There are few things better than the Cubs and Cardinals playing meaningful games in late September. Of course, it would better if they were playing each other in the NLCS, but that doesn’t seem quite so likely. With the Cardinals’ loss on Wednesday evening and the Colorado Rockies’ big win over the Miami Marlins, it would take a miracle for St. Louis to grab a Wild Card spot. Here are my notes for this week, brought to you from the press box at Busch Stadium.
•Cubs fans may have been rubbed the wrong way by Tommy Pham’s insistence that Felix Peña hit him on purpose in the 8th inning of Tuesday night’s game. But don’t take this as Pham being petty, he’s just an honest guy. How often do we take that for granted with athletes? If everyone were as straightforward as Pham, we’d have a lot more players admitting they believe they were hit on purpose.
But it certainly could get him in trouble. While Cardinals fans love him because of the outstanding season he’s having in 2017 – Pham is sixth in the National League in fWAR in just 513 plate appearances, ahead of Paul Goldschmidt and his 651 PA’s – the team has been less than thrilled with his willingness to tell the unfiltered truth. Check out his comments from a Jennifer Langosch piece on MLB.com in August.
“Man. We’re not good. We’re not dynamic,” outfielder Tommy Pham candidly stated of the offense afterward. “We lack speed. We lack power. And if you look at all the good teams, they have that. They have both of those elements — speed and power. We just have a lot of guys, man, who are still trying to figure it out. And that element doesn’t help either.”
That’s an easy way to make enemies in your own clubhouse. With the Cardinals in need of a makeover this offseason, don’t be surprised if it’s the 29-year-old Pham that ends up being dealt.
•With the news that Jake Arrieta’s hamstring is still bugging him to the point where he’s having to adjust his complicated delivery, the discussion about the Cubs’ playoff rotation gets more intense. Jose Quintana has been outstanding lately, posting a 1.63 ERA in 27 2/3 innings over his last four starts. Jon Lester has fixed his release point issue, while Kyle Hendricks has been Kyle Hendricks since returning from the disabled list in July (2.34 ERA in 73 innings).
So who starts Game 1 in Washington? That probably depends a lot on how Arrieta looks the next time out. If his hamstring continues to bug him, it would make sense for Joe Maddon to push him back a day or so and let him handle Game 3. If Lester looks good again in his next start, is he the one you want matched up against Scherzer in a playoff situation? Or do you go with the ice-cold veins of Hendricks?
No easy answers, really. If I had to predict what Maddon will do, I’d say Hendricks, Arrieta, Lester, Quintana. But who knows?
•Finally, a quick personal note – I know, like you care. But seriously, writing about baseball has taken me on a tremendous journey the last few years. From writing on my own blog to Cubs Insider, FanRag Sports, Baseball Prospectus, 2080 Baseball, and The Sporting News, I’ve had a ton of opportunities to meet cool people, sit in the press box and behind the dugout, and eat free hot dogs.
No moment was cooler than Wednesday night. I huddled for dear life in the visitor’s clubhouse at Busch Stadium, attempting to get my handheld recorder in front of a few players and ask questions while avoiding getting covered in champagne or, God forbid, getting my face on TV and being “Sahadev’d.” And then Theo Epstein threw a beer that splashed directly in my face.
I’m sure this kind of thing comes naturally to the beat writers who are there day in, day out and travel with the team all over the United States. Mark Gonzales, Carrie Muskat, Paul Sullivan, Gordon Wittenmyer, and Sahadev Sharma have been inside more champagne celebrations than I could count. But I still walk into the ballpark with a big smile like a little kid attending his very first game. Maybe, over time, that excitement will fade. But I hope it never does.