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The Little Red Plague™ has arrived
Monday Morning Cubbin' Down
So, when Teddy Epstein lauded his new manager for “addressing some things that had been lingering for years” a couple of weeks ago, I guess ‘stop losing winnable games to the Brewers’ wasn’t on that task list?
Granted, not all losses are equal. The Cubs lost Friday when Alec Mills had to go a day early because Tyler Chatwood failed his mid-back soreness test, and apparently the Cubs erred in not quarantining him because Jason Heyward caught it on Sunday. We should hope that Anthony Rizzo built up sufficient antibodies from his bout earlier this season.
Saturday’s game was doomed when Colin Rea had to see a lineup for the second time. He’s been impressive in a few relief outings where he can tune up his MPH in a shorter appearance. And that game was only truly lost when MLB’s gimmicky extra inning bullshit reared its ugly (not Ben Gamel ugly, but still, pretty ugly) head.
(My favorite Tweet of the week)
Sunday’s start seemed like the time Jon Lester’s unsustainable early success would begin its cruel regression to the mean, and it did.
And yet, the Cubs could have won any of the three games. They did just enough stupid shit: the ludicrous Ian Happ and Anthony Rizzo stolen base attempts on Sunday, pinch hitting Josh Phucking Phegley on Saturday, whatever the Mark Grace shit was on Saturday and Mills giving up a hit to Eric Sogard on Friday two batters ahead of Christian Yelich’s homer to lose all three.
Losing one or two of those would have been frustrating, losing all three was just embarrassing. But, does any of it really matter? No. This isn’t a normal year (as if you need any reminder of that in any aspect of your life). Even if baseball doesn’t go full playoff bubble, there’s really no such thing as home field advantage this year—except for getting last at bats, which in a way seems to be a hindrance when games go extra innings this year anyway. Unless you’re really into getting an NL Central Champions 2020 Half Assed Season t-shirt, the only thing anybody’s playing for is to make the playoffs, and honestly, does it really matter if you’re seeded first or eighth?
Hell, the smart thing might be to stumble into whatever seed is opposite the Dodgers, probably the eighth, so you have a shot at knocking them out with just two wins, instead of three in the NLDS or four in the NLCS.
None of that makes losing those three games to a thoroughly mediocre Brewers team OK, but it’s not THAT big of a deal.
By the way in case you haven’t noticed (and I sure hadn’t) the Cubs’ bullpen is sorta OK now. Oh, it’s not great, as leaky relief contributed to two of the three losses over the weekend, but after the traumatic sights of their endeavors in the first week of the season, this is actual progress.
Kyle Ryan’s still fucking terrible (and SPOILER ALERT: that’s unlikely to change) and Brad Wieck spent his rehab time injuring something else (always fun), but even in defeat the other day Jeremy Jeffress deserved better, Rowan Wick’s been good, Casey Sadler has stopped flop sweating all over the ball, Ryan Tepera is somehow getting guys out with whatever it is that he throws, and Rea looks like he could be useful going two innings. You can blast Dan Winkler into the sun for all I care.
It’s still not a good bullpen, but it’s not as aggressively terrible as it was earlier in the season.
What it needs is a guy with some serious shit who can actually miss bats and strike people out, and can pitch anywhere from the seventh to the ninth. They had a guy over the weekend who faced seven hitters, struck out four and didn’t allow a hit in two innings. He threw his fastball anywhere from 96 to 98 and was able to pitch at the top of the zone which makes his crazy-assed breaking ball (which he has never been able to throw for an actual strike) really hard to lay off of. Who was it?
Well, shit, you know it was Craig Kimbrel, and it’s just two games, and honestly the Brewers aren’t very good, so we still don’t know if it means anything. But it was better than him throwing everything to the backstop or alternately having it blasted through the outfield bleacher advertising tarps. Ross was asked if Kimbrel’s back in the mix for closer and he said he wasn’t sure, when the correct answer was, “fuck no.”
The Cubs have five games in three days against the Little Red Plague™ to start the week, and with Chatwood not able to make a start in today’s doubleheader it’s going to really tax the bullpen, so we’re gonna see more of Kimbrel this week, whether we’re ready or not.
I know there are people at Marquee who read this newsletter, and so I’m going to give them some actionable advice, that would not only add some actual value to their broadcasts, but would get them some good press for maybe the first time ever.
And, after they let Mark Grace remotely vomit a horribly misogynistic, and just plain pointless, story that went on and on and on during a key part of Saturday’s game, they need something good even more than normal right now.
We heard all these promises of how they were going to innovate the crap out of baseball broadcasts this year and unless making Len and JD wear suits, grinding broadcasts to a halt with unnecessary and always terrible third men in, weird and useless weather graphic overlays and DIRT CAM! (which doesn’t seem like much of a thing lately…mostly because it’s dumb and can’t show anything actually interesting) is innovative, we haven’t gotten anything that improves on anything.
But these two things will.
Nobody is going to think either of these ideas is bad, and all you need to do is put two unpaid interns on it. I’ll bet the “unpaid” part just got the Ricketts family’s attention.
Intern one’s job is to monitor both teams’ bullpen. When anybody gets up on either team the intern tells the truck and you make a graphic that says something like:
CUBS BULLPEN - WARMING - Rowan Wick
You put it on the screen and you leave it there for a few seconds. Maybe Len or JD comments on it, maybe not. But we see it. Hell, you’ve got room, make it small and tuck it next to your scorebug/bottom line thing. You do the same thing when one or two of the Cardinals’ randos warms up.
How hard is that? What’s going on in the bullpen should not be a special secret you keep from the people watching the game. Just do this. It’s not that hard. Fans will like it. You know what? Get a sponsor for it. Howard Ankin will do it, just put his stupid 1-312-6million phone number next to it.
