There’s a pumpkin/fall farm place we like to go to this time of year, and they make these incredible pumpkin donuts from scratch. But the place is really popular, they don’t make many of ’em, and I haven’t been able to get a batch for literally years. Probably pre-pandemic. You have to get there early and camp out, and with young kids, it just hasn’t been feasible. Anyway, we went there yesterday to get pumpkins and candy and what-have-you, and WHAT DO I SEE?! Just a few sets of pumpkin donuts left. Let me tell you I SPRINTED to grab one of the last two dozen. I don’t care how ridiculous I looked. I ate three of them last night.
Which is to say, yesterday wasn’t COMPLETELY terrible …
The Cubs being eliminated the day before the final day of the regular season makes for a weird bit of timing, since doing a whole season digest-and-unpack before the final game of the season (on a Sunday, no less) doesn’t make a ton of sense to me. Heck, it only serves to underscore how Maximum Pain all of this has been. If the Cubs were eliminated a couple months ago, we’re probably not feeling much of anything except offseason excitement at this point. Instead, we’re – well, I’m – feeling a little bitter, and not quite ready to step back and take a big boy look at what the Cubs did or did not accomplish this year.
So, I’ll be doing it. I’ll be doing the 2023 post-mortem at some point soon, and probably in a variety of different ways, befitting a season about which you could simultaneously think so many things. Until then, some of the other stuff in these Bullets, later some quotes, and then one more game …
My comment in the EBS last night about Alexander Canario was a bit tongue-in-cheek, as his performance against lesser pitching last night doesn’t mean he would’ve been the difference in any of the preceding 20 games. However, (1) the Cubs have actually faced a lot of lesser pitching this month and struggled to really pile up runs, and (2) three starts, total, in an entire month of work – a month where the Cubs fell apart – just doesn’t look great when the guy hits .385/.385/.846/225 wRC+ in the 13 plate appearances he was given.
Canario, who also singled twice in the game, just barely missed a homer on that triple in two ways. First, if it is at Wrigley, it’s out of the park. Second, if he gets sent at third base, he scores easily as the ball squirts away (but he’d get credit for an inside-the-parker because he was already going). Not saying he SHOULD have been sent, and certainly not with one out. Just saying it’s funny how close it was to a homer in two different ways.
Also, I’m not saying it would’ve been super easy to start Canario regularly. You’re rarely going to want to sit Ian Happ or Seiya Suzuki – who both have hit very well the last month! – and I understand not wanting to put Canario in center field too often, even though he can do it. But also, it’s not like Mike Tauchman was raking. Another couple starts here and there would’ve, could’ve been feasible, though. Probably not more than that.
Moreover, the Cubs’ semi-regular DH, Christopher Morel, was also finishing the year strong: .242/.319/.645/151 wRC+ over the last three weeks. I still think he doesn’t get enough credit for how strong his performance has been as a 24-year-old whose development trajectory was completely mucked up. The Cubs really have to figure out how/what they want to do with him next year, because the bat could continue to get better.
Jameson Taillon’s first relief appearance went well last night, with four scoreless. I don’t know that the Cubs ever should have seriously considered a long run with him in the bullpen, but it’s kind of an interesting thing to have in the back pocket in the years ahead. Taillon is under contract for three more years, and although the plan is very much that he pitches in the middle of the rotation for that time, hey, you never know.
After the appearance, by the way, Taillon got his season ERA down to 4.84, which is “only” about 10% worse than league average. Going back to that start in New York on July 7, when he finally seemed to turn a corner, Taillon posted an excellent 3.38 ERA over 90.2 innings. Maybe there’s hope for next year yet. (Of course there is – he’s far more likely to be close an average starter, as he usually is, than what he was in the first half this year.)
Speaking of pitchers who turned it on, I could not be more impressed by Javier Assad this year. He’ll get so much attention in the offseason, because I’m really glad the Cubs have him available going into 2024. He wound up finishing the year with a 3.05 ERA (despite the early hiccups in the bullpen), which is the 9TH BEST IN ALL OF BASEBALL among pitchers with at least 100 innings (he had 109.1). Pick your preferred cutoff, but after, say, June 17, his ERA was 2.20, the second best in baseball, behind only Blake Snell. More impressively, he did it with really solid peripherals (23.2% K, 8.6% BB, for example), not JUST contact management. That said, contact management was his bread and butter during that stretch, from the 7.7% barrel rate to the 49.1% groundball rate to the 19.1% soft contact rate. Was there some good luck in the final ERA number? Unquestionably. But was he a well-above-average performer despite bouncing around in roles? Absolutely.
That means, after last night’s win, the Cubs are 5-11 in their last 16, but have scored 89 while their opponents have scored 88. Almost impossible to pull off.
Interesting to hear Cal Raleigh’s perspective about his Mariners, after they, too, were eliminated last night (MLB.com):
Bad news for breakout reliever Felix Bautista, though we already knew he had at least a partial UCL tear, and the Orioles were going to try to have him pitch through it:
“We’ve got to commit to winning. We have to commit to going and getting those players. You see other teams going out, going for it, getting big-time pitchers, getting big-time hitters. We have to do that to keep up ….
“You look over at the other locker room right there,” Raleigh said of the Rangers. “They’ve added more than anybody else, and you saw where it got them this year. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, that’s for sure. But going out and getting those big names, people who’ve done it, people who’ve been there, people who are leaders, people who have shown time and time again that they can be successful in this league … would help this clubhouse, would help this team ….
“We’ve done a great job of growing some players here and within the farm system. But sometimes, you have to go out and you have to buy. That’s just the name of the game, and we’ll see what happens this offseason. Hopefully, we can add some players and become a better team.”