Baseball

It’s not good when a team like the Nationals, who also sold any good player that existed on their lineup over the trade deadline, ends up beating you in the series. We have some dark days ahead with this team.

In the meantime, Rafael Ortega has decided this is his team now, as he cements himself as the new leadoff hitter for the club while garnering eight hits and batting in eight runs this series, including today’s three-homer effort. That’s him being directly responsible for 57% of the Cubs’ total runs this series, if you’re keeping track. Despite considering him a below-average outfielder, he’s the only reason the Cubs were even kind of in this series at all, so he deserves some recognition.

Patrick Wisdom is also making some good plays at first base, since we all need some good news. Unfortunately, he was also a part of some ugly plays like in today’s game when the ball was hit right past him despite his diving effort to stop it from getting to the outfield. Hopefully with some more time on first base regularly he will get the hang of things and be more reliable there.

July 30, 2021
Cubs 3, Nationals 4
WP: Espino (3-2) LP: Arrieta (5-10)
Box Score

Yep, we’re back to playing Jake Arrieta now after trading Trevor Williams and until players like Keegan Thompson and Justin Steele are “stretched out” enough to start, as the Marquee announcers can’t stop reminding us. Arrieta, as usual, only pitched four innings and allowed 7 hits and 2 runs during his tenure on the mound. One of those hits was a homer in the 2nd inning that gave the Nationals the lead, and then an error in the 3rd inning gave the Nats the 2-1 lead, as the throw to first was unable to be completed on an infield hit.

Rafael Ortega started his tear in the 3rd inning as he doubled to score new full-time shortstop Sergio Alcantara, who doubled earlier in the game as well. However, the Cubs allowed a home run in the 5th inning off of new pitcher Michael Rucker, and in the 6th inning a fly ball to Ortega in center field went way over his head when he tried to catch it, allowing for a base hit and a 4-1 Nats lead.

The Cubs tried to get back in it in the 8th inning, when Patrick Wisdom was able to hit a ball past the third baseman into left field to score Ortega and Contreras. Despite Heyward singling in the 9th inning, the Cubs batted into a double play and a diving catch by the Nats’ shortstop kept Sergio Alcantara from extending the game.

July 31, 2021
Cubs 6, Nationals 3
WP: Hendricks (13-4) LP: Ross (5-9)
Box Score

Ortega again started things off in the 1st inning by singling; he then stole 2nd base when Ian Happ predictably struck out swinging. Wisdom then hit the ball to right field, the outfielder just missing the catch and giving Ortega the chance to score.

Kyle Hendricks, additionally, was the starter who won his 11th straight game for the Cubs. Things were a little tense to begin his outing, though, as he allowed a fly ball to Yadiel Hernandez, one that neither Happ nor Ortega could field properly, allowing the Nats to tie things up quickly. Luckily, Hendricks was all but nails for the rest of his time out, allowing no more runs and pitching for 7 full innings, ending the day with only four hits allowed and a walk with three strikeouts.

The Cubs broke the game open in the 4th inning after a deluge of offense from some unlikely (and new) faces. David Bote doubled to start things off, hitting a ball to far left field. Later, Sergio Alcantara hit another ball to far left to score Bote, which the Nats’ outfielder also failed to catch. Andrew Romine (yes, older brother of Austin Romine, because Chicago sports teams can’t seem to stop acquiring brothers to put in the lineup together) had his second hit of the night, a double to score Alcantara. Then Ortega hit another home run, as he is wont to do these days, to give the Cubs a commanding 5-1 lead by the end of the inning. Jason Heyward even joined in on the offensive fun, driving in David Bote in the 7th to make it 6-1.

As soon as Kyle Hendricks was pulled in the 8th, Rex Brothers gave up his usual deluge: a double, a walk, a single, and another single to make it 6-2 Nationals. With no outs. So it became time to bring up Codi Heuer, the reliever from the White Sox we received in exchange for Craig Kimbrel (and really the only player we traded for who can currently play in the MLB). Heuer has a lot to prove among Cubs fans; he was okay in his rookie season last year but looks much worse this season, with a 5.12 ERA and his 22 runs allowed in 40 games started…yeeikes.

Despite being put in a bases loaded situation with zero outs, Heuer got the job done with the help of the defense behind him. He got the Nats batter to ground into a force out, as Bote threw the ball to Contreras to get the out at home. Heuer then gave up a sacrifice fly ball to center field, with Ortega making the catch. Then, he gave up a ground ball that was easily fielded to Wisdom from Romine. The Cubs made a successful double play to end the game with a win.

August 1, 2021
Cubs 5, Nationals 6
WP: Finnegan (4-2) LP: Rodriguez (0-1)
Box Score

Ortega started this rainy game off with a solo homer, because of course he did. A groundout and two strikeouts later, however, ended the inning with no more offense. Robinson Chirinos, the catcher of the day, had a line drive robbed by a Nats outfielder in the 2nd, and a strikeout after him by Alcantara kept the score 1-0.

