Cubs Ready with Hot Bats to Avenge Reds’ June Sweep

w_towel

With a day off before the Chicago Cubs welcome the Cincinnati Reds to Wrigley Field for a three-game series, it’s clear our Cubbies are hot in more ways than one. Last weekend’s home series versus the Minnesota Twins saw heat indices inside the park reach nearly 110 degrees Fahrenheit. While the boys in blue suffered little more than Albert Almora Jr.’s swelter-induced leg cramps on June 30, the Twins had three men brought down. Eddie Rosario, Bobby Wilson, and Max Kepler all exited early, receiving intravenous fluids to recover from extreme game conditions.

The standings have been even hotter than the weather. The Cubs have won six games in a row, and seven of their last nine, since being skunked by the same Reds club in a four-game, late June sweep. The team will be looking to avenge the Great American Ballpark massacre at the Friendly Confines, with game one starting at 1:20 PM tomorrow afternoon. There’s good reason to believe the Cubbies will in fact fare better against their last place, National League Central Division rivals this time around. Right now, everything seems to be working – on the mound(ish), at the bat, and in the field.

While sweeping the Twins last weekend was enjoyable, as winning always is, Cubs pitching left much to be desired. The squad allowed a total of 25 runs in the three-game series from June 29 to July 1. In today’s Chicago Tribunereporter Mark Gonzales wrote of the beleaguered staff:

“The need for starting depth is glaring, especially in light of the inconsistencies of Kyle Hendricks, Tyler Chatwood and Jose Quintana….Any contribution from Yu Darvish should be perceived as a bonus, considering the time he has missed and the time needed to rebound from his triceps strain.”

It was the Cubs’ bats that saved them in the Twins series. Happily, this week’s two-game set with the Detroit Tigers featured better quality starts from Hendricks and Quintana, and good bullpen work from Pedro Strop. Mike Montgomery, who has been a solid rotation filler throughout the team’s mound struggles, will take the field tomorrow to continue making the case that he deserves a regular slot.

While the Cubbies search for starter and bullpen reliability remains a challenge with an improving outlook, there’s no mixed messages at the plate. Simply put, the bats are swinging, and making all kinds of contact. It’s not hard to win six games in a row when the players collaborate for 56 total runs. As of the time of this writing, the Chicago Cubs have eight regular guys hitting .280 or better. In reverse order, they are Tommy La Stella, Kris Bryant (who should be coming off the DL any minute now), Addison Russell, Willson Contreras, Javy Baez, Jason Heyward (finally looking worth that huge contract), Ben Zobrist and of course, Albert Almora Jr.

Almora, whom Joe Maddon refuses to start everyday, to the great frustration of many fans, is currently hitting .329. That’s good enough for second place in the National League, a mere two points behind Scooter Gennett. This guy should be making a trip to the All-Star Game. But I digress…

Finally, the Cubs recent defensive game is cause for great optimism as Chicago takes on the Reds at home this weekend. We are gifted with some of the best fielders in baseball. On June 20, Michael Cerami of Bleacher Nation wrote:

“Take the ‘Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF)’ stat, for example. It measures a player’s defensive value relative to league average and adds in a positional adjustment to compare defensive value across multiple positions…9-10 runs of DEF (above or below the league average of ‘0’) is equal to one win. So by that measure, the Cubs are not just the best defensive squad in baseball this season, but they might just owe as many as four wins to their defense.”

The baseball fundamentals are strong as the Cubs approach the mid-season break. As opposed to this same time last year, we look like a team ready for a strong playoff chase. And we stand ready to vindicate June’s humiliation in The Queen City.

