With Bryan heading off into the wild, I’m taking over temporary Rundown duties again. Provided he’s not following in Christopher McCandless’s footsteps, Mr. O’Donnell should be back on the beat before long.
The Cubs took two of three from the Minnesota Twins to move back to a high-water mark of 7 games over .500 heading into the latter part of June. The wins were significant on more than one level though, as the back-to-back victories over the weekend pushed the Cubs to 2 games over .500 on the road this season as well.
And what’s more, the victories came against a team that is not only fighting for a playoff spot themselves (the Twins would have the 2nd Wildcard if the season ended today) but was also 22-12 at Target Field heading into this series. This is the kind of win that can really springboard a team forward.
The Cubs are going to need all the momentum they can get too, as they now must host the Dodgers for four games before heading to St. Louis for three more. This stretch could tell us a lot about this team and whether they’re really ready to compete.
One thing’s for sure though: as long as the Cubs have Anthony Rizzo, they’ve got a chance. After running up an 0-for-20 streak that stretched into his first AB in Cleveland, Rizzo has proceed to go 8 for his next 20, including 4 home runs and 6 RBI. He’s only walked once during that stretch, but he’s only struck out twice.
What’s even more encouraging is the fact that even Rizzo’s outs have been impressive during this recent run. He’s really hitting the ball well and it seems that the only way to get him out is for him to hit the ball right at someone. This is a guy who’s just really dialed in at the plate and who looks capable of putting a team on his back.
Speaking of putting a team on his back, Jake Arrieta really needed only 1 of the 8 runs the Cubs scored behind him on Sunday. The bearded baseballer spun a 4-hit shutout that saw him rack up 7 K’s against only 4 hits and no walks. Jon Lester has the title, but Arrieta is clearly this staff’s de facto ace at this point.
You complete me
I’m sure we’ve all heard someone lamenting the fact that pitchers simply don’t stay in games like they used to. Hell, in my day, a guy would throw until his arm fell off, literally. Then the team doctor would just suture the thing back in place and the guy would go back out to finish the game.
Wherever you fall on the necessity or propriety of increased specialization of pitching staffs, it’s true that starters aren’t finishing as many games as they once did. In 2000, there were 234 complete games thrown, or roughly 1 in every 73.6 starts. By 2005, that total had dropped to 189 or 1 in 95.4.
Last season, only 1 in every 163.7 games was finished by the same pitcher who started it, and the trend hasn’t reversed itself this year. Arrieta’s 9-inning outing on Sunday was only the 40th such performance in 2015, which means that we only see a complete game in 1 of every 207 contests. And you wonder why Brian Schlitter keeps getting work.
An inch away from perfection
In all the thousands of Major League Baseball games that have been played over the last century and a half, only 23 have resulted in a contest in which one side sent only 27 men to the plate without a single one reaching base. When you consider that 2 such games took place in 1880, the feat becomes even more impressive.
Max Scherzer was only one strike away from becoming just the 22nd man in the last 135 years to throw a perfect game. But with two outs and a 2-2 count, pinch-hitter Jose Tabata took an inside pitch off the elbow to end Scherzer’s bid for history. You wouldn’t think a no-hitter would be a disappointing outcome, but that’s exactly what Saturday’s game was.
I don’t want to get into a debate over whether Tabata leaned in or not, but given the situation — both historically with the perfecto and individually with a 6-run deficit — he’s got to be up there swinging. If this was a close ballgame, I get it; you get on any way you can.
Regardless, Scherzer is showing that he’s one of the best in baseball. That stat above about complete games? The Nats ace now has one in each of his last two starts, during which he’s given up 1 hit and 1 walk to go with 26 strikeouts. That’s what you call “dealing.”
* The Tennessee Smokies concluded the first half of the season by winning 7 of 9 to bring their record to 39-30. They set an attendance record of 7,805 on Friday night.
* The Myrtle Beach Pelicans captured the First Half Southern Division Championship, guaranteeing them a spot in the Carolina League playoffs.
* I will be attending a game at a different level of the Cubs organization in each of the next 3 weeks: Cubs on 6/26 in St. Louis, Smokies on 7/3 at home, and the Pelicans on 7/8 at home. If you’re near any of those and will be attending, let me know. Otherwise, be sure to follow me on Twitter because I’ll probably Periscope some of the action.