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These Cubs don't make it easy
They fight to stay in games and to overcome their manager's "strategy"
The Cubs are still in a very good position in the National League wild card race, even after handing what’s left of the Reds two games over the weekend. The Cubs are currently 2.5 games up in the second wild card spot, with a mostly favorable schedule and a chance to kick the reeling Giants right out of the race to start the week.
But the Cubs are doing it with just one member of their season opening rotation still standing. Justin Steele has been great, and you feel confident every time he takes the mound. Our old friend Kyle Hendricks wasn’t healthy on opening day, but he’s back and pitching like the goddamned world champion that he is. And then…well.
Jameson Taillon started the season in the rotation and he’s still healthy, I suppose, but he spends most of his starts in the fetal position1, just hoping that the run deluge will end in time for the offense to come back and get him a precious no decision.
The Cubs’ big week with seven games in six days against the team right ahead and right behind them in the NL Central was bookmarked by Taillon “surviving” terrible starts.
When the Brewers rolled into town on Monday to start a three game set, the Cubs were four games behind them. Sweep them and you’re just a game back and the division race is on.
Taillon took the mound and before the Cubs could get off the field he put them in a 4-0 hole.
Thanks, chief. Way to set the tone.
The Cubs lost that night but won the next two games behind Steele and Hendricks.
Even with excellent starts by “hey kid, go get ‘em” new members of the rotation Javier Assad and Jordan Wicks, and a competent bullpen start the Cubs still only won one of the three games. So, it was up to the $68 million mush, Taillon to come up big in the finale.
And…the Cubs gave him a 1-0 lead before he ever took the mound. And he promptly gave it back and they were down 2-1. Then they rallied to give him a 3-2 lead in the second, and it was 4-3 Reds shortly after.
On the season, Taillon is 7-9 with a 5.73 ERA. His lone win over a team with a winning record is the Reds back on August 3. He pitched the minimum five innings required to get that win.
So what the hell are the Cubs supposed to do? It’s well beyond time to move on from Taillon getting starts the rest of the way, but there are issues with that.
They can’t really drop him from the rotation because it’s hardly a rotation as it is.
Steele is a Cy Young candidate and has pitched like a stud, but he’s already passed his career high in innings by 25 and he’s got five or six more starts to make, plus hopefully some in the postseason.
Hendricks has been through the wars, but his shoulder was so fucked up the doctor’s didn’t even bother operating on it. Even if his rehab “fixed” it he’s already 26 innings past his season total from last year and he’s got as many starts left to make as Steele.
So you can’t even back off the workload of those two, because they’re your proven starters.
Assad has been tough as nails down the stretch and at 111.2 he hasn’t yet reached his innings total from last year yet (146), which might be why the Cubs were willing to ride him through eight innings on Saturday before the bullpen blew it.
Wicks never reached 100 innings in a season in the minors, and with his ten innings in two big league starts he’s already at 101.1 this year. He’s also never thrown more than 89 pitches in a game, so there’s that.
Marcus Stroman is playing catch…again…which is better than not, I guess, but the last time he did that he literally invented a new injury.
Had anybody ever fractured “cartridge” in their ribs before?
No. But, amazingly, former White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers had to have knee “cartridge” surgery in 2015!
Leave it to our pal, Bruce to find the only two “cartridge” injuries in baseball history. Amazing.
So, what’s the solution? Do they just let Taillon take his turn and pitch in the games he’s likely set up to pitch?
Friday, Sept. 8 v. the D’bags (gulp)
Wed. Sept. 13 AT Colorado (oh, boy it’s a terrible team, but at Coors?)
Wed., Sept 20 v. Pissburgh (losing team at home, he might be able to handle that)
Tues., Sept. 26 AT the Barves (name your score, Atlanta)
Sun., Oct. 1 at Milwaukee (The season finale, it could be for everything. Oh, no.)
I mean, this is kind of a big problem.
One solution would be for the Cubs’ biggest limitation to not rear its bald head and fuck up the bullpen again like he did on Saturday night.
Yes, it would have been nice if the Cubs had scored more than one run heading into the bottom of that ninth inning, but David Ross knew he couldn’t go to a worn out Adbert Alzolay, and his alternative was to go to an even more worn out Mark Leiter Jr.
It was Leiter’s fourth game in five days and his one good pitch, his splitter, wasn’t splitting because his arm was hanging by a thread.
Ross went to him anyway. If you want to be charitable (and honestly, that’s the only way you can ever try to rationalize Ross’ moves) you could say Leiter’s been his most reliable reliever all season and if he was going to ask for anybody down there to gird up their loins and try to push through, it would be him.
But why wasn’t anybody else warming up in case shit went sideways? Because nobody was. It was the Cubs’ paunchy righty against the world.
And he showed he didn’t have it right away. He gave up a double to Jake Fraley. The awful Harrison Bader pinch ran for Fraley and stole third (and the Cubs wasted their challenge because Nick Madrigal thought Bader picked his foot off the bag while Nicky was still stroking him with his glove).
Tying run at third, nobody out. Nobody up in the bullpen.
TJ Friedl walks. Tying run at third, winning run at first. Nobody up in the bullpen.
Leiter hits Spencer Steer with a pitch. Bases loaded. Tying run at third. Winning run at second. Jose Cuas starts warming up.
Elly De La Cruz should have won the game with a single off Leiter, but the Reds settled for a tie and didn’t risk sending Freidl home because they knew they were going to score in a batter or two, so why chance a miracle Seiya throw, or Friedl going full Kalvoski Daniels between third and home?
