My sports condolences go out to the Blackhawks fans among you. For those who aren’t: Chicago’s NHL team was the top dog in the Western Conference in the regular season (number one seed), and they were just swept out of the playoffs by the last team to make the playoffs in the Western Conference (number eight seed). Yes, that’s both bad and rare, and it was essentially a historic disappointment. With baseball’s randomness and smaller playoff pool, you’re much more likely to see a behemoth get swept in the divisional round by a Wild Card team, so we don’t really have a parallel to point to in baseball for this kind of ugliness. So, yeah. Sorry, Blackhawks fans.
- This weekend’s trip to Cincinnati will be a special “return” for a couple Cubs: today is the one-year anniversary of Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter in Cincinnati, and it’s the first time Kyle Schwarber will play near his hometown since his knee injury last year. Hey, remember The Kyle Schwarber Game?
- Miguel Montero tells the Tribune that he’s adjusting to his new backup role, because in his mind, he can still be an everyday player. With health, perhaps that’s true for the 33-year-old, but right now, with the Cubs, he’s about as good as it gets when it comes to a veteran backup catcher. Not only does he provide mentorship for nominal starter Willson Contreras, but he also provides nearly the same total value (when considering all phases of the game) when he starts – there really isn’t much drop off. For that reason, we’ve said we expect Montero to see slightly more action than your typical backup catcher might see, and the extra rest plus better BABIP luck and matchup optimization could provide the environment for a very nice bounce back year at the plate. So far, so good on that front: Montero has appeared in seven of the Cubs’ 15 games, starting five of them, and he’s hitting .316/.350/.474 (in large part thanks to that .455 BABIP – see, told you he’d get better luck this year! (heh heh sustainable heh heh)). I wouldn’t expect quite that level to continue all year, but I do believe he can be very successful in this role. (Also: Montero has been the 20th most valuable framing catcher in baseball so far this year, despite the limited starts.)
- Jeff Sullivan offered his take on the Cubs’ collective drop in velocity from the five starting pitchers, and he landed in the same place we did: it’s always something to watch and consider, but it sure is odd that it’s all five starting pitchers at once. Is it possible all are struggling to get it back this year? Sure. But is it also possible – maybe even slightly more probable – that there’s some design here? That’s Sullivan’s take, which meshes with what Joe Maddon hinted at over the weekend. This may be part of a plan to protect arms and maximize command.
- Again, to the extent the Cubs are genuinely institutionally trying something here (without much in the way of confirmation from the team), it’s extremely bold and revolutionary – the extent and uniformity of which we’ve not seen before (literally all five starting pitchers are down in the velocity far below where you would otherwise expect them to be, even at this early part of the season). If there were ever an org to try it, it’s the Cubs. And if there were ever a situation to try it, it’s coming off back-to-back deep postseason runs (and with a fifth starter, Brett Anderson, who has dealt with multiple injury issues). To be perfectly honest with you, I’m not convinced that’s what we’re looking at here, but it’s all very possible.
- (Me? My best bet is that the five velocity drops are due to a combination of factors, some of which are idiosyncratic (aging for some of the guys, for example), some of which are seasonal (it doesn’t explain the full scope of the drops, but guys are going to be down in April), and some of which could be institutionally implemented (ease off on the gas to get the command right).)
- ELOY! Jimenez returned to the plate at extended Spring Training earlier this week (shoulder), and yesterday he returned to the outfield. The Cubs’ original, rough timeline for his return from the bone bruise he sustained March 18 was to rest for a few weeks before ramping up the baseball activity. We can’t know when he started what baseball activity before getting into these games, so I’d suggest he’s more or less on schedule. If he can get geared up – this is basically a second Spring Training for him – in a week or so and head out the High-A Myrtle Beach pain free, then I’d say that’s a fantastic outcome. He will have missed less than a month of the regular season. You are reminded that, as much as Ian Happ and Jeimer Candelario are destroying the ball at AAA Iowa, Jimenez has the highest upside in his bat of anyone in the system, and I’m not sure it’s all that close.
- You love your championship Cubs – per ESPN, Josten’s (make of the Cubs’ championship rings) has sold twice as much title jewelry for the Cubs than any other previous title.
- There is a public flap flapping around about comments made by John Lackey and Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio regarding Eric Thames’ incredible show of power upon his return to the United States (example: Hardball Talk). Maybe I’m being caught in a homer moment, but I feel like you have to do a whole lot of reading into Lackey’s and Bosio’s comments to turn them into “Thames is cheating!” Given the environment – Starling Marte just got popped for steroids, and Thames was literally asked by MLB to take a urine test after his fifth straight game with a homer – I can understand that this is where people go (and could also understand if Lackey and Bosio were implying something (though I would not like it)). For me, I’m just not sure that’s actually what Lackey and Bosio were saying, so I’d rather give them the benefit of the doubt. Similarly, with Thames, it’s not as if he didn’t absolutely destroy the ball in Korea, and the power he’s showing is not the only impressive part of his offensive game so far. That said, let the league see him a second time. This may all prove to be little more than a powerful, talented player whom the league has not learned yet. (Of course, I kinda hope he does keep raking (so long as it doesn’t hurt the Cubs too badly) because it’s a really fun story.)
- You can insert your own ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ theme music in your head as you watch:
"Come to the game," they said, "Smell the fresh air," they said. 😑 pic.twitter.com/okMSg69UAN
— Baseball is Fun (@flippingbats) April 20, 2017
- A reminder that this picture exists, and I am proud/not proud of it:
— Brett Taylor (@BleacherNation) April 21, 2017
- Although I am technically circling back to hockey in this Bullet, it was shared by noted baseball sabermetrician Tom Tango, and I think you’ll see why:
computer boys vs the world pic.twitter.com/TE0mlgkC37
— Andy (@pucktails) April 21, 2017
- The applicability to baseball modeling and predictive analysis is pretty clear there: the deeper statistical analysis, at least in that hockey series, blew away all the pundits and the bookmakers. At this moment I’ll remind you of Michael’s off-day check-in from last night, which notes the Cubs’ playoff odds are calculated at a still-very-high level.
- One other non-baseball-Chicago-sports note: the Bears’ full schedule was released yesterday, and Luis gave it a look at TYL. It’s actually surprisingly tough for a team coming off of a 3-13 season.
- One of the best “Deal of the Day” things I’ve had a chance to pass on, in my TV-viewing opinion: the complete ‘Breaking Bad’ series on Blu-ray is just $34.99 today at Amazon. Otherwise, something that jumped out at me is two mini, high-brightness tactical flashlights for just $8. Our kids love flashlights, and they are not always kind to them. So we have to keep stocked up …