The Rundown: Dual-Threat Jon Lester Leads North Siders, Cubs July Primer, Sunday Baseball Notes
How about a little long-form Sunday Rundown, Nick Cafardo Style, in tribute to the late scribe’s Sunday Baseball Notes? I was just in one of those moods. I’d love to have time to do this weekly. We’ll see. I don’t want to wear out my welcome, so maybe monthly is a better option.
I’d like to offer a few suggestions that could help the Cubs. Believe it or not, the North Siders have now won 4 of 5 games and, though they by no means look like a juggernaut, yesterday’s 10-4 win over the Pirates proved they can be a juggernaut at times. The game sure had all the feels of the 2019 home opener, and thankfully Jon Lester, who hits Pirates pitching as well as anybody on this team, didn’t get hurt running the bases.
.@JLester34 has homered in each of the last three seasons! #PitchersWhoRake #EverybodyIn pic.twitter.com/IB21x2KRZF
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) July 13, 2019
Lester is 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBI when facing Pirates pitchers this year.
The Cubs won and maintained their 1.5 game lead over the Brewers. There are still 70 games left in the season however, so that’s the tiniest of leads, especially when you consider what happened last September. But they can run away with this division with a little careful planning and just a little luck. Here’s how:
- Finish this homestand strong. There are seven games left on the current homestand and the Cubs are a division best 31-16 at home. They need only continue to hold serve.
- Play better than .500 on the upcoming nine-game road trip. The Cubs close the month away from home, including series against the Brewers and Reds. Going 5-4 doesn’t seem like much, but Chicago is an abysmal 18-27 as a visiting team. Baby steps, right? It is also worth noting that the Cubs have the fewest home games left this month in a division where each of the other teams plays significantly better at home than away. Building their lead at home and maintaining it on the road is paramount right now.
- Take advantage of a buyer’s market at the trade deadline. The difference between first and last place in the NL Central is 5.5 games. That’s smaller than the first-to-second lead in every other division. At the trade deadline, there will be eight buyers or less (just like free agency!) and a whole lot of players available (also just like free agency!). This helps the Cubs, who have what is generally considered a weaker farm system than other playoff-bound teams.
- Say hello to our South Side neighbors. Alex Colomé would look really good in the Cubs bullpen, but he might be a bit expensive. Aaron Bummer might be available if buying high is your thing. Kelvin Herrera is really struggling and he would come dirt cheap, and maybe just needs a change of scenery. How about our old friend Jon Jay?
- Take advantage of the Pirates’ situation. The Pirates are historically awful in the second half, have a -43 run differential, and their entire front office would be dropped into the Allegheny River wearing cement shoes if they sell off any more of their minor league players. Felipe Vázquez and Adam Frazier would look good in Cubbie Blue.
- Call their AL friends. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer seem to have a good rapport with the front offices in Detroit, Toronto, and Texas. All three have players who should be available that could help the Cubs.
Cubs News & Notes
- Lester has been moving away from his four-seamer a bit and the results are more than decent if you are willing to dig a little deeper into his peripherals.
- Alec Mills will be recalled and will get the start in Tuesday night’s game. Meanwhile, Cole Hamels is starting to amp it up in his rehab.
- By winning the first two games against the Pirates, the Cubs have finally won a series. It’s been over a month, but let’s hope meatloaf isn’t on today’s lunch menu.
- Kyle Schwarber is primed for a very strong second half.
- Robel García could be the Cubs’ X-Factor down the stretch. If anything, he could keep the Cubs from making a trade for a middle infielder. Addison Russell and Daniel Descalso have been pretty awful and David Bote is too valuable to be assigned to one position.
- Are the last two games a harbinger of things to come ($) or the calm before a stormy second half?
Apropos of Nothing
A reader (who has asked to remain anonymous) spotted me in Chicago yesterday wearing a Brewers cap. The truth is, I lost a bet to my buddy who works for the Brewers over the infamous Game 163 last season and I have to wear it all season long. So when I show up for the Fourth Annual John Baker Day on August 3rd at GMan Tavern, I will in fact be wearing my loser hat, but in a Cubs jersey. Danny Rockett, aka Son Ranto, is hosting the event. I hope you will all be in attendance.
