Category: Thoughts

Cubs Sweep Bucs

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The Chicago Cubs fielded an outfield with only one of their Opening Day starters out there, they left 10 men on base, and Jon Lester fielded a ground ball that got stuck in his glove.

They still won on Wednesday afternoon, sweeping the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-2.

They took the three-game road series by scores of 7-2, 7-1 and 6-2.

I’ll save you the math and give you the final score: 20-5.

In six games against the Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs have gone 5-1.

The Pittsburgh Massacre gave the Cubs a 6 game lead in the NL Central through May 4th.

They start a four-game series at home on Thursday against the Washington Nationals, which is likely going to be billed by the national media as a potential preview of the National League Championship Series.

There’s still a long way to go, of course, but the Cubs have put up some unprecedented numbers through their 20-6 start to the season.

When your team is accomplishing things that haven’t been done since John McGraw’s mighty 1905 New York Giants squad, you’re doing alright.

Their Pythagorean record is 22-4.

Their run differential is plus-93.

In the average game, they win by 3.6 runs.

The next best is the previously mentioned Nationals, who win by an average of 1.5.

For reference, last year’s leaders were the Toronto Blue Jays, who won by an average of 1.4.

They’re walking in 13.3% of their plate appearances.  (9.2% led the league last season.)

Something’s got to give, right?

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Cubs Extend Lead To 4

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On the one hand, folks are quick to point out that it’s only May 3rd, so being back four games isn’t such a big deal for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The flip side, of course, is that it’s only May 3rd and the Chicago Cubs are already up by four games.

You could say it’s a very small deficit to make up.

Or could you say that, at this pace, the Cubs would clinch the division on September 5th.

It’s all a matter of perspective, I guess.

Round 1 of Cubs vs. Pirates turned nasty when Kyle Lobstein – whether on his own or under direction of Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle – decided to throw at Ben Zobrist in retaliation for Cubs starter Jason Hammel having hit Starling Marte the inning prior.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon had some choice f-bombs for Lobstein.

Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli had some in return for Maddon.

And home plate umpire Laz Diaz was stuck in the middle of it all, trying to assure all parties involved that he had things under control.

In the end, it was a lop-sided 7-2 win for the Cubs, who gave Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole fits with their usual 2016 brand of running up pitch counts.

Cole left after 4.2 innings of work, allowing 6 runs (5 earned) on 10 base runners (6 hits, 4 walks).

Chicago is now a combined 3-1 against the other NL Central superpowers, the St. Louis Cardinals proposing to be the other member of the preseason Big 3.

Though, at 13-13, having been swept at home by the Washington Nationals over the weekend and Adam Wainwright paying too much attention to what social media trolls are saying about him, my doubts about the Redbirds are starting to creep in.

It’s a good start for the Cubs, who had an undoubtedly easy April schedule.

To their credit, they took advantage of it.

They start May with three games in Pittsburgh before a 10-game home-stand that begins with four games against the Nats and ends with three against the Bucs.

With three games in St. Louis and four at home against the stacked Los Angeles Dodgers towards the end of the month, it should be interesting to see where they’re at exactly one month from today.

For now, the view from four games up is pretty good.

Bad Signs For Adam Wainwright

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More about Adam Wainwright later on…

I figured I would be writing this morning about Jake Arrieta‘s second consecutive no-hitter, thrown in blustery weather against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field last night.

But perpetual rain took the game away from the Chicago Cubs, so instead we’re left with a rash of allegations (suspicions?) that Arrieta is juicing.

The loudest voices in these claims are notorious gasbags Stephen A. Smith and Ozzie Guillen Jr., so…  perhaps best left not examined.

In today’s day and age, it’s never exactly shocking if a player is found to be using PED.

With Arrieta, I’m inclined to think that his renowned workout regimen and dedication to healthy eating has everything to do with it.

It also seems that in my 30-plus years of really watching baseball I’ve seen numerous examples of pitchers who didn’t really turn the corner until their late 20s, learning how to pitch and not just throw.

