I started feeling pretty sick as yesterday went on, and by the later innings last night, I had to duck out – so thanks to Michael for finishing up the game coverage, which turned out to be pretty dang fun. Jealous. He’s now covered three Cubs games this year: two huge blowout wins and then last night’s thrilling fun. Must be nice. Thanks, also, for his help chipping in on some of these Bullets …
• When a young Cubs pitcher makes his debut (or, in this case, his starting debut), especially at Wrigley Field, and especially against a club like the Dodgers, I’m really only looking for two things in that first outing: (1) does the moment seem too big for him, and (2) does he look like he generally has multiple big-league-caliber pitches. Yes, getting results is good – but that’s ultimately just a one-game sample, and we know how baseball goes on that front. Yes, getting strikeouts and limiting walks and all that stuff is good, too, but again, it’s one game against a group that hasn’t seen a guy before and may not have been scouted extensively yet (especially this year!). So, for me, I’m trying to evaluate the makeup for the moment, and the individual pitches.
• On those two fronts, it was a really solid starting debut for Keegan Thompson last night. I think it helped that he got the initial wave of jimmies out of his system in his relief debut on the road, but watching him, it never looked like the moment was too big for him, even when the Dodgers were getting traffic on the bases. That’s not to say a young pitcher who struggles and lets problems compound and gets wild and can’t slow the heartbeat will not ever get over that initial – whatever it is – but if you’ve got it from the jump, it’s a good checkpoint for me. And then you’ve got the individual pitches: that slider/cutter is a plus big league pitch already. It could be even better when he can shape it and command it, but as a raw pitch, it’s there. The fastball has great velo (94-95 mph), but I’m not sure about the life. Dodgers batters seemed to be really comfortable with it last night, so that’s something to watch. The curveball has good shape and spin, so it’s just a matter of getting consistent with it. I know Thompson also has a changeup, but I didn’t see it much last night.
• You’ll notice that I didn’t mention command in there. That’s not because it isn’t important – it’s probably the most important thing for anyone who isn’t an extreme velo/stuff guy – but instead it’s because it does seem to be a skill that gets crafted and crafted and develops over time. Yeah, there are some preternatural freaks like Kyle Hendricks, but most guys have to develop their bodies and routines and grips and mechanics and what-have-you before they can really max out their personal level of command and repeatability. So if a youngster comes up and he isn’t commanding his pitches precisely – Thompson was not, in my #NotAScout opinion – that to me isn’t some kind of huge scary warning sign, so long as it isn’t the kind of extreme wildness that you would associate with that whole “bigness of the moment” issue.
• Keep in mind on Thompson: although he’s 26, he has thrown just 160 minor league innings TOTAL since the 2017 draft. Injuries and the shutdown have turned his development path into something truly unique, so for him to look that composed last night in the big leagues is all the more impressive.
Keegan Thompson on first career MLB start at Wrigley Field: "It's like a dream."
— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) May 5, 2021
• David Bote’s defense was *excellent* last night. Making big plays over and over in big spots. He walked the game off, yes, and had that big hit in game one, but his defense was really strong. This one really helped out Thompson (bonus love for Anthony Rizzo):
Nice pick, David.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) May 4, 2021
• And speaking of young pitchers who are coming up big for the Cubs, how about Justin Steele’s awesome moment in the 9th to preserve the tie:
Justin Steele was FIRED UP. 🔥
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) May 5, 2021
Reminder that Steele was drafted in 2014 (Theo/Jed’s third draft). Their first pick that year (Schwarber), finished a 6 year Cubs career before Steele appeared in an MLB game. Pitchers (especially pitches drafted out of HS) can take a long time to develop. https://t.co/YiOD4yXRqL
— Brad (@ballskwok) May 5, 2021
• Speedy Rizzo:
Renowned speedster Anthony Rizzo cut down at the plate on a Heyward grounder to first baseman Max Muncy.
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) May 5, 2021
• From Michael, an ambiance comment about the Kris Bryant missed opportunities: People will be talking about KB coming up short in three huge moments last night (two full count, bases loaded strikeouts and one infield pop-up in the 8th) – any of those score a run, Cubs prob win without issue. But still great day overall and whatever to the “he’s not clutch” stuff. And also Wrigley was audibly chanting “MVP MVP MVP” in all three of those at-bats, which was just cool.
• Javy Báez is now hitting .245/.276/.531 on the year, good for a 113 wRC+. That’s nearly matching his 2019 wRC+ (114). Such a bizarre year for him so far, especially when you consider the defensive lapses. I’d still bet on him to be quite good overall the rest of the way.
• Random stuff, but the Dodgers have gone ice cold in this stretch against the NL Central, now having lost three straight series to Central teams. After starting the season an absurd 13-2, they have gone an even more absurd 4-12.
• Among yesterday’s many improbabilities:
Javy Báez came into today's game with a 1.0% walk rate, the lowest among position players in baseball.
Clayton Kershaw came into today's game with a 3.3% walk rate, 6th best among starting pitchers in baseball.
So, naturally, Kershaw walked Báez in the first inning.
— Bleacher Nation Cubs (@BleacherNation) May 4, 2021
• Gotta love it:
How cool is this? pic.twitter.com/DSDnvVXkPx
— Wrigley Field (@WrigleyBlog) May 5, 2021
• Get yourself some free stuff, folks:
🔥GIVEAWAY🔥Picking 5 lucky winners to win a $100 gift card.
— OBVIOUS SHIRTS® (@obvious_shirts) May 5, 2021
Michael Cerami contributed to this post.