Cubs

Anthony Rizzo does it again, blasts Cubs to win over Mets

Anthony Rizzo does it again, blasts Cubs to win over Mets

Believe in the power of 24 hours.

Joe Maddon has used that phrase quite often in his year-and-a-half in Chicago, but maybe the best example of it came Wednesday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

After Anthony Rizzo struck out four times in four trips to the plate Tuesday night, the All-Star first baseman came back in the series finale against the Mets to hammer two long home runs in a 6-2 Cubs victory in front of 41,210 fans.

"That's why you can't take yesterday into today," Maddon said. "The power of 24 hours, man. It really matters."

When Rizzo is blasting balls almost onto Sheffield Ave., nobody cares what the Cubs are hitting as a team with runners in scoring position.

Rizzo is heralded by his teammates and coaches as the glue that holds the lineup together, the catalyst for the entire team.

The potential MVP frontrunner has only five hits in six games since the All-Star Break, but all have gone for extra bases and he's driven in eight runs in that span. 

After play Wednesday, Rizzo sat with a .999 OPS and was on pace for 41 homers and 122 RBI.

[SHOP: Buy a 'Try Not to Suck' shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

The Cubs also received some two-out help from young infielders Addison Russell (who singled in two in the first inning) and Javy Baez (an RBI single in the fifth) as they touched up Bartolo Colon for six runs on eight hits in just 4 1/3 innings.

"Addy's been doing that pretty much all year," Rizzo said. "It's really nice. He's had a lot of opportunities and he's really cashing in."

Kyle Hendricks was brilliant for the Cubs once again, spotting 6.1 shutout innings while allowing seven hits and a walk. He struck out six of the first 10 batters he faced.

After the game, he made sure to give props to his defense several times.

"That's kinda what I need to have success becaue I pitch to contact," Hendricks said. "Today, I pitched to contact a little bit too much at times; a couple of hard-hit balls. But yeah, the defense was unbelievable and the offense [too]."

Hendricks hasn't given up an earned run now in his last 22 1/3 innings, dating back to his June 29 start in Cincinnati. 

Since June 19, Hendricks leads Major League Baseball with an 0.72 ERA, allowing only three earned runs in 37.1 innings in that span.

He also has the second-lowest home ERA in baseball, a 1.36 mark that trails only Clayton Kershaw (1.31).

"Just being comfortable, I think," Hendricks said, trying to explain his success at Wrigley. "Sometimes you just get in a groove somewhere and at home, that's how it's been for me this year. 

"I'm just trying to get comfortable on the road in my starts. But I think I've come out at home aggressive, putting a zero up in the first and then our offense has really taken over from there. I think we've scored first in a lot of the games I've pitched at home, which helps."

[RELATED - Cubs acquire LHP Mike Montgomery]

Despite failing to complete the comeback Tuesday night, the Cubs finished up a tough homestand with a 4-2 record against the team that ousted them in the NLCS last season and the team with the best record in the American League (Texas Rangers).

"It was a tough one yesterday," Hendricks said. "We felt like we should've had that one, too. It's just taking it game-by-game. We're trying to win every one, really."

Rizzo echoed that sentiment.

"That's what we want to do - keep winning series," he said. "One series at a time, one game at a time."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Do the Cubs need to make a deal?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Do the Cubs need to make a deal?

On this episode of SportsTalk Live, Fred Mitchell, Seth Gruen and Jason Goch join David Kaplan on the panel.

The Cubs bats come alive against the Giants while Theo says there have been plenty of trade rumors but no trade talks. Do the Cubs need to make a deal?

Plus, Ray Ratto joins Kap to talk about the Warriors struggles and the guys debate if LeBron is playing his final game in a Cavaliers uniform.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

The Cubs are ahead of the game in MLB's brand new world

The Cubs are ahead of the game in MLB's brand new world

"BINGO!"

Joe Maddon couldn't contain his glee as he was told there is actual scientific evidence that proves the Launch Angle Revolution has not had any impact on the uptick in homers over the last couple seasons.

The reason MLB players were hitting the ball into the bleachers more than ever before in 2017 was because of the way baseballs are made now, reducing the wind resistence and causing balls to carry more.

