For the last few years, there has come a day where the tone of my writing shifts from being concerned with the day to day results and how it fits into the chase for the playoffs to the bigger picture. Big picture view is about looking at how things fit into the long term picture. Is the season mathematically over? Of course not. There is a lot of baseball left. But the calendar has turned to July. The All-Star break is just around the corner and after it, trade season will begin to pick up steam.
Today is that day. The Cubs have dropped six of seven. They sit six games under .500. The mad dash that brought them back near the .500 mark is further and further in the rear view mirror with each passing day. The Brewers loom next. Maybe 2023 is the year the Cubs begin exorcizing demons in Milwaukee. The Brewers are six over .500 and have won seven of 10. I’m not terribly optimistic that this is going to be that year. A trip to New York for a Yankees team that has spent the first half the year kind of muddling along and is still eight games over .500.
This could be a hellish week. Jameson Taillon looks lined up to open the series against his former team. Taillon broke his streak of allowing four earned runs in every interleague game — by allowing five instead of four. He allowed six in all (one unearned) and was the reason the Cubs were so far behind the eight ball in the first place. I don’t begin to know how you address that problem. It used to be that you’d shut down a pitcher rather than let him lose 20 games. Taillon is nowhere near that dubious distinction, but I don’t know how you don’t shut him down in some way eventually. The Cubs are now 2-12 when he starts.
Neither Hayden Wesneski nor Javier Assad has particularly blown the door off. But it would be hard not to feel more comfortable with one of them starting every fifth day. One way or the other, at some point this team is going to have to deal with that situation. I can’t decide if I think maybe going back to New York, where he was successful, might help or if it would make sense to skip his start in New York and add it to the break and just get him a full reset.
On the positive side, it is hard not to feel good about Christopher Morel. 15 homers in 169 plate appearances jump off the page. One homer basically every 11 at bats is elite. For reference, Shohei Ohtani has hit 31 of them in 377 PA. Can that number simply project? That’s a lot to assume and I’m not ready to pencil that in. But the power and the production are real. 169 PA is not a nominal number. But again, it’s more than just the homers. With three hits today, he’s got a line of .279/.327/.617 (wRC+ 149). That’s absolutely star level.
Can we nitpick that Morel doesn’t walk enough? Sure, we’re always going to like a a guy to walk more than 10 percent of the time. So what about that? Morel doesn’t have a massive amount of experience at Triple-A. But, in two stints, a shorter one in 2022 and a longer this year, he’s had a 10.3 and a 12.7 percent walk rate. We’ve seen sluggers who were much more reluctant to take walks than Christopher is. If the power continues to play at this rate, he’s going to see intentional walks that will make up some of his current gap (he’s at 7.3 year to date in the MLB).
So a big thing will be within the modern MLB environment, can he be patient when teams pitch around rather than straight walking? High fastballs, spin trying to catch or just miss the edge of the plate, spin that ends up below the zone? Major leaguers have a lot of ways to not really give a slugger anything to hit. When we see what Ohtani is doing this year or Aaron Judge did last year, we are reminded that if you can lay off the junk, pitchers are going to eventually make mistakes near the zone. (Also, as we saw first hand, Ohtani is entirely capable of taking even a good pitch out of the zone out of the park).
Morel feels like someone who you want to move over with Dansby Swanson and Nico Hoerner in the lineup and Marcus Stroman and Justin Steele on the pitching staff as the start of a core. Of course, that assumes that the front office finds a way to keep Stroman a Cub, as he keeps saying he prefers to be.
Three positives in another loss?
- Morel has to have that top spot. Three hits including a homer, three runs driven in.
- Hayden Wesneski gets my top spot among pitchers with two scoreless innings. He did allow a pair of hits, but only needed seven batters to record six outs. Hat tips to Anthony Kay and Michael Rucker who each chipped in a scoreless inning to keep the game from getting totally out of hand.
- Trey Mancini did deliver a couple of singles, drove in a run and scored one, the latter two both occurring during the big ninth inning rally to tie the game.
Game 82, July 2: Guardians 8 at Cubs 6 (38-44)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Christopher Morel (.251). 3-5, HR, 3RBI, R
- Hero: Nico Hoerner (.082). 1-4, HBP, R
- Sidekick: Cody Bellinger (.044). 1-4, SF, RBI
- Billy Goat: Adbert Alzolay (-.304). IP, 4 batters, 2H, 2R (1ER), K (L 1-4)
- Goat: Jameson Taillon (-.254). 5 IP, 24 batters, 7H, 6R (5ER), 6K, HBP
- Kid: Dansby Swanson (-.140). 0-5, K
WPA Play of the Game: Christopher Morel batted with the bases loaded and one out in the 9th inning, the Cubs down three. The run expectancy there is only 1.57, so there was a lot of work still to be done. But Christopher put them most of the way there with a two-run single with Nico Hoerner making it all of the way to third. (.258)
*Guardians Play of the Game: Josh Naylor batted with runners on second and third with one out in the 10th. The run expectancy there is 1.40. He singled and drove in the two decisive runs. (.256)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Hayden Wesneski (2 IP, 7 batters, 2H, K)
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Yesterday’s Winner: Cody Bellinger 35-22 over Javier Assad (Superhero is 56-25)
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 +20
- Ian Happ +17.5
- Justin Steele +15
- Adbert Alzolay +9
- Matt Mervis +8
- Michael Fulmer -7
- Miles Mastrobuoni -8
- Patrick Wisdom -12
- Trey Mancini -13
- Jameson Taillon -17
Up Next: The Cubs head to Milwaukee for four with the 45-39 Brewers. I think we’re all certainly still getting used to the new balanced schedule. The Cubs dropped two out of three in Wrigley Field to start the year against the Brewers and haven’t seen them since. The Brewers have won seven of 10 and are in a first place tie with the Reds. The Brewers are only 22-18 at home, no massive advantage. They’ve taken care of business against lesser teams, with a record of 28-18 when not playing a team over .500.
Drew Smyly (7-5, 3.96, 86⅓ IP) will be trying to get the Cubs back in the win column. He did win both starts against the Pirates, but lost his most recent one to the Phillies, allowing seven runs while not escaping the fourth inning. Drew has been in a bit of a funk, he’s only 3-4 with a 6.00 ERA in 36 innings of work over his last seven starts. Even three wins is overachieving with a 6.00 ERA in that span. Drew did not start in the opening series against Milwaukee.
The Brewers start 32-year-old righty Julio Teheran (2-3, 2.85, 41 IP). Julio has only made seven starts this year, not making his first start until May 25. He was 1-2 with a 2.85 ERA in June. Framing the season better for Teheran, he was 2-2 with a 1.53 ERA until his last start when he allowed seven runs without finishing the sixth inning. Teheran began the season with the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate on a minor league deal, but he opted out to fill a hole in the Brewers rotation. Three of the starters who figured to be in the mix for the Brewers are on the injured list and two others who started games for them last year on top of that. Teheran might have been a bit of a desperation signing, but notwithstanding that last game, he’s been terrific.