Theo Epstein Speaks: Cubs Susceptible to Modern Pitching, Different Bullpen, Focus on September, More

The Chicago Cubs have won four consecutive games on the road and have already guaranteed themselves a series win in New York. They may still be 2.0 games out of first, but Willson Contreras could be coming back soon, and Ben Zobrist may be back before the end of the weekend. With Anthony Rizzo seemingly making progress, Nicholas Castellanos still doing his thing, and Kyle Schwarber starting to dial things up a notch, the Cubs could be primed to make their move in September.

And to discuss all of that and more is Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, who jumped on 670 The Score for a Cubs chat today. The full interview is embedded at the bottom of this post, and here’s a best-faith re-telling of what he said (all the I’s and We’s are from Epstein), and what I took from it:

  • We haven’t been able to be the best versions of ourselves consistently all year, but now there’s no choice. If we want to achieve our goals or be anything other than a disappointment we need to turn it on now. There’s only 30 games left.
  • I think certain clubs and certain players are going to be more susceptible to certain, modern pitching styles with four seam fastballs at the top of the zone and hard breaking balls, and you can argue that we have more hitters like that than not, which has made us particularly vulnerable. But we also have to adjust. We’ve had time. It’s an adjustment the whole league has had to make, but we have struggled.
  • With that said, I do see a lot of progress there with a lot of guys on our team … like Ian Happ for example, who struggled with exactly that last season. His 2019 season was spent re-working entire elements of his game. His approach at the top of the zone has improved, the zone with which he can do damage is also creeping up, and his strikeout rate is down. Kyle Schwarber’s strikeout rate is also down, as he’s taken a more contact-focused approach and going the other way, which has led to success. (This response was like music to my ears, given what we just discussed).
  • You can also attack that pitching style with new personnel, like our acquisition of Nicholas Castellanos, who can handle velocity at the top of the zone.
  • There was a version of this bullpen that had a lot more swing and miss, but Carl Edwards Jr. is gone and Brandon Morrow isn’t coming back this season. The Cubs still do have Craig Kimbrel, plus swing-and-miss guys like Dillon Maples and Brad Wieck who could come up in September and be a factor.
  • But there are a lot of ways to get guys out and you have to game plan based on the abilities of your pitchers (David Phelps came in for some heavy praise from Epstein for what he can do even with a lack of swing and miss stuff).
  • We are focused on these last 30 games so we can more than 30 games left. We have a group that’s now in their primes, a really talented roster, and we all feel like we should be winning divisions and playing deep into October. So that’s where we’re gonna stay focused (not on the long-term or offseason-type questions). I don’t think it does the team any good to talk about the implications of the next 30 games (implicitly for the roster and coaching staff), when our energy needs to be focused on winning right now.
  • Willson Contreras has another test today/will do some on-field work today and could be starting a rehab assignment really soon.
  • Epstein once again brought up Brad Wieck as a guy they’ve spoken about a lot to Joe Maddon and Tommy Hottovy. Sounds like the Cubs are expecting to get contributions from the big lefty in September. He was the return in the Carl Edwards Jr. trade.
  • written by

    Michael Cerami began covering the Chicago Cubs for Bleacher Nation as a part-time contributor in 2015. One year later, he joined Bleacher Nation full-time, covering the Chicago Cubs and Major League Baseball. Today, Michael runs Bleacher Nation, contributing as a writer (Cubs, MLB) and an editor for all sections of the site, including the Chicago Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks, as well as MLB, NBA, NHL, and NFL. In 2019, Michael was the co-host of NBC Sports Chicago's Cubs Post-Game Show Outside the Ivy. You can find him on Twitter/X @Michael_Cerami

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