After their win over the Reds this afternoon, the Brewers (35-27) have tied the Cubs (35-27) for first place in the NL Central with exactly 100 games to go. The Cardinals are just 3.0 games back, and the Reds are just 5.0 games back. Should be a fun summer, right?
Now let’s check in on the goings-on throughout the league, starting with the NL Central, where injuries are piling up ….
NL Central Injuries
The Chicago Cubs (9) still have a ton of players on the Injured List, but so do the Cardinals (10), Brewers (8), and Reds (10). It’s a bloodbath out there, as players re-adjust to the longer season after an odd 2020. Here are some of the “highlights” on the injury front.
Cardinals: Yadier Molina, who’s not even one of the 10 Cardinals currently on the IL, finally got back in action last night after being hit with a foul-tip on Saturday. Paul DeJong, who’s been out since May 12th, is “potentially” going to be ready for this weekend series against the Cubs, but Harrison Bader (rib fracture) hasn’t even resumed baseball activities.
“Harrison is going to be a little bit longer than we anticipated,” said (Cardinals Manager Mike) Shildt. “He hasn’t gotten over that proverbial hump yet. So rest is taking place at the moment. And a little longer recovery, which means further away from baseball activity, which means a longer baseball ramp-up to playing in the big leagues.”
Bader hasn’t done much at the plate this season (83 wRC+), but his walk rate is in double-digits and his strikeout rate is in the mid-teens, so he’s not a blackhole. He also provides excellent defense and the Cardinals are just generally better with him than without him.
Brewers: There is no timetable for Travis Shaw’s recovery from a dislocated left shoulder (it was a really weird play), and he’s clearly very disappointed by the flukiness of it. In the meantime, Luis Urias (already covering 2B for the injured Kolten Wong) is moving over to 3B to cover for Shaw, while Jace Peterson came up from Triple-A to play second. Meanwhile, the Brewers (#2) are also not expected Lorenzo Cain (hamstring strain) back until at least July.
“July 1st would be the first day we would start to consider him,” Counsell said. “We’ll see how he progresses over the next two weeks. We’ve got a ways to go still here. That’s the earliest I think you would see him.”
And if that’s the case, you almost wonder if they’ll just let him rest up through the All-Star break to give him more time without missing too many games: “He’s progressing but it was a significant injury so we have to take our time with it and build his strength back up.”
Reds: Starter Sonny Gray was placed on the 10-Day IL with a right groin strain on Wednesday, and there’s “no exact timetable” just yet. The Reds are being oddly optimistic, hoping he misses just two starts, so take that as you will, but in my experiences leg/groin strains are often underestimated for pitchers.
“I’m trying to look on the bright side of it,” Gray said. “Trying to take the road of positivity and kind of say, ‘you know what, it could’ve been worse.’ The timing does suck and it’s never fun to do that, but it could’ve been worse. I still think it was the right decision to do it, tackle this thing before it gets worse and it’s a long, drawn out thing.”
The Cubs next play the Cardinals this weekend, the Brewers at the end of June, and the Reds at the start of July.
The Sticky Spin Stuff
By now, I’m sure you’re aware that MLB is beginning to take the illegal substance/sticky stuff on baseballs situation seriously, intending, finally, to enforce the rules they already have on the books. But while we know what goals they’re trying accomplish by enforcing the rules, FanGraphs discusses the (1) potential unintended consequences (for one, potentially more walks, but the same amount of strikeouts and no additional balls in play (which is hardly “better”)) and (2) the issues they may face in terms of enforcement and punishment. The league cannot scapegoat certain pitchers for something everyone is/was doing and they need to apply and enforce the new rules fairly and uniformly. That may be easy over the long-haul, but in the short-term, it could appear as though certain pitchers are being targeted.
That’s not solely on the league, of course – players have the ability to, you know, stop breaking the rules – but it’s not that simple. It’s a good read at FanGraphs, so check it out.
Along these lines … Oh, hey, what do you know? Trevor Bauer’s last start (coincidentally, his first since MLB informed teams of its plans to enforce the rules), which featured a season-high in baserunners (6 hits, 4 walks), also featured an average fastball spin rate 223 RPMs lower than his league-leading average entering the day.
