Baseball

With the series against the Cubs this weekend, I figured I would eschew the normal preview and do something a little more fun. So let’s welcome back the Founding Father of FFUD and overall Maven of the blog: Sam Fels!

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Sam has been kind enough to answer a few questions about his beloved Cubs, and provide some insight into their hot start thus far. So without further ado, lets get to the questions.

 

AJ – So as I write this, the Cubs are 2nd overall in the NL with a 15-8 record. However, only 2 of those games came against a club with an above water winning percentage (Cleveland). Is the record indicative of the Cubs talent level, or more a result of who they’ve played thus far?

FelsEh, I don’t fucking know. It’s sample size. My gut tells me the rotation probably is that good.
Hendricks and Darvish definitely are, Lester has pitched well, and the thing with Chatwood is
that everyone knew if he could keep his stuff in the zip code he’s very effective. My gut says the
lineup is probably that good? While they have beat up on bad teams, the top of the lineup hasn’t
really done dick. The team has been carried by Happ or Caratini or my god Jason Fucking Kipnis.
Even Jason Heyward has been ok.

The eventually Baez, Contreras, Bryant will be Baez, Contreras, and Bryant, even if the others drop off at some point. My gut says the bullpen is absolutely a disaster area and if the Cubs hadn’t won in ‘16 this would absolutely be a fireable offense for Theo Epstein. So for the most part, yeah, I think they’re pretty good, but not .667 good. The thing is with the schedule only being intra-division and crossover, they might keep it up, because most everyone has been bad in both except for like, Minnesota.

 

AJ – Yu Darvish seems to be healthy and back to smoking chumps at the plate with a 10.5 K/9. Kyle Hendricks is his usual stalwart self, getting hitters to pound balls into the dirt with his sinker and keeping his typical low 3’s ERA. Jon Lester was cruising along fairly well until he burped on himself against the Brewers. Quintana tried cutting off his own finger making a pie and should be back fairly soon. It seemed like the starters were going to be a big question mark coming into the season, but they’ve performed well. Is this rotation good enough to make some noise going forward?

FelsDefine “noise.” Can they get into the playoffs? Absolutely, and at this point it would already be a
serious upset if they don’t. They have to win like 13 more games out of 35 to do so. Can they make a run once there? I mean, the playoffs are do dumb this year anyway but sure. Hendricks and Darvish are this good. That’s not a mirage. So they only have to produce one other start or bullpen game to win a series after that. If that. And they have time to figure that out (Alzolay and Quintana could be huge in this department). So yeah, it’s possible they can make noise…until getting thwacked by the Dodgers somewhere along the line.

 

AJ –  .202/.253/.622 with a 65 wRC+ is the kind of stat line you’d expect from Albert Almora and not Javy Baez. What’s up with him?

Fels – Woof, if I had any idea. It’s hard to say with Baez, because he goes off the boil like this once or twice a season. You just don’t notice as much because it’s not at the beginning of a truncated farce of a season. I’m guessing the short run-up didn’t help because he is so much on timing with that swing. I wouldn’t be shocked if the extension talks, or lack thereof now, are weighing on him a bit. And when Javy presses, it’s ugly. He’s also got a new approach, which Sahadev touched on in The Athletic.

He’s swinging at way less pitches, but he’s making contact on way less pitches too. He’s getting behind in the count and then pressing, and we know he likes a whiff. My hunch is that if he can continue to let more pitches outside the zone go, as he has done this year, and just spends a week hitting pitches to the opposite field–which he has incredible power to and he just forgets it at times–he’s going to be just fine.

 

AJ – On the flip side, Ian Happ’s batting line looks pretty glorious with a .313/.439/1.026(!) and a 181 wRC+. Has he arrived or is this just a small sample size?

Fels – Happ is such a funny character. Did you know he has 1100 MLB PAs? I didn’t even know that
until last week, he just has felt like such a yo-yo player. In those 1100 PAs, he’s got a 117 wRC+ and a .834 OPS. That’s certainly enough PAs with those numbers to say the guy is good. He’s had an odd way of getting there but he’s good, and his play in center keeps improving as well. Is he this good? The .410 BABIP would suggest no. However he is hitting the ball awfully hard, he takes his walks, and he’s not as susceptible to high fastballs as he was (though I think he might need to give up on the switch hitting thing and just be left-handed at some point). He’s not a 1.,00o OPS player, but is he an .850 OPS guy? I think so, and you take that from center field, especially with passable defense at worst.

 

AJ – Jeremy Jeffress and Rowan Wick (Hello, Mr. Wick) have been pretty solid thus far, but after that everything else has been pretty ooky. Is there any hope for the bullpen without a total teardown?

Fels – UGH. My least favorite subject. There is hope if the Cubs get creative, which they’ve shown no
willingness to do. IF they were the Rays or Brewers, Alzolay and Quintana would be multi-inning
guys tomorrow to shield everyone else. They would throw three-four times a week combined, maybe once through the lineup each time. Considering how good the starting pitching has been, that would be enough to get through a lot of games right there.

