Afternoon Notes: 1st Inning, Rotation, Catchers who Pitch
After 3 feel-good-ish wins against the Phillies, the Cubs started a weekend series against the Yankees…and through Saturday, the collective spending on acid reducers among Cub fans has increased about 125%. It’s been a(nother) tough weekend, and moving forward, there’s some questions that need to be answered. Overall, yeah, the team is still doing well, but the gaps in the armor are getting pretty wide, and that panic button is starting to look pretty good.
Can We Just Start With The Second Inning?
Anyone who has paid attention to the Cubs this year has probably noticed the same thing: it’s like they are ALWAYS playing from behind. Including the one run given up by Jon Lester on Sunday, Cubs pitchers have collectively given up 41 first inning runs–in 31 games. This puts more pressure on the offense than they really need, and is likely contributing to shorter-than-desirable outings by the starting rotation: through the first 30 games, only 15 times has the starting pitcher gone at least 6, and only two of those games did the starter get through 7 innings. In total, relievers have totaled 109.1 innings on the year, and the excessive usage wound up resulting in some roster unpleasantness prior to Saturday’s game: Matt Szczur being DFA’d to make room for Rob Zastryzny, leaving the Cubs carrying nine pitchers in the bullpen, in addition to the 5 starters. This ended up being a prescient move, however, given that Brett Anderson gave 1/3 of an inning before walking off with the trainer as the result of a
swollen ERA lower-back injury, and into Sunday the team continued to carry a 9 man bullpen, just with a reduced rotation with Anderson now on the DL.
Catchers Who Pitch
Despite the loaded bullpen on Saturday, we still ended up with one of our favorite things: a catcher on the mound. The noise from the crowd as Miguel Montero finished up his fairly clean inning of work seemed somehow inappropriate for a game that had been pretty much out of reach all night, but…you take what you can get, I suppose. Montero is part of a relatively recent run of Cubs catchers who have taken the mound and acquitted themselves quite nicely; he, David Ross, and John Baker have all gone out to the mound to be the other part of the battery. In total, those three have provided 5.1 innings, and only one run has been surrendered by them in that time (Montero, in a lopsided loss against the Mets in 2016). That run, notably, came in the longest relief appearance by a Cubs catcher in that timeframe, of 1 1/13 innings, so that run can probably be excused.
What About That Rotation
As mentioned, the Cubs right now only have four starters on the 25 man roster, and in the short term could end up just using the four they have given the upcoming off day Thursday. However, longer-term, they will have to look at replacing Anderson; it isn’t as though Saturday’s poor outing was unusual, Anderson just hasn’t been that effective in the rotation. Combined with the overall difficulty the rotation is having right now, the front office need to look at a different option. Who could they go with? Well, if they decide to bring someone up, Eddie Butler will probably be the ideal candidate; he’s been having a pretty solid season down at Iowa, and his last start was also Saturday, so he could start with the big league team pretty much as scheduled. You could also give Montgomery a go without making a roster move, as he’s been getting plenty of work recently. Rob Zastrysny could have been an option–he did quite well in his four innings Saturday–but with him being sent back down to Iowa before Sunday’s game, he can’t come back for a bit unless another injury occurs that lands someone on the DL. Going outside the organization would be hard to do, but before long, I would expect that the trade market for pitchers is going to get moving given the injuries and other issues that are affecting other teams with longer-term affects (Madison Bumgarner in San Francisco, Noah Syndergaard in New York, to name some of the higher profile ones).