Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Reds 6, Cubs 3

Game 2 Box Score: Cubs 4, Reds 3 (1o)

Game 3 Box Score: Cubs 5, Reds 2

Seems pretty simple, when you get quality starts you’ll get wins. The Cubs have gotten six of them in a row. They’ve won five. Arguably should have won all six, but it would be truly petty and desperate to complain too much about a 5-1 homestand so far. This isn’t rocket science. Throw in a Kris Bryant binge, and suddenly things are starting to look as they should. Though with a couple glitches, so it’s your parents’ perfect night out. The food is great, and the service just good enough to allow them to complain.

Let’s run it through.

The Two Obs

-Hard to decide on the headline, but let’s go with Yu Darvish, who has yet to give up a run in two post All-Star starts and has only walked one in 12 innings. Today, Darvish was fastball heavy. It says he only threw 30 four-seam and 16 two-seam, but considering the latter was averaging nearly 95 MPH, I think they’re all just four-seamers. He also piled in 26 cutters, so it was a power outing. His last pitch was 98, which on a hot day is something. Combine them all and he threw 61% of them for strikes today, which goes along with his quotes after his last start about finally feeling like he has command of his fastball and doesn’t just have to rely on his cutter to get strikes. You’re seeing a variance in Darvish’s approach now, as he was slider heavy against the Pirates. But when he has command of it all, he can do that in any way he wants. Hopefully this is the start of something big, and as his next start will come against the decidedly punchless Giants (though more so now)…well, let’s just hope.

-Cishek has a 2.83 ERA, and I’m convinced this is a government lie. Every time I look up it feels like he’s giving up a run, even if it isn’t always his. He’s giving up homers on fly balls 50% more than last year, though everyone seems to be doing that now. I still worry about the amount of appearances this year and last, and this pen never lets you rest, does it?

Of course, backing him up with Rosario and Brach was never going to work out, was it? I can’t believe I’m asking for Edwards to hurry.

-At this point, we have to guess there’s something physical with Rizzo. He hasn’t homered in over a month, and he has 10 doubles over the last six weeks or so. He just doesn’t seem to have the pop. To be fair to him, his hard contact and line drives are much higher in July than they were in June, so maybe whatever it was has passed and he’s just trying to find the swing again. The Cubs are a Rizzo binge alongside the Bryant binge from like a 12-game winning streak.

-I don’t need Albert Almora Jr. to hit. He’s good enough in the field and the Cubs should have enough other hitters to just take his defense and run. I do need him to keep his head in the game. It didn’t end up mattering last night, but once again him not running after a drop third is a sign of a player not locked in, and this is what the Cubs were trying to address in the offseason. It has to stop.

-Looks like I motherfucked Alec Mills into a quality start, which is probably my biggest accomplishment of the season.

-Heyward seems to have a new knack for big hits, huh?

Onwards…

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Cubs 4, Pirates 3

Game 2 Box Score: Cubs 10, Pirates 4

Game 3 Box Score: Cubs 8, Pirates 3

That’s about as perfect of a start out of the All-Star Break as you could have asked for, aside from one Pedro Strop two-seamer that still hasn’t landed. And even that didn’t end up mattering. Three quality starts. A lot of offense, from a lot of places. Kris Bryant binge. Other than Strop, clean enough work from the pen. No dumbass mistakes. And suddenly, just like that the Cubs have some breathing space atop the NL Central. Nice how that works, eh? Let’s run it through.

The Two Obs

-Let’s start with the only bad aspect, and that’s Strop. At least he didn’t give up a wall-scraper. Strop’s velocity on his four-seam is down this year, significantly. FanGraphs has it nearly two MPH, BrooksBaseball has it at about one MPH and a half slower. Which has led to Strop trying to use a cutter or two-seam, and a splitter more. You see the results. Everything but the slider is getting tagged right now, and the way the two-seamer to Marte leaked up and in just like it did to Eloy is concerning. Strop can’t throw all slider, though maybe he should think about just doing it mostly. In ’15 and ’16 he threw it nearly half the time. What do we have to lose here?