Arrieta was a top prospect with the Baltimore Orioles, so it’s not as though his recent success is completely shocking. That, coupled with coming over to Chicago under pitching coach Chris Bosio, seems to indicate more a case of “finally figuring things out”.

But, again, modern times lead me to think that anything is possible. I just don’t plan to dwell on this any more.

Elsewhere in the division, the Pittsburgh Pirates won for the 6th time in their last 7 games, running their winning streak up to 5 with a 9-8 win in 12 innings over the Colorado Rockies.

Andrew McCutchen did not homer, but did go 2-for-5 with a double to continue his rebound from a rough start to the season.

Fellow outfielders Starling Marte (2-for-5, SB) and Gregory Polanco (HR) also enjoyed nice nights.

It was a battle of awful starting pitching, with Jon Niese getting roughed up again – 5 IP, 5 ER, 10 H, 2 BB, 5 SO.

For the Rox, Jon Gray went just 3.2 innings, allowing 6 runs on 9 hits and a walk.

Also coming up winners were the St. Louis Cardinals, who took down the Arizona Diamondbacks, 11-4, thanks to a 5-run 6th and 3-run 7th that put the game out of reach.

Stephen Piscotty went 4-for-5 with a pair of RBI and is hitting .305 with a .917 OPS this season.

The lineup had to bail out starting pitcher Adam Wainwright, who allowed 4 runs in 5.1 innings of work to see his ERA drop to 7.16 in 2016.  He allowed 7 hits (2 of which left the park) and walked one.

Waino has allowed a .327 batting average against this season, which is well above a .245 career mark. His WHIP of 1.70 is ghastly. Possibly telling is his 0.94 ground ball/fly ball ratio.  He’s usually sitting around 1.4, so maybe he’s leaving the ball up.

Not sure what to make of this, but here’s a comparison of his pitch locations for 2015 versus 2016.

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His career walk rate is 6.1% but so far this season it’s 8.7%.

The most telling differences between those two graphs is to see how much more he’s missing high (4.15% in 2016 versus 2.35% last season) as well as a pretty astounding rate at throwing low and right (from the catcher’s perspective) – 11% this season.

Let’s take a look at the velocity.

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While last season he was hitting 94 with his four-seam and sinker, this season he’s seeing more 91. Similarly, the cutter has gone down from 89 to 87.

Right now, his velocity is down a couple of ticks and he can’t seem to locate his pitches.

To his credit, he did only walk one batter last night. And he had 6 outs on the ground compared to 0 in the air, so maybe things are turning around.

Still, it bears keeping an eye on.

 

Andrew McCutchen – That Is All

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Last season, Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen hit .194/.302/.333 in the month of April.

He finished off with a solid .292/.401/.488 mark.

He may be doing something similar this season, as he entered last night’s game with a slash line of .213/.337/.347 – slightly better than last April, but not quite “McCutchenesque”.

Well, stuck in a 3-for-23 slump that saw him getting some occasional days off, “Cutch” broke out in a big way last night, helping the Bucs to a 9-4 win over the Colorado Rockies.

McCutchen worked the field with a solo shot to left in the 1st, a solo shot to center in the 2nd, and a 3-run homer to right in the 6th.

Left fielder Starling Marte picked up his 3rd outfield assist of the season, cutting down the potential tying runner in the 5th inning and killing a Colorado rally.

Here’s a look at the current stats for the mighty Pittsburgh outfield.

AVG/OBP/SLG 2B 3B HR
LF Starling Marte .322/.326/.529 9 0 3
CF Andrew McCutchen .238/.351/.475 4 0 5
RF Gregory Polanco .333/.440/.520 9 1 1

The Pirates had lost 6 of 7 at one point, but have since gone 7-3 including wins in 5 of their last 6.

Unfortunately for them, the Chicago Cubs have a league-best .750 winning percentage, so there’s only so much they can do.

But Pittsburgh has gotten their name into the playoff conversation, living up to their pre-season expectations.

Pittsburgh Pirates Moving Up

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Matt Joyce‘s 3-run homer to opposite field in the top of the 7th broke the game wide open, leading the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 6-1 road win against the Colorado Rockies last night.