It was not Adbert Alzolay’s day, as he had an especially difficult third inning. A single and a sacrifice bunt put a runner on second base. Then an intentional walk and a Josh Bell single scored two more Nationals runs. Josh Bell’s single was a nightmare, a catastrophe of epic proportions for the Cubs defense. The ball was hit to left, thrown to home by Happ to try and stop the home plate runner, but thrown wildly off base, so Chirinos threw to second, also off base, allowing Juan Soto to score also because nobody was covering home…I shudder just thinking about this play. We are bad. Let’s move on.

Another Nats single scored one more runner, a wild pitch advanced Yadiel Hernandez to second base, Luis Garcia was walked, and finally Alzolay was able to strike out Carter Kieboom to end the 3rd. Alzolay only pitched five innings, allowing seven hits and four of the six Nationals runs. He walked four batters and struck out four as well. But thanks to the Cubs not exactly giving up offensively, he was off the hook for the loss.

Bote had multiple grounders and line drives fly right past him at second base today, which is painful to watch. Josh Bell just one inning later in the 4th hit the ball right over him, scoring Rene Rivera to make it 4-1 Nats in a bases-loaded situation.

Romine got himself on first base with the 6th inning, and Ortega homered him home to make it a one-run game, the Cubs suddenly only trailing 4-3. Adam Morgan got the outs necessary in the 6th to keep things rolling, but it was Kyle Ryan who gave up a solo homer to Yadiel Hernandez in the 7th to extend the Nats’ lead. Ortega once again homered — his THIRD of the game, if you’re counting — to score two more Cubs runners in the 8th inning to tie it, putting the offense of his team solely on his back in amazing fashion and for now making up for his iffy play in the outfield.

Heuer was again put in for the 8th inning today, and gave up a single, a sac bunt and an intentional walk before Alcantara and Wisdom threw themselves a double play to end the inning. A bit of a shaky appearance, but don’t worry, this was totally worth Craig Kimbrel. Manuel Rodriguez, pitching in his second-ever MLB game, replaced Heuer in the bottom of the 9th, and he gave up a leadoff solo homer to Hernandez to give the Nats the walk-off win.

Life rolls on aimlessly for the Cubs as they face the Colorado Rockies this week, another garbage team who didn’t trade Trevor Story at the deadline and therefore threw their organization into even more internal turmoil than it was already in. The Cubs are still trying to find their footing post-deadline, so having another weak opponent is…good, I guess?

The secret to winning for the Cubs will probably be getting offense from people not named Rafael Ortega, but Ortega should continue his home run tear if he can help it. The lost season continues; see you soon. Go Cubs go!

Baseball

The Cubs got the three wins they needed to put them back over .500 and place themselves second in the division this week against the struggling Nationals. They did this while battling injuries; the injury bug continues to make its way around the clubhouse, as we continue to see new starting position players get injured in Anthony Rizzo and, most recently, Jason Heyward and Justin Steele. (Please can Kris Bryant NOT be next?)

Despite these injuries, the Cubs were able to outscore the Nationals 21-10 this series as the offense continues to putter along. The bullpen pitching is finally looking solid also, which is quite good considering our starters still can’t survive very long into any game, it seems. Without further ado, let’s break down this week’s games.

May 17, 2021
Cubs 4, Nationals 3
WP: Alzolay (2-3) LP: Lester (0-2)
Box Score

Things started off badly relatively quickly for Jon Lester, making his first start at Wrigley in a Nationals uniform. Just about everyone in the top half of the Cubs lineup was able to hit off him. First it was a couple of singles by the top of the order in the 1st and a sac fly by Anthony Rizzo to score a runner. Then Jason Heyward hit a two-run bomb to center to make it 3-0 Cubs in the 2nd inning. Contreras’s second hit of the night was a solo homer in the 3rd, and by this point just about everyone felt a little bit, just a teeny bit, bad for Jon Lester. But hey, at least Marquee didn’t cut to commercial in the middle of the 1st inning to show the fans of Wrigley giving Lester a standing ovation before he put up this performance!

That being said, our starter, Adbert Alzolay, wasn’t exactly nails either. Although he kept things scoreless through the first two innings, he allowed a Trea Turner home run in the 3rd inning to give the Nationals a little bit of life. To rub salt in the wound, Kyle Schwarber hit a two-run homer in the 3rd inning to cut the Cubs’ lead to only one, but the Nats’ bats would die after that.

The Cubs scored one run per inning in the 6th, 7th and 8th. Javy Baez hit a solo homer in the 6th to give the Cubs some insurance. Eric Sogard was able to single on a ground ball to Schwarber, which scored Nico Hoerner. Finally, in the 8th, a Heyward single was able to drive in Anthony Rizzo, who had a double of his own earlier in the inning.

Alzolay survived five innings and didn’t put up a single walk during that span. He had five hits and two home runs, and limiting those homers is something he can work on in the future. The bullpen pitchers that were trotted out after Alzolay did well allowed only one hit between the four of them.

