’t care about that when the final standings are tabulated in September. After this it’s now a pretty rough looking road trip with the Giants the hottest team in baseball at the moment before trips to both Hops-villes, USA. Everyone else, stay hydrated.

Baseball

Maybe if AJ Preller had just waited and not gone mad scientist in the ’14-’15 winter, he would have been thought of as something like a hero in the past winter or two. He would have been just about the only GM “going for it.” He would be the only GM who would have seemingly known what free agency and the winter months are for. Making people talk about your team. Getting them excited. Improving it.

Sadly, Preller’s Brewster’s Millions winter came in 2015, before that time in baseball’s offseason became nuclear and life was not allowed to grow in any way. Still, Preller’s pivot has been borderline-stunning, and one wonders how many other GMs would get the chance to reverse course as quickly and forcefully. Then again, when the pivot means saving and shedding money, owners tend to get a little patient.

Instead, in the offseason leading to 2015, Preller became something of a laughingstock. Let’s take you back. The Padres hired Preller at the end of the 2014 season, their fourth-straight losing one after nearly pipping the Giants for the NL West in 2010, ceding the lead in the last weekend of the season (and possibly saving us from the most mystifying dynasty of our time). Clearly, the Padres didn’t like the way things were going, as they licensed Preller to go all Jackson Pollock with their roster. (Maybe that Cashner-for-Rizzo deal played a part?)

So here’s what Preller did, and this list will seem completely alien after the past couple offseasons. He traded for Derek Norris, at the time one of the better hitting catchers around. He traded four players for Justin Upton, who was in the last year of his deal. He took Matt Kemp‘s salary off the Dodgers’ hands, though the whole Grandal-for-Norris swap behind the plate didn’t look good at the time and worse now. He swung a three-team trade to bring Wil Myers from Tampa, though it cost them Trea Turner and Myers didn’t especially have a position. He signed James Shields, who at the time was one of the biggest pitching free agents out there (which probably helped contribute to teams very calm trigger fingers when it comes to free agent pitching). And then right at the dawn of the season, perhaps the biggest move he made, was to bring in Craig Kimbrel from Atlanta.

The sheer volume of moves is startling through the lenses of what we’ve become accustomed to, and all of them were aimed at the top of the roster. It becomes even more stunning when you realize that almost none of them worked. Norris never hit, Kemp was in the middle of his decline everywhere outside LA, Kimbrel was a hood ornament on a car without a suspension, Shields gave up 33 homers before the ball became a Top Flite and with half his starts being protected by the marine layer. Myers and Upton hit for sure, though Myers was hurt for two-thirds of the season and a danger to himself in the outfield.

The Padres collected 74 wins, all the experts tut-tutted, and Preller had to reverse course in a hurry. Upton left via free agency. Kemp was traded the next season for nothing. Norris was traded after that season. But in the real coup, Shields was moved in the middle of 2016 to the White Sox, in midst of their own inexplicable and deluded drive for a playoff spot, and got Fernando Tatis Jr. out of it. Kimbrel was dealt for four prospects, one of which is Logan Allen who remains on the precipice.

At least it was quick work. While the Padres didn’t net much in all of their shedding of Preller’s ’15 madness other than Tatis, it only took Preller three seasons to build one of the more exciting, young teams around. Tatis is already wowing people, and Preller was able to convince Manny Machado that things will turn around soon. Franmil Reyes wasn’t his signing, but he developed in Preller’s system. He was able to steal Chris Paddack out of Miami, and he might be the best rookie pitcher around. And over the next two to three seasons, the Padres are poised to keep rolling out players from their system as they are considered one of the best pipelines in baseball right now. The Pads are considered to have 10 of the 100 top-rated prospects in baseball, though two of those are Tatis Jr. and Paddack.

Some were taken before Preller, of course, like Reyes. But he was allowed to admit a mistake, turn around, and now has the Padres poised for long-term success instead of the lightning in the bottle kind he chased four years ago. Quite the turn, no?