“I don’t know,” Bauer said. “Hot, humid day in Atlanta. I just want to compete on a fair playing field. I’ll say it again. That’s been the whole point this entire time. Let everyone compete on a fair playing field. So if you’re going to enforce it then enforce it. And if you’re not then stop sweeping it under the rug, which is what they’ve done for four years now.”
It wouldn’t be crazy to guess that Bauer is trying to adjust to the new reality, as with many, many other pitchers.
Like Brett said this morning, we shouldn’t be too righteous about this, because there are ABSOLUTELY going to be Cubs who have, still are(?), and will continue(?) to use illegal substances. That said, Bauer was so in our face about how impossible it was to achieve the very spin rates he enjoyed while beating Yu Darvish in the Cy Young race and scoring a massive contract from the Dodgers. So you’ll forgive me if I don’t feel too bad for pointing out his hypocrisy – especially because, certainly some pitchers are using less impactful substances purely for additional grip (not spin).
It’s Almost Trade Season
It’s not quite “Trade Season” yet, but it is the part of the calendar where teams start calling each other and feeling out their intentions at the deadline. And to that end, Kevin Goldstein – formerly of the Astros front office – had a fun writeup, creating what he expects these calls to look like for each team, and the Cubs section actually got me thinking.
We all know starting pitching is going to be a huge priority at the deadline, but it’s not the only one:
The team is playing very well of late, so we’re not taking any calls on the impending free agents; it would take quite a collapse for that to change. We will feel better about our lineup once everyone is healthy, but we could use some more outfield depth. I know we told Joc Pederson that he would play every day here, but we can’t keep throwing him out there against lefties if we are making a playoff push, so a platoon piece to give us more firepower against southpaws would help. Our bullpen has exceeded all expectations, but we’re not comfortable at all with our rotation, especially in a playoff setting. If we get the green light from ownership, we will be laser focused on starting pitching.
I hadn’t really considered the Cubs adding an outfielder at the deadline, one who could hit lefties, and I am not sure that would be the focus. But maybe that’s not too crazy of an idea? Jason Heyward, Ian Happ, and Joc Pederson are all much better against righties, and it’s not a lock that the right-handed contributors will keep it up. For example, if Patrick Wisdom falls off, Kris Bryant may have to move back to third. Then again, Matt Duffy could also cover innings at third, keeping Bryant off the dirt, but maybe he’s not a sure-fire everyday starter either. Jake Marisnick will certainly take some starts in center field against lefties away from Happ/Pederson, but he’s another part-time player. And most of the guys I’ve just named have dealt with injuries throughout the season.
That all said, if the Cubs are buyers, you can assume a quality starting pitcher is going to be tops on their list (maybe a Kyle Gibsom type?).
Odds and Ends
• The Rays prospect who was hit in the head with a line drive, Tyler Zombro, has been discharged from the hospital. Zombro will remain in Durham and continue outpatient and occupational therapy. Excellent news, and hopefully his recovering continues to go well.
• Two years ago, David Ortiz was shot in the back in the Dominican Republic and he’s still dealing with the fallout. According to ESPN, Ortiz had surgery on Wednesday for two stomach hernias, which were products “of his injuries from the attack.”
• On a much lighter note: At MLB.com, Will Leitch goes over some of the most surprising/shocking all-stars anointed and produced by the (uninformed) fan vote. And one Cub makes the list: Kosuke Fukudome… to which I ask, “What exactly is shocking about that?” Maybe he didn’t live up to the hype, but on July 1st, he was hitting .296/.404/.430 (117 wRC+). A batting average near .300 with an OBP near .400 is pretty All-Star-y in my book.
• By the way, Fukudome, 44, is still playing right now in the NPB!
Kosuke Fukudome makes it 2-0 Dragons pic.twitter.com/9pdS6Hqurp
— No. 1 CL Fan (@tom_mussa) June 2, 2021
• Do you like baseball cards? Manny Randhawa picks “once classic rookie card” for each MLB team. I want that Ron Santo rookie card.
• Love a good fan catch. Also, kids are made of rubber:
— Cut4 (@Cut4) June 10, 2021