Anthony Rizzo’s (Most Of A) Day Off
That’s something you don’t see hardly any day, when Anthony Rizzo isn’t in the lineup. After a great start batting leadoff, he had a couple days where his first at-bat didn’t go well (in the case of Friday, none of them seemed to), so it was time for the big guy to get some rest. Honestly, it probably had nothing to do with his performance in the 1-spot in the lineup, but rather the overall plan to get guys rested in season, and Rizzo has had the least time off, at least to my recollection. He did pinch-hit and enter the game defensively in the 9th, so he didn’t get the whole day off, but with a short bench again and a slim lead, that’s the call you make.
The Cubs managed to score themselves a nice first inning run, on an Ian Happ single to drive in John Jay, but Lester decided to do that thing the Cubs starters are pretty much known for this year: first inning longball to the Marlins…this time, a 3-run shot to put the offense behind the 8-ball again. Javy Baez would have himself a game, though, driving in 3 runs–one in the 4th, and two in the 6th, and Albert Almora would also drive one in behind Baez in the 4th. The Marlins? Well, they never scored again.
Collectively, Russell, Happ, and Baez all had 2-hit games in the middle of the order, something that seems to be getting more common these days; as long as someone, anyone, can keep getting on base, you have to believe that the offense is starting to get into some sort of a rhythm. Which is good, particularly when you take a look at the Cubs’ upcoming schedule–more on that later.
Starting Pitching Improving
When you think about the Cubs’ rotation this year, the thoughts are largely the kind that make you want to grab an adult beverage–first inning runs, home runs galore, inefficient outings, the bullpen pitching four or five innings. But over the last few days, they’ve actually been…pretty good? In 3 games against Miami, two starters have gone 7 innings (Arrieta on Thursday, Lester on Saturday), and Lackey went 6 innings, and the most runs given up in those outings has been 3. Before that, Eddie Butler only lasted 4 innings against the Padres, coming out not necessarily because he was doing badly, but because his pitch count was…a little iffy for that point in the game. Mike Montgomery preceded him with 6 rather efficient scoreless innings before turning it over to the pen. In short, the last turn in the rotation saw 4 quality starts, and none of the 5 led to more than 3 runs given up by a starter.
It’s not perfect, and the Cubs still need a rotation arm more than anything else, but things are improving pretty well. It wasn’t long ago that back-to-back quality starts were a rarity.
Zagunis and the Elusive Hit
We’re a few games in to Mark Zagunis‘ major league career, and so far he’s gotten his first RBI, first stolen base, first strikeout, and first walk. But, in 10 plate appearances, he is yet to have a hit, and he’s sporting a slash line of .000/.100/.100. Small sample size, yes, but in those 10 PA, he’s also struck out 4 times. He was hitting just shy of .250 at Iowa on the year when he was called up, so it’s not wholly surprising to see him have some trouble in the majors, but if this keeps up, his time with Chicago seems to be limited by the duration of Jason Heyward‘s stay on the DL.
Off To The Capital
After one more against the Marlins on Sunday, the Cubs will head to D.C. for 4 days to face the Nationals, who seem to be doing a pretty good impression of the 2016 Cubs so far this year. What really makes me worry about that series, particularly in light of the troubles the Cubs’ starters have had this year–recent improvements not withstanding–is the offensive output the Nationals have been consistently capable of: in the month of June, they’ve scored 7 or more runs in 10 of their 22 games, with 6 of those 10 being games with double-digit scoring, including an 18 run demolition of the Reds on Saturday. The only good news from that is that some of their losses have been just as lopsided, and a couple of the high scoring games have been relatively close affairs. If the pitching falters, the offense is going to have to step up against a Nats staff that looks like it has some weak points.
Down on the Farm
After a quiet time in the minors, all of the Cubs’ affiliates are at it today, though as of this writing, some of the games are in progress:
Triple-A: Iowa @ Round Rock (In progress, Iowa leads 9-5, Top 8)
The I-Cubs are working on a come-from-behind game here, having been down 5-2 going into the 6th. They scored 2 in the 6th and 5 in the 7th (highlighted by a Stephen Bruno 3-run shot) to take a pretty commanding lead with just a couple innings to go. Casey Kelly got knocked out early, only lasting 3 innings, but the bullpen is holding things down for now, as Iowa decimates Round Rock’s relievers.
Double-A: Tennessee @ Mobile (L, 9-4)
Mobile scored in each of the first four innings to build an early lead (the score was 8-4 at the end of the 4th) and pretty much put it on cruise control from there. Tennessee starter Trevor Clifton had to wear this one, as he stayed in for the first 4 innings while getting whacked around the field. Catcher Ian Rice had a 2-run homer in the 4th to close what was then a 6-2 Mobile advantage to 6-4, but ultimately, it was for naught.
A-Adv: Myrtle Beach v Down East (L, 2-1)
All of the scoring in this one happened late, from the 7th inning on, but Down East’s bullpen was just a touch better today, with James Norwood and Jordan Minch each giving up a run during their 2 innings of work. The offense could only generate 1 run in the 7th, a Trent Glambrone solo HR.
A: South Bend @ Great Lakes (W, 4-2)
Finally, a W for the farm system! The SB-Cubs got on the board with 3 runs in the first, which proved to be enough to carry the day today. They added a run in the 3rd on what appears to have been a double steal, with Chris Pieters nabbing home and Roberto Caro making it to second. A throwing error was assessed to the Great Lakes 2B on this one, so I’m not entirely sure what in the world happened here.