History Looms, Alzolay’s Work, Wieck, Bryant, Schwarber, and Other Cubs Bullets

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:

•   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:

•   That’s what a dominant big league starter looks like. The challenge, though, is that doesn’t work as well against left-handed hitters:

•   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:

•   The Wisdom Strike Zone:

•   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:

•   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:

•   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:

•   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:

https://twitter.com/CubsCentral08/status/1411442911678500867

•   Well this is certainly something:

•   Here was Kasten’s non-joking response:

•   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:

•   For something positive, yes, Christian Yelich did a good thing:

•   Got absolutely roasted by The Little Boy yesterday, even if he was just asking sincerely:

written by

Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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