The Rundown: Cubs Down Brewers, El Mago En Fuego, Road Woes May Bring Change, John Baker Day!

In keeping with a season-long plot that is as predictable as an episode of Batman, the Cubs returned to Wrigley Field from a 3-6 road trip (where they played like they were allergic to rounding third base) to pummel the Brewers 6-2.

Javier Báez must have truly enjoyed the chance to sleep in his own bed for the first time in 10 days. The slugging shortstop was 3-for-5 yesterday with a home run, a stolen base, and a pair of doubles.

To say Cubs really needed yesterday’s victory is the understatement of the year. Chicago moved to within a half-game of first place, still trailing the idle Cardinals.

And though organizational turmoil compounded by wild home/road splits has surrounded the team all season, I’m a little more concerned with the recent messages coming from those in charge. I certainly have no right to attempt to disseminate the machinations of Joe Maddon, but the Cubs manager has come across as somewhat befuddled lately.

Perhaps that’s because he feels directionless without a contract beyond the remainder of this season, or maybe age is just catching up with him. Either way, he continues to make puzzling decisions and it’s somewhat difficult to follow his reasoning at times. Leadership means sticking to your words, something Maddon has done less and less lately.

On the flipside, Theo Epstein continues to voice his frustrations with the team in a manner that has gradually grown more caustic as the road losses accumulate. There is a crescendoing tone to his demeanor with each subsequent interview that portends an impending dismantling of this team. It’s no secret that the president of baseball operations has been auditing his charges since the season started, and he has done well to fill the Cubs’ biggest holes holes with strong in-season acquisitions such as Craig Kimbrel and Nicholas Castellanos.

But based on comments Epstein yesterday, the poor results remain as mystifying as they are disappointing to the entire front office, and I believe he’s being a bit more revealing than usual. He usually guards his words and has been unwavering in placing the blame for whatever fails the Cubs squarely on his own shoulders. That zealous facade seems to be cracking, however.

“[M]ore troubling,” Epstein said, “is we’ve lost every single road series against division opponents. That’s just not going to win anything. That’s not going to be competitive in a division, if every time you go play a division opponent on the road, you lose. That has to change. That has to change immediately.”

And though his statement is incredibly obvious, it’s also incredibly foreboding. If the Cubs can’t win on the road, particularly against division opponents, they won’t make the playoffs. More than anything, it is going to be those abominable splits that decide Maddon’s fate at the end of the season.

Chicago has a number of expiring contracts this winter and the roster will have a completely different look next season. Trades will be made, one player may retire, and others may be released outright. The bigger offseason question is who will be leading next year’s squad? It’s certainly looking more and more like it won’t be Maddon.

Cubs News & Notes

  • Believe it or not, the Cubs still have the best odds of any team in their division to reach the playoffs.
  • Ben Zobrist is playing baseball again. I’m not sure how much he can help this team at the plate during the home stretch, but his presence will be a welcome addition to the clubhouse.
  • BenZo was 0-for-3 with a walk in last night’s game at Four Winds Field in South Bend.
  • Kris Bryant is anxiously awaiting Zobrist’s return. The third baseman called his teammate “a smile in the clubhouse.”
  • This is likely Zobrist’s last season as a player, and it would be nice to put an exclamation point on his career, especially after what has been a most tumultuous personal year for the Cubs’ World Series hero.
  • Fast fact: Since the All-Star break, the Cubs are 8-2 at home and 3-6 on the road. For the season, the difference between their home (37-18, .673) and road (21-33, .389) win percentages is the highest in the majors (.284). It would be the Cubs’ highest such differential in any season since 1933 (.309).
  • Brandon Morrow remains optimistic that he will pitch for the Cubs this season. I love his determination, but I doubt it will happen and I’d rather it doesn’t, quite frankly. I do like his knowledge of medical terminology, however. “On Monday, I had that nerve decompressed via hydrodissection,” the right-hander said. “It took away all the aches and pain I was feeling in my elbow and forearm.” Maybe he should have tried that back in December.
  • If you are attending John Baker Day hosted by Danny Rockett (aka Son Ranto), I’ll see you all a bit later.

How About That!

Phillies pitcher Vince Velasquez is a bona fide gold glover…in the outfield!

Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Terry Pluto analyzes the fascinating details of Wednesday’s Trevor Bauer trade to the Reds.

Would the Nationals consider trading Max Scherzer this winter? He’d look great anchoring the Cubs (or any) rotation and has a very moveable team-friendly contract.

The Red Sox ship appears to be sinking fast. Tell me the alleged World Series hangover is not a legit thing.

The Astros’ powerhouse rotation by no means guarantees a championship. Just ask the 2003 Cubs. That team memorably featured a front three of Carlos Zambrano, Mark Prior, and Kerry Wood. The Cubs ceded the NLCS to the Marlins in agonizing fashion that year, in case you forgot.

The ‘Stros can hit too. Houston crushed six home runs against the Mariners before the 6th inning of last night’s 10-2 win.

Suspensions have been handed out in the fallout of last week’s Pirates-Reds brawl. I’m still trying to figure out why Yasiel Puig was on the field for that incident, as he had been traded about 15 minutes earlier.

Prized pitching prospect Dustin May made his major league debut for the Dodgers last night. May is affectionately nicknamed Gingergaard for his flowing, red curly locks and dominant stuff that draws comparisons to the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard. It pains me to say it, but the Dodgers are a fascinating and fun team to watch.

Is Mike Trout the greatest player ever?

Friday’s Three Stars

  1. Velasquez – As much as I hate seeing pitchers play the field and watching position players take the mound, there can be no other choice for today’s top spot.
  2. Nelson Cruz – The “Boomstick” becomes this season’s first five-timer to this section, as the 39-year-old outfielder had another 5-RBI game for the Twins last night. Cruz is hitting .289 with 27 taters on the season. Not bad for a guy who will get his AARP card in a few years.
  3. El Mago – Báez joins Cruz as a 2019 five-timer on the heels of his 3-for-5, three RBI game. He also hit his 26th home run and stole a base. We call that, while acknowledging Razzball, a Slam ‘n Legs!

On Deck

Cubs players are particularly charitable in and around the Wrigleyville neighborhood, and Kyle Schwarber is no exception. The slugging left fielder will hold his Third Annual Schwarber’s Block Party on Friday August 23 after the Cubs-Nationals game. The event honors Chicago’s first responders and will be held at Rockwell on the River starting at 6 PM.

As the son of a career police officer and part of a family filled with those who serve, Schwarber recognizes the unique sacrifice first responders and their families make in order to preserve the integrity of our communities. The mission of Kyle’s “Neighborhood Heroes” campaign is to provide quality of life improvements to first responders and their families.

Extra Innings

My happy place…and just a quick note on Jason Heyward. For all his ups and downs since he arrived in 2016, I’m glad he puts on the blue pinstripes day in and out.

They Said It

  • “I think the guys want to see [Zobrist] with a happy ending and to go out in a way that’s befitting of the great career he’s had. That’s what we’re all shooting for. It could be a nice jolt for him to come back. It’s going to be a lot of work.” – Theo Epstein
  • “With the way I’m feeling, I expect to progress quickly. I’d guess [I’m] not more than a month away from being back.” – Brandon Morrow
  • “And how come Batman doesn’t dance anymore? Remember the Batusi? And I didn’t need molded plastic to improve my physique.” – Adam West

Saturday Walk Up Song

Move It by the Chantays. My all-time favorite summer song totally slaps, is a perfect representation of the Cubs home vibe, and would allow all of you to break out your inner Batusi. This song has inspired me to start guitar lessons. Man, I was born in the wrong decade.

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