The Rundown: Padres Bomb Hendricks, Consistency Endears Busch to Teammates, Morel Working on Focus, Ohtani’s Translator Pleads Guilty

“You can’t turn back the clock… you can’t turn back the tide. Ain’t that a shame?” – Queen, These Are the Days of Our Lives

To say the Padres feasted on Kyle Hendricks is putting it mildly. The Professor has given up at least five runs in three consecutive starts for the first time in his career, but that’s encapsulating yesterday’s performance in a kind way. San Diego put 21 balls in play against Hendricks, seven of which were considered hard-hit. A reckoning could be coming soon.

In seven starts, Shōta Imanaga, Jordan Wicks, Javier Assad, and Ben Brown have allowed only six earned runs in 33.1 innings for a 1.62 ERA. Justin Steele and Jameson Taillon will return soon, and Cade Horton could be due for a promotion as early as mid-May. It’s tough to make a case for Hendricks when you look at his current stat line: 12.08 ERA, 8.03 FIP, 2.368 WHIP, and 3.55 HR/9. He gave up jacks to Jurickson Profar and Jake Cronenworth in the 6th inning yesterday.

Hendricks is hurting the team, specifically an over-taxed bullpen, each time he takes the bump, and Chicago has lost 11-2, 9-7, and 10-2 in his three starts. Put another way, the Cubs have allowed 30 runs in the three games Hendricks started, and they’ve allowed just 32 in the nine games he hasn’t pitched. That’s what we old-timers call “the weak link.”

Hendricks’ track record over his 11+ years as a big leaguer indicates he will make the proper adjustments to once again be a reliable starter. But the Cubs need more right now from the veteran righty, and it’s painfully obvious. It would be hard to justify sending Brown to the minors or Assad to the bullpen if Hendricks continues to struggle.

Those decisions will be the toughest Craig Counsell will have to make in his short tenure with the Cubs. He has no loyalty to Hendricks, but he’s a baseball lifer who understands the starter’s legacy. A battle of optics vs. results should be an easy decision in this case, but there are just too many nuances to make it so. Hendricks is the sole remaining member of the 2016 team and he started the decisive games in the NLCS and World Series that season. You bang the drum slowly out of respect when making these types of decisions, most of the time anyway.

Another option is putting Hendricks on the IL and letting him work through his struggles with a few rehab starts. Mechanical issues can be attributed to minor maladies like arm fatigue or slight tendon strains. Hendricks has been working on some adjustments between starts and said he felt a lot better Wednesday. There were still too many bad pitches, though, and far too many hard-hit baseballs.

Nobody wants to kick Hendricks to the curb. That said, he’s going to have to step it up soon or numbers alone will leave him without a spot in Chicago’s rotation.

Apropos of Nothing

I realize the opening lyrics seem mildly caustic, but the song is a positive one about enjoying the ride through one’s struggles. I just wanted to point out I am not picking on Hendricks, nor am I giving up. I think he’s going to be alright, and if Hendricks thought any differently he’d ask to be removed from the rotation.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

Tony Kemp lost his roster spot to Jackson Holliday but did it with the type of class rarely seen in professional sports.

Central Intelligence

  • Pittsburgh (9-3): The Pirates’ quick start mirrors last year’s, but the team is hoping for a much better outcome.
  • Milwaukee (8-3): The Brewers lead MLB with a .373 AVG (38-for-102) with runners in scoring position, including .468 (22-for-47) in the last 4 games.
  • Cincinnati (6-6): The Reds best hitters are struggling, but manager David Bell said it’s too early in the season to start tinkering with his lineup.
  • St. Louis (6-7): The Cardinals’ struggles since last season are hurting attendance at Busch Stadium.

Climbing the Ladder

“We live for just these twenty years. Do we have to die for the fifty more ahead?” – David Bowie, Young American

The Cubs struck out 30 times in the three-game set against the Padres, and at a rate of 27%. It seems odd to say, but that’s very uncharacteristic of this squad. Busch is quietly putting up All-Star numbers and he’s on a pace for 27 doubles, 27 home runs, and 95 RBI. The Cubs haven’t had that type of production since Anthony Rizzo played for them. Likewise, Morel is posting vintage Kris Bryant stats. He’s running at a 40-homer, 135-RBI pace through 12 games.

