Morning Cubs Roundup: A rough one-two punch
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I’m not going to dwell too long on the recap. The Cubs stank last night. You saw it. Other than Ian Happ’s two home runs in game one there isn’t really anything positive to say about the Cubs offensive effort. Sure, they took some walks, but the failed to hit with runners in scoring position.
And the complete ineptitude with the bases loaded continued as well. Another three-on-no-out situation wasted. Steven Souza Jr. was easily set down by Adam Wainwright for the first out. Nico Hoerner at least put together a good at bat, smoking a line drive with a .550 expected batting average, but it was directly at a Cardinals defender (pretty much the story of Nico’s season) for out number two. Even Happ wasn’t immune, as he failed to deliver with two outs. The Cubs are now hitting under .200 as a team with bases loaded. I did not even think that was possible for a Major League team, but here we are.
There has to be a little concern about the starting rotation right now given the recent struggles of Jon Lester and Alec Mills, along with the recent injuries to Tyler Chatwood and Jose Quintana. Adbert Alzolay is going to get his shot. He threw six very solid innings in his first opportunity to start this season, but he was not sharp last night. He struggled through two scoreless innings to start, but after the Cubs were unable to turn a tough (but turnable) double play which would have ended the 3rd, the wheels fell off for the young righty. He was unable to throw strikes from that point on as he failed to finish the inning.
My guess is Alzolay will be given another chance on Thursday to fill that vacant 5th starter role. Its not like Colin Rea has shown enough to warrant another start. He’s been fine in one inning outings thus far, where he can max out his fastball, while mixing four pitches, including his new cutter. But I just don’t see him as someone capable of working multiple innings in the Majors. In that type of role I believe hitters will time up his four seamer, and I think we saw the results in the 2nd inning last night.
Really, it is just Ian Happ. I’m not sure anyone else truly deserves a mention here today. Happ continued his career dominance of Adam Wainwright as he moved into 1st place on the OPS leaderboard for all of baseball.
It was nice to see Tyson Miller work three solid innings. He wasn’t dominant by any stretch (0 strikeouts), but he threw strikes (0 walks) and got outs. He helped save the mainstays in the Cubs bullpen from being used in a losing effort. Hopefully this success can give Miller additional confidence the next time he is summoned from South Bend.
Jason Adam and Dan Winkler combined pitched three shutout innings in game one, which was also a big help. The Cubs are still in search of a 5th righty to slot in behind Jeffress, Wick, Kimbrel, and Tepera. Casey Sadler failed in the role, Winkler has been given some chances as well. Despite his 3.00 ERA, Winkler’s control issues have meant the Cubs have been hard pressed to trust him in big spots. They gave him the chance on Tuesday, but he failed to maintain an 8th inning tie game coming out of the rain delay against Pitt. Adam has been making a case for a bigger role. I like the movement on his pitches, but like Winkler, throwing enough strikes has been an issue.
The guy who may end up seizing the role though is Duane Underwood Jr. He had some rocky outings early in the year as his velocity was down and he lacked feel for his secondaries. It could have been an instance of dead arm, because he’s returned to throwing mid-90s over the past few weeks. His change and curve also look improved. He’s had some impressive outings of late, including a six-pitch scoreless inning last night.
Injuries, Updates, and Trends
- The Cubs have claimed IF Ildemaro Vargas off waivers from the Twins. The switch-hitter has raked in AAA since his first appearance there in 2016. Since 2017 he has been shuttled up and down with the Diamondbacks but has been unable to replicate his Minor League success (.255/.284/.385 in 289 PA). He got some more time in Arizona this year before being dealt to the Twins recently. Vargas is out of options, so it appears he will be joining the Cubs in Chicago, at least for a short time. With Jason Kipnis getting more starts at 2B, they were probably looking for a lefty bat off the bench. The rest of the Cubs reserves are all righties.
- The Steven Souza Jr. experiment is over. I thought it was a nice, low risk signing with potential upside in the offseason as a platoon partner for Jason Heyward, but it simply didn’t pan out. Always prone to strikeouts because he works deep counts, Souza simply couldn’t make enough contact to take advantage of his power this season. He struck out in nearly half of his plate appearances. With the trade deadline acquisitions of Cameron Maybin and Jose Martinez, and the return of Kris Bryant from the IL, there was no longer a clear role for Souza. He was DFA between games one and two (I do think there is a legitimate gripe about starting a guy in game one that you were going to DFA ten minutes later).
- Casey Sadler was claimed off waivers by the Mariners. Another low-risk signing this past offseason. I had moderate hopes for Sadler as well. His 2019 numbers (2.19 ERA) were deceptive, but he was a high spin rate guy with solid control, and I hoped the Cubs could unlock more break with his curveball like they did with Rowan Wick and others. Sadler did end up missing a few more bats, but his control also backed up. And because he was out of options he didn’t leave the Cubs with the necessary roster flexibility.
- The Cubs have significantly cut down on the number of right-handed relievers in their 60-man player pool over the past week. On top of losing Sadler, veterans Jharel Cotton, Kelvin Herrera, A.J. Ramos and Cody Allen were all released. The Cubs did re-sign Pedro Strop, but that is still just one in and five out. They now have a more reasonable number in the South Bend camp. As of right now, Dillon Maples is the only 40-man reliever not in Chicago. Strop joins former Rule 5 pick Trevor Megill, Dakota Mekkes, Michael Rucker, and Juan Gamez as non-roster relievers.
Morning Cubs Roundup