Winning run at third. Nobody out. Cuas still warming up in the bullpen.
Nick Martini flew out to left and then, after all that, Ross finally took Leiter out. Cuas nearly got Hunter Refroe to hit into a double play but the relay throw was just late. The Cubs appealed and the call stood. But the play shouldn’t have been challenged because Ross had already blown his challenge in that same inning. The umps said it was a Cubs’ challenge, not theirs, so if the call had been overturned, that would have been a whole thing.
This is the problem. It’s just like when Ross gave Drew Smyly a start for no apparent reason against the Tigers a couple of weeks ago and couldn’t figure out how to get him out of the game before he gave up seven runs. Seven. The Cubs scored six runs in a game and lost because after Smyly had coughed up three runs in the first three innings and was lucky to have only given up three, Ross saw the Cubs rally to get a 4-3 lead in the fourth and he let Smyly go back out and give up FOUR more runs before it was over.
There are no more games to punt. You can’t hide behind, “Well, I can’t blow out my bullpen to win one game” now because, you know what? You have to blow out your bullpen to win one game. Blowing those two ninth inning leads against the Reds means the Reds won the season series, and if the Cubs and Reds are tied for the last playoff spot, which is real possibility, there is no play-in game. It’s just over. The Cubs go home. No playoffs.
If a bad start means you tax your bullpen it’s up to Jed and Captain Mayonnaise to figure out how to get you a fresh arm or two for the next day. That’s how this works. You don’t get to just sit there shitting in your hat watching games blow up in your face.2
Because that shit is going to keep happening to Taillon and odds are it’s going to happen to Assad and Wicks at some point, too. The apologists who think that a manager’s impact on a game is overrated are going to be repeatedly reminded just how wrong they are. But they won’t notice, because they’re all morons.
Oh, and here’s another tip, Dave. When you get an extra offensive player, and your team scores three runs in two games, USE HIM!
What Jed told Meghan Montemurro about Alexander Canario made me want to shit in Ross’ hat myself.
It was a surprise when the Cubs called Canario up to be the extra post-Sept. 1 position player, but we assumed (hah, that’ll teach us) that it was because they had a plan to use his offensive skillset somehow.
No. Apparently he’s there as a Make-A-Wish Kid. Do they think his offseason shoulder and ankle injuries were terminal? Alexander’s just up to soak in the funky vibes in the clubhouse. Or something.
Here’s all you need to know about David Ross and his pet players.
In the ninth inning of a game that the Cubs led 13-7, Ross had the perfect opportunity to get his rookie outfielder a low pressure introduction to big league baseball. Canario could hit for Ian Happ with a six run, ninth inning lead and two on, and then stay in to play defense for a half inning with a big lead. It was perfect.
Instead, Ross gave Happ his sixth at bat of the day, and Canario sat on the bench and didn’t play…again. The fourth straight game he just sat and watched.
Why didn’t Ross let him hit for Happ? Because Ross has taken shit for continuing to bat Happ in the third spot despite better options, and here was a chance for Happ to pad his stats and help make it look, on the surface at least, like Ross’ stubbornness was somehow paying off. As if Happ continuing to hit the Reds and Pirates somehow makes up for all of the wasted at bats against everybody else.
Happ doubled and drove in two runs. It gave him three hits and four RBI on the day and his average all the way up to a lofty .248.
That move is a perfect summation of David Ross’ managerial aptitude. Instead of using that moment to get Canario his first big league at bat and perhaps have him just that much more adjusted in case he needs to hit in a big spot against the Giants this week, Ross was more interested in helping Ian Happ make his disappointing season line somehow look more palatable.
This is a helluva way to try to get a playoff spot.
The offensive explosion yesterday hopefully shook something loose on two Cubs who have not been hitting for (technical term coming up) shit.
Tauchmania has been derailed pretty severely over the last month, and hopefully his 4-for-6, three runs, three RBI day sends him on a heater. Because despite Ross continuing to lead him off against righties, Tauchy hadn’t been doing much damage. .183/.310/.225 over his previous 22 games.
And he wasn’t alone. Dansby Swanson got two hits yesterday, which were his first since July 31.
OK, not really, but also…kind of. He has 14 hits over that timeframe. Fourteen. That’s a .156/.252/.244 slash line. But at least he’s striking out a lot, with 26.
There’s a reason Marquee has been showing his defensive runs saved graphic six times a game. Because he hasn’t been helping much on offense lately.
Heading into yesterday’s game Swanson’s OPS on the season was down to .742, which would be his lowest since 2019. While the Cubs were patting themselves on the back for spending the least and getting the best of the “big four” shortstops, Trea Turner—whose bat took the first three months off—has buzzed by Dansby’s offense.
Don’t get me wrong. Dansby’s a good player and the signing was a good one, but I think for what the Cubs spent they probably didn’t foresee he and Tauchman would have the same OPS+ (98), 136 games into the season.
There’s time for Dansby to pick it back up, and honestly, he’s going to have to, because while Cody seems like he can just do this shit all by himself, he can’t.
Get hot for these final four weeks and become a Cubs’ legend. It’s been done before. Hell, Orlando Merced only needed one day.
It’s a modified fetal position, because no way could tubby get his knees up near his face.
Two odd metaphors in that sentence. Shitting in a hat and exploding games? I’ll allow it.