Have I mentioned lately that we’ve got a baby on the way? Well, we do. The Littlest Girl could arrive any day now (though she’s not due, strictly speaking, for three weeks), and I offer that to you as a pre-emptive caution that if the site goes dark for a stretch – no new content for a while – it’s probably because she’s coming. Thankfully, with Michael, Luis, and Luke around, in theory, you won’t be without goodness for long (and, to be honest, I won’t be out for long either, because I know how this goes – if the baby is healthy, you actually wind up with a surprising amount of down-time, even if it’s intermittent). And I’ll try to keep folks updated via Twitter if I’m out.
- After a few hits (and a hard-hit homer in the first inning), Jason Hammel was pulled from yesterday’s start in the third inning before he’d even thrown his 40th pitch. His shock and displeasure was visible, and it didn’t leave him immediately after the game. Joe Maddon spoke to his starter after the game to explain the decision, but it’s clear from Hammel’s comments that he didn’t agree and wasn’t happy (CSN, ESPN). And that sounds about right. In that particular situation, if I were Hammel – not having lost my command, not exactly getting hammered – I would have been really pissed off. But that doesn’t mean Maddon was wrong. He said he simply didn’t see things straightening out at that point, because he felt like the Dodgers were already on Hammel even that first time through the order. More importantly, in my view, was the opportunity to plug lefty Rob Zastryzny in there against an almost entirely lefty Dodgers lineup – giving Zastryzny valuable experience in a close, meaningful game against a good team, but also putting the Dodgers right back at a disadvantage (and, based on Zastryzny’s results, it worked). If you’re trying to win that game yesterday, it was absolutely the right decision at the right moment.
- Are there broader implications, though? It was the kind of extreme quick hook we saw from Joe Maddon last year in Jason Hammel’s starts this time of year, as the Cubs were fighting desperately for a playoff spot. This year, the Cubs have a 14.0-game lead in the NL Central, and the level of desperation to win each game should be far lower. Should that impact the decision-making process? Should Maddon give Hammel more leeway to work through things? Well, that’s a tougher question, and I can see both sides of it. Even if you say the playoff rotation, as things stand today, has Hammel on the outside looking in, the playoffs are still more than five weeks away. Don’t you want to see him grind a bit against a probable playoff opponent? Or is that precisely why you don’t want to leave him in there to get knocked around by a team that might see him in the playoffs? I’ll have to think these things through, but it’s worth pointing out how good Zastryzny looked, how solid Mike Montgomery has fared overall in his two starts in place of John Lackey, and how good Hammel was before his last two starts (though his peripherals have always been much worse than his results this year). It all adds up to a bit of a fuzzy situation at the back of the rotation, and fortunately the Cubs are in a position where they can afford to ponder these questions without risking missing out on the playoffs altogether. For now, you just hope that Hammel is well-rested for his next start, pitches well, and you go from there.
- Meanwhile, through 7.1 big league innings, Rob Zastryzny hasn’t given up a run, has allowed just five hits and two walks and has struck out nine. Remember, he came up to the team after some kind of switch flipped for him a couple months ago, and he had been dominating at Iowa.
- The less-hotly-debated, but perhaps more questionable, Joe Maddon decision yesterday was having Ben Zobrist bunt in the first inning after the Cubs had the first three batters reach base against youngster Julio Urias, and had runners on first and second with nobody out. In that situation, it sure seems like you’d want your cleanup batter taking his hacks, but Maddon had Zobrist but for a combination of reasons (CSN): Zobrist had groundball tendencies against that type of pitcher, Addison Russell and Jorge Soler matched up well against the lefty as the next two batters with runners on second and third, and there was a chance Zobrist could surprise the Dodgers and get a hit. So, it wasn’t a sac bunt attempt, strictly speaking, but an ordered bunt hit attempt with sac bunt downside. I get it. I disagree with it, but I get it. Especially once Zobrist had showed bunt on the first pitch, but did not bunt, the call should have been off. The surprise element was gone, and then all you’ve done is put a play in front of the defense when the pitcher hadn’t had a chance to settle in.
- I have to say it, by the way: by and large, we’re nit-picking these things at this point in the year, given how good the Cubs are, given how effective Joe Maddon is as a manager, and given that the Cardinals lost again yesterday. But these are all things worth discussing, even if only because they are interesting. Discussing – even disputing – them doesn’t mean there are concerns, overall, about the Cubs and/or Maddon.
- We talked about pace of play earlier this week in the context of some of the Commissioner’s agenda items for the future of the game, and he’ll have a nice example to point to from yesterday’s game: Dodgers reliever Pedro Baez faced five batters in the 7th inning, threw 29 pitches, and was out there for a half an hour. That is not an exaggeration; it is actually something that happened.
- This Tribune column is your periodic reminder of the difficulties and changes in the live sports distribution and rights fees arena. I would add one thing: if MLB did not control the streaming rights for all of its teams, the situation would be a lot easier for a large market, national team like the Cubs. As it is, it’s not hard to see that, long-term, the most valuable Cubs “broadcast” rights are not actually on TV or radio, but are streamed via the internet. And the Cubs don’t own those rights. MLB does.
- Luke’s Minor League Daily this morning noted the return of Albert Almora Jr. to Iowa, which is excellent news.
- Clearly, Amazon knows about my back injury (woke up much worse today than it was yesterday, and it was pretty bad yesterday – I don’t want to talk about it), because the balance ball chairs I’ve been looking at for months, considering whether or not to get one, are today’s Deal of the Day. I guess it’s a sign. And I just pulled the trigger.