Cubs

Mold news and the 5 biggest things from Cubs-Nationals Game 4

Mold news and the 5 biggest things from Cubs-Nationals Game 4


Ron Swanson couldn't follow in Bill Murray's footsteps.

Chicago native and noted Cubs fan Nick Offerman sang the Seventh Inning Stretch with actress Elisabeth Moss, but the "Parks and Rec" fan favorite didn't generate the same buzz with the Cubs' bats.

Stephen Strasburg was just too damn good Wednesday night as he and the Nationals got the last laugh on the whole "mold" joke, making the Cubs look more like the team that was feeling "under the weather" on the losing end of a 5-0 Game 4 affair.

Mold News

However you want to slice it, the whole "mold" storyline was thrown out the window...oh, about the third inning or so.

Strasburg demanded the ball in Game 4 and went out and "put his balls on the line," throwing an absolute gem of a game. He struck out the side in both the third and fourth innings, tallying 12 Ks in 7 innings and generating a ton of swings and misses on his wicked changeup:

This was an opportunity for a statement game from Strasburg and he answered the call, silencing any Nationals fans who questioned his toughness.

His 12 strikeouts broke his own Nationals postseason record that he set in Game 1 when he struck out 10 Cubs hitters. So that makes 22 Ks for Strasburg — against only six hits — in 14 innings in the series. Talk about dominance.

Guess he truly was feeling better, so whatever antibiotics he was on certainly did the trick.

Weather, man

Who knows what would've happened in Tuesday's game had it not been rained out, but the only thing we can say for certain: Strasburg was not going to be the starting pitcher Tuesday under any circumstance.

Maybe Tanner Roark would've had just as neutralizing of an effect on Cubs' bats, but yeah, it doesn't seem too likely he would've been as dominant as Strasburg was Wednesday afternoon/evening.

And now the Cubs have to go back to D.C. without the benefit of a travel day or day off to rest and try to come out on the positive end of a winner-take-all Game 5 with a raucous Washington crowd.

Seems pretty clear the weather gave the Nats at least a partial advantage, though Cubs fans can't really complain about rain affecting the momentum of a contest after Game 7 last year, right? Right?

Don't forget about Trea

Trea Turner finally got on base and immediately made it hurt for the Cubs.

The young shortstop lined a one-out double to the left-field corner off Jake Arrieta in the third inning and later came around to score the only run Arrieta gave up in the game. Turner started the NLDS 0-for-13 before that double. 

It's not like the Nationals lit the world on fire offensively (they finished with only four hits), but they took advantage of nine walks and had just one big swing of the bat.

Where is the defense?

The Cubs' defense once again failed the Cubs, as the only run of the game through seven innings was unearned by virtue of Addison Russell's bobble on Ryan Zimmerman's chopper. (Yes, Zimmerman once again took advantage of the Cubs' shoddy fielding at Wrigley.)

It's hard to blame Russell too much, given he was charging hard on a slick infield and it would've been a rather tough play either way.

But that makes five errors for the Cubs in the two games at Wrigley Field and once again called into question: Where is that elite defense the team rode to a championship in 2016?

All hands on deck

Arrieta was forced out of the game after only four innings and Joe Maddon's first choice out of the bullpen was...Jon Lester?

Yep, the veteran southpaw came on to throw 3.2 innings as Maddon went full Game 7 mode, bypassing the likes of Mike Montgomery, Brian Duensing and John Lackey for those middle innings.

Lester performed brilliantly (even picking a guy off first base!) before departing after a two-out single to Daniel Murphy, giving way to Carl Edwards Jr. The Cubs young setup man walked the first two batters he faced, loading the bases and forcing Maddon to bring in Wade Davis.

That's when disaster struck. Davis served up a backbreaking grand slam to Michael A. Taylor, who hit one into the teeth of 16 mph winds, dropping one into the right-field basket and ensuring there would be another day to this series. It was the first homer Davis has surrendered in 25 postseason outings spanning 29.1 innings.

Maddon clearly was going all-out to win Game 4, not wanting to go back to D.C. Thursday and face a combination of Gio Gonzalez, Max Scherzer and a rested Nats bullpen on their home turf in a winner-take-all game. The thinking here makes sense: win Game 4 and there is no Game 5.

The problem is, that's exactly what Maddon and Co. will have to do and now Lester probably won't be available out of the 'pen for a Game 5 after throwing 55 pitches Wednesday.

Cubs adding catching depth that may help them out in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes

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AP

Cubs adding catching depth that may help them out in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes

Chris Gimenez, come on down.

