High-powered Cubs offense means fewer save chances for Hector Rondon

High-powered Cubs offense means fewer save chances for Hector Rondon

Hector Rondon saved 59 games over the course of the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

And with the Cubs boasting baseball’s best record with 22 wins in 28 games, you’d think Rondon would again be looking like one of baseball’s best closers.

Problem is, he’s had little opportunity to show it.

The Cubs’ offense has been so good — with it’s out-of-this-world plus-98 run differential — that Rondon has gotten just five save opportunities on the year. He’s converted all five, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Cubs as a team rank near the bottom in the big leagues when it comes to saves. One of just two teams in the majors with at least 20 wins, the Cubs rank only ahead of the Cincinnati Reds and Minnesota Twins when it comes to saves. No team has had fewer save opportunities than the Cubs’ mere six.

Rondon did get a save opportunity Friday, setting the Washington Nationals down 1-2-3 in the top of the ninth inning to lock down an 8-6 win.

And he has been dominant. He’s appeared in 11 games, throwing 10 1/3 innings and allowing just four base runners and one run, striking out 17 hitters in the process.

But manager Joe Maddon said Saturday that he needs to be careful with Rondon. He’s discovered the closer pitches better when he has regular work, as opposed to just pitching when a save opportunity presents itself — which with this Cubs team hasn’t been often.

“My take on Hector is the more you pitch him, the better he throws,” Maddon said. “I thought early on when we just threw him out there once in a while he wasn’t nearly as sharp. Yesterday he was very sharp. So there’s that fine line between resting somebody and giving them enough work to be sharp.

“With him I think we have to be aware of that because I gave him that long period in between where I was talking about a lot of times closers don’t need that and are still able to throw a strike. But I think with him there’s a certain amount of feel involved and I’ve got to get him out there even when there’s not a save situation, maybe three days max just to maintain the feel because he looks much sharper when he plays on a consistent basis.”

Of course, this is a good problem to have. No one thinks they can win by too many runs, and that’s another point of emphasis for Maddon.

“We have this concept, you go for the jugular late in the game,” Maddon said Friday. “When you have a lead in your last at-bat, I love for us to push another run across. It really takes away from the believability on the other side, the momentum on the other side. So if it takes away a save opportunity, so be it. It’s a contrived notion anyway. I know you get paid for it and all that, which I love that guys make their living. But for me it’s about us winning, so let’s go ahead and add on at the end and not worry about the saves.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey


Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”