Contreras and Morel Bring the Joy and the Results, Bullpen Love, and Other Cubs Bullets

Rode about ten roller coasters yesterday with The Wife, and although it was fun as heck and we’ll do it again sometime, it is also true that we have reached an age – WE’RE NOT OLD! WE’RE JUST OLD-ER – where you will FEEL it the next day. Just feeling a little beat up …

•   Like an idiot, I checked the playoff odds this morning at FanGraphs, thinking after the last two Cubs wins I could drop in a little “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” line – mostly as a joke! – but the number still isn’t even good enough for a joke like that. The Cubs still sport a mere 1.7% chance of making the playoffs, per FanGraphs. So, yeah, no reasonable jokes to be made.

•   But the win was fun! Or at least the ending was fun. It was the first walk-off win of the year for the Cubs, and the first of Christopher Morel’s career.

•   Morel has that energy. From Kyle Hendricks (Tribune): “It’s infectious when you have a guy that brings positive energy, a smile on his face every single day. It permeates to everyone in that clubhouse. Everyone picks up and feeds off his energy.”

•   This, from Morel about Willson Contreras, is really quite awesome:

https://twitter.com/CubsZone/status/1532199733195952129

•   Contreras is a leader on this Cubs team, and a young guy like Morel benefits from it.

•   Speaking of Willson Contreras, he had batted balls last night reaching 114.4 mph and 115.1 mph – a night after ANOTHER above-115 mph batted ball – and I don’t know that we’ve done enough to underscore just how bonkers hard he is hitting the ball this year. His max exit velo (116.2 mph) is 7th in baseball this year, and his average (93.7 mph) is tied for 8th. His max and average are currently better than Patrick Wisdom, which is saying a lot!

•   (That framing number sticks out, though, and it matches the eye test. I don’t want to linger on it for today, because I mostly want to focus on Contreras’s incredible offense this year. But to the extent framing still matters over the next year or two or three before robo umps become a thing, it’s a serious problem.)

•   One more for Contreras: on that pop up that he and Daniel Norris dropped (each seemed to think the other was going to catch it, and then each dashed for the ball at the last second, colliding), Contreras had the presence of mind to act quickly to grab the ball and throw to second base, turning an “embarrassing error” into a “routine force out at second.”

•   As for the combination of Contreras and Morel, they are your current offensive leaders on the Cubs (156 wRC+ for Contreras, 135 for Morel).

•   As an aside on the walk-off, and underscored throughout this series on other plays: Christian Yelich sure has become terrible in left field, eh? Don’t get me wrong, he hasn’t been good there in years, but this series, he looked truly awful. That sac fly was medium depth, at most, and hung up with plenty of time for Yelich to make a decent play … it wasn’t even remotely close thanks to a slow release, a bad angle, and a lollipop throw. Meanwhile, Yelich is once again posting league-average numbers at the plate and is signed through 2028.

•   The bullpen last night, as highlighted by Michael in the EBS, was really fantastic. They not only threw five innings of scoreless ball, but they struck out 10(!) batters in that time. Michael Rucker returned from the IL on a mission – not only did he strike out 3 in his inning of work, but he got 5 whiffs on just 18 pitches. And not only did he get five whiffs, they came on four different pitches: two on his fastball, and one each on his curveball, cutter, and slider. Although he seems to get lost in the shuffle of all the other names, Rucker is a guy who can be a multi-year piece in the bullpen. I think we don’t yet know whether he has the upside of a back-end/set-up reliever type, but he’s at least a good up-down big league reliever. That much is pretty clear at this point.

•   More stray fun in the bullpen: Mark Leiter Jr. got the 10th inning last night, and in a pure relief role, he did the thing that he can do so uniquely – in a total of eight pitches thrown, Leiter threw SIX different pitch types. It’s such a weird thing, and it’s not at all what you would expect from a reliever (which is probably why he hasn’t been relieving), but I kinda love how it works for him in one or two-inning bursts. I get that the Cubs feel like they need to keep him stretched out and shuffling back to Iowa for depth in the rotation, but I am still not convinced that he couldn’t be a very good reliever if that move was just made permanent.

•   You just wouldn’t expect to see “first time in a decade” stuff when it comes to stolen bases with this year’s Cubs team, but:

•   A heads up on this to the dads and people with dads:

•   What is this:

•   Internal divisions:

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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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