Category Archives: Analysis

Looking at Cubs play on and off the field

Take a walk Harper, Nats: Complaints about Cubs off base

Take a walk Nationals. You are way off base.

During this weekend’s four-game set, the Cubs decided to pitch around Bryce Harper and let someone else hurt them. That someone else never showed up, and the Cubs swept.

Harper walked 13 times in the four-game series, setting a record. He reached base seven times without an official at-bat Sunday – another record.

Nationals pitcher Tanner Roark called the Cubs’ strategy “scared baseball.” Dusty Baker said that fans don’t come to the park to see Harper walk.

How about looking in the mirror, Washington. With their clutch hitter taken out of the equation, the Nats went 1-for-19 with runners in scoring position Sunday. Ryan Zimmerman, batting behind Harper, was 0-for-5.

Every time the Cubs walked Harper they took a chance. Walks are usually bad. The Cubs have the best record in baseball in part because they don’t walk anyone. But they flipped the script this time and it worked.

The Cubs didn’t invent this strategy. And why would they stop doing it when the Nats didn’t make them pay?

The Nationals’ arguments are ridiculous. They might as well have been whining that the Cubs tried to steal bases — because “hey meanie, that’s stealing!” Maybe the Cubs shouldn’t be allowed to throw curveballs because that’s trying to fool the hitters. God forbid they shift the infield or the third-base coach conceals his instructions with signs.

Either make the Cubs pay for walking Harper, Nationals, or go back to tee ball.

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Arrieta’s dominance evokes Sutcliffe, even Jordan

Think of all the players you root for. Now try to remove some of the obvious homerism that goes with being a fan. After you’ve dug that deep, see if you find a player that inspires or inspired absolute confidence. It’s a very rare thing.

My list is very short: 1990s Michael Jordan and 1984 Rick Sutcliffe.

The way I get to those two is this. Every time they played I felt that they would give everything they had, and the combination of their skill and that effort would be enough to lift their teams to a level of excellence that would almost assuredly result in victory.

It’s such a beautiful thing as a fan. Every time Sutcliffe pitched in 1984, you knew the Cubs would win. He was that dominant. The right-hander went 16-1 in 20 starts with Chicago after a trade from Cleveland.

But even that absolute confidence didn’t last. Sutcliffe went 1-1 in the playoffs as the Cubs got bounced by the Padres in the NLCS.

Jordan was a different story because he took it all the way. Flu, minor injuries, whatever, he was always the best player on the floor. It felt so good to root for a team with a guy who was the most talented and competitive player in sports.

It took a few years, but the Bulls finally assembled a team around him that could meet his other-worldly expectations. When it all came together, the championships rolled in.

After Jordan, that feeling has been tougher to find. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane come very very close, but like the 1985 Bears, who is the one that elevates all the rest? Was it Mike Singletary? Walter Payton? Jim McMahon? For the Hawks, Toews sets the tone, but can they do what they’ve done without Kane’s dazzle? Plus, one great player can’t carry a team in hockey the way it happens in other sports.

But I’ve got to say that I’m getting that Jordan feeling again … with Jake Arrieta. How can I not? He has reached the point where a no-hitter is possible every time he steps on the mound.

Arrieta’s 24 straight quality starts are second most since the deadball era. Only Bob Gibson, with 26, has more. Arrieta has thrown two no-hitters in the span of 10 regular-season starts. In the 24 starts, he has allowed four home runs – and hit three.

I have absolute confidence that when Arrieta is on the mound, he is the most talented, prepared and focused person in the stadium. It’s clear that his teammates feel the same way and that if they do their jobs halfway decent, they WILL win.

What a great feeling.

My only question now is whether Arrieta is Sutcliffe, who had a really great run that never translated to a title, or Jordan, who accomplished every individual and team goal that an athlete could desire.

We’ll see … and what a trip it will be.

Are you absolutely confident in Jake Arrieta?

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Poll: How much does beating Cardinals in April mean?

Yes, there are 149 games to go and everything could go South, but beating the Cardinals seems to mean so much. The fans love it, and don’t you think the Cubs players get a jolt too? Damn straight.

We won’t really know how much this game and this series mean until the season is over, but when we do that assessment we will see tone setting wins, lost opportunities, turning points. What do you think?

How much does it mean to win April series against Cardinals?

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Walk this way: Sub-average Cubs averages OK

You’d think the Cubs were 3-9 instead of 9-3 based on the social rumbling about players’ batting averages.

