The Rundown: Cubs & Pirates to Resume Fireworks, Typical Second-Half Surge Needed to Save Maddon, MLBPA Talking Potential Strike

The Cubs are going to resume play on Friday against the Pirates and, after the fourth of July fireworks between the two teams, I was expecting a whole lot of spit and vinegar from Joe Maddon. Instead, the manager is his usual, cerebral self.

“There is a disconnect in some on-base percentage-based stats and the [Pirates] batting average. Those numbers are kind of close. The batted ball in play number has got to be extraordinary right now,” Maddon suggested recently.

Of course he knows that Pittsburgh’s BABIP is .319 because he’s an analytics guy and he has that data readily available. But for a statement game that will reboot the season, against a team that redlined his blood pressure just a week ago, that’s all he’s giving us? What happened to this guy?

Dramatic hysterics aside, the numbers do support Papa Joe’s reasoning. The gap between Pittsburgh’s team batting average and its on-base percentage is .056, the narrowest of any team in the division. The gap for the Cubs is .082, which leads the NL Central. So maybe Maddon is just trying to get inside the Pirates’ heads by throwing some subtle shade.

Yu Darvish gets the start on Friday and I’m sure he’s got the full scouting report on the Pirates sitting in his inbox. How do you a beat a team that won’t take a whole lot of walks? Don’t give them any freebies. Baseball has become a game of home runs and strikeouts, in case you’ve been sleeping for two years, and the margin between a win and a loss is those pesky guys on base when the ball leaves the yard.

I can handle Big Yu’s propensity for giving up two dingers a game as long as they are solo shots. Those two- and three-run jacks will really demoralize the fans and your teammates. And the Cubs just aren’t a very good come-from-behind team.

As for Maddon, I’m sure a calm, cool vibe is a good way to start the drive for the playoffs. It shows a dignified maturity and a measure of control that properly guards the personality of a team clinging to a half-game lead.He probably doesn’t want go off half-cocked during times like these and letting Clint Hurdle know he has gotten under your skin is just admitting you’re desperate. So I agree with this approach.

That being said, if the Cubs build a comfortable lead on Friday, don’t be too surprised to see somebody buzz Josh Bell or Adam Frazier. Not intentionally, of course (wink, wink, nod, nod). It’s just a matter of keeping those batters off the plate so that they can’t mount a comeback. And if Hurdle has his pitchers strike up and in first, especially to Javier Báez or Kris Bryant, I say get medieval on the Pirates’ manager and let the umpires sort it all out.

Cubs News & Notes

How About That!

Jim Bouton, the former Yankees pitcher (among other teams) and author of Ball Four, which is widely considered the most important book about American sports ever written, died yesterday. No cause of death was reported. Bouton was 80 years old.

The Astros have yet to issue an intentional walk this season. How about that?

MLB is countering that tactic with a minor league experiment that will allow batters to steal first base. I’m not kidding about that. When play resumes, Atlantic League hitters will be allowed to try to take first base on any pitch not caught in flight on any count. No, this is not your father’s baseball.

You want trade rumors? I’ve got just what the doctor ordered (video).

These 11 teams, including the White Sox, Reds, Pirates, and Cardinals, are on the proverbial bubble with the trade deadline approaching.

Is it just me, or does this off-week contain an enormous amount of stories about what’s wrong with the game of baseball instead of what’s great about it? I’m thinking MLB needs a change in its PR department. Bob Nightengale of the USA Today leads today’s charge with an opinion piece about a potential players’ strike.

On Deck

In 2015, Maddon’s first year with the team, the Cubs had a .667 winning percentage after the All-Star break. In 2016 it was .685, and in 2017 it was .662. Last year was also exceptional (.571), though the Cubs looked completely gassed as September turned into October. If they repeat last year’s second-half performance, they’ll finish with 88 wins. If they play as well as the first three years of Maddon’s tenure in Chicago, that’s a 92-win team and a division title.

Extra Innings

Sean Rodriguez no longer plays for the Pirates, but this embarrassing capture of the utility player will always be worth an additional look.


They Said It

  • “I honestly don’t think there’s anything else [Maddon] can do. I’ve seen a big change in him, just how he approaches each and every guy. He’s way more involved. He’s talkative. He’s positive every day. I love him. I love the way he runs the team. He’s been doing everything right for us. We have to play better to show that he deserves to be here. A lot of that falls on us. We just haven’t performed the way we should. I can think of a handful of ballgames that we should’ve won, and that whole narrative would be much different. But it hasn’t been that way, and we hope to change it, certainly so he’s not getting that blame.”Kris Bryant
  • “I won’t tell you we’re ready; we’ve got to play and get it back. We know it’s on [the players] right now. We’ve got to go back to pitch-by-pitch and inning-by-inning… And we decide who wins in the nine innings.”Javier Báez

Thursday Walk Up Song

You Better You Bet by the Who. I still have faith in this Cubs team as long as the players do. That’s just how I roll these days.

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