The Rundown: Cubs Rotation Changes, This Bud’s Not for You, NL Home Run Derby

The Cubs lost another walk-off to the Giants and they’re off today, which is probably a good thing. Not only does the team get a nice bit of rest, but I get to catch some more sleep before the Cubs play another late-night affair in San Diego. Interestingly enough, I was just doing a little research about that beautiful oceanside city in SoCal. Discovered by the Germans in 1904, they named it San Diego, which of course in German means a whale’s vagina.

I’m sorry, I was trying to impress you. I don’t know what it means. I’ll be honest, I don’t think anyone knows what it means anymore. Scholars maintain that the translation was lost hundreds of years ago.

I suppose that last bit was really odd for anyone who’s never seen Anchorman. In any case, we can all hope that San Diego means a way for the Cubs to build back some momentum heading into the break. They’ll have to do it with a tweaked rotation that sees Tyler Chatwood taking the hill in the opener Friday night, with Kyle Hendricks pitching Saturday and Jon Lester Sunday.

That puts Lester’s All-Star appearance in doubt, since the game falls only two days after his scheduled start. But that’s not the interesting part of the shuffle, at least from my perspective. I had initially thought they’d just skip Chatwood’s start, which would allow them to throw Lester, Hendricks, and Jose Quintana on regular rest to close the first half.

The latter two looked particularly sharp in San Francisco and the cavernous confines of PetCo Park might help them to build on that. By starting Chatwood Friday and flipping Hendricks and Lester, the Cubs are putting the latter in position to have six days between starts, two days more than standard. They’re also pushing him back at least to the second game of the second half against the Cardinals.

Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, mind you, it just struck me as interesting. In the end, it’s probably about giving Lester as much additional rest as possible and giving them an excuse to keep him from pitching on Tuesday in DC. And perhaps the Cubs are hoping that PetCo helps Chatwood to put together a not-disastrous start to close his first half.

Hey, Bud, let’s not party

By now you’ve no doubt become familiar with the whole Dexter Fowler saga in St. Louis, which started with team president John Mozeliak questioning the outfielder’s effort level and then got even deeper (subscription required/recommended). That linked piece about Fowler’s fractured relationship with his team came from The Athletic’s Mark Saxon, who Wednesday put out an even more damning look into the Cardinals Way.

The lens through which I view the situation is admittedly less than objective, so I want to make allowances for that. But even when I try to strip away bias I’m left agape at some of the things Mike Matheny and Bud Norris openly admit to. The article reads like a parody, with manager and reliever cast in the roles of cartoon bad guys, up to and including the part where they tell everyone the details of their nefarious plot.

Saxon writes about Norris “mercilessly riding” rookie Jordan Hicks and how Matheny not only condones it, but encourages it. And this despite the fact that Hicks, the hardest-throwing human being on the planet, is clearly irked by the treatment. Make no mistake, this isn’t David Ross kind of getting on Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.

No, this feels more like some Full Metal Jacket business with Norris as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. The open embrace of that old-school mentality isn’t just some Cubs fan’s misplaced view of the way the Cardinals do things, either. I’d swear Matheny was trying to come off as a caricature if I thought he was anything other than completely sincere.

“I think the game has progressively gotten a little softer,” Matheny said. “Man, it had some teeth not that long ago.”

Matheny said he invited Norris to take leadership of the bullpen and he has responded by giving him occasional reports of pitchers not living up to the standards the team set in spring training. At times, Matheny said, he has levied team fines after Norris’ reports.

“I get regular updates,” Matheny said. “But that’s good. I invited him into that. We need leadership with each sub-culture of the team, including the bullpen, and he’s keeping an eye. He’s a stickler for what we established early on.”

This would be bad enough were it taking place behind closed doors, but Matheny is openly celebrating the idea of having what is colloquially known as a snitch. There are no doubt a good number of Cubs fans who’d laud this kind of talk from their own team, same goes for any team in any sport. But when you’re lamenting things getting “soft” and not having “teeth,” perhaps you should think bigger picture.

After all, there’s a reason those things change. I mean, are you still using an outhouse and talking on a party-line phone? Greater access and awareness aren’t bad things and this idea that athletes need to be abrasive in order to build up a callous of macho toughness is right up there with outdoor plumbing.

And whether you agree with me or not, you can’t doubt that the awful optics the Cardinals are establishing will hurt them in the eyes of other players. While some of their fans will shrug that off with “Who cares, we don’t want those snowflakes anyway,” how your organization treats players truly matters. It’s not a stretch at all to think that free agents will see what’s happening with Fowler and Hicks and will avoid St. Louis in the future.

Home Run Derby

Look at the first of the two pictures in MLB’s tweet below and tell me what you see. Okay, tell me what you see other than Javy Baez being correctly featured in the center of the group of Home Run Derby participants. In fairness, you may have already been aware of the breakdown, so I’ll spell it out: There are seven NL hitters and only a single representative from the Junior Circuit.

The Astros’ Alex Bregman is the only player from a hitter from a league that employs several guys whose only job is to hit. That seems odd, no? I guess all the All-Star players and other sluggers turned down the opportunity, which tells you all you need to know about the cachet of the event.

They’ve tried all kinds of gimmicks to add flair and pull eyeballs back to what was once a big draw, but now it all feels a little contrived. Where players used to get 10 swings to hit as many homers as possible, they now have a time limit and can call time out and such. They’re also seeded and paired in a bracket-style playoff, since brackets are apparently sexier than just taking the top scores.

You know what’d actually be kind of a cool twist? If they got local pregnant couples, either from the immediate area or from each player’s city, and had them do their gender-reveals right there on the field with a novelty baseball filled with either pink or blue chalk. After all, we know how hard Rob Manfred is trying to destroy the game appeal to millennials, and boy do millennials looooove gender reveals.

As silly and overwrought as this whole thing has gotten, I’m going to be watching for Javy and Kyle Schwarber. The former is the No. 6 seed and will face Max Muncy of the Dodgers, while the latter is the No. 5 seed and will face Bregman. For those who are interested, here’s more on the field and seeding.

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