So the Cubs travelled west to play the Dodgers and A’s las month. Ahead of that, I saw a number of reasoned takes about the trip and how it might cause the Cubs to stumble. And, of course, the Cubs won five of six. That brought the team home at 11-6 and the largest amount of buzz around the Cubs since May of ‘21. Not exactly ancient history, but still not exactly just recently.
Then the Cubs came home and had a bucket of cold water thrown on them by the Dodgers, losing three of the four games, but then had a nice bounceback series against the Padres saw two out of three wins. A 3-4 homestand was disappointing but not crushing.
Then I saw more than a few takes about two weeks of lesser competition. I’ll raise my hand. After the last Padres game, I noted that if the Cubs took care of business against the Marlins, they’d go two weeks without an opponent who was over .500. They did not in any way take care of business. They lost three straight to the Marlins and then three of four to the Nationals. Two three-game skids sandwiched around the one win. Frustrating.
Al adequately covered the highs and lows of the game. I’m not recapping it here. Josh should always be your source for information about the minor league system. During the last rebuild, like so many I turned my attention that way and learned a lot from Josh and his coverage of the system. From years of following the Cubs on the web, I know there are a number of people positioned similar to Josh who have a lot of great coverage of the minors, but for my time I’m always tuning in to Josh. I just vibe with the way he covers things.
Surely, you hear the “but” coming in my words. I’m going to vent my uneducated two cents worth on Matt Mervis. I’ve been accused once or twice of shilling for the Cubs. I’m not and never will be on their payroll. I’m essentially a lifelong fan and that’s where my loyalty comes from. I largely ignore the other 29 teams unless they happen to be playing the Cubs at the moment. That laser focus makes me overeducated on the Cubs for someone who spends the amount of time on baseball that I do. At the same time, I’m undereducated on what is going on around the league.
With that frame of reference, I defend most of what the Cubs do. I wrote a fair bit early this season about the process and finishing development and letting things play out with Mervis and Christopher Morel. But today, I can only be a Cub fan. A frustrated Cub fan. I said my view was either uneducated or undereducated, but I’m going to vent. I’m going to hope that this therapeutic for me and some of you too.
I get that there is a process. At the end of 2022, there was a feeling that maybe the organization had turned a corner. When the team started 11-6, there was that buzz I talked about. 17 games is way too short a time to draw conclusions. The team could be as good as their start, better than it or worse. You can handicap those probabilities. In this instance, most of us would say that 11-6 was going to play out to about 110 wins. So that wasn’t going to happen. So rule out the same or better. Okay, they were going to slow down. But fall off of a cliff?
Tomorrow is never guaranteed. You can only win the game in front of you. And if you think you have a chance to be in contention this season, you should probably go for it. Cody Bellinger is working out pretty well. Eric Hosmer, Edwin Rios and Luis Torrens might all be terrific guys. None of them are working as gap filler. Nick Madrigal and Trey Mancini are probably right on the edge of gap filler. The rest of the team is performing pretty well offensively.
Meanwhile, Christopher Morel laid waste to the International League in April. Matt Mervis wasn’t as dynamic, but he too looks the part of a guy who can take the next step. Here’s the thing. If it was about checking boxes, Mervis hasn’t done anything particularly special the last week or so. He certainly hasn’t done anything that Morel isn’t doing. Meanwhile, the Cubs just lost six of seven on the road, including five by one run. They averaged three runs per game on the trip.
I haven’t checked in a few years, but there used to be a pretty solid rule of thumb. Didn’t really matter how good your team is. Three runs or less, you lose. Four or more you win. The best teams would steal a few extra under four games and the worst teams would blow a few extra over four games.
Of course I’m happy that Mervis is heading to Chicago. I will certainly rearrange my day to see his debut. But I’m damn frustrated that they just dropped six of seven against beatable teams with all of the games being winnable. But part of me is frustrated. Is Mervis being called up now because of a bad trip? Because of a struggling offense? No pressure, kid. Seriously. You could have brought him up while the lineup was clicking and the team was flying high. Every person among us knows of the meatball fans in their life that are going to look at this kid like he’s supposed to pull open his jersey and reveal the “S” on his chest.
And seriously, we’ve talked about certain Cubs and how they are treated by the team. Morel’s agent should be burning up the phones. Morel just had one of the best months in Iowa Cubs history. I don’t think I’m guilty of hyperbole there. When you start talking about the highest OPS and most home runs in organized ball, you are in some rare air. If Morel isn’t one of the 26 best players in the Cubs organization, I’ll eat my hat and yours too. Having already seen a fair bit of Morel, I’m actually more certain that he can produce at the MLB level than I am about Mervis.
