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It's going to be really hard for the Cubs to miss the playoffs
But they just might be up to it
The Cubs and Cardinals played five games over four days this Labor Day weekend, and it wasn’t exactly reminiscent of when they started a five games in four day series on Labor Day in 2003, mostly because in 2003 the teams were good, and this year, they just aren’t.
The Cubs are now 11-15 since they got off to a 13-3 start and Theo Epstein just couldn’t stop himself from taking a “look how smart I am” victory lap where he uttered a phrase we’ll be shoving back in his face as long as he and David Ross are still around. He said that Ross had “addressed things that needed to be addressed for a long time.” It was a petty slap at the Hall of Fame manager that Ross replaced. And, if the last five weeks have proven nothing else, it’s absolute bullshit.
The Joe Maddon Cubs teams after the 2016 World Series didn’t fail to win anything important because Joe was to laid back or stuck in his ways. They failed for the same reason the Ross Cubs of the last 26 games have. This team doesn’t have enough pitching and still has an offense that can go into weeks long comas without any notice.
There’s an old saying in sports that a team is never quite as good as they look when they’re on a roll and not as bad as they look when they’re in a slump. I believe it’s half true for these Cubs. They were not as good as they looked when they were 13-3, and they are every bit as bad as they’ve looked in the last 26 games. Especially given the mind-numbing bullpen decisions Ross has made over the last ten days or so.
Then again, when it comes to this weird 60 game season, it probably doesn’t really matter. The Cardinals dominated the middle three games of the series, but the Cubs slapped them silly on Thursday and Sunday. Five games fell off the schedule and St. Louis, the only real threat to the Cubs winning this very flawed division only picked up one game. I mean, sure, the Cardinals still need to make up like 47 games before the end of the season in three weeks, so they’ll have lots of chances to make up ground.
Actually, the Cubs have 18 games left and the Cardinals have 25—which could be 27 since there’s a doubleheader with the Tigers that could be played on Monday after the final game of the regular season just in case either needs it. That’s an absurd difference in games remaining, but this whole season is absurd.
The Cardinals have one advantage over the Cubs, and it’s that they have more than two passable starting pitchers, but trying to at least play 25 games in 19 days (and 15 in the next 10) cuts into that advantage quite a bit.
And, of course, given that there’s no real home field advantage this season, the difference between winning your division and just getting into the playoffs is wafer thin. All along, we’ve assumed 30 wins will get you in the playoffs this year, which means the Cubs just need to go 6-12 the rest of the way. Surely they can do that, right?
Well, they just went 8-10 in their last 18 games, so…probably?
Oh, and remember how we all scoffed at the idea that the final three games of the season at US Comiskular against the Sox would actually mean something? Well, they won’t for the Sox, since they will easily make the playoffs, but the Cubs seem hell bent to stagger in there with a chance for Rick(y) Renteria to turn the tables and knock on Jed Hoyer’s door and tell him to get lost.
For the second time in a week the Cubs shook up their roster. The first time was the trade deadline when they added Cameron Maybin, Josh Osich, maybe Andrew Chafin and Jose Martinez. Maybin’s been useful so far, Osich might be if Ross wouldn’t bring him in to face righties and Martinez has been, well, you and I have as many hits as he has in 13 at bats.
That was still apparently preferable to whatever Steven Souza was bringing, since Souza started game one of Saturday’s doubleheader and got released between games. (I laughed out loud when I saw the Tweet that announced it.) Honestly, he should have been released for this:
The Cubs have since added something named Ildelmaro Vargas (apparently he’s as switch hitting infielder), our old pal Pedro Strop (yes!) and Billy Hamilton.
Strop isn’t on the active roster. He’s off to South Bend to see if he can to a point where he can help in the bullpen. You’ve seen the Cubs bullpen. “Help” isn’t exactly something they do.
Pedro’s new manager and old teammate had an unfortunate choice of words when he talked about Strop returning.
“Pedro’s been a big part of this group,” Ross said. “One of my favorite teammates I’ve ever had. I mean, this guy is infectious. His personality, the way he carries himself, the way he works, he can really affect the room.”
Come on! We’ve been living in this pandemic since March, and you still don’t know that a guy being “infectious” isn’t what you want?
As for Hamilton, we know that unless he’s facing Jon Lester he’s not of much use at the plate.
Billy is a career .241/.295/.324/.620 hitter, which is bad. But against Lester? He’s .333/.407/.667/1.074 with two homers (he has 21 in his entire career) and nine stolen bases in 10 attempts. That’s in just 24 at bats. Every hitter is doing that to Lester lately, but Hamilton was doing it before it was cool.
Hamilton does seem like a huge upgrade over the Cubs recent attempts at acquiring a fast guy at the end of a season. Quintin Berry had never been caught stealing in his career (25-for-25) until he played for the Cubs, and then, he was. Terrance Gore was a fun little weapon until that at bat that I’m just never going to talk about ever again in the Wild Card Game against the Rockies.
[Why did he SWING? Open the oven, I’m going to stick my head in it. I’m blaming it on Max Scherzer. Gore had been 0-for-11 in his career before he came to the Cubs and got a single off of Scherzer, of all people. Maybe that’s why he swung at that full count pitch that was nowhere near being a strike in the Wild Card Game. I really need to stop thinking about this.]