In a perfect world, Carl Edwards would just come back from his rehab, you’d stick him in that slot and let Strop work things out in lower leverage spots for a while. But this is Carl Edwards we’re talking about here. He’s always looking for an excuse to fold in on himself like a flan in a cupboard. Still need answers out there.

-To their credit, you would have been forgiven if you thought Strop’s chum to Marte would signal another one that would get away. Instead, the Cubs locked down for once, just got another run immediately and closed it out. And they did it with timely baserunning and hitting, with Bryant knowing exactly where the outfielders were and getting a great jump on Heyward’s single. That’s a team a little more locked in, though Bryant was never really at the center of those problems.

-Look, Yu Darvish’s splitter was back, thrown about 10 times on Friday and got whiffs on 75 percent of them. He used his slider more, though I think his slider and cutter are probably the same pitch and it’s just how he accentuates it. The 36 sliders he threw were the most since that start against the Marlins where he couldn’t find the 5th. Hopefully he’s unlocked something here.

-Contreras’s homer in Saturday’s 1st inning is almost certainly the result of the ball. He didn’t get full extension on it, seemed to even get under it a touch, and sliced it into the third row. But hey, who’s complaining?

-Jason Heyward with six hits, two game-winners on the weekend, and an .833 OPS. Thanks much.

-I don’t know if Robel Garcia is any good. I know it’s worth finding out. And I’m not sure Nick Castellanos is that much of an answer, though he should at least be cheap.

-Just enough change-ups from Quintana today to keep the Pirates off balance. He got a bit Fiendish Kung Fu Treachery’d in the third, but settled down the rest of it. Again, quality starts is all this team really should require.

-It worked out, but I’m still furious about Joe actually thinking a Rosario-Bell matchup on Friday was a good idea, because the fury helps to plug the hole within me.

-Given what Caratini has provided and there’s been no need to burn Contreras, I would expect Willy to have a huge August and September.

Onwards…

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Cubs 6, Sox 3

Game 2 Box Score: White Sox 3, Cubs 1

I could use this to ram home the constant narratives about the Cubs, though that would seem excessive after they had scored 17 runs in the previous two games. This afternoon’s loss was frustrating, and had a mini bus-is-running feel to it, but the themes are constant for them.

For the Sox, it was basically the series at Wrigley over again, with Giolito rediscovering his control problems to get paddled around, but this time Ivan Nova’s blanking of the Cubs came after and still with an Eloy home run. Nothing we didn’t know, really.

Let’s do the bullets and get out of here.

The Two Obs

-Hendricks was missing his spots by a large margin today, which cost him against Jimenez. He wanted to go inside, he didn’t get it there, and you saw the result. It was probably to be expected, as he had only thrown three innings since his injury, which makes his next start over a week away feel a little antsy too.

-On the flip side, Lester was effective enough, though one thing Maddon might want to change is still considering Lester his ace and not the 3-5th starter he really is now. 99 pitches after six innings, he should have been pulled last night. Maddon sends him back out there, two runners on, and they score. Lester isn’t giving you complete games anymore, and if you get six innings out of him with one run that’s the max you can hope for.

-Giolito just couldn’t locate on Saturday night, and for once the Cubs were happy to not try and overdo things. He’s hit something of an oil patch of late, failing to get a quality start in three of his last four. It’s not always going to be easy, of course, and that’s what the rest of this season is about.

-I’m sure the homers against the Cubs by Eloy are extra enjoyable for the black-clad, but the OBP under .300 needs to be noted.

-Most frustrating for the Cubs today was Anthony Rizzo. During one of the two innings the Cubs led off with a double, Rizzo struck out on a pitch that nearly hit him in the dick. After Bryant walked on four pitches in the 8th, Rizzo swung at the first pitch that was on his knuckles. That’s just a shit approach.

This isn’t to  pin everything on Rizzo, but the team is built on the idea he’ll be great, which he usually is. Since July 1st, he’s been below average. He won’t stay there, but it’s a problem now. I would be utterly shocked if Rizzo was just going through the motions and is one of any players who have chucked it on Maddon. So the Occam’s Razor is that he’s pressing, which those ABs would certainly prove. But he’s the bellwether on this team. If he takes the patient ABs in big spots the Cubs are crying out for, they keep saying it’ll be contagious. I have no problem with him or Contreras opting to try and do more than just move a runner over. They’re paid to drive in runs, after all. But there has to be a better approach to do that.