Jeff Locke tossed 6 shutout innings for his first win of the season, striking out 8.

5 of Locke’s 8 strikeouts came looking which may have had something to do with two Rockies getting ejected from the game.

It was Pittsburgh’s 4th win in their last 5 contests and pushed them up into 2nd place in the Central.

Starling Marte had another nice game for Pittsburgh. He’s hitting .329 with a .375 OBP and already has 9 doubles and 6 stolen bases.

The story in Pittsburgh as of late has been an overtaxed bullpen and while Locke’s 6 shutout innings of work were nice, they are still looking for somebody to go 7-plus.

In fact, they’ve gone 8 straight games now without a starting pitcher working their way into the 7th inning. The last time it happened was April 16th, when Jon Niese went 7 shutout innings for the win at home against the Milwaukee Brewers.


The Pirates are 11-9 with a +6 run differential (0.0 per game) while the St. Louis Cardinals‘ loss dropped them to 10-9. The Redbirds have an impressive +35 run differential (+1.6 per game) but were swept by the Bucs to start the 2016 season.

Here are expected records based on run differential in the NL Central. That Luck column is basically Actual Wins minus Expected Wins, so teams like the Chicago Cubs and Cardinals should have a couple more wins than they do right now, while the Cincinnati Reds and Brewers have better records than they deserve.

Exp W-L Luck
Cubs 16-3 -2
Cardinals 12-7 -2
Pirate 11-9 0
Reds 6-14 +3
Brewers 6-13 +2

In New York last night, veteran Cincinnati second baseman Brandon Phillips took a Noah Syndergaard fastball off his left ring finger and was removed from the game.

X-rays were negative.


Read a nice little article over at Fangraphs where August Fagerstrom puts the spotlight on the Cubs’ base-running skills.

Arrieta No-Hits Hapless Reds

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I had no intention of blogging today, but then…

Look, it’s no mystery that the Cincinnati Reds are just plain awful.

Please don’t tell me that they are 8-8.

Zach Buchanan at the Cincinnati Enquirer points out how the Chicago Cubs are “light years ahead” of the rest of the league with a plus-60 run differential this far while the next best team (the Washington Nationals) are just plus-31.

But then he says everybody should calm down and remember that the Reds are 8-8.

If he’s going to point out the Cubs’ run differential, he might want to take a look at his own team’s as well.

The Reds have averaged 3.9 runs scored per game while allowing a league-worst 5.9 per game.

You don’t average being outscored by 2 full runs and finish the season .500.

They have a Pythagorean record of 5-11, which is a more accurate representation of their talent level.

Their last four wins have each been by 1-run margins.

By contrast, four of their eight losses have been by 7 runs or more.

Ouch.

That’s not to take anything away from Jake Arrieta, who has pitched like Superman for the last several years now.

He’s off to a 4-0 start with a 0.87 ERA.

Take on his last 28 starts from 2015 to give us a full-season of 32 starts and you get 23-4 with a 1.50 ERA.

He has made 24 consecutive quality starts in the regular season. In that stretch, he’s gone 20-1 with a 0.86 ERA. (The only loss was when Cole Hamels threw a no-hitter against the Cubbies.)

So he’s been doing alright, that Jake guy.

My favorite moment from the post-game interview with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies on the Cubs’ TV crew was Arrieta pointing out some of the superstitions surrounding throwing no-hitters: “Business as usual, other than ‘Javy’ (Javier Baez) was in my spot before the eighth inning, so I kind of gave him a little hell for that, told him to never do that again.”

David Ross caught the first no-hitter of his career in this, his final season. This shower is pretty spectacular.

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“Grandpa Rossy” came into the interview room towards the tail end of Arrieta’s session with the media, saying “I didn’t want any questions — I just want a picture” then sitting down for photos with his pitcher.

Remember April 11th, when Brandon Finnegan started for the Reds against the Cubs and took a no-hitter into the 7th inning?

Neither do the Cubs’ batters.