The Cubs also saw a new pitcher make his major league debut, as Tommy Nance pitched the 8th inning. Called up since Alec Mills was put on the IL, Nance isn’t exactly young at 30 years old, but he’s definitely a new face to Cubs fans unless you frequent Iowa Cubs games. He struck out his first big league batter and had some pretty sweet pitches, including this nasty one:

May 18, 2021
Cubs 6, Nationals 3
WP: Thompson (2-1) LP: Harris (0-1)
Box Score

The Cubs put up another win in this game, pushing the team to back over .500…again. Zach Davies, the starter of the day, allowed all three Nationals runs in 5 innings pitched. He allowed a homer, a walk, and 7 hits total. Luckily for the Cubs, the bullpen and the offense were able to come through for the win this game.

Scoring for the Cubs started in the 3rd inning when David Bote and Nico Hoerner both singled. Willson Contreras singled after a Davies sac bunt to score both of them.

After the 4th inning, Anthony Rizzo left the game to deal with back tightness as a “precautionary measure,” because the injuries won’t stop rolling in for the Cubs. Kris Bryant moved over to first base, because the man can play anywhere nowadays, and Jason Heyward went to right field.

Immediately after, at the top of the 5th, the Nationals were able to get three singles in a row against Davies which tied the game up. Never fear, however; MVP Kris Bryant is here! (For a few more months, at least). He was able to bat in both Hoerner on a ground ball to give the Cubs the lead.

The game continued to stay tight as the top of the inning featured an immediate solo homer by the Nationals to tie the game up again. After Davies allowed another single right after that, he got yanked in favor of Keegan Thompson, who got the three outs for the inning with two strikeouts.

Bote homered at the bottom of the inning after a Matt Duffy walk, and the Cubs never looked back. Ian Happ had a solo homer in the 8th to make the final score 6-3. The bullpen pitched well generally, allowing two hits and striking out six batters between the four of them. They also allowed five walks, but the defense prevailed this game, as is wont to do with the Cubs.

May 19, 2021
Cubs 3, Nationals 4
WP: Scherzer (4-2) LP: Arrieta (4-4)
Box Score

Runners in scoring position once again killed the Cubs this game, as any other competent team would’ve made something happen in the bases-loaded situation in the 6th inning. However, Contreras and David Bote could not convert enough runs to beat the Nationals’ four. Ian Happ, at least, was able to single to make it 4-2 then, and Javier Baez hit a solo home run in the 9th to make this game at least seem close. However, when you’re facing really good pitching on the mound, sometimes the offense just shuts down.

Max Scherzer, hall-of-famer that he is, struck out eight Cubs, allowing five hits and only two runs. The Cubs had similar issues with the Nats’ bullpen tonight, not being able to convert when in RISP situations and getting struck out five times in the final 2.2 innings of the game.

At least Joc Pederson showed signs of life offensively, after being in the leadoff position for a few games. He had two hits today, leading the team. Poor David Bote was left on base on four separate occasions today, and Arrieta had a hit, surprisingly.

Arrieta’s pitching…well, it was not up to snuff when you take a glance over at the opposing dugout. He allowed seven hits and only struck out two runners. In fact, Tommy Nance again, the first reliever for Arrieta in the 6th, was able to strike out one more runner, and allowed no hits for another pretty impressive outing. More please.

May 20, 2021
Cubs 5, Nationals 2
WP: Steele (2-0) LP: Ross (2-4)
Box Score

Despite the wind blowing quite strongly out of Wrigley Field, the Cubs were able to keep the Nationals to only two home run hits, by Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber…again. Sigh. However, Ian Happ was the star of the show today with two homers, solely responsible for three of the five Cubs runs.

Joc Pederson had another good day, also, with two hits total and an RBI. Anthony Rizzo also had two hits, coming back after sitting out the previous game due to the aforementioned back injury. Luckily for the Cubs, he seemed to get better just in time for Jason Heyward to be put on the 10-day IL today. Covering for him today and through the future is Nick Martini, who debuted quite marvelously with a sac fly RBI to score David Bote and put the Cubs on the board in the 2nd inning, along with scoring on a Joc Pederson single in the 4th to put the Cubs up 4-2.

Trevor Williams allowed the two Nationals’ runs, while also striking out five batters and allowing only two walks. However, he did not survive until the 5th inning, being replaced by Justin Steele. Steele was doing great, allowing no hits, three strikeouts, and only one walk through 1.1 innings until he exited the game due to an injury. Ryan Tepera replaced him, striking out three. Andrew Chafin was able to get out of his inning with no runs thanks in part to yet another amazing Nico Hoerner diving play to save a hit, and Craig Kimbrel got yet another save today with three straight strikeouts in the 9th inning.

After this three-win series, the Cubs have now secured themselves quite precariously in 2nd place in the Central Division, three games back of the 1st-place Cardinals, who the Cubs ironically face this weekend.

