The Chicago Cubs have wrapped up their home slate, and the way it ended was reminiscent of how the first half of the season ended: getting owned by the Cardinals at Wrigley Field, and feeling more gently irked than outright angry. We were seeing things we expected to see at that point, but it was still really annoying.
At that time, it was a blowout loss in the first half finale – remember how it led to the (probably not wrong) comments by Willson Contreras about the team’s effort and headspace? – and this time it was a four-game series sweep. Just a shoulder-shrugging situation when you least want it. Losses might be more “valuable” to the Cubs right now, but it sure isn’t fun to see rolling over for the Cardinals. It isn’t in my blood. But, hey, I’m just a guy watching. So I accept what I’m given.
Bonus: this series was a four-gamer because the finale of that first half series was postponed until now. So it all comes together.
• So, did Keegan Thompson figure something out before yesterday’s start? A guy who was having all kinds of fits missing any bats suddenly went out there and got 14(!) whiffs out of just 56 pitches. Most came on his cutter (which was interestingly down 1.5 mph on average, yielding a little more slider shape some of the time), but he got some on his four-seamer and his curveball, too. It was such an extreme shift from his previous starts that I’m serious when I say I wonder if he and the Cubs figured something out. I look forward to seeing if it carries over to the next/final start of the year.
• Adbert Alzolay followed with a great outing of his own, and he’s now at just three earned runs over his 17.1 relief innings since returning in that role. And yesterday’s one walk? His first out of the bullpen this year.
• Patrick Wisdom was scratched yesterday after otherwise doing his thing in this series: hitting a homer, but also striking out an ungodly amount. The power is still quite real, but, as we’ve discussed, the strikeout rate can go only so high before there’s not enough power in the world to make up for it. It’s hard enough to be productive over a 30% K rate, but mathematically/humanly, it seems like 40% is juuuust about that line where you can’t really be productive overall if you’ve tipped over it, no matter how unique you otherwise are. Wisdom has managed it this year (40.8% K rate, 115 wRC+), but after those first two blistering weeks, he’s hit just .211/.288/.450 with a 94 wRC+. That, to me, looks like a best-case scenario when the strikeout rate is 41.7%, as it has been for that stretch.
• I have concerns that Wisdom has settled into being who he is – that gaping hole at the top of the zone has never been rectified – and I had hoped we would see more adjusting as the season (and exposure) went on. To the contrary, it now looks like he’ll be the first hitter since 1901 to finish a season with a strikeout rate over 40%. The scratch yesterday was a bit of a wrist issue that Wisdom felt earlier in the series. Hopefully nothing serious because, hey, let him finish out the year getting some more at bats. When asked about how to deal with the strikeout issue in the future without losing too much power, here’s what he told Cubs.com: “That’s a golden question. And I think if I had a definite answer, I would share it and I would obviously do it and attack it.” Hopefully someone figures it out before March!
• Wisdom’s hitting coach Anthony Iapoce makes the point that sometimes a strikeout rate issue can actually be about what’s happening earlier in the count (Cubs.com): “It’s really improving on getting better early in the count. Everybody always talks about two-strike approach, but I think a lot of times we don’t talk about how a guy gets there. Is he chasing early? Is he not being aggressive? Is he being too patient? So I think at the end of the year, for him moving forward, he can sit back after this year, because it’s been such a whirlwind season, take a look at those things and figure out how he can get better earlier in the count.” A good point overall – you can’t strike out if you aren’t in a two-strike count to begin with – but my concern is that Wisdom’s in-zone contact rate is the lowest in baseball (and he swings at pitches in the zone at a very strong rate). It’s not just a matter of him getting in too many deep counts unnecessarily – it’s that he’s flat out swings and misses at way too many pitches in the strike zone. So whether he took the pitch or attacked it, it’s a strike either way. Still, improvements at the margins would be great.
• Nico Hoerner, who was scratched the day before, also didn’t play yesterday. The scratch was dubbed mere “general soreness,” but for a guy who missed big chunks of the first half of the season with a wrist injury and a hamstring injury, and then missed most of the second half with an oblique injury, you worry any time he’s given extra days off consecutively. You already know the drill about how much it sucks that he simply hasn’t gotten as many at bats this year as possible, and starts at shortstop. He will be on the big league team next year, and he might contribute nearly every day. But the Cubs would be nuts to act this offseason as though they have shortstop locked up for 2022.
• Taking it in:
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) September 27, 2021
— Taylor McGregor (@Taylor_McGregor) September 26, 2021
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• It was unspeakably bad:
They're All Out of Excuses: BROWNS 26, BEARS 6 https://t.co/i7vS4NjFWf
— Bleacher Nation Bears (@BN_Bears) September 26, 2021