-And that’s the biggest disconnect for the Cubs right now, and probably why Theo has been so vocal and threatening of late. We keep hearing Maddon say the Cubs have gotten away from their successful approach and they need to get back to patience, opposite field, that sort of thing with runners on. Fine, but you’re the manager, so you’re supposed to be the one saying it. Either Maddon isn’t, or they’re not listening, and that’s the disconnect. And what has to change, but I tend to put this on the players more than Joe.

-Despite the homer to Robel, Bummer might have the best stuff out of the Sox pen and might fetch more than a lottery ticket by the end of the month. They can come from nowhere.

Note: I’m gonna take the All-star break as well. So it might be a bit sparse around here for the next couple days. The minions will handle any Hawks news or whatever else tickles their fancy, and I’ll be back on Friday. Just feel like I could use it. Hope you don’t mind, and we’ll talk soon. 

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Pirates 18, Cubs 5

Game 2 Box Score: Pirates 5, Cubs 1

Game 3 Box Score: Pirates 6, Cubs 5

Game 4 Box Score: Cubs 11, Pirates 3

It always seems to be in Pittsburgh around the All-Star break. It was in ’16 where the Cubs took a month off basically and got swept there and sent everyone into a highly comedic and highly unnecessary panic. It was there last year where the Cubs managed a solo home run in four straight games to prove their offense had issues. And hopefully, the first three games of this series will be remembered as something of a nadir where the Cubs faced the abyss and decided to finally step in the other direction. Maybe they can even do that without some major roster shakeup. But it feels like they might have crossed that threshold already.

Let’s do it:

The Two Obs

-Most of what can be concluded from this series can be found here. But there’s two points to go over, so here’s the first. Maddon’s blowup yesterday at the Pirates dugout seemed more performative than these usually do, but you can understand it. Maddon has watched this team go to the zoo on him for most of this season, especially of late. They may be quitting on him, but he has to show he hasn’t quit on them, like Pinella-style. So he’s going to show he’s still backing them. Hopefully they take the cue, because as I said in that piece, this doesn’t feel like it’s on Maddon again. And if it is, then Theo probably should go ahead and pull the trigger now. We’ll see how they respond over the weekend.

-Obviously, Wednesday’s loss is going to be replayed a lot, and was the worst of the season. I suppose there’s a ton to be written about Addison Russell’s stubbornness and inability to see the wrongs, but frankly I’m too tired to do it now. He fucked up. Kimbrel fucked up by walking Diaz. Contreras fucked up by not catching the ball, but with Heyward and Bryant hurt there wasn’t much choice. All of that happens. Still, there is something to wonder about:

With Kimbrel’s velocity down a touch, though at a more than passable 95 MPH, he’s going to have to use the top of the zone more if he wants to keep missing bats. None of this happens without guys able to make contact off him, and there are times when you need a whiff. He didn’t get them, and anything can happen when the ball is in play, especially against a team that seems intent on blowing its toes off.

-That’s two straight quality starts from Quintana. There were less change-ups, but he kicked up the amount of fastballs instead of sinkers.

-We’re going to deal with Robel Mania, aren’t we? He’s going to strike out a ton and that might gobble up whatever usefulness his bat has, but for now let’s bask in a great debut.

-Kris Bryant has a big game, the Cubs score 11 times. This isn’t hard.

-Mike Montgomery is dead. Tuesday’s game was in reach, until he got involved.

-So those calls for David Bote are going to have to be quieter after seven straight strikeouts, huh?

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Cubs 8, Braves 3

Game 2 Box Score: Braves 3, Cubs 2

Game 3 Box Score: Braves 5, Cubs 3

Game 4 Box Score: Cubs 9, Braves 7

So we’ll do a half-season reflection thing tomorrow before they kick it off with the Reds, but this homestand and this series is kind of just what the Cubs are in 10 games, or four games, or whatever. They can bash Lucas Giolito one night, but that only comes after looking decidedly Patches and Poor Violet against Ivan Nova. They’ll split with the Mets, and then split with the NL’s hottest team in the Braves. They’ll look loose as shit one game, and then show a fair amount of determination and heart the next to salvage it all. They waver from great offense to mystifying one, a great start to a few terrible ones and back. So hovering right above .500 seems about right.