Unlike those other two, Hamilton is a superior defensive outfielder, and given the stupid gimmicky extra inning put-a-guy-on-second-base thing, he seems like a pretty good guy to have to put on second. I made the case for the Cubs acquiring him in the offseason, and for some reason they ignored my advice. We knew they were going to have Albert Almora on the roster, and you know what Billy Hamilton is? He’s what Almora would be if he were actually fast. They’re the same guy otherwise. Good on defense (but Billy can actually chase down balls), and way too swingy at the plate. But the speed makes a massive difference. While Almora is 4-for-8 on stolen base attempts FOR HIS CAREER. Eight attempts! In five years! Hamilton is 302-for-374 in his career. Yes, it’s in eight years, but Almora would need to play 76 seasons to catch Billy at his current pace. Gang, I don’t think Albert can do that.
Now, in a perfect world (and we are reminded constantly we do not live in one of those) you’d have neither guy on your team because you’d have way too many useful outfielders to need them. The Cubs do not have way too many useful outfielders to not make it worth giving Billy a shot.
Besides, are there any players that Albert could successfully jump over? I don’t think so.
The usually very good Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies podcast had an interesting guest on it last week. It was Craig Breslow, a key part of the Cubs completely fraudulent, junk science pitching infrastructure. There was a lot of cooing to Craig about how smart he is, and how he went to Yale, and I tried not to vomit—and mostly succeeded. But one part literally made me laugh out loud.
Len said he wonders if given the rise of technology in pitching if you would teach any big league pitcher how to throw any particular pitch. He decided to use JD as an example. Deshaies has said no matter what he tried in his 12 year big league career that he couldn’t make the ball sink. So Len asked Craig if they could have used their fantastical (my word) technology to teach him to do that.
Breslow chuckled a little and then said he wouldn’t talk specifics because he didn’t want to give up any of the Cubs’ secrets.
Oh no! Don’t let all the secrets out! In the ten years of the Theo Epstein regime they have developed ZERO quality pitchers! Teams would kill to get those secrets! I’m sure the Cardinals are frantically trying to guess the Ivy Database password to see how the Cubs turned Pierce Johnson, Paul Blackburn and Brendon Little into such superstars!
Kyle Hendricks looked like he could have easily finished yesterday’s start against the Cardinals. He barely broke a sweat with 97 pitches in eight innings (Cardinals starter Johan Oviedo threw 96 in 4.2 innings). But Rowan Wick finished things out for the Cubs instead. Did Ross want to save a few of Hendricks’ bullets for the stretch run, or did Hendricks bail on the ninth to avoid having to do the postgame Taylor McGregor interview? I guess either is a perfectly acceptable answer.
Javy Baez had three hits on Monday to finally get his average back up over .200, and when asked about his struggles this year he talked about the lack of being able to look at video during games because the Astros are cheating assholes.
I have no problem with Javy complaining about it, but it’s been 42 games, and you’re just going to have to get used to it for the rest of the year. We know it can be done. We watch batters hit against your pitching staff.
Two big podcast announcements.
First, the Bears podcast is returning for a second year, and we’re mixing it up. I have a new co-host, and I’m not lying, that person is in this commercial:
Who is it? Is it Deion? Is it Rich Eisen? Is it Michael Irvin? (God no, he’d stab me in the neck with scissors ten minutes into the first episode.) Is it the waitress? Maybe it’s Melissa Stark? Roger Goodell? You’ll just have to find out tomorrow when the pod launches.
But that’s not all. Mike Donahue from last year’s critically acclaimed Bears pod is coming back in an expanded role. Those of you who know him, or who listened to him last season (he was the one whose Internet connection actually worked), know he has a particular gift for remembering useless things. Basically, he can remember even more bums who played for the Bears and Cubs than even me, and can tell you in somewhat annoying detail what happened when. So we’re going to put that to use in a segment I’m giving the working title, “Mike and Andy Reminisce About Some Crap.” It is completely different than the longtime Deadspin (and I guess now, Defector) segment, “Let’s remember some guys” you can tell it’s different because I purposely used different words when I named it.
Basically, the idea is this. One of us is going to throw out a name or a game (say, “John Roveto” or “Jose Macias”) and we’re just going to start remembering shit and see where it goes. We’re going to do this for the Bears and the Cubs, and they’ll either appear as segments within the existing Cubs and Bears podcasts, or if they get lengthy (and some will) they might just get released as a stand alone podcast.
Maybe we’ll remember the time Vern Lundquist and John Madden got to call a Cardinals-Bears preseason fight in 1986 when Lionel Washington cheap shotted Keith Ortego and then the Cardinals (they were still in St. Louis then, which explains everything) trapped Pat Dunsmore along the retaining wall and kicked him repeatedly in the nuts.
Dunsmore got fined, apparently for getting beaten up, and by the time the NFL announced the fines the Bears had already cut him. Mike Ditka offered to pay it for Dunsmore out of his gambling winnings. Ahh, the ‘80s. Anyway, the segment’s going to be like that.
If you currently subscribe to the Pointless Exercise podcast you don’t need to do anything. You’ll just get all of the episodes. If you don’t subscribe to the podcast, well, what are you waiting for? Don’t cost nuthin’.
And finally, an update on the schedule for this newsletter. Yes, there allegedly is one.
Mondays (I know today’s Tuesday, but you know…holiday weekend) will still be “Monday Morning Cubbin’ Down, but there will be also be some hot takes from the Bears game if they played that Sunday.
Tuesdays will be a deeper dive into the Bears game.
Thursdays are supposed to be the Tweetbag, but I’ve been crap about soliciting questions, so don’t be afraid to send some in. Ironically, the easiest way is to email them to email@example.com.
Fridays will be a look ahead to the upcoming Bears game. But basically, you should just gird up your loins and prepare for Cubs and Bears content to be mixed in to all of this. If you only care about one team or the other, just skip to the parts you’re not interested in.
Bears podcasts will be released early in the week, Cubs pods later on in the week.
Damn, that sounds like a lot. What the hell have I gotten myself in to?