Well, that rebound didn’t last long. This is my seventh year writing about the Cubs. Before that, I was a long time commenter on this site. I’ve had an awful lot of positive things to say about this organization. I came to Bleed Cubbie Blue while the Cubs were terrible. Back then, Theo Epstein was still new here and we spent many, many hours talking about parallel tracks and waves and waves of talent.
He never really accomplished either of those things. I was particularly frustrated that parallel tracks never materialized. But you had to be a fool not to love the things they were putting together. A series of shrewd trades, nailing a handful of first round picks and some spectacular free agent signings. That brought Chicago a North Side World Series win for the first time in anyone’s memory. Who wasn’t carried away by that?
There was so much talk about character and chemistry. Then there was a trade for a player with a checkered past. And then a player inside the organization who was an embarrassment to the team. There were trades of some of the brightest prospects in the system to keep a championship window open. Those trades were more frustrating than shrewd. There were early, frustrating playoff exits. There was the hasty collapse of the 2019 team after a terrifically surprising start to the season. There was an awkward reload.
Through 90 percent of that, I’d say I was upbeat and positive. I carried a lot of water for this team. Apologized for a lot of their missteps and always bought into the next thing. I have been a hopeless Cub fan since I was a kid. All too often I watched them through rose colored glasses. As an example, I’m a natural skeptic and I never suspected or even gave a second’s thought to any Cubs player being connected to PEDs in the 90’s. I’ve so often just accepted the narrative.
That makes it all the more striking this season. Because save from being swept up in the first handful of games of this season, I’m not buying anything this team is selling. I’m positive I can go back to my early writing this season and even while being giddy about the early winning, I was asking what was going to happen when teams control the running game? What was going to happen as pitchers get sharper and teams execute their game planning better against this team?
The on-field product for this team just feels like it is run haphazard. I think of Eric Hosmer being statistically one of the worst players in baseball and still being penciled into the lineup. At the same time, Christopher Morel was laying waste to the International League. I think of the day Jameson Taillon came off of the injured list. I’d seen earlier in the week a quote that it wouldn’t be Taillon taking the start. Then he was thrown into that start with no rehab at all.
So here we are, Christopher Morel is the most electrifying player I’ve seen since Sammy Sosa. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo were terrific. Derrek Lee was awesome. Those guys were just business like in what they do. Morel is a character. If you would rather see Javy Báez or Willson Contreras here, I’m not going to quibble with you. Both of those guys had some amazing moments as Cubs and both of them had character in excess. But neither of them had this kind of on field success. Oh, and Morel bats ninth? Nick Madrigal is one of the least productive hitters on the team and gets four games leading off. Morel has the best stats on the team and bats ninth? Heaven forbid we displace someone else from their spot in the order.
Also, there is Jameson Taillon. Al wrote about it earlier. You don’t wish for anybody to be hurt. But, you almost have to pray Taillon is hurt. If he’s healthy and this terrible, that’s one insanely bad contract. I’ve been looking at what is happening to Taillon and I think I’d be inclined to offer every team a veteran exception for the roster. Something that could only be used for an established player. Something where you don’t have to fake an injury but can pull them off of the roster and get them a reset, whether it’s to shut them down completely or run them through the equivalent of a rehab stint in the minors.
It’s hard to watch a guy go through what he’s going through start after start. Surely, as with every other roster rule, somebody is going to angle shoot. You can’t avoid that. But it just seems to be another way to do things other than carry a struggling veteran when things aren’t right. Of course, with the way this year’s Cubs team has gone, they probably would have already had that spot filled with Eric Hosmer.
Every move this team makes seems like it is going wrong. Kyle Hendricks didn’t come back to the Cubs and take a start this weekend. Instead, he had another strong outing for Iowa. That was paired with Hayden Wesneski throwing five scoreless and hitless innings. I’m not actually sure why Wesneski isn’t here if it wasn’t to make room for Hendricks. I’m certainly now hoping that both pitchers will be here next week and Taillon goes to the injury list to try to work out whatever got out of whack while he was trying to work through a groin injury.
