Organizational Recap – Bucs break out the brooms
It didn’t take nearly long enough for the Cubs to suffer their first sweep of the season this year, and the weekend has been filled with some unsettling themes, most notably the inability of the bullpen to keep the opponent off the board late, as well as the absence of any rally when down late–something that seemed routine for last year’s squad. Jon Lester did his best to hand the team a W, holding the Pirates scoreless in his 7 innings of work, and had a chance for a win himself only because Tommy La Stella–pinch-hitting for Lester–knocked in the only Cubs run in the home half of the 7th.
But then the 8th inning happened, with Koji Uehara allowing the first 4 batters to reach (2 walks, a single, and a double) before Joe Maddon decided to bring Hector Rondon into the now-tied game. He very nearly got the next two guys out without any further damage (and probably would have, if Willson Contreras‘ legs were just a bit longer), but the would-be second out became a run-scoring fielder’s choice. A batter later, Jason Heyward made a catch and an uncharacteristically wide throw that allowed the Bucs’ third run to score. I want to say it ended there, and it did for that inning with the game at least in reach…but then came the 9th.
We won’t talk about the 9th, it hurts too much…
With the Cubs now back at .500 (6-6) following a rough weekend series, it’s fair to ask: is it time to start worrying about the Cubs? Reflexively, I want to say yes, because a) things aren’t going well, and b) part of me has been waiting for the other shoe to drop since November. Thinking about it logically though, I’m going to hold off on heading to the bunker, given that we’re not even 10% of the way through the season yet, and there are going to be bad times for any team (remember that rough patch before the All-Star Game last year?).
The bullpen is the one area of the team that seems to be most often criticized, and where managers get the most criticism themselves. Many times, its latching on to an opinion about a decision that doesn’t work out, but other times its a matter of anyone can see that a guy just isn’t pitching well. And that’s where we take a look at Pedro Strop. In the games I’ve seen him come in, he seems to be either missing the zone entirely, or trying to get guys to swing at pitches intended to be out of the zone. As a result, he’s walked more batters than have gotten a hit against him, and when hits have come, they’re going a really long way (2 of 3 hits to date have been round-trippers). It’s hard to think, this early on, that there’s physically something wrong with Strop, unless it’s been a problem since late last year and has gone undetected by the team’s medical and training staffs; perhaps he’s just…not a good piece to keep around right now.
The rest of the bullpen has been…alright, but there’s definitely a need to be a little more careful, especially on days like Saturday (where even Jake was getting knocked around pretty good, relatively speaking) with the wind blowing out. Koji Uehara got roughed up a bit today, coming out with the bases loaded (and being charged with some runs after he left the game), and has been better than I expected given his age. Hector Rondon hasn’t been the same guy that was the closer until the Aroldis Chapman trade last year, but his ability to strike guys out is helping offset the number of opposing player getting on base against him. We need these guys, in particular, to at least stay steady–if not improve–as the season rolls on, else there might be some rough seas ahead.
One (More) Last Hurrah
Just when we thought the end of the celebrating by the Cubs from the 2016 season was done, it looks as though there will be one last hurrah for three players who missed the first two celebrations (mostly because they signed with or got traded to Kansas City). Before Monday’s game against the Brewers, pitchers Jason Hammel and Travis Wood, and outfielder Jorge Soler will make an off-day trip to Wrigley to pick up their hardware pre-game. I’m as happy as anyone else that there are rings to be given out, and I never thought I’d find myself saying this, but can this please be it?
Controlling the Running Game
I’d previously been a little worried about the Cubs’ ability to control the running game. Today pretty well took care of that for me, as Contreras decided to come out and do his best David Ross impression today, picking off David Freese at 1st and catching Josh Harrison stealing 2nd in the 7th inning, in addition to throwing out Jordy Mercer going for 2nd in the 1st inning. He did allow one steal (notably, after Lester had left the game). Granted, with the throws going down to second, only part of catching the runners is on Contreras–the middle infielders still have to do their part and get the tag on. But, with a decent amount of traffic to work with out there today, I would say all involved acquitted themselves quite nicely.
The Cubs close out their homestand starting Monday with another series against the Milwaukee Brewers. The first series in Milwaukee went pretty well, with the Cubs taking two out of three in that set. The first game will be a night game, featuring John Lackey on the mound against the Brewers’ Chase Anderson. Neither player faced the other team during their first series. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10p CST, with the game carried on CSN+ for TV and, as usual, 670 The Score for radio.
AAA – Iowa Cubs (vs Round Rock, W, 6-3)
One of the two Cubs’ farm teams in action Sunday, the I-Cubs beat Round Rock 6-3 at home. Eddie Butler got the start today and gave 6 strong innings, giving up a pair of runs and striking out 3, continuing his strong start to the season. Ian Happ went deep for the 6th time this year, and Jeimer Candelario was held hitless for the day. The I-Cubs are 6-5 on the year.
A-Adv – Myrtle Beach Pelicans (vs Lynchburg, L, 4-5)
Myrtle Beach were the other squad in action Sunday, and lost to Lynchburg 5-4 at home. They had a bit of a rally going in the 9th, scoring a run on a balk with runners at 2nd and 3rd and 1 out. The next two hitters went down to end the game with the tying run at 3rd. The defending Carolina League champs find themselves at 5-6, 3 games out in the Southern division and closer to last than to first.