In the offseason, you had Nico Hoerner graciously moving to second base. He’ll make less money over the course of his career because of this decision. There’s no question he’s one of the 32 best shortstops when he’s playing the position. He’s almost certainly a top 10 shortstop. You had Adbert Alzolay giving up, for now at least, on starting. Keegan Thompson was the same. Starters make money than relievers. In most instances, even back of the rotation starters make more money than even closers. Nick Madrigal worked on playing third base. Patrick Wisdom worked on playing the outfield. Guys did what they could to be flexible and accommodate the changes this organization made to be better.
Figure it out. Morel is going to come too. It’s only a matter of time. Several players are surely going to get less playing time than they are used to or want to have. One or two of them are either going to be playing for Iowa or somewhere else. Winning isn’t about making friends, it’s about putting the best team on the field as often as you can. A few years ago, we watched the Dodgers essentially run a seven-man rotation, playing games with the injured list. Guys got less starts than they would. But the goal wasn’t personal achievement. It was about winning a World Series.
This team showed a fair bit of unselfishness in the offseason. They are probably going to need to show more before all is said and done. Figure it out.
Let’s see if we can find three positive performances in a pretty frustrating loss in a very frustrating week.
- Javier Assad faced 15 batters and recorded 15 outs. That’s a nifty trick. He allowed only two singles. One was erased trying to go to second, the other by a double play. Assad had a bit of a rough start to his season, but this was the pitcher the Cubs dreamed on during the World Baseball Classic. Can they unlock that talent on a more regular basis? If so, there is definitely a role on this team for him.
- Cody Bellinger had two more hits. One of them was the weird windblown single off of Patrick Corbin that was, through seven innings, the only thing he allowed. He stole a base after that hit. He later singled and scored the first run.
- I’ll give Trey Mancini the last spot. He had an RBI-double in the 8th inning comeback. If that ball goes a little further, it was a three-run game-tying homer. Ignoring today, from April 8 to May 3, Trey had a line of .293/.346/.440 (wRC+ 115). He’s got an elevated BABIP of .373 in that stretch but his ISO of .147 would also be the lowest number of his whole career. So you’d expect the average to nudge down, but the slugging percentage to either hold or even increase some, at least in theory.
Game 31, May 4: Nationals 4, Cubs 3 (15-16)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Seiya Suzuki (.196). 1-4, 2B, K
- Hero: Nico Hoerner (.190). 1-4, RBI, K
- Sidekick: Javier Assad (.182). 5IP, 15 batters, 2H, K
- Billy Goat: Brad Boxberger (-.362). 1 batter (1 pitch!), H, R (L 0-1)
- Goat: Patrick Wisdom (-.185). 1-4, R, 3K
- Kid: Jameson Taillon (-.173). 3IP, 12 batters, 3H, 3R, 4K
WPA Play of the Game: Alex Call’s homer on the first pitch of the bottom of the ninth was a walk-off. (.362)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Seiya Suzuki’s double with a runner on first and no outs in the top of the ninth. (.236)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments).
Yesterday’s Winner: Marcus Stroman (Superhero 21-9)
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.
- Marcus Stroman +11
- Justin Steele +10
- Ian Happ +9
- Mark Leiter Jr. +7.5
- Drew Smyly +6
- Four Players -4
- Julian Merryweather -4.5
- Patrick Wisdom -5.5
- Michael Fulmer/Nico Hoerner -6
Up Next: The Cubs return home for a weekend rematch with the Marlins. The Marlins are right where they were a week ago. That is, at .500, 16-16. They won three straight from the Cubs, then followed it by losing three straight to the Braves.
Justin Steele (4-0, 1.49, 36⅓ IP) appears to be emerging as the ace of this Cubs staff. MLB.com just rated him as the No. 10 starter across all of baseball. The former fifth round pick had a no-decision on Sunday in Miami when he allowed two earned runs over seven innings. He won his two starts prior to that. One of the hallmarks of an ace is slump busting. Let’s hope he takes that step for this one.
Edward Cabrera (2-2, 4.67, 27 IP) pitched in the wild Saturday game in Miami. Wild was a word for his start. Mixed bag was another. He only lasted five innings and walked five. Then again, he also only allowed three hits and struck out 12. The bullpen was up early, but he kept things together and picked up a win. Walks are his issue. He’s allowed 25 of them. But then he’s also struck out an amazing 36 batters. That’s an eye-popping K rate. He did average more than a strikeout an inning across almost 400 minor league innings. So this is not a mirage. Let’s see how the Cubs do the second time around.