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Good Teams Go Through Ugly Stretches, But We Can Still Look for Signals, and Other Bullets

Analysis and Commentary, Chicago Cubs News
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The Cubs are kicking off a 10-game home stand tonight, and I often like to think in advance of how I would like to see a given stretch play out so that I can check myself later if I get p.o.’d by the particular way a game or two played out. This is totally a for-myself-not-an-analysis kind of thing, mind you, but if the Cubs could go 6-4 in this stretch against a surprisingly not terrible Reds team, an upstart Brewers team, and a terrible-but-still-with-veteran-talent Giants team, I wouldn’t hate it. At 5-5 or worse, and you’re continuing to feel very glum. At 7-3 or better, you’re going to see everyone talking about how the Cubs are finally turning things around (whether that’s accurate or not).

Speaking of which …

  • I’m seeing a lot of pushback on the Cubs’ ugly start to the season in the form of “yes, but they had a horrible stretch last season, too, and you just didn’t notice because it was in the middle of the year.” Setting aside the fact that, yes, everyone noticed that horrible stretch last year, and it was all anyone in the baseball world was talking about, I want to push back against the pushback a little. While it is absolutely true that stats and results at the start of a season have a way of standing out in our minds more than stretches in the middle, and it is also absolutely true that a very good team can (and usually does) have a bad stretch of baseball over the course of 162 games, the issue is that we don’t yet have the benefit of hindsight. Where we stand today, those things are possible, but it is also possible that this first stretch of the season is providing us actual information about the quality of this group of players’ performance going forward. Do I believe the true talent level of these players is actually as low as the results have indicated so far? No. But do I think there are signals in there about certain players that give me pause about how their results might play out the rest of the way? Absolutely.
  • For example: maybe we’re starting to get a signal that Jake Arrieta is going to be more hittable this year. Maybe we’re starting to get a signal that Kyle Schwarber isn’t the preternaturally, always-gonna-hit-no-matter-what guy we expected right out of the gate. Maybe we’re starting to get a signal that the adjustment period for young hitters like Schwarber, Willson Contreras, and Addison Russell is going to be longer and deeper than we’d hoped. And so on and so on. Stats and results at the start of the season do get disproportionately weighted in the narrative-building world, and we should push back against that with logical analysis. But we should also recognize that the performances we’re seeing not only matter of their own accord (because wins and losses are all that counts in the end), but they can start to signal trends that will carry forward throughout a season.

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  • There’s a ton that’s gone into the Cubs’ 18-19 start – some of it a tiny bit of bad luck in game results, some of it clear poor performance, some of it a particular difficult schedule, and some of it injuries – and the reasonable thing to do at this phase is neither to panic nor ignore.
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
  • Ian Happ’s versatility is an obvious plus, not only to the Cubs, but to his own ability to keep playing for the big league team as players return from injury. But the reality is, with all of Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward, Jon Jay, and Ben Zobrist expected to be more or less fully back within a few days, Happ’s time with the big league team is probably limited for now.
  • The Tribune has more on that situation, and also a stray note at the bottom that I thought worth depressing you with this morning: the Cubs have already been shut out three times this season after being shut out just six times total last year.

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  • I mentioned this in the earlier David Ross ‘Dancing with the Stars’ post, but since that’s a light-hearted “he’s dancing!” post, I wanted to mention a little more of the baseball substance here. There was a video package last night about Ross’s baseball career, and in it, he mentions that he made a mistake in his younger days with the Reds, complaining about a lack of playing time, which led to his release, and then developing a reputation around the game as a selfish player and a bad teammate. That goes a long way to explaining Ross’s strange career trajectory, where he bounced around among a few organizations in his early days despite clearly having quality chops behind the plate and an above-average bat. It would also go a long ways to explaining how it was that he evolved into such an attuned and engaged teammate – he knew the importance, and appreciated his experience all the more. (I imagine that’s a key arc in Ross’s autobiography that just came out this week, and will probably also be one in his/the Cubs’ upcoming movie.)
  • This is one of those things we’ll have to dig in on more specifically in a longer post, but it’s worth getting in front of you here in a Bullet: Jeff Sullivan writes about the many problems Jake Arrieta is facing right now, and wonders if any of them are stemming from a shift in his horizontal release point due to him getting a little *too* cross-fire-y this year. Pitching mechanics are complicated and subtle, and I won’t pretend to be able to tell you “this is the thing!”, especially when we’re talking about something that almost certainly has a large number of causes and inputs. But this is a good read, if nothing else.
  • Will Leitch writes about the continued problem of pitcher injuries, and, specifically, the misalignment of interests between young, fireballing pitchers who risk blowing their arms out before they reach any kind of real payday, and the teams that would love to get the most, best bullets out of that arm before it blows.
  • Earlier, Luke looked at a Myrtle Beach outfielder who is raking and making great defensive plays, and we also looked at the first homer of the year for a certain other Myrtle Beach outfielder who is going to hit many, many more this year.

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  • Apropos of nothing, it’s just a great picture:

  • Father’s Day MLB gear is out, if you want to participate:

  • Maybe it’s just my burgeoning Aaron Judge man-crush, but I cannot overstate how much I enjoyed this Tonight Show video:

  • The owner of the Chicago Tribune is seeking to buy the Sun-Times, which could create an interesting shift in the Chicago sports media landscape (obviously among many other things). The deal is not done, and the Sun-Times would theoretically continue to operate as its own entity, but there would undoubtedly be changes. It is a reminder that the media industry continues to feel the pain of content consumption evolution, and no one is immune (not even BN, though we do the best we can to keep on keeping on – which is a good reason to segue into an ad).

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  • A buddy of mine has been talking up sous-vide cooking, and I’ll admit, it does sound pretty compelling. There’s a bluetooth sous-vide cooker on sale today at Amazon.

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Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor of Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation.

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