Beyond that, I don’t think I can help you or them. I don’t even trust Wick that far. Kimbrel has put
together three straight good outings by finally concentrating on the top of the zone where his
96-97 will play much better than at the bottom. That only means I hope he can be ok. Everyone else is ass, and they can’t make a trade this year because you can’t give up actual pieces for anything in this joke of a summer. My hope is that at least Alzolay and Brailyn Marquez get a chance to be something, and they just find some guy from elsewhere. Chatwood would also be an excellent candidate to be the multi-inning weapon, as he was last year sporadically before Joe Maddon got in the way. That’s if they want Q to start again.

 

AJ – Another nagging injury for Kris Bryant. Is this the end of the road for him in a Cubs jersey? Also: will Rizzo get that paper and stick around long term?

Who the fuck knows. I wouldn’t be shocked if Ol’ Tommy Ricketts uses the pandemic as an excuse to not pay anyone and lets the whole thing burn. Bryant’s been hurt and I can’t imagine that the Cubs could get any value for him if they moved him in the winter. Even Mookie Betts in the last year of his deal only got one guy in return really, and Bryant doesn’t look to be coming in nearly as hot. So maybe he just walks? I’m not sure. If he can’t turn it around next year, and I assume he will, then he’s kind of a prime candidate to just get a two-year deal to prove it before cashing in like we all assumed he would. We still have no idea what contracts will look like after this, ignoring the fantasy world the Dodgers live in. So there’s a chance he sticks around.

As far as Rizzo, he’ll have to prove his back isn’t going to turn to graham crackers in the next couple years. But I also can’t fathom they’d let Rizzo go. He’s the center of the team in so many ways. But I could also see him getting pretty pissed if other guys are allowed to leave or moved and he still doesn’t have an extension yet. But he’ll be in his early 30s when his deal is up, how many uber-productive years does he have left? That’s a hard one, but sometimes emotions do play a part.

AJ – Finally, with Summerslam coming up this Sunday I’m in need of some prognostications. Who ya got?

Apollo Crews vs. MVP (US Title)Apollo

Street Prophets vs. Andrade/Angel Garza (Raw Tag Belts) – Something stupid will happen here
with a non-finish, and hopefully involves Bianca getting a full-run.

Eddie Guerrero’s Son Dominik Mysterio vs. Seth Rollins (street fight)If Seth doesn’t turn him to dust I don’t even know what we’re doing. Get Seth in a program with Aleister yesterday and let’s fucking go.

Sonya Deville vs Mandy Rose (hair vs hair) – Yeah, Vince is really gonna have the blonde bombshell lose.

Sasha Banks vs Asuka (Raw Women’s title)/Bayley vs. Asuka (SD Women’s title) –

I think Asuka gets this one, or maybe both, but something will happen between Sasha and Bayley in both matches that sows the seeds of an eventual breakup. I think it’ll be Sasha helping Bayley but not the other way around. It gives you that, and it also gives you the added story line that Sasha has still never defended a singles title. She’ll get jealous of Bayley in that sense, and it keeps Asuka around. Maybe Sasha then leaves Bayley to get eaten by Shayna. Lot of ways this could go, and I’m sure they’ll pick the worst one.

Braun Strowman vs. The Fiend (World Title) – Gotta be Fiend. Braun has become so uninteresting, and The Fiend can do so many things. Very curious where this stuff with Alexa goes.

Drew McIntyre vs. Randall Orton (Universal Title) – I feel bad for Drew. He’s done nothing wrong but never got his moment in front of an actual crowd. But they’re building this for Randall, who
honestly has been incredible the past couple months. And it’s clear they want Edge to take the title off Orton, even though that’s a feud that does not need a belt on it. There’s too much to Orton now, he’s getting 14. Wouldn’t be shocked if they circle back to Drew soon though.

 

For more Fels action, you can find him on Twitter @FelsGate, in the pages of Deadspin weekly, or catch his dulcet tones each week on the FFUD podcast.

Everything Else

As most you know, on Fridays during the summer I basically go freeform to keep myself, and hopefully at least some of you, entertained. As you surely know now, I’m a wrestling dork and have taken a few with me. I will be in Brooklyn this weekend for both the NXT and WWE shows, and figured it was time to try my had at writing about it for the first time. Most of you won’t care, and that’s cool. But those who do I hope you like it. 

At the top, I think it’s important to cite Joe Soriano’s wonderful “Roman Reigns Isn’t Relatable Because He’s Never Emotionally Vulnerable” piece from DailyDDT.com as inspiration for this. But it got me to thinking about how someone from the same starting point as Roman, one Seth Rollins from The Shield, could accomplish so much more in the hearts and minds of fans than Roman has. And when you have the emotional shortcomings and successes so beautifully illustrated, it becomes so much clearer.

