Is The All-Star Break Here Yet?
Most years, I hate the All-Star break; three days with no baseball, and one day with a game I can barely get interested in. This year, though, I find myself looking forward to the time off, and the possibility that a reset of sorts for the Cubs might make some tangible difference in their performance. With a bit less than half of the season left, the defending champions find themselves a game under .500, yet only 3.5 games back of the Brewers in the division. And, let’s face it, if there’s any hope of seeing the Cubs play baseball after Game 162, it’s going to come the route of winning the division…the NL Central has no hope of a wild card berth.
Tuesday’s game was largely hard to watch; despite the Cubs scoring first on a Jason Heyward single to bring in Ian Happ after a 1-out triple, the game ended up tied the next inning at the hands of an Evan Longoria sac fly. Defense was already coming up a bit tough by that point though, with a bad throw by Willson Contreras letting the Rays get the runner to 3rd to begin with, and the Cubs basically playing with an 8-man defense. The wheels didn’t really fall off until the 4th inning, though, when the Rays put up 5 runs to take a 6-1 lead (and Rays pitcher Chris Archer notched his first career hit, an RBI single); and while the final score was a seemingly-close 6-5, it really wasn’t close at all.
What went wrong? The 5th, 6th, and 9th innings all ended with runners in scoring position, and strikeouts closed out the earlier two of those frames–including three straight by Addison Russell, pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella, and Jon Jay in the 6th. Baserunning also made an appearance as a problem in the 8th, when Willson Contreras’ 1-out single became the second out as he tried to take the extra base.
Thankfully, the bullpen didn’t allow this one to get too far away once Hector Rondon took over in the 6th; he, Brian Duensing (0.1 IP) and Justin Grimm (2.2 IP) didn’t allow a hit and two walks the rest of the way. It seems the bullpen largely has been better for the Cubs lately, which is definitely welcome, even if it only translates into an extra win or two overall.
About That 8-Man Defense…
Some of you may be wondering, what did Michael mean when he said the Cubs were basically playing with an 8-man defense? The rest of you know exactly where I’m going here: Jon Lester seems to have developed a very severe allergy to the infield grass and/or batted balls. It’s no longer a matter of, Jon Lester has problems throwing to bases; the man won’t even get off the mound for a bunt or a slow roller in the infield, and I can’t recall the last time I’ve seen him cover first when Anthony Rizzo has to abandon the base to field a ball. The optics of watching him be the closest defender to a ball, and just stare at it, are just horrible. I’m not sure who would need to get in his ear on this one–it should, but won’t, be Joe Maddon–but someone needs to, and quick. This can’t fly.
Heyward’s Triumphant Return
When Mark Zagunis‘ name appeared in Iowa’s lineup Monday night, the speculation in the Twittersphere seemed to be that Kyle Schwarber would be quickly making his return (they must have missed his option being the counter to Zobrist being activated from the DL). How quickly we forget there are other outfielders that could re-appear in Chicago, and frankly I like having Jason Heyward back a bit more than Schwarber right at this moment (4 HR not withstanding, I’m not seeing a lot of evidence that he’s overall hitting better–he was hitting homers, but only homers, before his demotion). Heyward only went 1-4 today, but did drive in a run. I don’t recall him having gone out for rehab, though, so I’m not going to complain that badly.
Trade Rumor Mill
The trade rumor mill is starting to get rolling now that it’s July, and there’s no real clear indication of what the Cubs will be at the deadline this year. They shipped Miguel Montero to the Blue Jays for basically nothing (Player To Be Named Later, which will probably become cash considerations in the form of a ham sandwich or something), and they definitely have a need for a backup catcher on the roster. Word is floating around that they have been in touch with the Detroit Tigers about Alex Avila, who would fill that void, as well as Justin Verlander, who could fill a role in the rotation. The price for Verlander is likely to be high, if he agrees to a trade at all.
AAA: Iowa @ Oklahoma City (L, 5-2)
A 3-run 7th inning did Iowa in in this one, though they did put up a run in the 9th in an effort to come back. Casey Kelly pitched 6-plus innings, but was pulled after allowing a baserunner. David Rollins relieved him, balls kept heading to left field, and runs came on in. Schwarber still is in single-or-homer mode, but is hitting .333 in Iowa with a .459 OBP.
AA: Tennessee @ Chattanooga (In Progress, Tied 5-5, Bot 14th)
Tennessee is locked in a marathon, but overall has had the better bullpen of the night. Chattanooga’s runs all game against starter Duane Underwood, who lasted 5 innings; Chattanooga’s starter went the same, but only gave up one run, before two subsequent relievers gave up 2 each, letting the Smokies ultimately tie it in the 8th. Hopefully, this one ends before Wednesday starts.
A-Adv: Myrtle Beach v Buies Creek (L, 12-3)
Ouch. 12 runs on 19 hits, the three guys that pitched in this one basically had to wear it. Eloy Jimenez was the DH today, and went 1-4 with a triple and 2 RBI.
A: South Bend v Great Lakes (In Progress, Tied 4-4, Top 10th)
A comeback that actually, possibly, will be enough. The SB-Cubs trailed 4-3 heading into the bottom of the 9th, but a leadoff triple by from Luis Ayala and a RBI single by Vimael Machin tied it up. This one had the look of a walkoff, as they were left with runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs, but 2 flyouts and a strikeout ended the threat and sent it into extras.
SS-A: Eugene v Boise (In Progress, Tied 1-1, Bot 4th)
Not much to say for this one, as the game is still fairly early and low scoring.