In a merciless outburst, Chicago racked up 5 runs on 7 hits and a pair of walk in 4 innings of work for Finnegan, who fell to 1-1 on the season.

Relievers Tim Melville and Drew Hayes each allowed 4 runs in 2 innings of work.

The final score was 16-0.

Arrieta himself had a pair of hits. Ross homered and scored three runs. Kris Bryant had four hits and homered twice (4). Anthony Rizzo homered. Ben Zobrist had his first Cubs’ homer and was a triple shy of the cycle.

All along I was watching the game and feeling a little bad for Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who we know wants to protect Arrieta’s arm and make sure he has bullets left in it for October baseball.

This violates a maxim of baseball, assuming that you will get to the playoffs. But with a 12-4 start to the season and the way this roster is built, it’s about as safe a bet as you can get. Still, no guarantees…

With the team running away with it, there was no reason to leave Arrieta in. It was a perfect opportunity to rest his arm, pull him after 6 or 7 innings only having thrown maybe 80-90 pitches.

Instead, Maddon had to leave Arrieta in and just sort of wait and see what happened.

Couldn’t help but wonder if part of him was thinking “please just give up a hit so I can get you out of there.”

But Arrieta was not to be denied.

There was some good material in the Twitter-verse following the no-no, including love between the Arrieta’s family and Ross and the Los Angeles Dodgers (victims of Arrieta’s 2015 no-hitter) consoling the Reds.

His 2nd no-hitter in as many seasons is in the books and the Cubs are on a nice roll, taking advantage of a their cupcake April schedule.

Cardinals Break Through, Avoid Sweep

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It took six tries, but the St. Louis Cardinals finally came away with a win against one of the other elite teams in the NL Central.

In a game that would have taken 2 hours and 40 minutes to play were it not for weather, the Cards came away 5-3 winners at home against the Chicago Cubs, avoiding a sweep.

A rain delay that lasted nearly 3 and a half hours settled in on Busch Stadium in the bottom of the 7th, testing the patience of those of us who were looking forward to the game.

In fact, it was a bit of a yawner.

Cardinals center fielder Randal Grichuk set the mood in the top of the 1st inning, robbing Anthony Rizzo of a home run over the center field wall for the third out.

Matt Holliday connected for a two-run homer in the bottom of the inning and the Birds got two more in the 2nd – Yadier Molina doubled and later scored on a wild pitch by Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks then Kolten Wong scored on an RBI single by St. Louis starter Carlos Martinez.

The Cubs made a game of it following the rain delay as they picked up a pair of runs in the 8th.

But the Cards came back with an insurance run in the bottom of the inning and Trevor Rosenthal closed it out in the 9th, striking out the side for this 100th career save.

Both teams were headed to other destinations following the game – Chicago to Cincinnati and St. Louis to San Diego – so you never want a game that ends more than 6 hours after it began.

But such is life in April baseball, where Mother Nature often has plans of her own.


The “Big Three” all have chances to win over the weekend, with the Cubs (11-4) visiting the Cincinnati Reds (8-7) for a four-game series that begins this evening, the Cards (8-7) visiting the San Diego Padres (6-9) for a three-game set that starts tomorrow, and the Pittsburgh Pirates (7-8)road trip continuing with a three-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks (8-8).

(The Bucs have one more game against San Diego this evening.)

The most interesting of those match-ups is probably the Pirates / D-Backs series.

Pittsburgh was expected to be solid again this season, yet they seem to be spinning their wheels right now. Their National League ranks are 8th in both runs scored and runs allowed per game. So they are right there in the middle. They have a run differential of minus-6.

There was expectations that ‘zona could contend in the NL West, particularly with the acquisition of Zack Greinke, and yet here they are with a pedestrian .500 record, ranking 9th in runs scored and 11th in runs allowed per game.

Just looking at the 2016 standings, you’d think that’s about as bland of a series as you can get. But knowing what’s expected of each team, and only being almost 10% of the way through the season, it’s hard to not want to watch and try to figure out where, if anywhere, those two squads are headed.