What the Cubs Should Focus On, Rivas, Happ, Ortega, Newcomb, and Other Cubs Bullets

Do off-days get worse than the day after a four-game series loss capper, in which the Cubs blew chance after chance after chance to win it? I am gonna be doing a lot of head-shaking today …

•   Winning games. Managing trade pieces for optimum value at midseason. Developing young players. Figuring out what you have in older, possible medium-term guys. The Cubs have to balance a lot of important considerations right now, and I keep them on my mind at all times. But winning games should still be the priority for at least another month, so that’s the primary lens through which I evaluate certain decisions.

•   With that in mind, I wrote it yesterday before the game, and I’ll reiterate it after the game in which Alfonso Rivas notched a double, and was intentionally walked, after he came off the bench:

Frank Schwindel continues to draw regular starts at first base as the Cubs explore what they have there (fine by me), and Ian Happ is the primary dude in left field (also fine). Where Rivas could (and should) work in more often while he’s up is by way of the center field mix, not because he can play there, but because we often see Jason Heyward playing there while Rafael Ortega DH’s.

It seems a better mix would be Rivas at first base with Schwindel DH’ing, and one of Heyward or Ortega taking a seat. That likely improves your lineup AND your first base defense considerably, all while still allowing you to evaluate Schwindel, Rivas, and one of Ortega/Heyward. I just don’t see why, out of those four, Rivas is the one you’d want to be sitting. I want to see him play. Regularly. There’s no reason not to right now.

•   I don’t want to go overboard, because the big league sample on Rivas remains tiny, and the literally .500 BABIP is going to come way down with more time. But this is a guy who has had so little pro experience, who reached Triple-A like a relative rocket ship, and who has never not hit in his pro career. On the list of guys you’d want to see this year to know what you have for 2023 and beyond (and work on his development), why on earth wouldn’t that guy be in the top five? Yeah, he’s got minor league options remaining, and that’s going to be a roster-related factor. I get that. But WHILE HE’S UP, he should be playing every day. It checks all the boxes.

•   It’s one of those stats that you just know what you’re going to find before you even check, and yes, it’s a thing: the first strike percentage on Nick Madrigal (73.1%) is top ten in baseball. And since he has the 13th lowest in-zone swing rate in baseball, we can confirm that our eyes are not deceiving us: the scouting report on Madrigal is, quite literally, to just groove a middle-middle fastball with your first pitch. There is a very high likelihood that he will take it. That first strike rate is waaaaaay up from the first two years of his career (62.3%), so that, too, suggests this is a league adjustment after realizing how little he swings at the first pitch. He’s gonna have to adjust to that, or he is constantly going to be down 0-1, 0-2, 1-2 – and just because you CAN hit behind the count doesn’t mean you should be putting yourself in that position.

•   Ian Happ’s first homer of the year was a Wrigley special:

•   Speaking of would-it-dong, Rafael Ortega’s 9th inning double, which could’ve been a triple, would’ve been a game-tying homer in 27 parks:

•   Ortega also could’ve scored on Seiya Suzuki’s subsequent blooper into right if he’d read it as a hit off the bat. So basically, three could’ve situations there in the 9th, each of which would’ve tied the game. (Or, you know, if Willson Contreras had been able to put the ball in play or if Frank Schwindel had gotten a hit. Or if the Cubs had scored any of the other five times they had a golden opportunity they blew in the game … yes, still salty … )

•   The Echo Dot is 44% off today at Amazon, so if you’ve been looking to get a smart speaker, there you go. #ad

•   Sean Newcomb made his debut this weekend in a scoreless, low-leverage frame for the Cubs. This is definitely how you simplify a repertoire for a guy with elite stuff, but without great command (but there’s a but coming):

•   What’s tricky with Newcomb’s mix is that the four-seamer has good pitch qualities (velo, spin, vertical/horizontal movement) but it hasn’t gotten good results for him. It’s really gotten knocked around the last few years. The cutter, by contrast, got GREAT results in 2021 (but the pitch qualities are mixed – it’s a new pitch for him as of last year). The curveball has also gotten great results – even better than the cutter – and it’s a really good looking pitch by the various metrics. But maybe the curveball doesn’t play as well unless it’s mostly paired with the four-seamer? Maybe the cutter doesn’t play as well if it’s thrown too much? It would be crazy to tell a guy with good velo and spin to ditch his four-seamer almost entirely, right? I’ve gotta believe it’s a matter of the two secondaries not playing as well without the four-seamer, combined with the Braves having seen how good the fastball metrics are and believing he just needed to figure out how to command it better.

•   Also: Newcomb used to throw a slider with exceptional movement, but ditched it last year in favor of the cutter (which, by the way, has more slider-ish movement than your typical cutter). Not exactly sure what happened there. Playing with the pitch design, intentionally, to create a hybrid pitch? Trying to make it even more distinct in shape from the curveball to enhance the curveball’s effectiveness?

•   I hated the outcome of yesterday’s game, but I can’t say I have a problem with a closer getting spicy about beating another NL Central team:

•   Fun bit of trivia:

•   Such a beautiful pitch:

•   The Bears have something to deal with this week that isn’t the draft:

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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