The Cubs today wake up not in first or second place in the NL Central for the first time since May 17, having been passed by the Reds yesterday. They can switch right back with a series salvage job this afternoon, but the Cubs are now 8.5 games back of the Brewers. Yup. Still a big number.
• Who is ready to witness history the next few games:
The Cubs are just the 3rd team in the Live Ball era (Since 1920) to go 20 consecutive games with 8 or fewer hits (had 7 today). 1972 Mets went 20. Only the 1968 Yankees had a longer streak, 22 games.
— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) July 3, 2021
• TWENTY games in a row with 8 or fewer hits. That’s wild. The Cubs face Wade Miley today, so that’s a definite possibility for another. And then Aaron Nola on Tuesday, so that’s another one. The biggest question – outside of bullpens – is Matt Moore tomorrow night. So if the Cubs don’t get eight hits today, then they’ll have to bring it against Moore if they don’t want to tie that very specific futility record.
• Of course, the return of Nico Hoerner – as soon as today – is probably going to help on that front. He’s good for six or seven hits today, right? So that might be enough.
• Really good outing yesterday for Adbert Alzolay, in an offensive park, against a solid lineup. This is when Alzolay’s four-seamer and slider work together best – north/south, away from a right-handed hitter:
Adbert Alzolay, 95mph Fastball (swing/miss) and 87mph Slider (swinging K), Individual Pitches + Overlay. pic.twitter.com/DkJlfj9l2M
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 3, 2021
• That’s what a dominant big league starter looks like. The challenge, though, is that doesn’t work as well against left-handed hitters:
Two home runs allowed by Alzolay today, both to lefties. He's allowed 16 homers this season, 13 to lefties.
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) July 3, 2021
• There are other things for Alzolay to keep working on, obviously, but limiting lefty power output is by far the biggy. It’ll be a big developmental focus this offseason, I expect, either working with him to get his changeup back, or maybe getting him more comfortable with throwing the slider up and in to lefties (and maybe even giving it a little cutter shape). You pair either one of those pitches with the sinker away, and you can have a little more success. And, of course, command is always going to be key: Joey Votto homered on a four-seamer middle-middle (supposed to be up and in), and Tyler Naquin homered on a changeup down and in (supposed to be, where else, down and away). You could see from those two pitches that it’s not like the Cubs and Alzolay and Willson Contreras don’t KNOW what they want to do, but the execution has to be there. So, again, let’s get that up-and-in command a bit better (slider/four-seamer), and let’s get the changeup back to being a trusted, consistent pitch. Do that, and boom, Alzolay is an ace.
• Was yesterday a start on that front, by the way? Alzolay threw the changeup a whopping 11 times, and although all were at least down, they weren’t located east-west as well as you’d like. But you gotta start somewhere, and in a post-sticky-stuff world, too, we have tended to think effective changeups will become an even more important pitch (he’s using it a ton more the last three starts, for what it’s worth, and, full transparency: he’s getting close to charting as among the 38% of the league that has seen about a standard deviation drop in spin rate (~115 RPM)).
• Brad Wieck is up to an even 15.0 innings scoreless this year. With Ryan Tepera on the shelf and Tommy Nance sent back to Iowa, Wieck is getting more of those later-and-tighter innings, as he should be. No other pitcher in baseball has a 0.00 ERA with more than 12.0 innings.
• There’s the stretch out. Cubs likely want Justin Steele to be able to go 2-3 innings, when needed, upon his return:
Not very often you see a bullpen arm on MLB rehab go two innings, but that's exactly what Justin Steele just did for the @IowaCubs.
Two scoreless, hitless innings in fact.
— Alex Cohen (@voiceofcohen) July 4, 2021
• The Wisdom Strike Zone:
Holy cow pic.twitter.com/w6bSQZIwfZ
— 𝔹𝕒𝕣𝕥𝕠𝕟 𝕊𝕞𝕚𝕥𝕙 (@TheMagnusPI) July 3, 2021
• I’m really not sure why Wisdom keeps getting screwed on calls like this (he already whiffs so much, he doesn’t need the umpire helping!), but that one really sucked. Not only was it way out of the zone, but it should’ve been ball four in the 9th inning of a one-run game. Instead, it was strike three.
• Two good days in Cincinnati for Kris Bryant so far:
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) July 3, 2021
• Bryant’s June slump had his previously-near-the-top-of-the-league slash line down to .261/.347/.500 (131 wRC+). Two games later, it’s up to .271/.353/.513 (136, 13th in the NL).
• Kyle Schwarber’s hamstring injury has been dubbed “significant,” which suuuuuuuuucks. The July NL Player of the Month, who has been so fun to watch, is going to miss a very long time. I would expect the Nationals are just going to hope they can get him back for the stretch run in September. What they do about the outfield in the interim remains to be seen. Likely no impact on the Cubs here, but dang. Was rooting for him, obviously.
• Updated post-sticky-announcement numbers:
League-wide offensive numbers:
April 1-June 4:
K rate: 24.1%
June 5-July 3
K rate: 23.2%
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 4, 2021
• To be sure, there is annually an uptick in offense in July/August when the whether warms up, so you have to be cautious before drawing any conclusions. To my mind, though, the sticky stuff enforcement shouldn’t necessarily have been about “creating more offense,” explicitly, but instead should be about permitting more contact. So the things I wanted to to see most was a reduction in strikeouts and an increase in contact rate (which likely would increase offensive production, but again, I just want to see more balls in play).
• Jose Canseco will never tire of the bit:
Happy July 4th to everyone except Alex Rodriguez
— Jose Canseco (@JoseCanseco) July 4, 2021
• Ryan Jensen, the Cubs’ first round pick in 2019 (i.e., the draft where the players got barely any pro time and then missed a year) pitched a gem yesterday:
Great start by Ryan Jensen today!!! He threw 6 perfect innings with 3 Ks, 0 hits, 0 BBs, and 0 runs on 77 pitches. pic.twitter.com/wrfLmS6wK3
— Todd ⚾️🐻🦌 (@CubsCentral08) July 3, 2021
• Well this is certainly something:
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) July 3, 2021
• Here was Kasten’s non-joking response:
Kasten: "I know what has been in the public domain. Apparently there's plenty more information that I have not been told, that I am not privy to, that I do not know anything about. And so I'm going to wait till all of that fact-gathering is complete and the decision was made."
— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) July 2, 2021
• Bauer, by the way, opted not to appeal his placement on the administrative leave list. So the league will have five more days to investigate and come to a decision, or will have to seek an extension of Bauer’s leave.
• The US Olympic team has some old friends:
The team that will bring home Olympic gold #ForGlory🇺🇸
— USA Baseball (@USABaseball) July 2, 2021
• For something positive, yes, Christian Yelich did a good thing:
— MLB (@MLB) July 3, 2021
• Got absolutely roasted by The Little Boy yesterday, even if he was just asking sincerely:
Watching ‘The Sandlot’ with the fam.
Me: “They used to call me Smalls when I played baseball because of this movie.”
The Little Boy: “Huh. Why? Oh because you were bad?”
— Brett Taylor (@Brett_A_Taylor) July 3, 2021