After winning their 11th game last night, the Chicago Cubs (.786) have the highest winning percentage in baseball, which, this year, is very likely going to have to be how we identify the playoff teams. And speaking of which, the Cubs playoff odds have ticked up to 95% at FanGraphs, just barely behind the Dodgers for second in the National League (96.8%), and behind only the Yankees (98.1%) and Athletics (95.8%) overall.
In other words, the Cubs are in the catbird seat, potentially with just 43 games to go (depending on if they make up those games against the Cardinals, which I doubt). There is some good news on the Cardinals front, too. Well, potentially. Stay tuned and stay cautious and all that.
Cardinals Clearing Up?
The latest round of testing revealed no new positives for the Cardinals, putting Friday’s contest against the White Sox in play:
Heard #StLCards latest rounds of testing went well. That is to say, no positives. Friday remains possible (though obvs not guaranteed)
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) August 12, 2020
Of course, if this sounds familiar, it’s because this is exactly how things played out last week, after their initial breakout. More positives, fewer positives, no positives, game on Friday against Chicago’s baseball team scheduled as the comeback … and then it all fell apart. Let’s hope we have a very different outcome this time, because the Cardinals have played only FIVE games this season. It’s a logistical nightmare that can really mess with the integrity of this season for ALL teams, especially those in the NL Central.
Good for the Indians
Adam Plutko, who started last night in place of Mike Clevinger, who effectively lied about breaking the COVID-19 protocols until he was caught, had some very strong words for Clevinger, and I applaud him for it:
Adam Plutko with some strong words on how Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac can earn back their teammates' trust: pic.twitter.com/KaiPo4gz9D
— Zack Meisel (@ZackMeisel) August 12, 2020
You’ll see a lot of comments about “keeping this in house” from fans, but while I do agree that’s a good idea for most issues, this is not a one-team problem. This is an everyone problem that requires an everyone solution, so holding these guys publicly accountable like this is the right thing to do. Clevinger, in particular, let his team down, yes, but he’s also letting down the league, the fans, etc.
Everyone has to do better.
What Happened to the Offense?
At The Athletic, Eno Sarris points out that if baseball ended today, the bats would finish with the worst collective batting average of all-time, and the .707 OPS would be second-worst. Needless to say, offense is behind and in his search to explain why, he looks into (1) pitchers behind ahead of hitters, (2) a less lively baseball, (3) optimized pitching strategies, (4) starters being pulled sooner, (5) an increase in shifts, (6) a bigger strike zone, and (7) some missing talent. It’s almost certainly a combination of all those things.
One thing Sarris didn’t consider, however, is Ian Happ, a.k.a. the G.O.A.T.
After tonight (and JUST FOR FUN):
Mike Trout: .321/.371/.714 (194 wRC+)
Ian Happ: .325/.438/.625 (191 wRC+)
The 7th and 9th best hitters in #MLB.
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) August 12, 2020
I kid, I kid.
This is a real issue, one that Ben Lindbergh zeroed in on at The Ringer, where he pointed to a critically low league-wide BABIP of .276 (down from .298 last season).
The league OBP is .311, which would be the lowest since 1972, another year that led to an important rules change. Since the rubber was set at 60'6" in 1893, there have been just 11 seasons of lower OBP.
— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) August 10, 2020
Baseball’s always going to baseball, though, and in the midst of a batting average crisis, Charlie Blackmon has his average up to .500 through 17 games, which is more than a quarter of the season. How would you feel if Anthony Rizzo had a .500 batting average through 46 games in a regular season? That’s the prorated comparison.
The fun part comes in at figuring out his likelihood of hitting .400 for the year (which obviously wouldn’t mean what it does in a full season, but is still a lot of fun). In short, Blackmon has to hit roughly .360 the rest of the way to finish the season with a .400 batting average, and given his history, statisticians give him a 10% chance to accomplish that.
Place your bets.
Yonder Alonso Back to the Padres
For those of you who don’t know your history, Yonder Alonso is the reason the Cubs have Anthony Rizzo.
Once upon a time, Alonso, along with Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez, and Brad Boxberger, were traded to the Padres for Mat Latos (LOL … what a trade), and Alonso was seen as the guy for first base. So the Padres traded a very young Rizzo to the Cubs for Andrew Cashner, and the rest is history.
Alonso slashed .271/.339/.386 for the Padres and was eventually traded to the A’s in a deal that netted them Drew Pomeranz. From there, Alonso made his way to the Mariners, Indians, White Sox, Rockies, and Braves (on a minor league deal before this season), before … today!
He makes his return:
The Padres sent cash to the Braves.
— Dennis Lin (@dennistlin) August 12, 2020
Alonso did actually have a breakout 2017 season, during which he slashed .266/.365/.501 (133 wRC+), but he fell back in 2018 (97 wRC+) and in 2019 (67 wRC+), and hasn’t had any big league plate appearances here in 2020 at age 33.
Of course, the Padres have Eric Hosmer at first base on a big expensive deal and he’s actually having his best season for them yet (130 wRC+).
Derek Dietrich Already Up with the Rangers
I was legitimately looking forward to Derek Dietrich’s potential contributions to the Cubs roster off the bench, but he was released by the Cubs to seek a big league opportunity elsewhere, and that’s exactly what he got. Quickly.
After signing a minor league deal with Texas on Monday, the Rangers have called Dietrich up to the big leagues without ever sending him to the taxi squad/alternate site. Since the Rangers and Cubs only chances of meeting this season is in the World Series, I wish him the best of luck.
For the Cubs, I think this decision was both a courtesy to Dietrich, who was clearly not blocked by anyone in Texas, and a bet on the rest of the big league roster, including lefty second baseman Jason Kipnis, who’s been CRUSHING baseballs for the Cubs in limited duty:
Through 22 limited PAs, Jason Kipnis has seven hits … and three walks. During those 7 hits?
The local kid is slashing .368/.455/.895 (253 wRC+) Let's get him some more at-bats against right-handers until they slow him down, please.
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) August 12, 2020
Odds and Ends
• Baseball in 2020 is a singular experience:
The Orioles just hit a lead-off, two-run, inside-the-park home run. This year is wild, man. pic.twitter.com/4jIjgdVHrH
— Baseball is Fun (@flippingbats) August 12, 2020
• I heard some teams were going to do this, pretty cool to see the letter:
Awesome move by the #Pirates ⚾️!
(via /u/dboyr) pic.twitter.com/PyuN2BMFoe
— Baseball is Fun (@flippingbats) August 10, 2020
• I’d keep an eye out for some big t-shirt announcements …. should be obvious where to look if you’re an early bird:
Look what I found 👀 pic.twitter.com/GIhOPqdvi3
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) August 9, 2020