The 35-year-old catcher isn't exactly a household name, but he's been signed by the Cubs to add backstop depth, according to Chris Cotillo and Ken Rosenthal:

The Cubs didn't have much depth in the catching department beyond Willson Contreras and inexperienced rookie Victor Caratini and while Gimenez doesn't light up the stat column, he's a link to Yu Darvish that could give the Cubs a unique advantage in that domain:

Darvish and Gimenez played together with the Texas Rangers in 2014-15 (though Darvish was hurt in 2015) and Gimenez has been shedding some light on what the free-agent pitcher may be thinking this winter. Is this Part II of a David Ross-Jon Lester personal catcher situation?

That may be reading a bit too much into things, as the Cubs were always going to sign a veteran catcher to provide depth beyond the unproven Caratini. They saw how important that was in 2017 when Alex Avila spent roughly a month as the starter when Contreras was hurt.

The link between Gimenez and Darvish is real, but the frontline starter has also made 48 starts over the last two seasons while throwing to a catcher not named Gimenez. And the free agent catching market is pretty thin beyond Avila and Jonathan Lucroy, both of whom should earn starter's money or close to it.

Gimenez has played 361 games in the big leagues over the last nine seasons as a journeyman, with stops in Cleveland, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Texas, Cleveland (again), Texas (again), Cleveland (again) and then Minnesota last year. He played for Cubs manager Joe Maddon and new pitching coach Jim Hickey while in Tampa Bay.

Gimenez turned in a career season in 2017 with the Twins, notching new highs in games played (74), at-bats (186), runs (28), hits (41), homers (7), RBI (16) and walks (33).

He has a career .218 batting average with a .309 on-base percentage, .345 slugging and .654 OPS. 

But Gimenez isn't just a catcher. He's made nine appearances as a pitcher over the last few years, including six in 2017, where he allowed four runs on seven hits in five innings.

Gimenez will probably compete with Caratini for the backup catcher role in Chicago and can lend a veteran presence. He's also the best bet to take for first position player to pitch in a game in 2018.

The Brewers have emerged as a darkhorse in the race for top starting pitchers

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USA TODAY

The Brewers have emerged as a darkhorse in the race for top starting pitchers

The Milwaukee Brewers are making sure nobody forgets about them in the National League Central.

While the St. Louis Cardinals continue to make trades and the Cubs remain linked to the top starting pitchers on the market even after signing three pitchers, the Brewers have been rather quiet. All winter, the only noteworthy moves from Milwaukee came in the form of under-the-radar pitcher signings — starters Jhoulys Chacin and Yovani Gallardo plus reliever Boone Logan.

Beyond that, the Brewers have added a bunch of other low-leverage players — catcher Christian Bethancourt and relievers J.J. Hoover, Ernesto Frieri, Michael Brady and Erik Davis. (Nobody would blame you if you haven't heard of any of those players before.)

But maybe the Brewers have just been saving their cash for one of the big guys, with Ken Rosenthal confirming a report Sunday night Milwaukee is not only one of the teams in on Yu Darvish, but they've even made a formal offer:

The Brewers securing Darvish or one of the other top pitchers — Jake Arrieta or Alex Cobb — would be a huge development in their effort to keep pace with the Cubs and Cardinals in the division.

Milwaukee was a surprise contender in 2017 before they faded down the stretch. The main reason they hung around the top of the NL Central all year was a shockingly-effective pitching staff.

However, the Brewers have some serious pitching questions long-term that need to be addressed. Beyond Chase Anderson and Zach Davies in the rotation, there are no sure things. 

Jimmy Nelson underwent shoulder surgery last fall and it's currently unknown when he can be counted on again, though things are progressing ahead of schedule. Junior Guerra — the 33-year-old right-hander formerly of the White Sox — went 9-3 with a 2.81 ERA in 20 starts in 2016 but followed that up with some serious struggles in 2017 (5.12 ERA, 1.48 WHIP).

Chacin, 30, was good in 2017 (13-10, 3.89 ERA, 1.27 WHIP), but struggled with health and inconsistent performance in the five seasons prior. Gallardo, 31, has a 5.57 ERA and 1.55 WHIP over the last two seasons. 

All that adds up to a staff that doesn't inspire much confidence behind a high-powered offense led by Ryan Braun, Travis Shaw, Domingo Santana, Eric Thames plus up-and-comers Lewis Brinson and Orlando Arcia.

Adding Arrieta or Darvish would certainly go quite far in improving the Brewers' biggest weakness and even Cobb could be a serious game-changer in Milwaukee.

As an interesting footnote to the whole Darvish rumor, the minute after Rosenthal confirmed the report, the Brewers official Twitter account took a shot at the Cubs:

Cubs Twitter — never one to back down from a good-natured social media spat — responded Monday morning with a sick comeback: