Losing Streak, Hoerner's Return, Arrieta Sticking, Thompson and Steele, Chafin, and Other Cubs Bullets

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Losing Streak, Hoerner’s Return, Arrieta Sticking, Thompson and Steele, Chafin, and Other Cubs Bullets

Chicago Cubs

Hope everyone had a fun and safe weekend, and if you’re still in Observing The Holiday mode, I hope you’re having a swell day today, too.

•   The Cubs got three great starts in the Reds series (probably the first series of the year about which you could say that?) and they still got swept. Not that you weren’t already concerned, but when the starting pitching ACTUALLY shows up and the Cubs get SWEPT? Yikes. This stretch has been rough, beyond typical rough patches.

•   The word of the day for the loss was “grind,” with both David Ross and Jake Marisnick dropping the word to describe what the Cubs are doing right now (and Kyle Hendricks’ comments evoked it, too). When you’ve lost nine in a row, what else do you say? With a loss tonight, this will be the Cubs’ longest losing streak since the Rebuild Era 2012 squad:

•   Of course the return of Nico Hoerner sparks the Cubs to break their 20-game streak of 8 or fewer hits in each game. I mean, I kinda kid, since Hoerner went 0-4, but it certainly is good to see him back. He cannot be expected to be the savior of the offense, but he does change the dynamic, and he’s so dang good at second base, especially paired with Javy Báez. I thought this had NO chance at being a double play, given the placement and depth and a lefty at the plate:

•   There was no indication from David Ross that Jake Arrieta wouldn’t make his next start, and now he’s officially on the schedule to start tomorrow night against the Phillies at Wrigley Field. As Ross said following Arrieta’s latest disaster, he wasn’t sure who he could even replace Arrieta with if it got to that point. As we discussed then, it’s not as if there aren’t ACTUALLY options, but the Cubs seem content to at least let Arrieta finish out the first half in the rotation. That would mean he could get a second start in this homestand, the finale on Sunday against the Cardinals, depending on Trevor Williams’ return timeline.

•   Here’s a weird thing: if this became Arrieta’s final start (or the Sunday finale), you’d be rooting for a beautiful sendoff at Wrigley Field … but if he has the kind of start you’d call a “beautiful sendoff,” he’d probably earn another start! I think it was probably time to move on after the last one (or the one before), but that isn’t going to happen. So back to rooting for positive outcomes that are not reasonably predicted by the data.

•   Ultimately, I think what will happen is Arrieta will get these two starts, and then Williams will take his spot. Whether that means Arrieta is released or moved into the bullpen or injured, that can all be decided later to some extent. But if the Cubs aren’t competitive by late July, they’re going to want some young arms in the rotation at that point anyway. That could mean Cory Abbott comes up, it could mean Keegan Thompson goes into the rotation, and/or it could mean Justin Steele gets a look as a starter again. You would *much* rather the Cubs went that route – again, if they aren’t competitive anyway – so they can get information/aid in development for 2022.

•   Sahadev Sharma gets into some of that stuff in his latest, reporting that it’s at least under consideration that each of Thompson and Steele could be getting stretched out in the future with an eye toward starting-ish in the second half: “Sources indicate that Steele will continue to get stretched out in the minors with the intention that he’ll be getting starts sooner than later. Thompson may not be able to be stretched out while in the big-league bullpen, but when Ryan Tepera returns and the team starts to get healthier in the bullpen, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they try to stretch him out in the minors.”

•   You easily could have made an argument for Andrew Chafin to make the All-Star team in the abstract, but non-closing relievers just don’t get picked because of the roster limitations. We see it every year. Eventually, some of them get picked up as guys bow out, and maybe Chafin will be on that list. But regardless of whether he ACTUALLY is named an All-Star, the guy sure as shit is performing as well as he possibly can: 1.51 ERA, 2.74 FIP, 24.1% K rate, 7.5% BB rate, 53.5% groundball rate, 4.5%(!) barrel rate, 25.8%(!) hard hit rate.

•   Batters just flat out cannot square him up this year, which is largely due to a dramatic pitch mix change, going HEAVILY with his sinker this year instead of the four-seamer. The latter was a good whiff pitch when paired with his slider, but the former is producing terrible contact. The tradeoff has clearly been worth it, even as the strikeout rate is down a bit. If he keeps this up, Chafin, 31, is going to get paaaaaid in free agency. He and the Cubs have a $5.25M mutual option for next year, but with a $500K buyout, I don’t see any way Chafin picks up his half of the option, regardless of the order of operations on the buyout. He will rightly want to hit the market.

•   Speaking of lefty relievers, this one goes in the other direction – things have become a nightmare for Aroldis Chapman:

•   Chapman had given up just one run before the sticky stuff announcement. Since then – whether related or not – he has gone 5.2 innings over 9 appearances and allowed 14(!) earned runs, with 9 walks and 6 strikeouts.

•   Oh, and Chapman was just named to the All-Star team on the basis of when the voting/selections took place. Oops. His teammate Gerrit Cole, who is dealing with eh hem similar issues was also named an All-Star. The $324 million pitcher, signed on the basis of his transformation in Houston, has a 5.24 ERA and 5.69 FIP over the past month.

•   Speaking of All-Stars, pretty awesome and fun and unique that Shohei Ohtani was named an All-Star BOTH as a hitter and a pitcher. He’s gonna do both in the game, he’ll be in the Home Run Derby, and he’s just gonna be the face of this thing. So good for the sport. So sad that the Cubs didn’t land him. Yes, I still think about that a lot.

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.