The Cubs go for the series win in Atlanta today, but they’ll have an extra hurdle now …
• Ah. Well, hooray? The Cubs get to be the first team to see Ronald Acuña Jr. back from his 2021 ACL injury:
The #Braves today returned OF Ronald Acuña Jr. from his rehabilitation assignment and reinstated him from the 10-day injured list. To make room on the active roster, the club designated OF Alex Dickerson for assignment.
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) April 28, 2022
• Sorry in advance to Drew Smyly, who has to give up the leadoff homer to his old teammate.
• Not to be lost in the Patrick Wisdom homer or the overall discussion of the game, how about Willson Contreras coming through in the clutch with a runner on base:
Willy leads off with an RBI double! pic.twitter.com/j0wAJ6Xec8
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) April 28, 2022
• Something I’ve noticed on Contreras this year, together with noticing it on Ian Happ yesterday: the strikeout rate is way down. So far this year, Contreras is striking out just 19.1% of the time, by far the lowest rate of his career, and down nearly 10 percentage points from last season. Is it a small sample fluke? Is it the product of the pitchers the Cubs have happened to face this year? Or is it possible that guys like Happ and Contreras really took to something in the process this offseason and this spring and are just legit managing more contact?
• Speaking of strikeout rates, the guy we watch most closely, obviously, is Patrick Wisdom. His truly unique contact quality means he can be a productive batter even with strikeout rates in the 35 to 38% range, which would be completely unplayable for almost all other batters. So, status check? Wisdom is currently at a 36.5% K rate, and without any weirdness in his other peripherals, the slash line is .236/.317/.491 with a 131 wRC+.
• In other words, the proof is in the pudding: Wisdom can be a really good bat, even with a strikeout rate at 36.5%. Just needs to be able to keep it there without the power (.255 ISO, currently), the BABIP (.333), or walk rate (11.1%) dropping off substantially. I think the BABIP would probably organically come down 10 points or so (his career mark is .322, which sounds about right for a guy with his profile), but I also think the ISO could actually climb from here. That is all to say, the version of Wisdom we’ve seen so far this year is a possible reality. (Note that he has been heavily protected from facing guys who are great at elevating top-tier fastballs, so that’s been part of the success, too.)
• If you’ve been looking to get a practice net for your golfing habits, there’s a deal on one today at Amazon. #ad
• It’s too early to get anything meaningful from the defensive metrics, especially at first base, but I haven’t *noticed* any issues with Frank Schwindel’s defense, which was an area of focus for him this offseason. I think he’s been pretty solid? To the eye test, at least? We’re so used to seeing a top-tier glove like Anthony Rizzo that the change to Schwindel was pretty jarring last year, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Schwindel is “bad.” Dude made a heckuva nice play last night, too.
• Speaking of defense … with Andrelton Simmons being slowed down yet again in his shoulder rehab, it seems likely the Cubs will have to rely on Jonathan Villar as the back-up shortstop for a while longer (until and unless they’re ready to make a place for on the 40-man roster for Ildemaro Vargas or Dixon Machado by, for example, moving Simmons to the 60-day IL). As we’ve discussed, Villar’s left side defense this year has been over-the-top bad. But David Ross is gonna defend his guy as best he can (via the Tribune):
“Some guys may be playing great defense but not hitting,” Ross said. “We’ve all got areas of our game that we can improve. … For me, it’s just about continuing to work. We’ve got a long season. And just because you start off at the plate going 0 for 20 doesn’t mean you’re not going to have a really nice season. And I think the same would be defensively.”
Villar has been working on his defense before games with bench coach Andy Green, but there is a balance that comes with it. Ross said it’s hard for Villar to get many opportunities for that type of pregame infield work because he needs reps at three positions.
“I can’t have him working at short on the day that he’s going to be playing third or second,” Ross said. “He can take days like today and he’ll move around and get some real work in and be ready to go whenever the next time he’s in the lineup.”
• I think Ross’s initial point there is a fair one – guys can stabilize their performance on defense, just as you might expect them to do so on offense if they were getting bad results in a small sample to open the season. The second point is a little harder for me to understand, since Villar has been a utility guy his entire career. Is an extra 30 minutes of work before a game suddenly going to make the difference in his performance at shortstop in 2022? (And, hey, if it is, well, then figure out a way to get him that work!)
• Jesse Chavez, who has been back to being great with the Braves immediately after that trade, gave young Cubs reliever some tips on breathing before he left the Cubs (Sun-Times). Just seems like a really good dude.
• What a game-ending catch down in Myrtle Beach:
We think this was #SCTop10 worthy…
— Myrtle Beach Pelicans (@Pelicanbaseball) April 28, 2022
• The Pelicans won both legs of their double-header yesterday thanks in large part to huge days from Pete Crow-Armstrong and James Triantos, which makes a seven-game winning streak for the Cubs’ Low-A affiliate (and 9 of their last 10). At 12-5, the Pelicans are in first place in the Carolina League South, tied for the best record in the league. The win-loss record for minor league teams doesn’t always tell you that much about the prospect caliber in a farm system, but it’s not quite zero, either. Moreover, there are a lotta folks out there who think the experience of winning a lot in the minors is good for player development. So keep it up!
• If you were made curious by that last bullet, each of the South Bend Cubs, Tennessee Smokies, and Iowa Cubs are within a game of .500 right now.
• The NFL Draft begins today, and while the Chicago Bears don’t have a first round pick, you never know what might happen. Either way, busy, important weekend ahead for that franchise.
• Meanwhile, the Chicago Bulls’ season is now over, and I want to say thanks to those of you who’ve followed along, and also give a lotta love to Eli for his great work this year. Disappointing ending, yes, but a lot of fun along the way.