Oh, and they might actually have a bullpen now?

To the bullets:

The Two Obs

-I was like most Cubs fans in about to get really upset when they were down 6-1. I wasn’t sure why they needed a six-man rotation and I wasn’t sure why they needed to give Chatwood a full week. And just like on Sunday, when I was about to really go over the edge on this team they come up with seven straight runs, take much better ABs, and get a win that will feel important down the road.

-Kintzler-Strop-Kimbrel. Has a ring to it.

-I’m gonna feel a little bad for Chatwood, because he just hasn’t been used enough. There are reasons for that obviously, because you can’t say he’s earned automatic use. Still, he started the month with that iffy insertion after a rain delay in St. Louis. He threw one inning a full week later, and then 2.2 innings three days later in Colorado. Nine days before his first start, and then a full week before this one. That’s 14 innings over 27 days. For someone who should be throwing multiple innings every time, unless it’s total disaster.

-Speaking of total disaster, I present Mike Montgomery. His sinker and fastball are getting crushed this year, which doesn’t really give him the platform to use his change. That’s how Tuesday’s game got away.

-Speaking of which, the Cubs were loose in that one and loose last night, and that keeps happening. I don’t want to pin it all on Willson Contreras, who nearly brought the Cubs back last night by himself, but he had three key mistakes that either led to critical runs or cost the Cubs a big chance at one of their own.

I feel like some of Contreras’s devotion to making things happen is that his greatest skill on defense has been taken away from him. Teams know about the arm now, so there’s few chances of backpicks and caught stealings. When he does get a chance to throw to the bases, he seems overjoyed by the fact and it feels like he’s missing the target way more than he used to. He’s already got 10 errors, when he had 11 all last year. It puts more focus on his framing and blocking, which are both still below average. Last night’s first run was all on him and had Yu immediately on the defensive.

-Oh, Yu. I wish I could explain it away as easily as Chatwood, but he’s still pitching as if he’s terrified of contact or only strikeouts will do. You can’t go 3-2 on every hitter, you can’t throw every pitch in every AB. He’s also still searching. He threw cutters last night, which he didn’t all in the start before, but the start before that they were almost half of his offerings. The last two starts have seen him try his splitter again, even though he had basically abandoned it until that point. It’s a hard watch.

-Bryant, despite his homer last night, hasn’t shown much pop since crashing into the granite that is Jason Heyward. No way he was or is concussed, I’m sure.

-I can’t stress this enough. Until a move is made, or Zobrist comes back, it’s time to just give David Bote a run in the lineup and only have one spot that Russell or Almora or CarGo can fuck up.

Onwards…

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Cubs 7, Mets 4

Game 2 Box Score: Mets 5, Cubs 4

Game 3 Box Score: Mets 10, Cubs 2

Game 4 Box Score: Cubs 5, Mets 3

There have been a handful of times this year, going against my try-to-keep-calm nature about a baseball season, where I’ve been on the precipice of getting worried or upset about this team and thinking it might need bigger changes than I thought. Or giving up on any sort of glory in October. And then right about as I’m going to Tommen myself over the edge, they’ve pulled a rabbit. Splitting with the Sox and Mets isn’t exactly acceptable, but losing three of four to the Mets would have been far worse. Now you’re only one game off where you should have been on this homestand really, and a series win over the admittedly molten Braves probably gets you there. There’s still much to complain about, but now they’re just complaints instead of outright beefs.

Let’s clean it up.

The Two Obs

-Javy Baez’s last two ABs are the difference between the raw variety show he used to be and All-Star he is now. He was completely overmatched by deGrom in his first two PAs, though a lot of hitters were. He couldn’t pick up the slider and he wasn’t getting within a foot of it. Then in his third AB he went with a plan, fought off some tough pitches, and muscled a single through the middle. Gained a little confidence, and even being down 0-2 to Lugo didn’t phase him. And then he finally remembered right field is legal, and pulled his team’s ass out of a sling. I shouldn’t doubt him.