Idea two: Bring back MLB Network’s old defensive positioning graphic.
Remember that thing? It’s in the upper right hand corner up there. They called it ShiftTrax or some stupid damn thing. But it was actually useful, and non-obtrusive.
There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a player hit what looks like a clean single right up the middle and the third baseman is standing right behind the second base bag and we didn’t even know he was there. Now, we can just look up and see what the shift is during an at bat. Who would be against this?
It’s either this or actually show establishing shots during at bats of where the defenders are, and I know that’s time consuming and would get pretty boring, plus you’re stuck with the home team video feed when you’re doing road games this year. But you can put that graphic up whenever you want. This is where intern two comes in. Hell, have Taylor “report” on the defense back to the truck if you have to during road games. What the hell else does a sideline reporter do when there’s twelve people in the park? Once again, you can sell a sponsorship for this. You put logos on everything else, might as well give us something useful.
I honestly don’t know why MLB Network stopped doing this. It was one of the rare useful innovations of recent time.
Do both of these things, stop cramming extra people into the “booth” during games, and for god sakes stop moving the base runner icons when the ball is in play. Not only does it automatically change the name of the batter (which is confusing as hell) but you’re not actually showing the progress of the runners so just leave it alone. If your graphics guy has time to do that, he sure as hell could switch out where the infielders or outfielders are, or punch in who’s up in the bullpen. We play video games, we’re used to seeing crucial information on our screens, instead of whatever you guys put up there.
Pointless Exercise is not merely a Cubs’ newsletter, we also will be making fun of the Bulls and Bears, so I’m going to share how confused I was by the Bulls’ Tweet about Jim Boylen Friday.
I actually read it at first as “Boylen relieved to be Bulls head coach.” and it just pissed me off, until I realized it was their way of announcing he’d been canned, while trying to be polite about it.
You’re not supposed to do it that way. One of the first things you learn in journalism school is to say what you mean. People don’t “pass away” or go “off to a better place.” They “die” or are “dead.” Coaches don’t get “relieved” they get “fired.” The idea is to be as clear as possible to catch the reader, listener or viewer’s attention.
Bulls’ fans had been waiting for a very long time for a Tweet to say, “OFFICIAL: Jim Boylen has been shitcanned,” but “OFFICIAL: Jim Boylen fired by Bulls” would have been the proper way to do that. It would have avoided any confusion.
Regardless of how they worded it, actually doing it was the important thing. Boylen was a terrible coach from the very beginning and he never got better, and he was never going to get better. He couldn’t decide if he wanted to be an all the time hardass, or a some of the time hardass/some of the time motivational genius, but he was all of the time inept.
The Bulls had no style of play unless, take-bad-shots and miss-all-defensive-assignments is a style. Lauri Markkanen got worse all the time. His role constantly changed and the progress he’d made at the end of the Fred Hoiberg Era of Indifference didn’t just disappear, he actually regressed beyond his starting point.
Boylen had to go, but he had to go a long time ago, and the fact that he wasn’t gone the minute we all got the order to horde toilet paper and stop breathing on each other in March was not just frustrating, it was an indication that the Bulls were still too cheap to actually let Art(uras) Karn(isovas)ey really run things. Boylen was one of the lowest paid coaches in the league and if the Bulls couldn’t eat that what was the point of any of it. So they did it, finally. But now they have a vacancy at the same time the New Orleans Fightin’ Zions do. Which job is more attractive?
Kelly Dwyer said it best (as always) on his Substack blog:
Jerry Reinsdorf treats the Bulls like a business, and in spite of what the players will routinely remind you, this is not a business. There is a market, to be sure, with disloyalty and greed and parsimony and lots of money to throw around, but NBA team ownership is most certainly not a business by any stretch of the formulation.
Granted, had the Bulls acted with the speed of an actually competent operation they very well could have had a public humiliation on their hands. Former Bulls’ player and assistant Adrian Griffin was one of the hottest potential head coaching candidates on the market and the Bulls surely were interested in him, but that’s no longer the case.
I mean, holy shit. That was Tweeted around NBA reporter Twitter by Griffin’s ex-wife on Thursday. He and the Raptors, his current employer, issued a joint statement that put the funct in perfunctory.
The Bulls avoided that mess, not through their skill, but through their sloth, though you would hope that their due diligence on him as a candidate would have unearthed most of that. Regardless, he’s not on anybody’s coaching list these days.
Oh, and as for the names on people’s lists, never take advice of any kind from a guy who wanders naked into the wrong Wyoming vacation condo.
While I hope some team hires Mark Jackson just to get him off ESPN and ABC’s playoff coverage, I do not want that to be the Bulls.
I’d like to see the Bulls hire Kenny Atkinson who did a very nice job with the Nets until…well, Kyrie got him fired, and honestly, if anything, that could probably go in both the Strengths and Opportunities sections of Art’s coaching search SWOT analysis.
Hey’s it time for Quee’s To the Week! (I’d change that graphic, but I prefer to leave it as it originally ran on Marquee with the apostrophe in a very wrong and very intriguing place.
The Cubs have those five games in three days against the Little Red Plague™ then a day off and then three with the White Sox. So, one real rival and…the White Sox.
Here are the “Quee’s”
Do not lick any of the Cardinals
Someone remind Javy that he’s allowed to hit the ball to right field
Let Hendricks pitch both seven inning games of Monday’s doubleheader
Hit the ball to Eloy whenever possible
If you face Dylan Cease don’t swing, he’s a former Cubs pitching prospect, so by law he can’t throw strikes
Sounds like an 8-0 week to me.
Maybe it’s not such a good thing. Dick Jauron went 4-12 in his next 16 games, Lovie Smith went 7-9 and Ross is already 0-3. Only in Chicago, where success tends to fade.