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Three big weeks
The next 20 games might not make or break the Cubs' playoff chances. But they probably will.
Before the Cubs stretch of 12 games against bad teams that concluded yesterday, Jim Deshaies made the bold prediction that the Cubs would completely erase a then 3.5 game deficit with the Brewers before the two teams hooked up for the three game set that starts today.
For their part, the Cubs did fine. They won eight of those 12 games and improved their standing in the wild card race where they currently hold the second of three spots.
The Brewers were facing all “good1” teams including first-place teams in the Dodgers, Rangers and Twins. They lost the first three of those games, while getting swept in LA, and…haven’t lost since. They swept the Rangers in Texas, and went undefeated in a five game home stand with the Twins and Padres. Not only did the Cubs not catch the Brewers, they actually lost a half game in the standings. So much for that.
Milwaukee’s biggest issue is their offense, and it showed as they only scored three runs in three games at Dodger Stadium. But they are currently on a heater where they have averaged more than seven runs per game.
The three games against the Cubs and Brewers will be big. A Cubs’ sweep and they pull within a game, a Brewers sweep and the division race is over. It will almost certainly be something in between, and that’s why, while this set is important, the rest of the next three weeks will likely tell the tale of whether or not the Cubs reach the playoffs.
The next 14 games are all against the teams the Cubs are in a playoff hunt with. Three with the Brewers, four at Cincinnati, then a seven game home stand with three against the Giants and four with the D’bags. Then, after a three game trip to Coors Field (where shit always goes sideways) it’s three more in Arizona.
That’s 20 games in 21 days, 17 of them against other playoff contenders in the NL and three on the moon. And there’s even more nuance to it, given that MLB has done away with any play-in games, you need to win the season series against your opponents to get the tiebreaker in case that’s needed to determine your playoff fate.
The Cubs have six games left with the Brewers (the final three games of the season are in the retractable roof dairy barn), and need to go at least 4-2 to get to the seven wins they need for the tiebreaker. It’s hard to forget the embarrassing loss the Cubs had up there on July 3 when they blew a 6-0 lead and David Ross managed to lose the DH in the third inning and let Anthony Kay pitch with the bases loaded and a three run lead in the seventh inning. One pitch later the bases were no longer loaded and the game was tied.
It wasn’t much better three days later when the Brewers won on an eighth inning homer by underbite enthusiast Victor Caratini off Michael Fulmer. Victor is currently slugging .365 on the season. That’s 15 points less than Nick Madrigal.
The Cubs final series of the season with the Reds starts with a doubleheader on Friday and the Cubs need to win three of the four games in the set to wrest the tiebreaker from them. That one’s a lot more likely to matter than the tiebreaker with Milwaukee. Getting swept at home by Cincinnati May 26-28 and outscored 25-10 didn’t help.
But, you probably have fonder memories of the other series at Wrigley, July 31-August 3 when the Cubs won three of four by the ridiculous total score of 46-24. That included back to back games that the Cubs won 20-9 and 16-6.
And, this weekend could be the Trey Mancini the third revenge series. After getting DFA’d while the Cubs were pounding the Reds at the beginning of the month, Trey spent a couple weeks on the couch (where he has the same range as he does at first) and since has signed a minor league deal with the Reds. In his first game at AAA Louisville he had three hits, including two homers and a double. Rosters expand on Friday just in time for the doubleheader (and you get to add another player on top of that because its’ a doubleheader), so maybe. But honestly, I think any Trey the third revenge series would actually be the Cubs getting revenge on him for nearly derailing their season when he fell down in England.
Through four games at Louisville, Trey is hitting .333 (5 for 15) with a 1.200 OPS. This is your reminder that everybody hits at triple-A. For example, Miles Mastroboner has hit .295 with a .921 OPS this year in his at bats at Iowa.
The Cubs only play the Giants six times this season. They won two of three in San Francisco, and they need to do that again to clinch the tiebreaker.
The good news is that the Giants are hanging on for dear life. After an 18-8 June gave them the top spot in the wild card and just 2.5 games behind the then first place D’bags, they were just 12-13 in July and are struggling in August at 9-14.
The Giants have added Paul DeJong, who was hilariously inept in his short time with Toronto after he was traded there at the deadline. He hit 3-for-44 with 18 strikeouts and zero walks. His slash line was a cool .068/.068/.068.
The Jays waived him, and the Giants plucked him off waivers. I can’t imagine how frustrating it was for Toronto to see him get three hits and two homers in his first game for the Giants at Philly. He’ll relish coming back to Wrigley again this year, considering he homered twice there this season as a Cardinal and for his career he’s hit 15 homers in just 51 games on the north side.
If the Cubs and Giants do end up tied for the final wild card spot and the Giants take two of three at Wrigley to even the season series, the Cubs aren’t in great shape in the next tiebreaker, and it’s partially their own fault, and mostly the fault of the Brewers and Cardinals.
The second tiebreaker is a comparison of the teams’ records against the teams in the National League not in their division. The Cubs’ uninspiring season series records against the Mets (3-3), Marlins (2-4) and Nationals (3-4) could really bite them in the ass. They are 20-25 so far against the NL West and East. The Giants, however, are 29-20 against the Central and East, owed in particular to going 11-3 against the Brewers (5-2) and Cardinals (6-1).
“Well, tanks fer nuttin’!”
And, then there’s Diamondbacks. The Cubs haven’t played them at all yet. It would have been great if they could have played Arizona sometime between July 2 and August 11 when they went 7-25.