-If you do want to worry, here’s Jose Quintana for you. It was only four starts ago that he did throw seven against the Rockies, but walks in the last three have been a problem. Yesterday he was wild in the zone, and though I thought he had some rough BABIP luck with Jeff McNeil basically cricket-ing a double for two runs, he fell apart after that. I think it’s just a blip, but when he got in trouble yesterday he abandoned his change. He can’t do that, because then he’s just two pitches. Even if he doesn’t have a feel for it, he’s got to find it. Hopefully back to basics soon.

-I’ve had enough of McNeil and Alonso for a while, thank you.

-Alzolay’s debut was certainly enticing, and no one should get ahead of themselves. But he does present some more interesting options, and one of them the Cubs will use this week is six starters to keep everyone fresh. When Hendricks returns he could again be what Chatwood and Montgomery could have been, a multi-inning weapon out of the pen. He was going to be on an innings-limit anyway. We’re a long way from that, but it’s at least something to get excited about.

-Friday’s loss is the one that hurts. Sometimes it’s not your day and you get stuffed like Saturday. But Friday was there for them. Yu was itchy again, there seems to be this fascination with getting Brach right even though he probably won’t be here next week, and then continued use of Montgomery as a LOOGY which he’s never been. It’s not like McNeil crushed that ball off of him or anything but Monty isn’t missing a ton of bats either. Give him a clean inning, or two, or three. It’s what he’s built to do. He’s not a high-leverage one-hitter dude. Add up enough games you feel like you should have gotten and you’re in the muck with the Brewers and Cardinals. And no one wants that.

-Bryant has two homers in June. He’s slugging .453 in the month. Are we a touch worried about either wear or the shoulder again? This seems long for a slump.

Onwards…

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Dodgers 7, Cubs 3

Game 2 Box Score: Dodgers 5, Cubs 3

Game 3 Box Score: Cubs 2, Dodgers 1

Game 4 Box Score: Dodgers 3, Cubs 2

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

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

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

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

Anyway, let’s run it through.

The Two Obs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onwards…

Baseball

A series win. A very good start. These things were late to the party for the Cubs this season, but they’re here now. And while most of Cubdom seems intent on bending and turning and balancing to tear down the wins, the Cubs put up 10 runs on a very good starter in Jameson Taillon, survived what is a pretty good Pirates staff for two wins. If you thought they were going to get all the games back to .500 at once, I hate to explain how things work. It’s a process.

Let’s clean it up.

The Two Obs

-Jose Quintana said he wanted to use his change-up more. We didn’t see that in Milwaukee, partly because he wasn’t around long enough and when he was he was mostly turning around to look in the distance. He threw 13 of them tonight, which was more than 10% of his offerings, he got six swings and four whiffs from it. Very encouraging. Of course, everything was working tonight. Dotting his fastball, getting the curve over. I suppose the real test is when something isn’t working. But hey, this is a good step.

-The Cubs are averaging over six runs per game and Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, haven’t really done dick. That’s encouraging.

-Kyle Schwarber has struck out in seven of his last eight ABs, which is less than encouraging. He’s getting pelted with breaking pitches, and he’s going over the top of them pretty much every time. That’s fine with lefties, but is less so when it comes from righties as it has the past two nights. But hey, it’s just a stretch of three games. Let’s not go nuts here.

-Len and JD were mentioning on the broadcast how much more Jason Heyward is using his legs in his swing. It’s quite apparent. Maybe that’s a real change.

-Cishek has appeared in half of the Cubs games, so at least we’re still on that pace. He should be dust by Labor Day.

-Something has been made about the Cubs’ pen scoreless streak, but to me it’s kind of horseshit because they did let inherited runners score last night. Earned runs for relievers is always something a bit misleading. And when they took the lead Monday to the wire, they had a touchdown lead at least to work with. Not that that’s stopped them from self-immolating before. Mighty oaks from little acorns, I guess.

-I think Joe Maddon was just cold.

Onwards…