But all these players changing their swing path to get more lift on the ball? Not a thing for the group as a whole (h/t MLB.com):


But in analyzing Statcast™ data from the measurement tool's 2015 inception through 2017, the committee found no evidence that batter behavior, en masse, has been a contributing factor toward the homer surge. In fact, exit velocities decreased slightly from 2016 to 2017, spray angles from the time studied were stable and a small increase in launch angles was attributable primarily to, as the study refers to them, "players with lesser home run talents."

Basically, the long-ball surge was global, affecting players from all spectrums of homer-hitting ability and irrespective of their approach.

"Going into this, I thought that was going to be the magic bullet, the smoking gun," Nathan said. "But it wasn't."


Hence the "BINGO!" cry from Maddon, who has been very vocal in the fight against the Launch Angle Revolution this season.

The end result is the study will eventually lead to baseballs being returned to normal levels and a more uniform way of storing the balls moving forward. Thus, homers figure to eventually return to normal levels, too, and everybody who was caught up in the Launch Angle Revolution may be left behind.

It's the changing landscape of baseball and we've already seen the after-effects this year: April was the first month in MLB history where there were more strikeouts than basehits.

Why? Because strikeouts are a natural byproduct of the Launch Angle Revolution as players are swinging up on the ball more and sacrificing contact for power and lift.

That, coupled with an increase in velocity and higher usage of relievers, has led to more strikeouts.

It makes perfect sense — it's tougher for a player to try to catch up to 98+ mph at the top of the strike zone with an uppercut swing.

"It's one of those things that sounds good, but it doesn't help you," Maddon said of launch angle. "There's certain things that people really want to promote and talk about, but it doesn't matter. When a hitter's in the box, when you're trying to stare down 96 or a slider on the edge, the last thing you're thinking about is launch angle.

"Now when it comes to practice, you could not necessarily work on angles — your body works a certain way. Like I've said before, there's guys that might've been oppressively bad or they just had groundballs by rolling over the ball all the time So of course you may want to alter that to get that smothering kind of a swing out of him.

"But if you're trying to catch up to velocity, if you're trying to lay back and I could keep going on and on. It sounds good."

The idea of hitting the ball hard in the air has been around for decades in baseball, pretty much ever since Babe Ruth on some level. It just wasn't able to be quantified or accessed by the public as easily until Statcast came around and made it all mainstream.

The Cubs, however, have been anti-launch-angle to a degree this season. They let go of hitting coach John Mallee (who liked players to hit the ball in the air and pull it) and replaced him with Chili Davis (who teaches the full-field, line-drive approach).

The effects haven't yet yielded results in terms of consistently plating runs or having a better performance in the situational hitting column, but the contact rate is, in fact, up.

Here is the list of Cubs hitters who currently boast a career best mark in strikeout rate:

Kris Bryant
Anthony Rizzo
Javy Baez
Willson Contreras
Addison Russell
Jason Heyward
Kyle Schwarber

Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. are close to their career marks, too.

Some of that jump in contact rate can be attributed to natural development and maturation of young hitters, but the Cubs are buying into the new way of doing things and it's paying off.

It's also probably the way the game is going to shift, with an emphasis on contact going to become more important the less balls are flying out of the yard.

The Cubs have seen firsthand how to beat the best pitching in the postseason and they know that cutting down on strikeouts and "moving the baseball" (as Maddon likes to put it) can help manufacture runs in low-scoring, tight affairs in October.

Now science is supporting those theories and Major League Baseball teams will have to adjust. 

The Cubs, however, are at least a step ahead of the game.

It's a long game — the offensive strides will take time to fully take effect even for the Cubs, who are at least a full offseason and two months ahead of the curve in terms of bucking the Launch Angle Revolution.

Maddon concedes that launch angle is a cool stat to see on the video board after homers, but other than that, he doesn't see much of a use for it, pointing to Kyle Schwarber's laser-line-drive homers having the same effect as Kris Bryant's moonshots.

However, Maddon does believe there's a place for launch angle and exit velocity in the game, though mostly for front offices trying to acquire players (think "Moneyball").

"As a teaching tool, you either come equipped with or without," Maddon said. "It's like you buy a new car, you either got this or you don't. Sometimes you can add some things occasionally, but for the most part, this is what you are.

"I like inside the ball, top half of the ball, inner half of the ball, stay long throughout the ball, utilize the whole field. I still think that's the tried and true approach and I'm not stuck in the mud on this by any means.

"The harder pitchers throw the baseball, the more laying back is going to be less effective."