Needless to say, I’m frustrated with this team and this organization. I’ve walked through the neighborhood, but I’m calling for David Ross to be fired at some point this season. The hitters and starting pitchers are sometimes highly effective so I don’t think dispatching more hitting and pitching coaches is the way to go. When a team misses the mark like this team is doing, someone loses a job. We have a President of Baseball Operations who didn’t get to pick his own manager. Thanks for the memories, David. Next.
Let’s try to find three positives.
- I’m clearly all in on the Morel bandwagon. I know I’ll be trying to fix the tires when they all go flat at once. But man, this is a stretch of baseball that any player across MLB top to bottom would be happy to own. I realize Saturday’s homer was in garbage time. But are you kidding me? Seven homers in 10 games. 14 runs and 13 RBI. A .381/.409/.952 (wRC+261) stretch. I’ll leave it to the historians to track down all of the stretches in Cubs history someone had a line like that. I just won’t expect too many names on the list. Oh yeah, he also had a double and scored twice.
- Jeremiah Estrada faced five batters, retired four of them and struck out three of those. He did walk one. The stupid expectations of this team are holding it back. If this team didn’t think it was an underachieving playoff contender, Estrada would be getting increasingly high leverage appearances. He’s a seriously intriguing pitcher but he’s buried in low leverage situations. Hint: all of the guys you’ve used in leverage spots this year have failed too. Give a kid a chance.
- Six hits and a lot of bad pitching makes for a dearth of quality choices for this last spot. That makes Dansby Swanson a natural pick for this spot. He had a homer before getting a few innings off in a blow out. I’m here for when Dansby busts all of the way out. I know there is a whole gear we haven’t seen yet. In the meantime, I’m just praying we surround him with talent and don’t waste a signing like that.
Game 45, May 20: Phillies 12, Cubs 3 (20-25)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Yan Gomes (.027). 1-3, K
- Hero: Matt Mervis (.012). 1-3, DP
- Sidekick: Jeremiah Estrada (.001). 1⅓ IP, 5 batters, BB, 3K
- Billy Goat: Jameson Taillon (-.385). 2⅓ IP, 17 batters, 6H, 3BB, 8R (6ER), K (L 0-3)
- Goat: Nico Hoerner (-.044). 0-3, K
- Kid: Dansby Swanson (-.029). 1-3, HR, 2RBI, R, K
WPA Play of the Game: Kyle Schwarber batted with the bases loaded and one out in the first inning. The game was scoreless until his grand slam. (.213)
*Cubs Play of the Game: One batter earlier, Jameson Taillon had induced a pop up off of the bat of J.T. Realmuto. (.063)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
Christopher Morel (2-3, HR, 2B, RBI, 2R)
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Winner: Nico Hoerner (Superhero is 30-14)
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 5/Bottom 5)
The award is named for Anthony Rizzo, who finished first in this category three of the first four years it was in existence and four times overall. He also recorded the highest season total ever at +65.5. The point scale is three points for a Superhero down to negative three points for a Billy Goat.
- Ian Happ/Justin Steele/Marcus Stroman +10
- Mark Leiter Jr. +9.5
- Drew Smyly +6
- Michael Fulmer -7
- Patrick Wisdom -7.5
- Trey Mancini -8
- Nico Hoerner -8.5
- Jameson Taillon -10
Up Next: The third and final game of the series. The Cubs still have a chance to win one series on this trip. They reach this point in the trip at 2-6 with one to play. They have the right guy to do it, if they are going to do it. Justin Steele (6-1, 2.44, 55⅓ IP) has been the Cubs best pitcher to date. If you missed the story, one of the online sites had him receiving a vote in NL Cy Young voting for the first quarter of the season. They may have done their balloting before he got hammered in his last start against the Astros. Of course, even hammered for Steele was five runs on five hits and one walk over six innings. He had a 1.00 WHIP on a bad day (when he was pitching under the weather). He’ll look to bounce back.
The Phillies will start 30-year-old right hander Taijuan Walker (3-2, 6.53, 41⅓ IP). The former first round (43rd overall pick) of the Mariners is off to one of the worst starts of his career. In 176 lifetime appearances (172 starts), he has a 4.00 ERA in 939⅓ innings. He’s struggled with the long ball with eight homers allowed in nine starts. Please don’t get cute and have Wisdom, Morel and Suzuki, in some order, in the middle of the lineup for this one.