The Cardinals are much better than the rest of their division so far, being quite a few games over .500, unlike every other team in the division until the Cubs’ win today that put them over .500 again. The Cards most recently completed a two-game sweep of the Pirates (not hard at all to do) and got trounced by the Padres, getting spectacularly swept themselves last weekend.

On a personal note, I am going camping tomorrow in an area with no TV or internet, so I’m sorry to say I will be unable to cover this weekend’s excitement, despite this being the first series of any actual meaning we’ve had all season. Luckily for all of us, I’ll be back next week to cover the next three game series of the Pirates/Cubs series, because God knows we’d all like to watch more of that.

See you then, and go Cubs go!

Baseball

I’m going to have to keep doing this until it actually happens I guess, but as some in greater Cubdom try to rationalize trading Kris Bryant, which can’t be rationalized, I’m just going to have to sit here and tell you how stupid all they are. Because they’re stupid, y’see. And I’m not. Clearly.

The latest round of nonsense, which has been around for a while, is the Nationals somewhat panicking over losing Anthony Rendon and missing out on Josh Donaldson (if they do) and putting in an offer for Bryant. That’s nice. Everyone should at least call. He’s a great player. But the Cubs should immediately hang up the phone after telling GM Mike Rizzo to do one. In reality, that’s what they should do to every GM who calls, and the same to their shithead owner when he calls and says he doesn’t want spend the money and make him fire everyone, but I’m drifting into fantasy land again. I would even suggest taking that phone and hitting Tom over the head with it repeatedly, but I’m the angry sort.

The Nationals supposed “offer” would center around…well, centerfielder Victor Robles. That’s nice. Robles is nice. Everything’s nice. The appeal is that the Cubs would have centerfield locked down for a while, which they haven’t since…fuck, Bobby Dernier? Dexter Fowler was only here two seasons, so does that even count? It was where Corey Patterson and Felix Pie died. It’s where Albert Almora is currently dying. So on some level, I understand. You’ve never seen a regular CF at Wrigley for a decade. Just hasn’t happened. Might be cool to have. Everyone loves new, especially when you’ve waited so long.

When it comes to Robles, the first thing the supposed experts have to yell right in your face because that’s what they do is, “HE’S ONLY 22!!!” Hey, I miss being 22 as well. Well, not really, I kind of sucked at being 22. Late-bloomer, I am. I mean, I miss the not ever really being hungover, which I could do then. Can’t really now. I’m getting off point again, aren’t I?

Anyway, the thing about yelling about he’s 22 is trying to project how much Robles could improve. And that’s certainly possible. He already was one of the best defensive centerfielders in the game, and the Cubs have undervalued their outfield defense some the past couple years. So with him and Heyward, hey that’s pretty good. And his defense certainly doesn’t figure to drop off through his 20s unless like, he gets hooked on Italian beefs and Off Color Brewery (it’s happened to many others).

But no one has any idea what he will be with the bat. Robles was below average offensively in his rookie season. He’s almost certainly never going to hit for power,, even if 17 homers at 22 looks promising. Everyone hit 17 homers last year. His hard-contact rate was simply sad at 24.6%. It’s just not really part of the projection. Maybe he’ll get there, but no one can say for sure. He hits a fuckton of grounders, which with his speed is fine, but I think we’d like to do a little better than fine when trading, y’know, the best Cub of all-time and fuck you.

Robles never walks, and probably isn’t going to either. He kind of did in a 40-game stint in AAA in 2018, but that’s 40 games. He doesn’t strike out much either, which again is nice, but it’s not like he’s making a lot of loud contact. He’s basically grounding out a lot. Maybe Cubs fans are getting Juan Soto and Robles confused. I’m not sure.

The thing with Robles is we don’t have a huge stretch of minor league performance to point to, which is what happens when you reach the Majors at 21. Which is a good sign in itself. He dominated in 77 games at High-A, but that’s High-A. He was just as good in 37 games in AA, but that’s just 37 games. And that was mostly on batting average and a decent number of doubles. Quite simply, no one can be sure of what he is and what he will be. Everyone’s guessing. You gotta do better than a guess for Bryant.

Robles screams of a plus-Juan Pierre or something, with actual very good defense but simply has to get up around 200 hits to be effective. Hard pass, thanks, because the Nationals literally have nothing else. Their best pitching prospects are probably two years away at least when Ricketts is going to let everyone walk anyway. The others have been bad at AAA. While Carter Kieboom would allow for a ton of Marvin The Martian jokes, he’s more contributor than centerpiece and isn’t that what Nico Hoerner is supposed to be?

If you’re somehow going to justify a Kris Bryant deal, and you never will, you better be getting three pieces back who are at least good and ready to be part of things no later than 2021. The Nats don’t have it. Move the fuck on.

Baseball

We might have to start calling Rob Manfred “Baghdad Bob” soon.

