The Rundown: Cubs Need Course Correction, Playoff Chances Dwindling, Hultzen Makes MLB Debut
If you feel like the Cubs’ opportunity to make this year’s playoffs is starting to fade as quickly as this summer has, you’re not alone. Yesterday’s 8-5 loss to the Brewers reduced their probability to win the division to 17.5% and their overall likelihood of making the playoffs to 63.6%. Meanwhile, up here in Milwaukee, baseball fans think the Brewers have a great chance of running the table much like they did last year.
On paper, the Brew City Bombers don’t compare with Chicago, but on the field, they’re far superior to the Cubs. That’s been the North Siders’ problem all season. One would think after sweeping the Mets in New York two weeks ago, beating the likes of Marcus Stroman, Noah Syndergaard, and Jacob deGrom in doing so, that the Cubs are good enough to beat anybody. But then they lost five of seven to a Brewers team that threw Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, and Gio González at them.
#Brewers win to take the season series from the Cubs! #ThisIsMyCrew pic.twitter.com/WIzglsbH0N
— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) September 8, 2019
Joe Maddon said that the Cubs “expand the strike zone” against average or worse pitchers, and the way they approach González proves he’s right. But if that’s the case, he’s really saying the team is ill-prepared and lacks focus far too often. That’s at least partly attributable to a manager who seems incredibly laid back at times. And though I suppose you have to give Maddon credit for keeping his cool through what fans perceive as chaos, it sure would be nice to see a little fire, and maybe a little consistency.
Other than Steve Cishek and Craig Kimbrel, I’d bet if you asked any reliever on this team if he has a specific role, he couldn’t answer you. Even Derek Holland, who is supposed to be a lefty specialist only, isn’t always deployed as such. The same is true with the lineup, where almost everybody has been used as a leadoff hitter and players are frequently moved up and down in the order depending on Maddon’s whims and premonitions. It all adds up to one hot mess.
Is replacing Maddon the answer? I don’t know for sure, but I think so. The Cubs have little fight right now, and if they don’t find the urgency these last three weeks that Theo Epstein promised us going all the way back to last October, then I imagine we’ll truly see a reckoning this winter.
Cubs News & Notes
- Addison Russell left yesterday’s game after being hit in the face with a pitch. It looked like the ball grazed his helmet and got him in the eye/nose area. With Javier Báez out, David Bote is next in line to take game reps at shortstop.
- There is a report from Paul Sullivan of the Tribune that the Cubs will call up top prospect Nico Hoerner, though there have been no confirmations of that as of post time.
- The Cubs still hold the second Wild Card spot despite yesterday’s loss, but the Diamondbacks are only 1.5 games behind and the Brewers are now within two games of Chicago.
- The Cardinals increased their NL Central lead to 4.5 games with a win against Pittsburgh yesterday. The Redbirds’ magic number to win the division is 16 and St. Louis starts a three-game set against the Rockies in Colorado tomorrow night.
- Time is running out on the Cubs and an immediate course correction is necessary if they expect to reach the postseason.
- Maddon is likely managing for his job over the next three weeks, even though some consider the front office to be just as culpable for the state of the team.
- Relief pitcher Danny Hultzen struck out three Milwaukee batters in the first big league action of his career. It was quite a moment for the 29-year-old hurler, who has battled through eight years of shoulder injuries and rehabilitation to get to the bigs.
Career Ks No. 1, 2 and 3 for Danny Hultzen. pic.twitter.com/Nmczjo57MM
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 8, 2019
- Pedro Strop believes he is on the cusp of returning to form.
- Nick Castellanos will need to help carry the offensive burden for a Cubs team that has more than a few nicks and dings. He’s hit .338 with an OPS of 1.056 since Epstein acquired him.
- No. 3 prospect Brennen Davis continued his big 2019 postseason by going 2-for-5 with a double and an RBI on Sunday as the Class-A South Bend Cubs clinched a spot in the Midwest League championship with a 7-3 win over Great Lakes. Davis is now 7-for-16 with three doubles and two RBI in four postseason games.
- Kyle Hendricks will take the bump in San Diego tonight. The Professor is 4-7 with a 5.20 ERA on the road, compared to 5-2 with a 1.77 ERA at home.
How About That!
The Red Sox, like the Cubs, have vastly underachieved this season. Shortly after midnight this morning, Boston’s ownership group revealed that they’ve parted ways with president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. A formal announcement on Dombrowski’s departure will come today.
Astros starter Gerrit Cole joined Hall of Famer Pedro Martínez (1999) as the only pitchers in MLB history to strike out 14 or more batters in three consecutive games. Cole fanned 15 in Houston’s 21-1 win over the Mariners yesterday.
White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson has gotten some attention the last couple of days as he emerged with enough plate appearances to qualify for the AL batting title. He’s in a concurrent chase: The record for fewest walks by a batting champion is 16, set by Zack Wheat in 1918. Anderson has 11.
Rangers starter Mike Minor has quietly accumulated a 7.6 WAR this season.
The Dodgers’ magic number to win the NL West is now down to two after Los Angeles beat the Giants 5-0 yesterday.
Sunday’s Three Stars
- Gerrit Cole – The free-agent-to-be celebrated his 29th birthday with 15 punchouts in eight innings, making Seattle batters look absolutely helpless in the process. Cole exited the game with the Astros up by 20 runs on the Mariners.
- Yordan Álvarez – The rookie outfielder had a big day as well, plating six runs thanks to three doubles. Alvarez has to be considered the favorite to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award. He’s now slashing .314/.409/1.064 with 22 home runs and 70 RBI in just 70 games for Houston.
- Sandy Alcantara – The Marlins ace earned his second complete game shutout of the season, blanking the Royals 9-0. Alcantara had eight strikeouts and allowed just four singles and two walks.
This kid caught two (2) foul balls during one (1) at bat. pic.twitter.com/lZdzdyvkU4
— Cut4 (@Cut4) September 8, 2019
They Said It
- “There is only one way to deal with moments like these and that’s in the moment. Anxiety lives in the future. You have to stay right here, right now. Things can change just as quickly. We can win the first 3 games in San Diego, easily, Other teams can lose. You just have to take care of yourself. I don’t see any panic in [our players] eyes. We have to pitch well. We have to be more offensive. Stay in the zone.” – Joe Maddon
- “I got a lot of great advice from a lot of these guys. Not fighting the adrenaline. But this is life, what you’ve worked for. Just embrace it.” – Danny Hultzen
Monday Walk Up Song
Ventura Highway by America. Tell me, how long you gonna stay here Joe? A little Yacht Rock for the trip to San Diego.