No doubt, Anthony Rizzo (.186), Ben Zobrist (.214), Addison Russell (.237), Kris Bryant (.229), Jorge Soler (.235) and Jason Heyward (.205) aren’t exactly scaring the ghost of Ted Williams. Yet, the Cubs are still winning. How are they doing it? A very shallow dive into the numbers offers some answers.

First and foremost, the Cubs are first in the league in taking walks and first in the league in fewest walks allowed. That works on so many levels. Cubs pitchers aren’t digging their own holes, and Cubs batters are pushing starters and getting into bullpens.

The pitching has been outstanding in general. The staff is first in batting average against and second in ERA. The Cubs are 13th in strikeouts to go along with the lack of walks. Those numbers will keep you in some games.

But you still have to score, and the Cubs are second in the league in runs scored, despite the low batting average. The walks have the team third in on-base percentage, however. The ducks are on the pond. How are they coming home?

Here’s the stunner … the Cubs are actually not sucking with runners in scoring position. After ranking a dreadful 28th in the league in that stat last year, they are up to 15th so far this season.

And they’re getting some clutch hits too. The Cubs are sixth in batting average in the seventh inning and later.

We can, therefore, chill out on the batting averages. The Cubs’ pitching has been dominant, but the hitters are pulling their weight in ways that might at first be hidden to the casual fan but that make the manager smile.

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What do you think of Russell “pimping” home run?

I had to get up at 3 a.m. on Tuesday for work. Yes, 3 a.m. because ESPN never sleeps. So I didn’t see the end of the Cubs home opener against the Reds Monday night. When I went to bed, the Cubbies were being no-hit.

When I got up this morning/middle of the night after my wife gave me a shove because the alarm had been going off for a while (it was in my dream), I picked up my phone and thought: “That did not look good last night, but man, if they came back, that could really be a sign of something special.”

So wow, after I made my eyes focus — which was no easy task — I saw the score and then started reading and watching video.

After the game, Russell said: “Once I hit the ball, I kind of knew it was gone,” Russell said. “I normally don’t pimp home runs but it’s Opening Night, we’re down, and the occasion called for it.”

So I’m thinking: Is Mike Schmidt going to go on the radio and call out Russell for his celebration? What can you do and not do these days? I’m the first person to say it’s too much when a guy dunks and then gets in his opponent’s face. Look, you already faced the guy. Do you really need to get in his face too?

But giving a little Sammy Sosa jump, clapping your hands? Is that too much? Ever been to a Little League game? Those kids lose their minds over big plays.

The Jose Bautista bat flip really got the old-timers all fired up. And maybe I’m old enough to think that’s a bit too much too. But when Bryce Harper showed up wearing a “Make Baseball Fun Again” hat, I laughed and thought that the guy has a point – even if I didn’t love the Trump-esque origin of the gesture. Enough young people are not watching baseball.

Football and basketball are fast and brash. They’ve got a built-in advantage for drawing attention. But baseball unfolds in a way that offers plots like last night – when certain defeat is instantly transformed into victory. The hushed buzz of the crowd becomes a roar.

Those moments must be celebrated. So I ask you …

Do you see anything wrong with Addison Russell "pimping" his home run?

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Schwarber goes down but we stay upbeat

Some years that’s it. The slugging left fielder goes down, and three games into the season, we know. Cubs fans know. That’ll do it. Toast.

Shockingly, that wasn’t the reaction when Kyle Schwarber went down with a season-ending knee injury. Fans and pundits alike thought that the Cubs could weather this first big challenge.

There’s Jorge Soler and maybe even Matt Szczur to plug the hole in left. Super utility man Javier Baez is starting a rehab assignment. Miguel Montero will catch more, and then there’s always Wilson Contreras in Iowa.

After suffering through the Nate Schierholtz years, the current Cubs have this crazy thing called depth. Talented depth. They also have the prospects to make a bigger move if it’s warranted.

The front office should be applauded for not backing themselves into a corner in which Schwarber’s injury creates a major deficit. Theo Epstein and Co. didn’t feel the need to deal Soler to the Indians or any number of other teams to get a starter. They wanted to see what they had first. They also pulled off a major coup in bringing back Dexter Fowler after his failed courtship by the Orioles.

They signed Jason Heyward to play center between Schwarber and Soler, but he’s a better right fielder. Now, everyone settles into their best defensive position.

Of course I had just written about managing my lofty expectations for this Cubs team, and then Schwarber went down. Some other challenge will undoubtedly pop up. But we’re far from grabbing a fifth of SoCo and going to cry in the basement.

Even Schwarber knows that this Cubs team is still formidable.

Like Kyle, we can still sit back and enjoy the show.