As stated, Roman and Seth started from the same place on the main roster, as two-thirds of the all-conquering with a win-an-election-anywhere-including-Antartica popularity, The Shield. And in The Shield, Roman’s limited, swaggering ass-kicker of the gods act works because it’s only telling a part of the story, and Seth and Dean Ambrose could fill in the rest. Roman barely had to talk (clearly when he’s best), only had to wrestle half the time he does now (if that) and was only responsible for a portion of the story. Namely when he’d get a hot tag and end everyone’s world.

Seth’s separation/heel-turn from The Shield already begins to tell a more layered story than they’ve ever had Roman tell. There is a vulnerability of course in every heel, something they have to shroud in being a chicken-shit cheater or menacing ass-beater coloring outside the lines or one soaking up every advantage provided by the powers that be. They have to take it to excess to hide a weakness. Seth’s desire to be at the top of the card and his feeling he couldn’t get there with his friends lead him to the ultimate betrayal and aligning with the powers that could get him where he thought he couldn’t get on his own. It was a selling out of his values, which is a shortcoming/vulnerability in itself. Underlying the act is a show of weakness, if only of character or morals.

Seth of course did get to the top of the card, always playing the heel and even sounding at times like he was convincing himself. That all came crashing down mere months after becoming so, with a devastating knee injury forcing him to give up the title he had basically sacrificed all that he had previously believed in before. Related, at that moment Roman was offered the same choice by one HHH you’ll recall, at the head of a tournament to provide a new champ. Roman declined it, giving us more of the tired “I’ve never taken a shortcut” story that fans were already turning from. As Soriano said, it’s just more of the uber-confident robot who never has to question himself. It’s an action-figure.

Seth would return to take that title from Roman in the summer, though he would immediately lose it to a cashing-in Ambrose. Seth’s uncertainty of what he could be after his injury, which was accented when HHH showed the same uncertainty over what Seth could be due to it. Which is why HHH handed the universal title to Kevin Owens, and sent Seth on a course to prove to himself and his boss that he could still do what he used to and be what he was, even as he had to negotiate another injury before their match at Wrestlemania 33. Seth actually had to overcome demons and doubts, whereas Roman has never even paid lip-service to it. Even defeats on the biggest stage seem to only steel his resolve, and that thing was adamantium before.

Since then, Seth began on the trail of turning back into a face, and doing so by having to convince his former “brothers” that he was sorry and wrong for turning on them. There was supposed to be a full-out reunion, though that got derailed by Roman getting the Mumps (and really, Roman catching the Mumps and being replaced by Kurt Angle is straight up Mets-ian). From then on Seth launched his IC chase and reign, and saw it end when he believed too much in himself with an open challenge and lost to Dolph Ziggler. All of it has basically landed Seth as the most over wrestler on the roster, and his matches are about the only thing keeping you from setting yourself on fire merely to feel again on Raw.

We’ve watched Seth swing wildly from tunnel-visioned sociopath, to a broken athlete, to one righting the wrongs of his past, to reveling in the newfound confidence. But you only get there through a journey, one that sees you question yourself and make mistakes and have to make amends for them. It’s a confidence and swagger built on the rubble of what didn’t work and the lessons learned.

Granted, on the ground, Seth has advantages over Roman. The big one is he’s simply a better in-ring worker and more varied. That’s not to say Roman is a bad worker, and far from it, he’s just not the greatly dynamic Rollins (and few are). He needs help from an opponent, and not the broken-controller work of Wreck-It Ralph that Brock Lesnar provides these days.

However, It’s not that Roman has always been a blank slate. There were two times when they had him over, and then went back on it to preserve the script that only exists between Vince McMahon’s ears. The first was after that tournament post-Rollins injury, which Roman won and then saw Sheamus instantly cash-in on him. Roman then simply boiled over, not only destroying Sheamus but also HHH. I suppose it’s arguable that the vulnerability in not being able to control yourself and letting circumstances finally get to you helped him connect. The next night, Roman won the title back while beating up Vince, and you may think I’m crazy but the Philadelphia crowd, PHILADELPHIA, cheered him. Becoming unhinged at your bosses is something we can all agree on, I guess. At least he was leaving the “always the right way, no shortcuts” character back to get what was taken.

Of course, Vince borked this by trying to turn him into Daniel Bryan again AFTER he won the title and making him defend it in odd circumstances and eventually against every Royal Rumble opponent.

The second time they had Roman over was after he retired the Undertaker and the only time they almost leaned into him being a heel. His best ever promo is still the five-word one the night after that Mania after wading through a full 10 minutes of the most vitriolic booing and chants anyone short of a despot would get. “This is my yard now.” Roman even wrestled more heel in the aftermath, and some of that work was the best in his career.

Because it was bravado we could believe. It wasn’t just based on scripts and meetings we couldn’t see backstage and matches he was given. He ended the career of perhaps the best ever (a greatly diminished best ever, but that doesn’t lower his stature). It was built on something. But WWE spurned that momentum too.

It’s amazing how you can start in the same place as someone and yet end up so different.