Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

pedro strop cubsOur basement flooded.

I’m not sure exactly what day it happened, but, at some point over the past few days, our sump pump died, and water built up just enough to cause a big problem that we discovered early yesterday. So, in between posts and watching Kyle Schwarber’s return, The Wife and I were bringing everything we could upstairs, and pulling back carpet all afternoon and evening. Unfortunately, the carpet won’t be salvageable, so we’ve gotta have it torn out, have mold remediation stuff done, etc. It was not a fun day.

You’ll forgive me, then, if I wasn’t as despondent about last night’s Cubs loss as a large swath of the fan base seemed to be. I had bigger fish to fry with the heat emanating from my rage-filled skull.

Sure, it was a frustrating loss, and the reasons folks got up in arms are understandable – the Cubs played poorly into the break, primarily because of weak/un-timely offense; the Cubs lost a painful one on a Pedro Strop blown save; and the Cubs lost to some teams they should be beating. Those were the reasons folks were annoyed heading into the break, and those are the very things that lost them the game last night. So, I understand the hostility. But, if you’re a decently competitive team, most losses are going to be super frustrating, because you’ll be in most of those games. Last night’s – like so many before it – is what a loss looks like. That’s all it was: just another loss in a season that’s going to have a bunch of ’em.

As for the specifics of the loss …

On reflection, the Cubs didn’t blow that many opportunities last night. Yes, the first inning – first and third, nobody out – was brutal, but it was a Kris Bryant strikeout (bummer, but it happens), an Anthony Rizzo line drive caught by a diving second baseman (Rizzo did his job), and then a Jorge Soler pop out (you won’t always drive in a run with two outs). It is absolutely frustrating to come away without a run in that situation, but, other than Bryant’s strikeout, it’s not like it was emblematic of some systemic problem. Sometimes that Rizzo screamer gets caught, sometimes it goes for a hit. Statistically, it’s way more likely to go for a hit than an out. What can you do?

Otherwise, the Cubs were 1-6 with runners in scoring position, which is certainly bad, but it also means that they had a mere three additional such opportunities after the first inning. Seven baserunners in the eight innings after the first – that was the real problem. That, plus the fact that the Cubs had just one extra-base hit, a Kyle Schwarber double with two outs and nobody on base. That’s not a new story for this offense, either, and it’s something you just have to hope turns around given the theoretical talent in the lineup.

As for Pedro Strop, well, it was a bad inning. The Braves hit the ball hard, and Strop was not commanding his pitches. No defense here, and no questions about it. The fact that it came after Wednesday’s blown save against the Cardinals is what’s hurting Strop the most, though, because, before that Cardinals game, the guy had given up runs ONCE since MAY 29(!!!). For some reason, there’s this impression among Cubs fans that Pedro Strop always does this … but it’s just not accurate. The last three times he’s given up runs (just three times in nearly two months) were extremely high-profile and recent. That’s all that’s going on here.*

Hopefully Strop looks good the next time out, and folks can forget about this mess for a while. He remains a very important part of the bullpen, and he has nasty stuff. The Cubs need him in the second half.

Kyle Schwarber looked OK behind the plate, but there was a noticeable difference in his receiving when it was Kyle Hendricks on the mound – great command, less crazy movement, less velocity – and when the Cubs’ relievers were on the mound. Schwarber’s movements were a little exaggerated for Hendricks, and a lot exaggerated for the relievers. It would be best described as “stabby,” not unlike a younger Welington Castillo. Maybe it’s a small sample coincidence, but the relievers were not getting many borderline calls. The throw into center field I’ll forgive because of nerves and amped-up energy, though it very likely cost the Cubs a run. The catcher’s interference I’ll forgive because that’s just a matter of experience.

I need many more viewings before I can say anything with confidence about where Schwarber is right now as a catcher and where he might get, but (1) he looked a lot better than the nightmarish descriptions some would place on him, and (2) I can see why he’s not going to be catching Jake Arrieta starts right now.

Now the Cubs get Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta going to try and win this series, which means Schwarber’s bat will be on the bench for most of the game. That’s probably the other reason last night’s loss was such a pill – Schwarber put up three hits, including a double, and the Cubs’ offense still sputtered. He’s not going to be a magic bullet, though, and sometimes that will happen.

You’re probably going to get sick of hearing me say that in the second half: “Sometimes, Thing X happens.”

But, just because you get sick of hearing it doesn’t make it any less true.


*(Unfortunately, the PitchF/X and other tracking systems broke in the 8th inning last night (it appeared to be a league-wide problem, because it went down for all games at the same time) and the data was not recorded for most of Strop’s inning. Having watched, however, I can tell you that Strop’s two-out “walk” to Andrelton Simmons came after Strop had thrown strike three twice already and didn’t get the call. They were close and they weren’t super well-framed by Kyle Schwarber, but if either one of those is called correctly, Strop gets out of the inning, and suddenly he did well. Even though his performance – what he actually did – would have been exactly the same.)

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