The Rundown: Busch & Bellinger Power Cubs Past Pads, Imanaga Shoves Again, Hendricks Rehabbing, MLB Warns Teams About Draft Loophole

The 1984 Cubs are still my all-time favorite team, and Shōta Imanaga is starting to rustle up memories of Rick Sutcliffe. The Red Baron came to Chicago with George Frazier and Ron Hassey from Cleveland for Mel Hall, Joe Carter, Don Schulze, and Darryl Banks and went 16-1 with the Cubs en route to winning the NL Cy Young Award. The Cubs won the NL East that season but lost to the Padres in the NLCS.

Imanaga didn’t beat San Diego last night, but it’s not because he didn’t deserve the win. The 30-year-old rookie was magnificent again, holding the Friars to two runs over seven innings with eight strikeouts. He exited down 2-1 in the 8th inning after giving up a two-run homer to Jurickson Profar. Christopher Morel tied it with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the frame, then Michael Busch finalized it with a walk-off solo shot an inning later.

Take that, Steve Garvey!

I’ve said it before, but this team reminds me of those ’84 Cubs. They’re driven by unexpectedly strong starting pitching, good defense, and a knack for winning games with power or speed and timely execution. It would be nice if Chicago’s North Side Baseballers had someone like Lee Smith closing games — Adbert Alzolay and Héctor Neris aren’t cut from the same cloth — but Jed Hoyer still has time to rectify that. Sutcliffe didn’t arrive until June 13 that season when the Cubs were 33-25 and 1.5 games up on the Mets. They went 57-47 the rest of the way.

Cody Bellinger also had a home run last night in his return to the team. The outfielder fractured two ribs and missed a couple of weeks but was still third on the team in home runs and RBI entering last night’s contest. Seiya Suzuki is also expected to return this weekend after a short rehab assignment. The Cubs were averaging 5.5 runs per game when the right fielder hit the IL. They’ve averaged 4.18 in his absence, though it feels much more pedestrian than that.

Hayden Wesneski takes the bump for the third time as a starter in this afternoon’s rubber match before the Cubs head to Pittsburgh for a three-game weekend set. Wesneski held the Brewers scoreless through 6.1 innings on May 3 before the bullpen gave the game away in a 3-1 loss. The 26-year-old right is 2-0 with a 0.54 ERA, though both wins came in relief. Kyle Hendricks is expected to return from a rehab assignment soon and take the fifth spot in the rotation, sending Wesneski back to the bullpen.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

Those who want respect give respect.

I love this quote by Imanaga: “Recently, it’s been hard for me to get up in the morning, but if I switch the fans cheering to my alarm, I think I’ll get up pretty fast.”

Central Intelligence

Climbing the Ladder

“Domination’s the name of the game. In bed or in life they’re both just the same.” – Depeche Mode, Master & Servant

Chicago’s top four starters are Steele, Imanaga, Javier Assad, and Jameson Taillon. They’ve combined to go 11-0 with a spiffy 1.37 ERA in 113 IP. The quartet also has 98 strikeouts against 24 walks and 78 hits, while their opponents have gone yard just seven times. Their streak of four straight starts without allowing a run ended last night.

The Cubs are 15-5 in their starts, by the way. That doesn’t make them impervious to Chicago’s wretched bullpen, but they’re pretty damn close.

Speaking of dominance, Wesneski has a 798 ERA+ in 16.2 innings, allowing just one earned run. That’s ridiculous no matter how small the sample size.

  • Games Played: 37
  • Record: 22-15 (.595), 1st place in NL Central (tie)
  • In One-Run Games: 7-6 (.538)
  • Total Plate Appearances: 1,391
  • Total Strikeouts: 320
  • Strikeout Rate: 23%
  • Team Batting Average: .238
  • With Runners in Scoring Position: 73-for-299 (.244)
  • Runs Scored: 174
  • Runs Allowed: 158
  • Pythagorean Record: 20-17
  • Chances of Making the Playoffs: 87.0%, 5.5% chance to win World Series 

How About That!

MLB is warning teams against encouraging high school athletes to drop out with the purpose of circumventing the amateur draft. Some advisors are encouraging students to leave school and establish residency in a foreign country so that they can be considered international free agents.

I can neither confirm nor deny the rumor that Swap-O-Rama is buying the naming rights to Guaranteed Rate Field, but I do know a White Sox fire sale is coming soon.