Advertisements

Schwarber’s No Good, Very Bad Day in Left Field

Schwarber_Jersey_Resized

I made my husband Bob giggle yesterday as we went through our morning routines, which in his case, features sports talk radio. After months of MLB season 2018 anticipation, excitement turned to anger as the Cubs opening day lineup was announced. As I’m prone to doing, displeasure was immediately expressed in colorful language. It was of some comfort to learn I wasn’t alone in condemning Manager Joe Maddon’s strategy. Julie DiCaro of the WSCR-AM 670 is behind the creation of my new favorite Twitter hashtag, #FreeAlmora.

The consistently raw deal shown to my man Alberto Almora Jr. is another rant for another time. The 23 year-old outfielder batted a cumulative .298 during the 2017 season and made but one fielding error. And throughout a depressing National League Championship series, Almora was one of only two players who batted above .222. The other, unbelievably, was pitcher Jose Quintana. To those tempted to look at these stats and argue that Almora Jr. didn’t play every day, I say that’s exactly my point. Whose fault is it that a young and exciting player too often rides the bench?

Kyle  Schwarber’s, or more accurately, Joe Maddon, who continues to put the 2016 World Series star on the field – with disastrous results. By any measure, Schwarber had a rough 2017 season. Things were so bad that the Cubs sent the young player to the minor leagues for a stint intended to help him get his act together. The ploy did not work very well. The 24 year-old batted an anemic .211 on the season, and was a constant source of stress in the outfield. Let us pause to briefly reflect on the two errors Schwarbs made during Game 3 of the 2017 NLDS – in the same play. Brutal.

It’s not as though irritated fans like myself don’t have affection for the guy. His personality is immensely likeable. And of course, the one-time Boy Wonder had a lot to do with finally bringing a World Series trophy to Wrigleyville Nation. Schwarber’s comeback from a season-ending knee injuryto help his teammates end the sporting world’s longest losing streak is a story that deserves to be told for generations.

But this isn’t 2016 and Schwarber no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt at Albert Almora Jr’s expense. Especially in the field. Throughout the offseason, Bob and many other diehard Schwarber fans made much of the player’s dramatic weight loss, ostensibly an effort to lighten his feet in left field. On February 22, Bleacher Nation Tweeted out side-by-side photos of Schwarbs’ physique from Spring Training 2017 versus 2018. The difference is indeed striking, and led the writers to observe:

“This is what incredible hard work and discipline looks like. Anyone want to bet on Kyle Schwarber not having a big season? I’ll take that bet.”

Well Bleacher Nation, I hope your offices are near an ATM, because if Day 1 of the MLB season is any indicator, you’re going to need some cash. Yes, yes I know Schwarbs hit a home run. And that’s just swell. When he hits the long ball, it’s an objectively beautiful sight to behold. However Chicago Sun-Times writer Satchel Price hints at the overall loss resulting from a Schwarber cost-benefit analysis:

“[The 2018 season opener] wasn’t always the prettiest game, including two errors by each team and a brief outing from Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester, but the Cubs have to be thrilled to come away with a 1-0 record.”

Who committed the two errors from The Cubs side? Let’s read on…

“Joe Maddon…made a couple changes entering the bottom of the seventh, bringing in relief pitcher Pedro Strop and replacing Kyle Schwarber in left field with the defensively superior Albert Almora. Schwarber finishes his day at the plate 1-of-3 with one walk and one home run.”

It’s worth mentioning that the two errors from left field resulted in two of four total Marlins’ runs. So while it’s great that Schwarber contributed to the offense, his defense more than erased the gift. The Cubs won 8-4 and if Maddon is going to continue to put Schwarber’s stone glove in the outfield, we’re going to need dominant bats and solid pitching all season long.

Let’s not risk it. Given the Chicago Cubs’ exciting offseason personnel moves, we have a real shot at bringing home our second trophy since 1908. We can’t afford outfielders giving away free runs, especially against teams stronger than the Marlins.