Seven and twenty-five! Holy shit.
On July 1 the D’bags were 50-34. That was the second best record in the league behind just the Barves, and it was EIGHT games better than the team with the third best record in the league (the Marlins, if you can believe that).
Then, they went through that 32 game stretch where they were the worst team in baseball. They managed to somehow get swept in series by the Mets (the Mets!), the Blue Jays, the Reds, the Twins and Dodgers, they even lost a series 2-1 to the Cardinals, which is basically the same as being swept.
But since August 12? They are 11-3 and look every bit like the team that was 16 games over to start July.
Cubs’ fans were lamenting the tough luck of playing the Tigers now that Kerry Carpenter and Spencer Torkelson have become Hank Greenberg and Rudy York, or the Royals now that they’re…I don’t even remember why they were allegedly not terrible last week, or Pissburgh now that they are…no, the Pirates still suck.
It’s a reminder that it’s as much when you play teams as who you play. But this isn’t supposed to be easy.
Actually though, maybe it is kind of is supposed to be easy. Seven playoff teams in 15 game leagues is a joke, especially in baseball. But, you’re not supposed to only have to beat the White Sox, Royals, Tigers and Pirates.
If the Cubs are going to make the playoffs they’re going to have to beat playoff quality teams to get there.
Well, sorta. Once they get through the next three weeks they’ll get the Pirates and Rockies at home and then finish against a Barves team that will have clinched a month ago and the Brewers who will be…well, they’ll want to beat the Cubs no matter what, especially since 80 percent of the fans in their own park will be rooting for the opponents.
Anyway, buckle up. The shit gets real starting today.
Not only did the weekend in Pissburgh include three Cubs wins, but potentially great developments for a pitching staff that is starting to show obvious, concerning, inevitable signs of wear and tear.
Big Boy Javier Assad was excellent again on Sunday. It’s looking increasingly unlikely that Marcus Stroman’s “cartridge” is going to heal in time for him to make anything but a potential late season cameo, so hopefully Javier and his apparently superfluous eyeglasses2 can hold on for another five or six weeks.
Jordan Wicks made his big league debut and pitched great, though he did not, as Fox announcer Kevin Kugler proclaimed, strike out the side in his first inning.
Oh, he struck out three Pirates, alright. But he also allowed a homer, a single and a walk. He struck out three. He did not strike out “the side.”
It was looking rough for him after just three batters. He was already behind 1-0 and had runners on first and second when Cubs’ pitching coach Tommy Hottovy finally trekked out to the mound and suggested that Jordan throw his best pitch a lot. Wicks broke out his change up and struck out nine of the next 12 batters. I mean, holy shit, why do they make this so hard?
Too bad Boog wasn’t around on Saturday to tell us what an incredible mound visit it was by Hottovy. I’m sure no other pitching coach would have thought to tell the rookie to throw his “good” pitch.
Wicks is a big favorite in Rockford, and not because he loves Taco Bell (though, given the size of his pants, it looks like he does). Wicks pitched for the Rockford Rivets in 2020 the summer between his sophomore and junior seasons at Kansas State. And last year he and his wife Megan did a commercial for a jeweler in Rockford. The commercial gave no context. It was just a Cubs’ farm hand begrudgingly talking about how much his wife liked the ring he bought. It’s quite the masterpiece. She is clearly thrilled at the ring they got, and he looks like he could give a shit. But the weirdest thing is that at no point to do they explain why a young couple from Conway, Arkansas was ring shopping on the beautiful east side of Rockford, Illinois. And, that the commercial was not running during the game Saturday night shows a distinct lack of hustle between Zavius Jewelers and their ad rep at Fox 39.
Wicks pitched five innings and left with an 8-1 lead that Hayden Wesneski tried his hardest to erase. But five innings is about what we should expect from Jordan in his starts the rest of the way. He hasn’t thrown more than 89 pitches in a game in the minors this year, and I don’t think the big leagues is a good place to start stretching guys out.
Michael Fulmer won’t be around for a while to pick up any innings, probably because he pitched in 57 of the Cubs first 127 games3, and he’s on the injured list with forearm tightness. But I’m sure that’s fine. It’s not like he’s already had Tommy John Disease once and a second procedure where they just went in and scooted his ulnar collateral ligament over a skosh. Oh, he did?
But when the Cubs training staff closes a door it opens a window, and Keegan Thompson tumbled through it. You can be forgiven if you forgot that Keegan was still a thing.
But after struggling with the Cubs to start the season and in Iowa for a while, he went on the IL and returned a new man.
And he looked it yesterday, pitching the eighth and ninth and striking out five of the six Pissburgers who dared to face him.
Keegan was so good last year, that a return to even close to his old form would be a major development for the Cubs down the stretch.
His biggest turnaround at Iowa was that after his IL stint he walked only four in 14 innings. But he gave up 15 hits and six of those were homers. So…maybe we should temper our expectations a little.
Assuming the Padres are ever going to get good.
Honestly, for all the stupid shit Taylor McGregor talks about during games, could she not get the scoop on whether Big Boy’s glasses even have lenses in them? He appears to not really need them. Last year, they broke during a game in Toronto and he just pitched without them. He takes them off when he’s in the dugout after he leaves the game, so unless he doesn’t want to see the bullpen try to hold his lead, his vision is apparently just fine without them.
Is that a lot? That seems like a lot. It’s a positively Cishek-ian workload.