I had a lot of fun taking in the Iowa Cubs game last night with my son, who is just a question machine when you get him there in person. I was trying to make sure that he was appropriately swooning over Matt Mervis, Brennen Davis, and Alexander Canario, among others, but they didn’t hook me up with any huge moments. It happens. Hayden Wesneski, who took over in the middle innings for what wound up being a “start’s” worth of innings, looked absolutely dominant, though. The Columbus batters who’d feasted on Anderson Espinoza suddenly seemed totally helpless.
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
- The Cubs are rightly looking at their 15-15 month of August as a success. When you consider the transitions of the last two years, the youth on the roster, and the improvements that could (should!) come this offseason, being a “.500 team” right now looks pretty darn good. Oh, and that’s not to mention that August featured a stretch of 20 games in 19 days, and came after the team moved out several key bullpen arms.
- Last night’s win, which came on the strength of more good bullpen performances than bad, is what locked in the .500 month and David Ross had praise for the heavily-taxed bullpen:
“It’s a good month,” manager David Ross said. “Try to build on that going into September.”
Wednesday’s win was a microcosm of August for Chicago, with some aggressive baserunning, individual standouts with the bat, and a heavy dose of the bullpen. With six career starts to his name, reliever Luke Farrell was tasked with opening Wednesday’s bullpen day as the most experienced option. He delivered two-plus frames and then Ross handed the ball off to six more relievers to piece together Chicago’s 15th win of the month.
The Cubs’ bullpen was the most-used unit in baseball this month, pitching 120 innings in 30 August games. The relief frames weren’t always pretty, and there were blips on Wednesday, but the ‘pen continually answered the call for heavy innings this month, and a few success stories emerged.
“We just asked a lot of these guys,” Ross said. “I’m sure they’re toast. I’m glad they found a little bit of extra adrenaline here, we needed this win.”
- The bullpen, which was ravaged at the Trade Deadline, finished the month of August with a 5.10 ERA, sixth worse in baseball. The 5.56 FIP was, by far, the worst in baseball.
- Speaking of the heavily-taxed bullpen, they’ll get an extra arm come tomorrow, with rosters expanding to 28 for September (teams can add one more pitcher and one more position player). The Cubs could go a variety of directions with that one, keeping in mind that Keegan Thompson and Wade Miley are going to be returning soon-ish and will need spots.
- And speaking of which, Wade Miley started for the South Bend Cubs last night (3.2 IP, 54 pitches). It’s another attempt at getting himself ready to re-appear in the big leagues, after a number of failed attempts due to a balky shoulder. Although it no longer matters for trade reasons or the postseason, I think the Cubs would still very much like Miley to get back and make a few starts down the stretch. For one reason, they will want to spread the innings around a bit so that they can reduce the load on some of the young starters/relievers who are pushing new career highs. For another reason, I think the Cubs believe in doing right by players when that doesn’t fundamentally conflict with winning. So I think they know how much Miley wants to get back out there and show, before the offseason, that he can still pitch. And I think the Cubs want to help him get there – being seen as the kind of organization who takes care of its players in a variety of ways is a very good thing, and, long-term, can help with winning anyway.
- The Cubs announced that Adrian Sampson will start tomorrow in St. Louis, with Drew Smyly and Marcus Stroman following. That means Justin Steele, who left his last start with mild lower-back tightness and then couldn’t start in Toronto because of the travel restriction, is having his start skipped this time through. Fine by me, as he’s already had a long year.
- Mark Leiter Jr. continues to be so good in relief: 2.79 ERA, 3.60 FIP, 28.4% K, 8.3% BB. I think it’s becoming harder and harder for the Cubs NOT to keep him on the 40-man all offseason. He’s older (31), but he’s still pre-arbitration. One thing working against him, though, is that this year he’s used his final minor league option year.
- Franmil Reyes went oppo last night, pushing his Cubs line back up to a very solid .276/.304/.517/124 wRC+:
- Here’s something weird to chew on: for all his disastrous results in the first half with the Cleveland Guardians this year, Reyes had a much better barrel rate (14.3% versus 9.4%), average exit velocity (92.2 mph versus 90.7 mph), and hard contact rate (47.2% versus 40.6%) with the Guardians than with the Cubs. He’s hitting more grounders with the Cubs, and fewer fly balls and line drives. The only real positive change in this tier of the data is that his amount of “soft” contact has plummeted. The batted ball results are so much better with the Cubs, though – maybe the guy really just did need a little time for his stats to start to balance out?
- One huge positive, though: Franmil Reyes’ strikeout rate with the Cubs is just 26.1%, which is eye-popping for him, after being waaay over 30% the last few years. Flukey? Attacking earlier? Better pitch selection? Whatever the cause, his contact rate – which stabilizes pretty quickly, is up to 71.5% with the Cubs, which would be, by faaaaaar, a career high. Remember how we’ve talked about how the Cubs think they have a secret sauce in getting big-time swing-and-miss sluggers to make a little more contact? Hmm …