A lot of people want to put Hendricks to pasture but he’s a veteran and I believe he’ll turn things around. The hard contact rate is tough to stomach, though. I still have zero confidence in any of Chicago’s relievers except Drew Smyly, Luke Little, and Mark Leiter Jr. The team’s collective bullpen ERA is 5.17, which won’t win many games. Five of the Cubs’ relievers have an ERA of 5.40 or higher. Keep an eye on Keegan Thompson, who is pitching well at Triple-A Iowa.

A new hope: Owen Caissie (.303/.439/.863) and Matt Mervis (.349/.434/1.002) are mashing at Iowa. Mervis leads the team in nearly every offensive category.

  • Games Played: 12
  • Record: 7-5 (.583), 3rd place in NL Central
  • Total Plate Appearances: 467
  • Total Strikeouts: 96
  • Strikeout Rate: 20.55%
  • Team Batting Average: .252
  • With Runners in Scoring Position: 26-for-95 (.274)
  • Runs Scored: 73
  • Runs Allowed: 62
  • Pythagorean Record: 7-5
  • Chances of Making the Playoffs: 76.7%, 3.7% chance to win World Series 

How About That!

Ippei Mizuhara, who was fired by Shohei Ohtani for stealing money to feed a gambling habit, is in negotiations to plead guilty to federal crimes in connection with the purported theft. The feds have concluded that Ohtani is a victim of fraud and was not involved in any of the bets Mizuhara placed.

Mizuhara allegedly stole $16 million by changing Ohtani’s bank settings so that the two-way superstar would not receive notifications about the transactions.

White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf is tired of people saying that hiring Tony La Russa in 2021 was a mistake.

Don’t look now, but the Royals have won six straight and are on the verge of sweeping the Astros. Underlying metrics reveal that Kansas City can sustain its early season success.

The Astros and Twins are off to slow starts, but the Marlins, who made the playoffs last year, are about ready to throw in the towel.

Retired slugger Mo Vaughn blames the obsession with velocity and spin rate for the rash of pitching injuries.

Pedro Martínez agrees but says it’s a little more complicated than that.

Giancarlo Stanton has now hit at least one home run against every MLB team. That’s the surest sign that expansion is near.

Wednesday’s Three Stars

  1. Vinnie Pasquantino – The hulking first baseman led the Royals to an 11-2 win over the Astros by plating five runners on a 3-for-5 night that included his first home run of the season.
  2. Tyler Fitzgerald – The San Francisco centerfielder was 3-for-3 with a double, an RBI, and two stolen bases in the Giants’ 7-1 win over the Nationals.
  3. Adolis García – The Rangers slugger also went 3-for-3, but he had two doubles and two RBI in a 6-3 win over the Athletics.

Extra Innings

I’m surprised more Cubs fans have yet to embrace Busch the way they do Chicago’s other younger stars. The guy was a top but blocked prospect in a stacked Dodgers system, so he’s a good player.

They Said It

  • “It’s probably a little bit of everything [with Hendricks]. It’s the third time through, which is always the most challenging time for a starting pitcher, and it’s what’s kind of got him so far. … I thought his command was lacking in the first outing [against Texas] and the last two I thought he kind of pitched like you expect him to pitch early in the game and then he just fell apart a little bit.” – Counsell
  • “Not exactly, no, I can’t lie about [which adjustments to make]. I would have been doing it now so [it’s] a little bit of a search process for sure. I know who I am though at the end of the day. I know what my strengths are so just have to hone in on those, lock in on that, start with that. That’s where I’ve got to begin. See what path I go down from there, see where it leads me.” – Hendricks
  • “There’s been a couple of times where [Morel] makes a couple of errors. We know he has the ability and he’s working on staying focused for 130 pitches. More than anything it’s the focus, the work he’s doing. He’s putting himself in a good position to field the ball. Now it’s about the anticipation, who’s running. The small things are the big things.” – Cubs’ coach Jonathan Mota

Thursday Walk-Up Song

Heavy lies the head that wears the crown.

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