The Rundown: Kimbrel Closes Out Big Win, Heyward on Fire, Báez and Contreras Voted All-Star Starters
I was at the game when Aroldis Chapman made his Cubs debut in 2016. It wasn’t a save situation because the Cubs had a seven-run lead over the White Sox due to a five-run 8th inning, but Chapman had been warming up so he pitched him anyway. If you recall, Joe Maddon liked to have Chapman finish any game the Cubs had a chance to win no matter the score or inning.
Anyway, Chapman came in, flashed his 100 mph fastball, and walked off the mound after striking out two ChiSox batters to end the game. The crowd was electric, and I imagine the atmosphere was pretty similar at Wrigley Field yesterday when Craig Kimbrel made his Cubs debut. It seemed so on television.
Opening Day for @Kimbrel46. #EverybodyIn pic.twitter.com/RYF1s4vqi5
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) June 28, 2019
If anything could upstage Sesame’s Street’s Cookie Monster performing the 7th inning stretch, it was Kimbrel pitching for the first time in front of the home crowd against his old team. He locked it down with a little defensive help, and the Cubs escaped with a 9-7 win after trailing 6-1.
A point of order, if I may: I know Kimbrel once pitched for the Braves, but is there a single coach or player on that roster from when the Cubs’ new closer threw his last pitch for that organization? I believe only Julio Teheran remains from that 2014 Atlanta team, but do you know who else played on that squad? Jason Heyward and Tommy La Stella.
My point is, though it was poetic that Kimbrel’s first save as a Cub came against the Bravos, it hardly means anything at this point of his career. If he gets a World Series Game 7 save against the Red Sox this October, that will be one impactful save and a bucketful of sweet revenge.
Speaking of Heyward, how clutch has he been lately? In my household, we are now calling J-Hey “Big Game Jay” and that triple he hit yesterday is all the validation we need. If you need further proof, he’s batting .311 with a .392 OBP over his last 31 games. Heyward was a very clutch 5-for-11 in the four-game series with a home run and five RBI.
A second point of order: Heyward was in right field for Kimbrel’s first saves with both Atlanta and Chicago. It’s incredibly fitting that right fielder helped the Cubs get into a situation where Kimbrel was needed yesterday since he was so instrumental in getting the closer to sign with the Cubs.
Cubs News & Notes
- Heyward is having one of the best seasons of his career and is routinely hitting the ball to center and into the gaps while pulling the ball much less.
- The Cubs have reportedly been scouting the Tigers. Detroit has a bunch of potential trade targets, though the best of the lot, Matthew Boyd, might cost just a bit too much in terms of prospect currency. The Tigers were playing the Rangers in front of the Cubs’ scouts, and Hunter Pence is a sleeper candidate I’d like to see replace CarGo.
- It may not seem like it, but the Cubs were actually 39-3 when leading after the 8th inning before Kimbrel arrived.
- The combination of Willson Contreras and Víctor Caratini was huge for the Cubs this series. The two combined to go 7-for-14 with three taters and eight RBI in the four games. Caratini was originally drafted by the Braves, if you are unaware. The Cubs acquired him in 2014 for Emilio Bonafacio and James Russell. That’s quietly been one of Theo Epstein’s best trades ever.
- Could Javy Báez successfully hit left-handed at the MLB level?
- Báez and Contreras have been named starters for the National League in the All-Star Game at Progressive Field in Cleveland on July 9.
- The Cubs will start a nine-game road trip in Cincinnati tonight. Cole Hamels gets the start, and he’s dominated the Reds to the tune of an 11-1 record with a 1.91 ERA in 17 starts. The veteran lefty was lights-out for the Cubs in June, notching 36 strikeouts in five starts.
How About That!
Los Angeles OF Cody Bellinger now has 27 home runs on the year and his latest was attached to a little dramatic humor. There was a time when that represented an MVP-type season.
The Phillies swept the hapless Mets and may have sealed the fate of manager Mickey Callaway. Not that this horrific season is necessarily his fault since the Mets are a shitshow from ownership on down.
Mets starter Jason Vargas is getting flak from both fans and teammates for his altercation with a reporter after last Sunday’s game. His future with the team is sketchy at best.
The Brewers had lost nine of their last 12 games heading into Thursday’s finale against the lowly Mariners. They managed a 4-2 win to keep pace with the Cubs and trail Chicago by a game in the NL Central.
Pittsburgh entered the final two games of their series against the Astros with a -74 run differential, but outscored Houston 24-2 in those games. The hot-hitting Pirates play the Brewers next.
The Pirates joined the Nationals and White Sox as MLB teams who have announced plans to extend protective netting at their respective ballparks. Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant has called for all MLB teams to extend netting at their ballparks.
The Rays and Twins played an 18-inning marathon yesterday in which five different players went 0-for-7 or worse. Per Elias, the last game with at least five players going 0-for-7 or worse happened Sept. 21, 1901, in a 17-inning game between the Boston Beaneaters (Braves) and the Chicago Orphans (Cubs).
Thursday’s Three Stars
- Joey Gallo – The outfielder was all the offense the Rangers needed in their victory over the Tigers. He jacked two solo bombs on a 2-for-3 day, and of course he struck out in his other at-bat.
- Shohei Ohtani – The slugging DH was only 1-for-4 but he went yard for the seventh time in 10 games, and that merits inclusion.
- Craig Kimbrel – Welcome back to the Bigs, kid.
Seriously…what a great game yesterday. Kimbrel, Cookie Monster, and Anthony Rizzo all earned the save.
Some people say @ARizzo44 is the fastest man on the planet. pic.twitter.com/RgKU3SW8vI
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) June 27, 2019
Apropos of Nothing
A reader asks (Assuming she reads. I hope she reads!)….
Who started calling home runs "taters" and have we already decided on a fitting punishment?
— Infield Fly Girl (hotstove szn) (@infieldflygrl) June 27, 2019
I use the word “tater” quite a bit in this column, and it is more of a reverent nod to the old man than anything else. One of his favorite players was Reggie Jackson, who pushed the euphemism into the baseball mainstream back in the mid-1970’s as free agency was just starting to change the game. Mr. October was quoted in People Magazine as saying, “Taters—that’s where the money is.”
If you’re truly interested in the history and origins of the word as it applies to baseball, the blog 6-4-3 Putout provides all the details.
Also…Infield Fly Girl is a fun Twitter follow. She’s super active when it comes to the Cubs, Dodgers, and in pointing out social injustices.
They Said It
- “We got him here. We know why he’s here. He knows why he’s here. He picked us and we want to make it worth it for him.” – Jason Heyward
- “[My windup] started with an injury. I didn’t want to put my arm behind my back anymore. Started to let it hang because I was getting a little bicep tendinitis. Over the years, it got out of control. It became something that was more of a stamp in my performance, I guess. Now it’s just something that I do. It’s how I separate from a happy, fun-loving guy to turning into what I want to be on the mound.” – Craig Kimbrel
- “I think [Ohtani] would probably win [the Home Run Derby]. He’s got some of the best power in the league. I mean I want him to do it, I’m sure he wants to do it. I don’t know if our trainers would like that. You’re coming off Tommy John and going up there taking hacks. Will it affect his swing? Will it affect his arm? Probably not. But we need him back throwing 105.” – Mike Trout
Friday Walk Up Song
Time of the Season by the Zombies. July 1 begins the unofficial start to trade season, and with no waiver deadline, this could be the busiest July we’ve seen in years.