The Rundown: Cubs Pitchers Struggling, Maddon Blames Monty, Offense Clicking, Another Bad Look for Commish

When you score 28 runs in a three-game series and you do not sweep the opposition, it should be considered a little more than mildly disappointing. When you lose two of three while putting up four touchdowns it’s nothing short of egregious. Armageddon is here, and it has taken the form of the Cubs bullpen.

Poor Tommy Hottovy, he has quite a bit of work ahead of him if he wants to keep his job beyond this season. At some point, coaches will be held accountable for pitchers who can’t throw strikes.

In losing the last two games of the series to the Rangers, the Cubs allowed 40 of 84 Texas batters to reach base. The pitching staff gave away 20 free passes in the three game set, 18 of them in the two losses.

Sure, the strike zone was incredibly tight on Saturday and Sunday, but the Rangers adjusted and the Cubs did not. Fittingly, yesterday’s debacle was decided on a wild pitch by Pedro Strop.

Cole Hamels was up in the zone all game and got away with it through three innings. But when Rangers batters realized home plate umpire James Hoye wasn’t giving him that strike, they laid off and Hamels didn’t adjust. He loaded the bases in the 4th inning, missed badly in the zone to Delino DeShields, and the resulting grand slam erased a 4-1 Cubs lead.

By the way, DeShields is a career .339 slugger. That’s about 60 points higher than Jake Arrieta.

As telling as that graphic above is, it also shows that Hamels was all over the place. The three or four strikes he was denied were horrible calls and potential rally killers, no doubt. But he missed badly on a lot of his pitches too.

Joe Maddon seems to think his pitching staff is fine, and basically blamed Mike Montgomery for the loss. Maybe he watched a different game than I did.

“We do have to nip this in the bud,” the manager said. “I do anticipate our guys will. There’s a lot of good names down there. Just one guy that had a tough time. Monty’s the guy that was the difference-maker tonight.”

For a starting staff that said just last week they want to go seven innings per outing, they didn’t do the Cubs bullpen any favors this weekend. Steve Cishek pitched in all three games of the series and I can only hope he has an appearances escalator in his contract.

And for those of you who think the answer to the team’s troubles is only a phone call away, the Cubs need a lot more than Craig Kimbrel right now. I know it’s only the first series of the season, but things aren’t trending well for the pitching staff. On to Atlanta.

Cubs News & Notes

How About That!

The Red Sox and shortstop Xander Bogaerts have agreed to a $132 million contract extension. Though still being finalized, it looks to be a six-year, $120 million deal starting in 2020 with a vesting option for 2026. Bogaerts will play this year on his current contract.

The Onion offers a satirical look at baseball’s attempts to speed up games. It’s a year old, but still relevant. I know one way to speed up games: Pitches in the strike zone should be called strikes.

I love Bob Uecker and listening to him call Brewers games on the radio is one of the perks of living in Milwaukee. In the postgame recap after Paul Goldschmidt hit his fourth home run as a Cardinal yesterday, the radio play-by-play announcer self-deprecatingly quipped “and with that home run, the St. Louis first baseman passed Bob Uecker on the Cardinals all-time home run list.”

Christian Yelich is very, very good at baseball.

Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer are most responsible for the fact that the Padres opened the season with Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack on their major league roster. Machado demanded San Diego open the season with the organization’s most talented players on the roster in exchange for signing with the team, and Hosmer backed him up.

What do black MLB players think of Kyler Murray’s decision to forego his contract with the A’s and pursue a career in the NFL?

The Nationals have some bullpen issues of their own right now.

Rob Manfred in yet another unflattering look.

Sunday’s Three Stars

  1. Christian Yelich – The Brewers right fielder tied a major league record in the 1st inning Sunday, becoming just the sixth player in MLB history to start a season with homers in four consecutive games. Since last season’s All-Star game, the reigning NL MVP is slashing .373/.462/1.268 with 29 homers and 75 RBI in 69 games. Mercy.
  2. Chris Paddack – The 23-year-old was fantastic in his first career MLB start, going five innings with seven strikeouts while allowing only two hits and one run in the Padres’ 3-1 victory over the Giants.
  3. Corbin Burnes – The Brewers rookie starter became just the third pitcher over the last five seasons to record nine strikeouts in the first three innings of a game. German Márquez did it for the Rockies last year in a game against the Phillies, and Nationals’ ace Max Scherzer the season before against the Dodgers.

On Deck

The NL looks to be highly competitive this year but things look much differently in the AL, where a number of teams look to be entering or continuing scorched earth rebuilds. How much further will Manfred allow the product he oversees to homogenize its competitive nature?

Also, Mr. Commissioner:

Extra Innings

As dramatic and wonderful as Queen’s performance was at Live Aid ’85, not many remember what a great performance it was for Bono and U2. Few can match the unambiguous frontman when it comes to commandeering an in-the-moment emotional heft with just the right gesture.

While playing Bad toward the end of their set, Bono spotted audience member Kal Khalique being crushed against the security barrier. He jumped down from the stage, pulled the 15-year old out of the crowd, hugged her, and slow-danced with her as the band kept playing. As a result, U2’s set was shortened to just two songs because performers were on a strict 20-minute time limit. That one moment, witnessed by the 72,000 in attendance at Wembley Stadium as well as a television audience that was well into the millions, embodied the spirit and the humanity of the event just as much as Freddie Mercury’s powerful performance. The video still gives me chills.

Sadly, those types of altruistic moments in show business are as extinct as dinosaurs. Music has lost its humankind spirit and its direction has suffered. That’s what happens when executives purposely homogenize an industry.

Side note: The roadie who gave Bono his microphone after the incident died a year later. The song One Tree Hill on the Joshua Tree album is dedicated to him.

They Said It

  • “There were a few discrepancies regarding the strike zone today that were not fun to watch.” – Joe Maddon
  • “I don’t think [the home plate umpire] really needs to be the focus. When you’re able to pitch and you get guys out, you have to be able to establish strikes and you have to be consistent and you have to keep attacking the zone. I got to the bottom of the order and I let it get away from me.” – Cole Hamels

Monday Walk Up Song

Star by Erasure. Armgeddon is here. And, side note, April walk up songs are going to feature artists from the Sire Records label. Seymour Stein was just about the only label executive willing to scout performers at New York’s famed CBGB’s, and through his efforts we were treated to two decades of wonderful, alternative music. He also gave us Madonna.

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