Anyway, if you didn’t see this yesterday, here you go. That’s Ben Lindbergh summing up at how the baseball is different this postseason than it was in the regular season. And if that’s not enough, you can use Rob Arthur’s Twitter account to basically give you the same stuff. Or his own article on BP. Or, if you watched Will Smith crush that ball in the ninth of Game 5 against the Nats, flip his bat, assume he was about to be LA’s biggest hero for a night and dreaming of all the velvet ropes that would be cast aside for him, only to watch it gasp for air and then wheeze out of life on the warning track, you knew something was up. Hell, even Howie Kendrick’s series decider, which he was celebrating in the box, only scraped the other side of the wall. There are other examples in the division round, but clearly what players knew all season to be homer contact/sound isn’t quite that in October.

We just went through a regular season where homers were flying at record and downright silly rates. And no matter what team you root for, you can think of a couple by your guys that when they were hit you couldn’t believe went out. For me, Schwarber’s arms only flip to the opposite field for his third homer of the day in Milwaukee immediately springs to mind. And yet for months, MLB and Manfred clung to the excuse that Rawlings had been “centering the ball” better as a reason for the greater aerodynamics of the baseball being used.

They finally relented, as if we could just ignore the fact that MLB itself bought Rawlings last season and this was the first time they were making baseballs under that umbrella for MLB. An organization worried about the lack of offense in the game. So MLB wanted you to believe that it either had no control over HOW A COMPANY IT OWNS MANUFACTURED THE VERY STARTING POINT OF ITS GAME, or that these things just happened naturally.

However, with the ball seemingly changing for its most important games, MLB has basically told you that what went on in the regular season is, at least somewhat, farcical. What they’re telling you is that they were terrified of some ridiculous homer deciding a series, a season, turning the direction of one or two teams for years possibly. Which means they think that homers in the regular season weren’t worthy of that, or hence not fair, or not right. They’ve essentially, partially negated all that went on between the end of March and the end of September. They’ve provided their own asterisk, which is a word that makes every baseball fan make a “blech” sound.

It’s not all that different than the NHL throwing shootouts out of its regular season tiebreakers and moving to remove overtime results from them as well. They’re moving in the direction of saying, “Yeah that’s fun to watch and all them but it really shouldn’t count. That was a sideshow.”

In the end, both teams are using the same ball, so it’s not like one team gets an advantage out of it or anything. But again, MLB will want you to believe that this just happened and they didn’t do anything to change the ball. We of course know this is horseshit, unless they think we’re that stupid. And they might.

Still, we can assume that MLB hyperactivated its baseballs because it thought that’s what fans wanted. And then when the most fans are watching, they kind of made a constipated face and thought, “Yeah, that was all kind of stupid, huh?” Which gives one the idea that MLB doesn’t really know what its fans want or how to get new ones, as TV ratings and attendance keep trending the wrong ways.

Me? I’m more along the lines of homers being dramatic and rarer than the mere “holding serve” feeling they took on during this season. That doesn’t mean that’s what everyone should want or the way MLB should go. I honestly don’t know. I just enjoy watching an entire league basically admitting it fucked up and not having the stones to see it through when the most important matters are decided.

Either MLB is deceiving everyone, or it simply cannot regulate how the actual baseball is produced. Neither speaks to a terribly competent organization.

Baseball

First off, let me say right at the top that I’m guilty of this as anyone, as baseball is perhaps the last outlet where I regularly leave any rationality behind and just want to stomp my feet, whether in anger or joy. So I know what I said yesterday, but after a night to think about it, I think I’m at least back in the neighborhood of lost rationality. It’s at least an area code away.

After a weekend sweep, watching every grounder the Nationals hit find a hole, them never striking out when the Cubs absolutely needed them to, it would be easy to point out that difference between the two teams and say this is why the Cubs are where they are and the Nats are where they are and why they seem pointed in such opposite directions. Except even after that sweep, they’re four games apart, which I could just as easily point to their top of the rotation being better than the Cubs top of the rotation, and the Nats getting far more dates with the Marlins than the Cubs do and moving along (they’re currently 10-3 against Miami).

Yes, the Nats do put the ball in play more than the Cubs do, and the Cubs whiff a lot more than the Nats do. And that’s certainly an issue. Is it THE issue? Not so convinced.

Sure, the more balls you put in play the more chance you’re going to find a hole. But there’s also a chance that you find someone’s glove for a double play, especially when it’s on the ground as often as the Nats were this weekend. Jose Quintana gave up five earned runs in just four innings, four earned, and he didn’t give up one hard-hit ball. Sorry, he gave up one, according to FanGraphs. 75% of the contact he gave up was on the ground. On another day, that’s probably seven innings of shutout ball, assuming Anthony Rizzo wasn’t having a backiotomy on the field.

