The Rundown: Cubs Magic Number to 5, Baez vs. Yelich for MVP, Schwarber Could Be Postseason X-Factor

Kyle Hendricks didn’t get the memo that the White Sox should win one for the Hawk. The Cubs right-hander, who’s now taking his turn as the team’s best starter, breezed through 7 2/3 strong innings, with the only run he allowed coming thanks to an Ian Happ misplay in right field. The Cubs beat their Chicago brethren 6-1, taking the series and reducing their magic number to win the division to five.

But the real drama of the weekend centered on a debate for NL MVP, weighing in on the merits of Javier Baez and Christian Yelich. It started out innocently enough a few days ago but really escalated on Saturday and Sunday.

A Brewers blog, The First Out at Third, took exception and offered a lengthy rebuttal. Soon things escalated on Twitter as fans of both players and teams chimed in. Twitter can get vicious and personal and heated rivalries bring out the best and worst in individuals. The passive-aggressive tweets are my personal favorites, but some can be downright NSFW. It got pretty ugly and you should go take a look for yourself. Arguments for both players were well thought out, as were the insults.

Who, then, is more valuable: Baez or Yelich? Or rather, is El Mago your 2018 National League MVP?

I’m sorry, the answer is no, and I may be the only CI staff member to say so. Let the hate comments begin.

If it was 10 years ago, Baez would win in a landslide. He’s flashier, makes more highlight reels, is probably the most exciting player in baseball, and he plays on the best team in the National League in a huge media market. But in case you haven’t been paying attention, analytics have taken all of the fun and anticipation out of offseason awards in recent years.

For that reason, Yelich and his 158 WRC+ combined with his 6.3 WAR is a shade better than Baez, who sports a 134 WRC+ and 5.4 wins against replacement. That will likely be the deciding factor. It amazes me that a lot of those individuals who place analytics above everything else have championed Baez because of his home run and RBI totals, his never-ending web gems, the havoc he wreaks on the bases, and that he may or may not be truly made of magic.

The bottom line is this: Baez doesn’t walk very much and his low OBP hurts him more than anything. And before you say a guy shouldn’t win because he takes more free passes, stop yourself. Winning baseball games is dependent upon scoring runs. Baez has scored 97 times, Yelich 108. The basis for WAR is the estimated number of runs contributed by a player through offensive actions plus runs denied to opposing teams by the player through defensive actions.

It’s not the end-all, be-all, but it’s a pretty convincing indicator because it tells us that one player is almost a full run better than the other. It also tells us that Yelich’s offensive contributions outweigh Javy’s defense, no matter how many positions Baez plays, nor how tough those positions are to field.

An argument exists that the Cubs may even be weaker defensively with Baez replacing Addison Russell at shortstop.

Therefore, I believe Yelich is your league MVP, though Baez is certainly deserving. If you want to take analytics out of it, which player would you rather have? Of course we’d take Baez, partly because we are Cubs fans, but more importantly because he fields tougher positions. But it is the analytics that will determine who wins in my mind, and El Mago falls just a hair short.

For those who say “pish posh,” I fully admit that Baez is considered the heavy favorite by many writers and oddsmakers, so a chance exists that I am dead wrong. But I still believe Yelich will win the award this year.

Cubs News & Notes

With the Central Division having three of the top teams in the National League, it’s becoming increasingly likely all three will make the playoffs. It would mark the third time in the last four seasons that both NL wild cards came from the same division:

  • 2015: Cubs and Pirates
  • 2017: Rockies and Diamondbacks

By the way, the Cubs’ magic number to clinch a playoff spot is two, and their magic number to clinch the best record in the NL is the same as for the division.

Kris Bryant sat out yesterday’s game due to “shoulder fatigue.” Worth keeping an eye on.

Might the Brewers consider using an opener in a wild card tilt against the Cardinals or Rockies, thus allowing them to set up their rotation for a clash with the Cubs in the NLDS? The Brewers have arguably the toughest bullpen in the National League, but I think the Cubs would be ecstatic if Milwaukee used a game to burn through their ‘pen.

Kyle Schwarber could be the team’s X-factor this post season. It certainly worked out well for the Cubs the last time he carried that label.

The Cubs-White Sox series is not the rivalry it used to be. In fact, it’s almost a love-fest as Southside fans hope that the their team’s rebuild emulates what the Cubs’ front office has done for the Northsiders.

Bruce Miles of the Daily Herald offers a status report on the Cubs as they enter the final week of the season and the playoffs.

How About That!

Blake Snell continued to make a bid for the American League Cy Young Award on Sunday, winning his 21st game of the season by topping the Blue Jays.

Colorado pitcher Kyle Freeland came up huge in a must-win game yesterday, tossing seven scoreless innings while striking out six and walking just one in a 2-0 victory over the Diamondbacks. He’s now 16-7 with a 2.84 ERA this season. Unfortunately for the Rockies, the Dodgers and Cardinals both won. That means Colorado is still a game and a half back of first place in the NL West and for the second wild card spot.

The Yankees have lost shortstop Didi Gregorius for some time, possibly the rest of the season.

Pittsburgh allowed three baserunners to score on a wild pitch yesterday. What a great time to be alive if you are Clint Hurdle or a Pirates fan.

Sunday’s Three Stars

  1. Blake Snell – The Rays ace will have one more start to increase his Cy Young chances after yesterday’s dominating performance: 6 2/3 IP, 0 ER, 11 strikeouts.
  2. Mookie Betts – The Boston OF and contender for AL MVP was 4-for-6 with his 31st home run of the year. Betts has a 182 wRC+ and has been worth 9.4 wins against replacement this season.
  3. Matt Kemp – The likely Comeback Player of the Year was 3-for-4 with his 21st homer to go along with two runs and three RBI in leading the Dodgers to a 14-0 win over the Padres.

On Deck

Per Elias, no current pitcher on the Red Sox has ever started and won a postseason game. They have combined for 19 playoff starts (Price–9; Kelly–4; Porcello–4; Sale–1; Pomeranz–1) with no individual victories. Price (two wins) and Kelly (one) both own playoff wins earned in relief.

Extra Innings

The Chicago Bears, looking very much like the new Monsters of the Midway, are in sole possession of first place in the NFC North for the first time since December 2013. Wow.

They Said It

  • “Of course you’d like to be clinched by now. But who knows? Sometimes when you get pressed a little bit like this it can make you even better. The big thing when you get pressed sometimes is I don’t want us to get fatigued while you’re going through this.” – Joe Maddon
  • “Javy doing what he does has taken a lot of the attention away. But that’s a good thing. It helps a lot of us around here. A lot of guys feast on being under the radar. I think Schwarbs is one of those guys. When the stage gets bigger, he’s really good at simplifying things and focusing on the task. In October, it’s tough for guys to do that. He does that really well.” – Kyle Hendricks
  • “It’s always a fun part of the year, especially when it comes down to the end. October’s coming around the corner. It’s a brand-new season. It’s zero-zero, and it’s all about winning. That’s what I love about it.” – Kyle Schwarber

Monday Walk Up Song

My Church by Maren Morris. One Sunday left in the 2018 regular season. Man, summer flew by.

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