by Nate Head
Fresh from a day-off
Coming off four games in three days in Cincinnati, it’s safe to say the Cubs needed a day off. They got one yesterday, hopefully recharging the depleted bullpen, as virtually every reliever on the 25-man was used at some point in the series. Signs of fatigue are popping up at the plate, too. Cubs’ hitters are expanding the zone, taking good pitches, over swinging—the whole nine.
Cubs’ players aren’t the only ones who needed a break. Nail-biting fans of the north siders likely have nothing left on their fingers after riding the turbulent waves throughout this series that produced three games decided by one run. Chicago salvaged a split with the Reds, highlighted by dramatic comeback wins on Tuesday and Wednesday night.
More Schwarber, Please
I’m satisfied with what catcher Miguel Montero has done this year, but rookie Kyle Schwarber is exactly what the Cubs need right now. While Montero has been on the disabled list (thumb) this past week, Schwarber has been one of the few consistent hitters in the lineup. In 13 games this year, the 22-year-old slugger’s stat line is impressive: .409/.447/.705. Schwarber’s defense behind the plate draws plenty of skepticism, and while he’s performed modestly behind the dish so far,the doubt isn’t necessarily unwarranted. A play in the early game on Wednesday comes to mind, where Schwarber took absolutely the worst route possible to an infield fly, which forced Anthony Rizzo to sprint in 90 feet from his position to make the catch. But, like many things in baseball, I assume it will come with experience—or at least hope. Manager Joe Maddon has shown that he is a firm believer in experimenting with lineups and using his whole team, and I expect him to find a way to effectively utilize Schwarber.
Bullpen, keep it up
A dark horse candidate for team MVP right now, the Cubs’ bullpen has been stellar. Believe it or not, Chicago’s relievers rank 4th in the NL in ERA with their collective mark of 3.20 (8th overall), and 2nd in opponent’s batting average (7th). Yes, that includes Edwin Jackson and Pedro Strop’s efforts this season. The bullpen put on a clinic in game two on Wednesday, as the combination of Wood-Strop-Soriano-Rondon-Motte went 7 innings behind starting pitcher Dallas Beeler’s disastrous start, striking out 11 Reds hitters and not allowing a single run. Jason Motte looks like Maddon’s most popular choice to close out games right now, and he has done well in those situations. A new addition to the crew, league veteran Rafael Soriano, is showing he could be a quality addition, pitching a scoreless inning in each of his two appearances with the team.
Castro needs to claw out of slump
Shortstop Starlin Castro’s hitting drought has been hard to watch for me, personally. Castro’s body language after making an out is nearly depressing at this point, as it looks like he wants to split his bat over his knee every time he makes an out. Maddon has stuck by his slumping shortstop, spewing encouraging words to the media when the topic is mentioned. When he’s at his best, Castro is a relaxed free-swinger at the plate. Right now, it looks like he is over-analyzing every pitch and is actually trying too hard to return from his hitting hiatus. Whether it is to attract more teams (maybe just the Phillies) at the deadline or to simply help out the lineup, Castro needs to start hitting. In his career, Starlin has faced just one of Philadelphia’s probables for this weekend’s series, Cole Hamels, and has fared well, going 3 for 6 against the left-hander, and possible future Cub.
Series pitching probables
On the surface, this three game set against the Phillies at Wrigley may not seem very important. However, Chicago is literally clinging to their second spot in the NL wild card race with a mere .5 lead over San Francisco. Philadelphia has the worst overall record in the league at 34-63 and should help bolster the Cubs’ win column. Naturally, the Cubs encounter them on their hottest stretch of the season as they have won five of six games after the All-Star break. Let’s take a look at the expected pitching matchups:
Saturday: Jake Arrieta vs. Cole Hamels