The Rangers acquired veteran outfielder Robbie Grossman from the White Sox in exchange for Minor League right-handed pitcher Anthony Hoopii-Tuionetoa. Raise your hand if you knew Grossman played for the ChiSox.

Jazz Chisholm Jr. didn’t play nice after MLB Network analyst Greg Amsinger predicted four times before the first pitch that Yoshinobu Yamamoto would throw a no-hitter Tuesday night. Chisholm deposited the first pitch from Yamamoto into the seats.

Royals catcher/DH Salvador Pérez is off to the best start of his career.

Ken Griffey Jr. sympathizes with Mike Trout, who has missed 249 games in the last three seasons and could be on the shelf for another 100.

MLB won’t be expanding to Nashville or anywhere else before 2029 according to a report by The Associated Press.

Tuesday’s Three Stars

  1. Andy Ibáñez – Detroit’s second baseman enjoyed a 4-for-4 night with four runs scored and four RBI. He also blasted two home runs in the Tigers 11-7 win over the Guardians.
  2. Marcus Semien – The Rangers infielder plated five runners on a 4-for-5 night that included a home run and a double. Semien also scored three runs and was 3-for-4 with runners in scoring position.
  3. Trevor Williams – The former Cub improved to 4-0 in a five-inning, two-hit effort that included eight punchouts. Williams threw 53 of 77 pitches for strikes while lowering his ERA to 1.96 in the Nationals’ 3-0 win over the Orioles.

Extra Innings

Checkmate, San Diego.

Give Him the Heater, Ricky

My book, Liner Notes, is now available via Kickstarter. I won’t sell $35,200 worth of copies but that was a faux pas on my part and I cannot change it. You can purchase it via PayPal if you’d like a copy and don’t forget to tell me which tier you’d like. You can also Apple Pay me instead. The Kickstarter option does not allow charity fundraisers, but all proceeds minus expenses will be donated to fund Alzheimer’s research if I reach my goal there. All personal contributions will be donated, too.

By the way, Kickstarter will not charge for any contributions if I fail to reach my goal in 30 days, and I will not, which is why I will also make it available via personal request. My goal is to raise up to $10,000 with purchases preferably in digital format because that eliminates all expenses. I promise you it’s worth the $5 or $12 donation. Please purchase a copy if you have the means. If you can’t afford to, I will happily provide a free copy to you.

Wednesday Morning Six-Pack

  1. The NFL will be releasing its schedule in a week or so, and the Bears could be nationally televised in six or more games. Chicago was 5-4 in 2023 against opponents it plays again this season.
  2. The Bears won’t play the Chiefs on Opening Night (September 5), but they will kick off the preseason schedule on August 1 in this year’s Hall of Fame game. Caleb Williams is expected to make his debut in that game, facing 2023 Rookies of the Year C.J. Stroud and Will Anderson. By the way, former Bear players Steve McMichael, Devin Hester, and Julius Peppers will be enshrined in Canton this summer.
  3. The Blackhawks didn’t win the NHL Draft lottery this year, but they’ll choose second and should get another immediate starter to join Connor Bedard, Frank Nazar, and Kevin Korchinski.
  4. Adult film star Stormy Daniels testified against Donald Trump in his New York trial on Tuesday. Credit Judge Juan Merchan with the money quote: “We don’t need to know the details of intercourse.” I think we can all agree considering the witness and the defense.
  5. Rock’s greatest power ballad of all time is Purple Rain by Prince, but the greatest rendition of that song came during the halftime show of Super Bowl XLI. I still get goosebumps while watching.
  6. The greatest thing about this Chappelle skit is that Prince admitted most of it was true, including the pancakes!

They Said It

  • “I was just trying to gear up for a fastball. Right before my at-bat, Dansby Swanson just [said], ‘He’s going to throw you a heater.’ That got me in the lens [to] be ready for the heater and try not to miss it. It all happened so fast. I was just thinking about that 10, 15 minutes ago. I don’t think I’ve ever had a walk-off home run in my life.” – Busch
  • “You want to have your best players in the lineup [and] you want to be able to put your best team out there as much as you can. Getting Cody back puts us in a step in the right direction on that and we’re happy to have him back. He’s been a really good offensive player in this league. He’s been off a little bit, but confident that it was a short layoff, and we can get him back into the swing of things quickly and just getting him back is a good feeling for everybody.” – Counsell

Wednesday Walk-Up Song

I don’t often post multi-song videos, but this is one of my favorite Tiny Desk concerts of all time via NPR. Summer Walker raw and unfiltered is something you won’t want to dismiss if you do not know her.

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