Yes, I know, the more balls you put in the play the more will turn into hits even if you’re percentages are the same. I was good at math, can’t you tell? But is finding holes with your grounders really a skill? It’s not. The Nats as a team have a BABIP nine points higher than the Cubs, good for second in the NL, non-Rockies division. And yet if you go by contact, team-wide, the Cubs make the same exact kind of contact the Nats do. Since the Nats went nuclear from June 1st on, their BABIP is 15 points higher than the Cubs, and they’ve hit the ball slightly harder, but have also made more soft-contact than the Cubs.

Of course, with that added BABIP the Nats jus have more of a sample, as they strike out far less (about 6%). So yes, you are right to bemoan the Cubs lack of ability to not strike out when it matters, but it’s more complicated than just getting the ball in play. I don’t know that the Cubs would be all that much better off with grounders instead of strikeouts, given they really have little team speed. They’d have to get awfully lucky, let’s say.

Digging deeper, much like Kris Bryant, the Cubs just don’t hit the ball very hard. Since that June 1st date, they rank dead-ass last in hard-contact rate as a team, and are 12th overall in the NL. Strangely, right ahead of the Nationals. Only Castellanos since he came over has a hard-contact rate over 40%, And 40% is just about the median rate in MLB right now. How can a team with Baez, Contreras, Bryant, Rizzo, and Schwarber not hit the ball all that hard collectively? And this is where their whiff-rate doesn’t come into it, because it’s solely about when they do make contact.

Right now the teams that sit atop the hard-contact rate standings in MLB are the Dodgers, Twins, Brewers, Cardinals, Rangers, with the Braves and A’s right behind that. That’s four first-place teams out of eight, and another playoff team, with only the Rangers and Brewers being outliers. Your bottom five are the White Sox, Orioles, Mariners, Mets, and Pirates.

So yes, the Cubs do whiff and chase a lot, and that’s a problem. But they’re not doing enough when they do make contact either, which might be just as big of a problem. How can in our year of the lord JUICED BALL, only Schwarber be on a pace to blow by his career-high in homers? Or he and Contreras nearing career-highs in slugging? Again, the whiffs and lack of contact come into it, but that much?

The Cubs have hit a good amount of homers at 203, yet they’re 11th in doubles. And I would argue only ranking 5th for this team in homers and slugging…it’s not enough. And only some of that can be blamed on the wind mostly blowing in at Wrigley and the weather being barf until the middle of June.

It’s a dual-track problem, and they’re most likely not going to solve it in the next 32 games. Which means this is probably going to get bumpier.

Baseball

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

Game 1 Box Score: Nationals 9 Cubs 3

Game 2 Box Score: Nationals 7 Cubs 2

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

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

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

Let’s…

Baseball

vs.

 RECORDS: Nationals 69-57   Cubs 69-58

GAMETIMES: Friday-Sunday 1:20

TV: ABC Friday, NBCSN Saturday, WGN Sunday

THOSE CLOWNS IN CONGRESS: Federal Baseball

While the Cubs have been scorching at home since the break, the challenges in front of them wouldn’t exactly be called daunting. The Pirates, Reds (as annoying as they’ve been), and Padres are all at bottom halves of cycles at best. The Brewers are most definitely stuck in neutral, and the Giants are probably more neutral than they are despite what they’ve convinced themselves. Only the A’s are genuine playoff contenders, and the Cubs did manage two of three from them. That will get tuned up again this weekend, as the Nationals have been one of the better teams in baseball in the past couple months.

And these teams mirror each other in more than just record. They have very good rotations. They have offenses that are capable of needing geiger counters to measure them, but can also go the other way on you for little reason. And both watch their bullpens from the safety of a panic room.

Still, the Nats have harnessed that to the tune of a 45-24 record since June 1st, which was about the time everyone was fitting them for a toe-tag and telling Dave Martinez to get his resume ready. Since that date, they have the second most runs in the NL behind the Braves, the second best average as a team behind the Rockies, and third-best slugging mark. It’s not hard to figure out why, because there are weapons at almost every spot. Juan Soto has become a mutant at age 20 and is having one of the best age-20 seasons in history. Anthony Rendon is gong to make himself very rich this winter…or he would in a market that made any sense. Adam Eaton and Trea Turner, two players who have battled injury or ineffectiveness/learning curve, have joined the fun. Howie Kendrick has mashed, which is a thing he’s done for a decade now. Asdrubal Cabrera showed up off the waiver wire and in 11 games has hit .327, for god’s sake. It’s a little obscene.

The Nats will roll up having scored 84 runs in their past nine games. And while racking up runs against the Brewers and Pirates isn’t all that hard, they did it to the Reds too and you’ve seen what their pitching can do.

Combine that with Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and Max Scherzer, and you get this stretch, even with Scherzer missing some time. The Cubs will catch a break in that they’ll miss Scherzer and Corbin, though they’ll get Strasburg on Sunday. Anibal Sanchez has been able to dodge the raindrops again, three years after it seemed like he was finished.