#FreeAlmora

Cubs October Coaching Liquidation Leaves Mark on Joe Maddon’s Image

“The Chicago Cubs 2017 season may have ended on October 19 with an 11-1 loss against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5 of the NLCS, but for many of us, disappointment in the team’s performance during that run lingers. The bullpen struggles, the anemic hitting, 2016 National League MVP Kris Bryant’s admission that the team was “tired” after a no more than usually grueling season. Writer Steve Greenberg of The Chicago Sun-Times wrote on October 18, “Sadly, the whole world can tell…It’s almost like this team is out of gas, wheezing to the finish line, already half in bed and going to sleep.”

Cub fans of all philosophies agreed that changes need to be made in advance of the 2018 season. However we didn’t get much time to consider what those changes could and should look like before the organization embarked on its own version of “Black Monday,” the “Savage Last Full Week of October.”

Perhaps the purge was unavoidable. But what’s especially jarring – and has become the central storyline as opposed to a narrative about the team refining and retuning – is Joe Maddon’s long-running and very recent insistence that all was well in the clubhouse.”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

NLCS 2016: Dodgers, Leave Your Brooms in the Closet

marquee

“The series which begins tomorrow is, of course, also a shot at redemption for the Cubs. The club with the best overall 2016 regular season record found themselves swept by the Mets this time last year. While the Cubbies did Wrigleyville Nation proud in 2015, Joe Maddon’s guys were ultimately outmatched. In the first-ever postseason meeting between the two teams, a short-staffed and exhausted Chicago pitching squad underwrote an NLCS in which the losing team never held a scoring lead.

Yet and still “Wait ‘til next year” finally felt like more than meaningless consolation. Except for one lackluster pre-All Star Game stretch early this summer, the Cubbies have dominated the game. So much so that it’s almost (almost!) easy to disregard last year’s New York humbling. Theo Epstein and company have painstakingly shored up at the field, bat and bullpen weaknesses that stood between the Cubs and the World Series in 2015.”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

Cubs Give Fans the Greatest Gift: Time

cubs

“The Cubs’ first playoff match doesn’t happen until October 7. There are weeks left of the MLB’s regular season – 19 days of joyous, easygoing rest. The Cubs are the best team in baseball and with few exceptions, these guys are an endearing, likeable bunch. I’m just shy of middle age but well-read and acquainted with many a senior fan. There’s never been a better year to be a member of Wrigleyville Nation.

The playoffs and their requisite nail-biting, restless tension will be here soon enough. Let’s try something new, shall we Cub fans? Let’s enjoy the triumph and continue to embrace the target. There’s no reason to disregard Manager Extraordinaire Joe’s Maddon’s directive, stressing about events that haven’t yet occurred. I write these words for myself as much as the other anxiety-riddled citizens of Cubs Nation.”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

After Mid-August Rest, Jason Heyward Comes Back in a Big Way

heyward

“Since returning to the lineup, Heyward has five multi-hit games in eight starts, including the one-man devastation handed to the Giants. As concerned Cub fans have come to realize, baseball Zen-master Maddon knows more than any of us. He said of Heyward’s high-performance turnaround, ‘I really believe when a very good major league player may be struggling, if he just sits and watches a major league game being played and then understands, `I’m one of the best’,” it does something internally.’

With the Cubs inches away from a single-digit magic number, Heyward’s resurgence is great news for Wrigleyville Nation. It’s also a huge potential migraine for other playoff contenders. Fansided’s Robert Davis editorialized, ‘As Cubs fans begin remodeling for their ‘Clinch Parties,’ it may be best for managers around the league to redo their approach to Chicago’s lineup.'”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

Just What Exactly Have the Cubs Given Up to Get Chapman?

CubsWin

“At the risk of going full-bore Pollyanna, we were supposed to be better than this. The Cubs organization should have wanted no part of Chapman. We have dance party rooms and petting zoo field days. Violence and recklessness are not the Maddon/Epstein values. Right? To follow my work is to know I want to the Cubbies to prevail as much as any other diehard. It’s in my very bloodstream. But not at the expense of moral degradation.”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.