Cubs

All-in at trade deadline? Cubs looking to strengthen bullpen for October

All-in at trade deadline? Cubs looking to strengthen bullpen for October

The Cubs built double-digit leads on the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates, two division rivals that won 198 games combined last season, but are now treading water in a National League filled with have-nots playing for the future.

The Cubs have a plus-171 run differential at a time when the Boston Red Sox are listed second in that category at plus-83. The Cubs have a 2.31 rotation ERA that is almost a full run lower than the second-ranked New York Mets and their vaunted starters.

The Cubs have nine players on their active roster who are 26 years old or younger - meaning all those hitting prospects can't make it to Wrigley Field — and the bullpen is an obvious area to upgrade. 

Plus — you know — the century-and-counting World Series title drought. Why not go for it at the trade deadline, acquire a game-changing reliever (or two) and leave as little as possible to chance in the playoffs? 

"I wouldn't state anything quite that aggressively," general manager Jed Hoyer said Monday before the Cubs renewed their rivalry with the Cardinals. "But there's no doubt we're going to spend the next 40 days before the deadline trying to evaluate where we are. 

"We want to address the weaknesses that we have. That's something that we talk about all the time — not only addressing the weaknesses you have — but also thinking about where those things can come up. We always talk about trying to be ahead of the next thing that can go wrong."

The New York Yankees went into spring training planning to keep Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman together — and then see where the team is at in July and if it would force the franchise's first sell-off in a generation. 

Adam Warren — the swingman acquired from New York in the Starlin Castro trade — has allowed eight of 20 inherited runners to score and seen his ERA rise to 4.56 (after giving up zero earned runs in his first eight appearances with the Cubs). 

Left-handed hitters are putting up a .924 OPS against lefty Clayton Richard (7.50 ERA). Justin Grimm (4.81 ERA) hasn't taken that step forward into being a trusted late-inning reliever yet.

Setup guy Pedro Strop has made 200-plus appearances in a Cubs uniform since coming over from the Baltimore Orioles in the Jake Arrieta trade in the middle of the 2013 season. Closer Hector Rondon is a Tommy John survivor who missed almost three seasons in the Cleveland Indians system before the Cubs grabbed him in the Rule 5 draft at the 2012 winter meetings. 

"It's something you constantly address," Hoyer said. "There are probably 30 teams in baseball right now that at some level are talking about one or two members of their bullpen. That's just kind of the nature of the way pitching is today with 12 and 13-man staffs. 

"But there's no doubt we have some guys that pitched great baseball for us last year at the end of the season that are scuffling a little bit. It's just our job to get those guys back on track. I don't think you lose faith in them, especially when you see them go out and dominate in the postseason."

Maybe Joe Nathan makes a comeback after his second Tommy John procedure and becomes a great story in October. The Cubs did catch lightning in a bottle last year with Richard (acquired midseason from Pittsburgh's Triple-A affiliate for a dollar) and Trevor Cahill (who signed a minor-league contract last August).

Maybe the Cubs don't feel like they have to pay top dollar and buy a brand-name reliever. But if you're already looking for where things could go wrong during this magical season, the bullpen would be a good place to start. 

"You have faith in those guys," Hoyer said. "It's the nature of bullpens in general — just like a lineup — (where) you rarely have everyone clicking on all cylinders. You have some guys that are usually pitching better than others. The difference in bullpens is it's a lot of high-leverage situations. (But) if one guy's struggling at the plate, it might go unnoticed.

"We'll get those guys back on track. Obviously, we're aware of it. Hopefully, we'll get those guys going sooner rather than later."

Who knew? Statistical oddities from Ian Happ, Daniel Palka and others from the past week in Chicago baseball

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USA TODAY

Who knew? Statistical oddities from Ian Happ, Daniel Palka and others from the past week in Chicago baseball

This past weekend Ian Happ rocked Cincinnati harder than anyone since Dr. Johnny Fever, and the White Sox from last Sunday to yesterday posted a winning 4-3 record.

It’s Monday, so let’s examine the box scores from the previous seven days for another edition of Who Knew?

Leading off

Tim Anderson started this season 5-for-5 in plate appearances leading off games: double, single, single, home run, single.

He finally made a leadoff out on Sunday.

Déjà Vu

On Monday, Ozzie Albies hit a leadoff home run off José Quintana for the second time this season. 

It was rare enough that a batter had multiple leadoff home runs against the Cubs in the same season. The last batter to do that was Hall of Famer Craig Biggio in 2006 (one each off Greg Maddux and then-starter Carlos Marmol).

But multiple leadoff home runs against the same Cubs PITCHER in the same season? Quite rare. At first, I believed it to be the first such occurrence since at least the 1880’s, but there was one other time since that I initially missed.

Prior to Ozzie Albies (off Quintana), the last batter with multiple leadoff home runs against a single Cubs pitcher in a season was Heinie Sand of the Phillies, who led off two games in 1924 with home runs off Cubs right-hander Vic Keen.