Ah, but the bullpen. It was ever thus. And this one will show up with closer Sean Doolittle on the IL. Other than him, the Nats have had nowhere to go. No heavily used reliever has an ERA below 4.00, and they’re currently trying to survive with excavations Daniel Hudson, Fernando Rodney, and Hunter Strickland. It’s worked on a limited basis, but there’s a reason these guys were covered with sand and dust when the Nats found them. You’d like to think in the non-Strasburg starts, the Cubs will find some joy in the later innings if they need them.

Their offense has been an Earth-mover. The Cubs have won five in a row. Immovable objects and irresistible forces and all that. Except when the bullpen doors open on either side.

Baseball

Everyone knows that Justin Verlander is the best right-handed pitcher of this era. What this post presupposes is…maybe he isn’t? Either way, it’s kind of funny that the Tigers had both Verlander and Max Scherzer and contrived to not win a World Series. And it would appear the Nationals are intent on imitating that pretty closely.

Anyway, whatever category you look at, Scherzer has Verlander, aside from length of career (Verlander has pitched for three more seasons). Strikeouts per nine innings? Scherzer 10.54 to 9.02. Walks? Scherzer again, 2.44 to 2.58. WHIP? 1.09 to 1.14 for Scherzer again. ERA? 3.17 to 3.55. FIP? Scherzer 3.12 to 3.43. ERA-? 76 to 79 in favor of the DC ace.

Now, the Verlander fans (or really, the Kate Upton fans because let’s be honest) will point out that Verlander has spent every year of his career in the AL, whereas Scherzer has been in the NL the last five seasons and his first full season with Arizona. And the AL is slightly tougher on pitchers, with the DH and all. Still, Scherzer has dominated in the AL as well, and racked up one of his Cy Youngs there. They’re certainly neck and neck, though it feels like Verlander is still the #1 in a lot of experts’ minds.

If it wasn’t for injury, Scherzer would be on track for a career season this year at age 35. Which is saying something given the avalanche of home runs that pitchers have been dealing with this year. He’s striking out more hitters than he ever has, his walk rate is the second-lowest of his career, and he’s produced more grounders this season than he has since he was a Diamondback.

How has Scherzer gone about this? There doesn’t seem to be a huge change in usage or repertoire. Scherzer is using his fastball less than before, the least amount in his career in fact at just 48%. Which is a little strange, because it has even more juice on it than it did last year at 95.2 MPH. No other pitch has lost much either. And there isn’t much change in how any of his pitches move. And yet his slider and change have gotten more whiffs than before.

What gives?

It appears that Scherzer has decided to live on the hands of left-handed hitters, for one.

He’s getting a higher grounder rate against lefties than in the last five years. For righties, Scherzer is doing the opposite, going to the outside corner more and going away from righties’ hands. It’s resulted in a much higher ground-ball rate from righties for him.

The only problem Scherzer has run into this season is health. This will be the first season that Scherzer won’t collect at least 30 starts, as he’s only at 20 now and just got off the IL yesterday. Perhaps that will leave him fresher for the one frontier he hasn’t conquered, at least for the Nats, and that’s the postseason.

As strange as it sounds, Scherzer has only made three postseason starts for the Nationals. Two in the Division Series against the Dodgers in 2016, and one against the Cubs the following season when he dealt with health problems again and couldn’t appear until Game 3. And he made that one, ill-fated relief appearance in Game 5 against the Cubs. The Nats have lost all four of those postseason games, even though he was brilliant in two of them.

Verlander got to put his record straight with the Astros in 2017. Could it finally be Scherzer’s turn to match him there as well?

 

Baseball

Game 1 – Nations 12, White Sox 1

Game 2 – Nationals 5, White Sox 7

The White Sox have kind of existed within this realm of having a good record but being a mostly bad team for a while now, and this two game set with the Nats kinda proved that to be the case even further. Now at 32-34, the Sox appear to be close to competency and at least theoretically in the Wild Card hunt, but they also split a 2-game series with a team with a worse record than them and had a -9 run differential in the process, leaving them at -55 on the season as well. So really, they aren’t that good but kinda look like they are. Anyway who cares, Eloy hit a ball to the moon.

THE BULLETS

– The White Sox had something called Odrisamer Despaigne start for them on Monday, which is a hilarious insult to everyone’s intelligence but also somehow not exaclt a bad move? Listen, if you want Dylan Cease in the majors at this point, I certainly won’t argue with you on it because I agree, but at this point the motivations are clearly not financial anymore. They have the year of control in the pocket, Super-2 is gone, so it’s not about money. They clearly think there is something developmentally that still needs to be done, and hey I am not really gonna argue with them because even if I am a fool, arms are the one area I just kinda trust the Sox on even when I don’t agree. Sam had wonderful thoughts on this yesterday as he slowly descends to becoming One Of Us. Despaigne also held up his end of the bargain in the game, and the bullpen fell apart, so it’s fine. The wins and losses mean nothing this year so if he needs to start another one, so be it.