Updates on Nine
- The Red Sox finally got the player they wanted from the Cubs in exchange for Theo Epstein when the team made a trade with the Orioles to acquire SP Andrew Cashner. Boston’s president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski indicated the team probably won’t make another trade. That may just be posturing. The BoSox badly need a closer, unless they truly intend to run the home stretch using Nathan Eovaldi in that role.
- Cardinals Hall of Famer Bob Gibson has been hospitalized while fighting pancreatic cancer. Gibson, 83, received the diagnosis several weeks ago and sent a message to living Hall of Famers, notifying them of his battle, according to a report. Get well soon, Bob.
- Whether it’s juiced baseballs, an affinity for better launch angles, or anything else, baseball needs to curb its absurd home run rates.
- Gleyber Torres has really evolved as a hitter this season, and has become a true leader for the Yankees. The shortstop has seen an increase in homers, RBI, OPS and walks, while his strikeouts and mental errors are trending downward.
- A Reds outfielder and the rest of his teammates had an historic game against the Rockies last night.
- Meanwhile, would-be Rockies ace Kyle Freeland, who was recalled from Triple-A for last night’s start, continues to struggle. Freeland finished in the top five in Cy Young voting last year, but his ERA sits at 7.39 with a very unsightly 1.611 WHIP after yesterday’s game.
- If the season ended today, The Nationals and Phillies would play in the NL Wild Card Game in Washington, D.C. Last night, Juan Soto ripped a game-winning home run with two outs in the ninth inning to beat the Phillies.
- Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper had a looming presence in last week’s All-Star Game. The perfectly-coiffed RF was included in showcase marketing as the face of the Phillies, though he was not named to this year’s squad. Scott Boras thought he certainly deserved a spot on the team. Are we over the fact that the Cubs did not sign Harper yet?
- Mike Trout is excellent at baseball.
At his current pace, Mike Trout would finish the season with:
He has an OPS of 1.124
Before end of 2020, likely to surpass 1,500 hits, 1,000 runs, 300 HR, 200 SB.
He turns 28 next month.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 14, 2019
Saturday’s Three Stars
- Phil Ervin – A 6-for-6 game will always get you on this list. The Reds OF also had a stolen base and three RBI. It was the fourth time a Reds player had six hits in a game and the first since Walker Cooper accomplished the feat on July 6, 1949.
- Rays’ Offense – Tampa Bay hit six home runs in yesterday’s 12-4 win over the Orioles. That accounted for 10 of the team’s 12 runs. #Baseball2019
- Jon Lester – The do-everything pitcher got the win, recorded six strikeouts without issuing a walk, and was 2-for-3 with a home run and three RBI. With an OPS of .774 Lester is 4 runs above replacement level as a batter this season. Descalso is -6.
Baseball hasn’t always been America’s pastime. A foundation of exclusion isn’t the American way, is it?
#OTD in 1887 on a shameful day in baseball history, the color line is officially enacted https://t.co/1CuZCsDRpK pic.twitter.com/zpB9d93RQP
— SABR Games Project (@SABRGames) July 14, 2019
From the Christopher Kamka Files
Jon Lester & Willson Contreras: first #Cubs starting battery to each have a Home Run & 3+ RBI in a game since Ray Burris & Steve Swisher 5/20/1977
— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 13, 2019
They Said It
- “That’s who [Schwarber] is. He’s always been the guy that’s able to focus on staying in the zone and accepting his walks… Stay within your zone, stay within your lane. You stay there, and don’t get so eager that you feel like you have to try and make something happen, which happens to everybody. For him and for us, it’s just to stay located and make them get you out within the strike zone and go do what you’ve always done. If these guys want to walk you, just accept the walk. I want the whole lineup to feel that way.” – Joe Maddon
Sunday Morning Walk Up Song
Sunday Morning Comin’ Down by Johnny Cash. This is a rare occurrence for me, writing coherently on Sunday mornings. Let me know if you’d like me to try to make this a regular shindig.