Before Sand, you DO have to go back to the 1880s. Hall of Famer Buck Ewing hit two leadoff home runs off Fred Goldsmith (who claimed to have invented the curveball, but likely did not) in 1883.  It may have happened in 1884, but there are some missing details in the home run database and I can’t be certain. But it’s rare!

Saves without Strikeouts

Cubs closer Brandon Morrow has 10 saves this season. In half of them (including his latest save Tuesday), he did not record a strikeout.

Only Wade Davis, who closed out games for the Cubs last season, has more strikeout-less saves in 2018 (no punchouts in seven of his 16 saves). Davis, for the record, saved 32 games for the Cubs last season, but in only nine of those 32 did he not strike anyone out.

Meanwhile, up in the Pacific Northwest, Edwin Díaz of the Mariners has 15 saves this season and has at least one strikeout in all 15.

National Treasure

Leury García took Jameson Taillon deep Wednesday in Pittsburgh, giving him 13 career home runs, all in a White Sox uniform.

The thing is, seven of those 13 home runs have been against National League teams!  Check out his career splits with the Sox:

Versus NL 26 games .325/.373/.636 7 home runs
Versus AL 225 games .227/.267/.306 6 home runs

Uncanny!

Hit Bonanza

The Cubs started Friday’s game in Cincinnati like this:

Zobrist single, Bryant double, Rizzo single, Contreras single, Russell single.

It was the first time the Cubs started a game with five straight hits since Sept. 8, 2009 when they had EIGHT straight hits to start a game. They started that game as follows:

Ryan Theriot single, Milton Bradley single, Derrek Lee single, Aramis Ramírez single, Jeff Baker single, Geovany Soto double, Kosuke Fukudome double, Bobby Scales single. A Ryan Dempster sacrifice bunt snapped the streak, giving up an out in the first inning with a 6-0 lead.

Palka Dots

Sox slugger Daniel Palka has made an impact so far in the Majors. Half of his 16 hits have been of the extra-base variety.

In only 18 career games, Palka already has multiple doubles (three), triples (two) and home runs (three). Through 18 career games, Frank Thomas could check off two of those three boxes, although maybe not the two that you think.

The Big Hurt had six doubles and THREE TRIPLES in his initial dozen-and-a-half career games, but no home runs! The last White Sox player who had at least two of each type of extra-base hit through his first 18 career Major League contests?

Go back to Greg Walker, who collected two doubles, two triples and three home runs in an 11-game taste of the Majors in 1982 and his first seven games of 1983.

Ace of On-Base

Ian Happ returned to his old stomping grounds (kind of… he attended the University of Cincinnati) over the weekend and had quite a four-game series:

Friday 1 hit 3 walks
Saturday (Game 1) 3 hits 1 walk
Saturday (Game 2) 1 hit 2 walks
Sunday 0 hits 3 walks

Now granted, there aren’t as many four-game series as there used to be, but Happ was the first Cub to reach base at least three times in each game of a four-game series since Mark Grace during a four-game set versus Mets at Wrigley Field Aug. 9-12, 1991.Five hits and nine walks; Happ reached base at least three times in all four games!

Happ’s season slashline was boosted from .233/.301/.417 to .254/.361/.509 in those four games alone. His nine walks (five intentional, four unintentional) in the series is better than Javier Báez (six walks: four intentional, two unintentional) has for the entire season.

Happ on Friday became the first Cub to be walked three times intentionally in a game since Andre Dawson (FIVE times) on May 22, 1990. Back then, it actually required pitches to intentionally walk a batter.

Happ was also the first Cub to homer in both ends of a doubleheader since Chris Coghlan July 8, 2014 – also at Cincinnati. But Happ was able to do something Coghlan didn’t: in both games, Happ hit the lone Cubs home run! That’s something no Cub had done since Alfonso Soriano hit the lone Cubs' home run in each game of a doubleheader in St. Louis on Sept. 15, 2007.

Extra Extra!

José Abreu continues to produce. He doubled and homered Saturday night, making him the 23rd player in White Sox history to reach 300 career extra-base hits. He reached 300 extra-base hits in only 655 career Major League games, a number surpassed in White Sox history only by Frank Thomas (626). 

It was also Abreu’s 222nd career multi-hit game in a White Sox uniform, matching our “Beltin’” Bill Melton.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Reviewing a positive road trip for Jose Quintana, Yu Darvish and Ian Happ

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Reviewing a positive road trip for Jose Quintana, Yu Darvish and Ian Happ

Luke Stuckmeyer, David Kaplan, and Doug Glanville break down a solid 4-2 road trip for the Cubs. Plus, who would you rather have long-term: Bryce Harper or Manny Machado?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below. Apple Podcasts listeners can subscribe at the show page.