– Yoan Moncada tweaking his back is certainly a major problem. One thing that I have just come to accept about Yoan is that he tends to milk it when he is hurt or suffering discomfort, like when he hobbled back to the dugout after scoring from second base last week only to remain in the game and have it not really be anything to worry about. But backs are a different animal. Luckily it didn’t sound too serious, and Sox have today off for him to rest, but the Sox would be wise to take it slow here and let him make sure he’s 100% before coming back. I’d prefer if that didn’t involve an IL stint, though.

– Similar to Despaigne, I was pleased with the start Manny Banuelos turned in on Tuesday. It was nothing special, but after a bad first inning he kept control and didn’t let the game blow up on him. Banuelos’ starts are really just glorified bullpen days, so him getting you through 4.2 innings is more than fine. I’m glad Ricky didn’t try to hold out on him in the when he got in trouble in the 5th to earn him the win, but I also am not convinced that wasn’t mostly because it was said glorified bullpen day. If that had been ReyLo, I bet he stays out there and the inning blows up. But it didn’t!

– Eloy hit a ball forever far. They called it 462 feet and I think that was just a moment of dyslexia and they meant 642. There is simply no way that centerfield concourse is only 60 feet behind the dead center wall. I refuse to believe it.

– As much fun as the home run was, I was more impressive with Eloy’s phenomenal walk in the first inning that preceded Wllington Castillo’s grand slam. Patrick Corbin sliders are nothing to joke about, and Eloy spit on two of them in the dirt in a two-strike count to force Corbin to beat him, and worked a walk out of it. To me, that’s far more evidence of his growth and progress at the plate this year. We knew he could hit balls into orbit, but he hadn’t proven to major league pitchers he could lay off low breaking balls. If they need to find new ways to beat him moving forward, they could be looking for a long time.

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Nationals 30-35   White Sox 31-33

GAMETIMES: Monday and Tuesday at 7:10

TV: WGN Monday, NBCSN Tuesday

NOT THE EXPOS: Federal Baseball

PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUPS

Anibal Sanchez vs. Odrisamer Despaigne

Patrick Corbin vs. TBA

PROBABLE NATIONALS LINEUP

Trea Turner – SS

Adam Eaton – RF

Anthony Rendon – 3B

Juan Soto – LF

Howie Kendrick – 1B

Matt Adams – DH

Brian Dozier – 2B

Gerardo Parra – CF

Yan Gomes – C

PROBABLE WHITE SOX LINEUP

Leury Garcia – CF

Yoan Moncada – 3B

Jose Abreu – DH

James McCann – C

Eloy Jimenez – LF

Yonder Alonso – 1B

Tim Anderson – SS

Yolmer Sanchez – 2B

Charlie Tilson – RF

 

The Sox and Nats finish out what is essentially a split four-game series the next two nights, leaving the Sox with the rare Wednesday off before the Yankees and all their fans smelling of sauerkraut show up for four through the weekend. In the interim, the Nationals spent the weekend in San Diego, splitting four with the Padres. That included hitting four consecutive homers off Craig Stammen yesterday to get a win, and it’s not like Stammen is on my fantasy team or anything and I’m not bitter at all.

It continued a soft push toward the middle for the Nats, who have won 11 of their last 15 since getting swept by the Mets. They’re still not really close to .500, much less ready to push the Braves or Philies, but they’re at least not loitering down with the Marlins as they were.

The offense has tuned up for them, as all of Kendrick, Rendon, Dozier, Suzuki, and Soto are on fire the past couple weeks. The Sox will know all about Suzuki, who has seemingly been the hitting version of Bruce Chen to them for his entire career, no matter where he’s plying his trade. That’s the last thing the Sox need right now.

The Sox will get another face-full of Anibal Sanchez, who pretty much rubbed their ass in the moonshine last out in DC. They’ll also get a first look at Patrick Corbin, who has been chum in his last two starts, giving up nine runs over 7.2 innings to the Reds and Padres. But on his day he can make you look pretty dumb.

As always with the Nats, their bridge to Sean Doolittle is rickety and unstable, and is pretty much the Tacoma Narrows bridge. Of late, Tanner Rainey, Matt Grace, and Wander Suero has held down the fort ok, and if that continues the Nationals have it in them to make a run in the NL East. Especially as the Phillies haven’t really gotten away.

For the Sox, they’ll continue to refuse to call Dylan Cease up even though Dylan Covey is now on the IL and they’re on their like 12th starter. So the wonderfully named Odrisamer Despaigne will get the call to bring his underwhelming repertoire to Comiskey, and to call him a journeyman would be something of a disservice. The Sox are his fifth organization in five years, perfecting the “have arm, will travel” career arc. He’s a seat-filler, but that’s apparently what the Sox think they need right now. They don’t have anyone listed for Tuesday night, so we could all be in for the Manny Banuelos experience again.

In other moves, Jace Fry is also on the IL and Nicky Delmonico was released to follow The Backstreet Boys on tour, as is his destiny.

A weird two-gamer before the always anticipated visit of the Yanks. Off we go.