The Rundown: Cubs Finally Headed Home, Wesneski Dominates in Win, MLB Close to Done with Ángel Hernández

“Do you need another mule skinner down on your new mud run?” – The Fendermen, Mule Skinner Blues

I said Ben Brown was a dude the other morning, and you can add Hayden Wesneski to a growing group that also includes Shōta Imanaga and Javier Assad. Wesneski was called up before yesterday’s game and was the savior Craig Counsell‘s gassed bullpen needed. The 26-year-old righty relieved Jordan Wicks and shut the Diamondbacks down over four innings, allowing just one hit. Wesneski threw 31 of 43 pitches for strikes and secured Chicago’s 5-3 win. Counsell was impressed, to say the least.

I’ve always liked Wesneski as a starter but he probably has a better chance at succeeding as the team’s swingman, something the Cubs have lacked since the heady days of Mike Montgomery. Counsell desperately needs a guy, or dude, if I may, who can eat innings in a relief role while spot-starting when necessary. Drew Smyly could fill that role, but I prefer him in shorter stints. Wesneski did what few Cubs relievers have done this season by maintaining a multiple-run lead. He earned the win for his efforts yesterday.

The victory vaulted the Cubs into second place in what looks to be a very tight NL Central race, and believe it or not, they trail the Braves by a mere 1.5 games for the league’s best record. The hapless Marlins (3-15) come to Chicago for a four-game set starting tonight, so the Cubs have an excellent chance to gain ground on the Braves and Brewers. Jameson Taillon returns to start tonight’s game, and I’m looking for an immediate improvement over last season.

The series represents another test for Counsell, too. It’s been several years since Chicago’s North Side Baseballers have gone for the jugular when opportunities present themselves. Nobody wants to see the Cubs pumping the brakes against the likes of the Marlins, especially because Chicago gets Part B of a brutal early-season schedule immediately thereafter. The Astros follow the Marlins into Wrigley, then it’s road tilts with the Red Sox and Mets before the Cubs finally play a division opponent. Sure, Houston is 6-14, but they’re still a dangerous team. The Brewers then come to town starting May 3, and that rivalry is a little bigger this season because Counsell defected to the Cubs.

Sweeping the Marlins would put the Cubs at 15-7 just as the ivy begins to cover Wrigley’s outfield walls. Justin Steele will return shortly after and Chicago’s bullpen looks a lot steadier with Wesneski, and probably Brown, protecting those middle-inning leads. Smyly is a decent replacement for Julian Merryweather and Mark Leiter Jr. is always dependable. If Adbert Alzolay can find some consistency, the Cubs relief corps could be under-the-radar good.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

Yes, even Joe Maddon would approve.

Central Intelligence

Climbing the Ladder

“Out here in the fields, I fight for my meals. I get my back into my living.” – The Who, Baba O’Riley

The Cubs are now 5-1 in series finales. Kudos to Counsell for understanding the importance of those games.

Nico Hoerner had six hits in the three games against Arizona and Cody Bellinger had extra-base hits on Tuesday and Wednesday, including a solo home run in yesterday’s win. Ian Happ also hit his first home run of the season this week, and if that trio stays hot, Chicago’s offense will be virtually unstoppable, even with Seiya Suzuki out. Keep an eye on Miguel Amaya, too. He looks ready to break out in a big way.

Busch hit .333/.421/1.239 with 5 homers and 8 RBI on the road trip and should get a very warm welcome from the Wrigley Field crowd this evening.

  • Games Played: 18
  • Record: 11-7 (.611), 2nd place in NL Central
  • In One-Run Games: 3-3 (.500)
  • Total Plate Appearances: 697
  • Total Strikeouts: 149
  • Strikeout Rate: 21.37%
  • Team Batting Average: .247
  • With Runners in Scoring Position: 40-for-140 (.286)
  • Runs Scored: 101
  • Runs Allowed: 86
  • Pythagorean Record: 10-8
  • Chances of Making the Playoffs: 77.7%, 3.8% chance to win World Series 

How About That!

The league may be close to saying “enough is enough” with umpire Ángel Hernández.

Jack Leiter will make history when he throws his first pitch this afternoon. He will make Al Leiter and Mark Leiter the first former player-siblings to have their sons in The Show.

Albert Suárez hadn’t appeared in an MLB game since 2017, but the 34-year-old Orioles starter held the Twins scoreless for 5.1 innings on Wednesday.

Tigers starter Tarik Skubal has a nasty changeup that some consider the best pitch in baseball.

Marlins outfielder Jazz Chisholm Jr. has an affinity for footwear, specifically cleats worn by some opposing players, including Fernando Tatís Jr. and Ronald Acuña Jr.

Gary Cooper missed his MLB pension by one game — a game that was rained out, no less — so a petition has been started to grant him a one-day stint as a Braves coach so that he can qualify for the benefit.

Wednesday’s Three Stars

  1. Kyle Schwarber – The ex-Cub was 2-for-5 with two home runs and three RBI. One of those taters was the 250th of his career.
  2. Michael King – Though he was hung with the loss, the Padres pitcher was brilliant against the Brewers Wednesday. King punched out 10 Milwaukee batters in 7.2 innings, giving up just two hits in the contest. He was pitching a no-hitter until Willy Adames broke it up with two outs in the 7th inning.
  3. Kyle Finnegan – The Nationals have eight wins after beating the Dodgers 2-0, and Finnegan has saved seven of them.

Extra Innings

Christopher Morel is getting there. The footwork is a little shaky here, but that will come, too.

Thursday Morning Six-Pack

  1. The Bulls rolled past the Hawks yesterday, winning their play-in game 131-116. Coby White led Chicago with a career-high 42 points.
  2. The NBA said yesterday that Raptors forward Jontay Porter can never play in the league again after its investigation found evidence of betting on NBA games. I’m certain this will become more commonplace now that professional sports are allowing the infiltration of sportsbooks and gambling apps.
  3. Indianapolis Star columnist Gregg Doyel publicly apologized after an awkward and inappropriate conversation with star Caitlin Clark.
  4. Doyel admitted that he was “part of the problem” that is much too common when male reporters address female athletes.
  5. A Boeing whistleblower shared safety concerns with a Senate committee, telling lawmakers, “They are putting out defective airplanes.”
  6. Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Snow White, and the Seven Dwarfs are forming a union.

They Said It

  • “Probably the best pitching performance of the year considering everything. [Hayden’s] travels and getting up when it was dark out, really, — 4 o’clock in the morning to catch a flight out here. He was tired and just the combination of the pitches and the intensity of the travel, lack of sleep, but he delivered a performance that we needed, and to get us into the 9th inning. Just a really great performance.” – Counsell
  • “When [Hendricks] makes a mistake right now, he’s paying for it. He gave up five hits [Tuesday] and two of them were homers. One was a middle-in fastball to Lourdes Gurriel Jr. [The other] was an 0-2 fastball to Joc Pederson that Kyle just didn’t execute. That’s just not something we’re used to seeing. When he’s ahead, he’s usually getting guys out at a high clip. And then the other part of yesterday was going out for the fifth, the two walks that kind of put us in a tough spot there, that’s just uncharacteristic of Kyle.”Tommy Hottovy.

Thursday Walk-Up Song

I don’t know about you, but I’m happy the Cubs are returning home with the third-best record in the National League, and that they’re facing the Marlins, who are tied with the White Sox for the worst.

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