It’s one of those pivotal days. You can feel it in so many ways, from the impending threat of losing four of five to the team chasing the Cubs in the division, to another disastrous start from a pitcher the Cubs need to be better, to the scary news that Jason Heyward took ill during the game and was sent to the hospital for additional tests. Today just feels like a lot could slip, or a lot could stabilize.
• To that end, I’d note that this is the first major challenge of THIS kind for new manager David Ross. When you know that the guys in the clubhouse can feel that things are suddenly very perilous. That they can sense things are juuuust starting to go off the rails. How does a young manager respond? Do you do too much to acknowledge it? Too little? Does staying the course and “acting as if” do the trick? Does it require visible changes to the approach? Perhaps to the lineup? Hopefully Ross’s closeness to this group will help him navigate the moment, knowing what each guy needs to hear and see and do. It’s a very concerning time.
• This was Ross after last night’s loss, already talking about just getting into the playoffs (Cubs.com): “It’s better to be in first than in second, for sure. We’ve just got to get better each and every day. If we can take that mindset, it doesn’t really matter to me that you win the division right now in this playoff format, or you come in second. You get in the playoffs and try to be the best version of yourself to win a World Series, whatever path it is that we take.” Maybe that works for this group – Ross would know better than I do. For me, and with the understanding that the question he was asked probably led him to that comment, I’d probably rather not hear about the possibility of the division lead slipping away when you’re right in the middle of letting it slip away.
• More from Ross (to whom I do have to give some grace that managing a team in this short season has gotta be so different and difficult than anything he would’ve planned for):
Cubs manager David Ross, with some State of the Team thoughts on Sunday with 20 games to go until the postseason… pic.twitter.com/nGRFVWahh6
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 6, 2020
• On Heyward, hopefully we’ll get a very, very good news update today. Here’s Jason Kipnis on the impact of Heyward (Cubs.com):
“He’s a big loss,” Cubs second baseman Jason Kipnis said, “not only with how well he’s playing, but a leader in the dugout, too. So we’re all concerned. You’ve got guys who fluctuate a little bit, and you’ll have that on any team, where they’re in better moods when they hit better or something like that. But I think he’s kind of the steady rock always.
“He just stays the course — kind of like a, ‘Follow me.’ Every day, he shows up, same guy whether he’s hitting or not hitting. He works hard. So when you’re around him, you’re working a little bit harder, because you know he is, too. He’s just one of those guys that kind of brings people along with him.
“We’re hoping it’s not serious with what he’s got going on, and he’s back [Monday].”
• Meanwhile, struggles aplenty at the plate in these three losses:
Rizzo, Baez and Schwarber each strikeout after Bryant's leadoff double in 8th.
After going 1-for-26 with runners on base Saturday, Cubs are 2-for-12 with men on today. The two exceptions: 2-run Kipnis HR in 2nd and Bote infield single in 4th.
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 7, 2020
• Wish the bullpen had more occasions to dance as they did last night for Anthony Rizzo’s homer:
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) September 6, 2020
• Lefty Matt Dermody made his debut last night, and struck out Paul DeJong swinging through a 95 mph fastball down the pipe, and then got two quick groundouts. The outing was too short and too quick to really get too much out in terms of “what’s this guy gonna be.” Any time a guy fans at a fastball in the middle of the zone, it gets you noticing. The delivery is very max effort, though, which has me worrying about repeating mechanics consistently enough to have good command. The offspeed stuff looked average – again, barely any real sample so I didn’t get a great gauge.
• Craig Kimbrel got another low-leverage inning in which to thrive, which he did. With the Cubs’ rotation in disarray, the bullpen is going to become all the more magnified, and there will be plenty of important middle innings to go around. That is to say, even if Kimbrel never works his way back into the setup/closing zone, the Cubs still need him to be effective.
• Relatedly, Duane Underwood Jr.’s last 6 appearances: 5.2 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 0 BB, 8 K. It’s also all low-leverage stuff, but that’s quite a nice stretch for a guy whom the Cubs could really, really stand to see break out (for this year and beyond).