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."

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

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AP

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

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USA TODAY

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

On July 15, Brandon Morrow recorded his 22nd save of the season with a scoreless inning in San Diego. It wound up being the last time he pitched in a game for the Cubs in 2018. 

Four days later, during the All-Star break, the Cubs made a move to bolster their bullpen, acquiring Jesse Chavez from the Rangers in exchange for minor league hurler Tyler Thomas. It wasn’t even the biggest trade they’d make with the Rangers that month – a little over a week later they dealt for Cole Hamels. 

Despite pitching nearly half the innings, Chavez was almost as valuable as Hamels.

2018 with Cubs IP fWAR
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.1
Cole Hamels 76.1 1.5

Chavez made his Cubs debut on July 21; from July 21 through the end of the season, 187 pitchers tossed at least 30 innings. 185 of them had a higher ERA than Chavez, while 184 of them allowed more baserunners per 9 innings.

Best ERA, July 21-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP ERA
Blake Treinen 32.1 0.56
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.15
Blake Snell 61.2 1.17
Trevor Bauer 35.0 1.29
Trevor Williams 71.2 1.38
Robert Stock 36.0 1.50

Fewest baserunners per 9 innings, July 32-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP BR/9 IP
Blake Treinen 32.1 5.85
Blake Snell 61.2 7.15
Jesse Chavez 39.0 7.15
Jacob deGrom 93.2 7.49
Scott Oberg 30.2 7.63
Josh Hader 33.1 7.83

But how did Chavez transform into one of Joe Maddon’s best bullpen arms down the stretch?  According to Chavez, his own transformation started on Mother’s Day.

Chavez entered a game in Houston with a 5.48 ERA in a dozen appearances, but pitched three innings with no hits, no walks and four strikeouts. From that point through the end of the season, he posted a 1.70 ERA and 0.892 WHIP. 

Chavez points to a change in arm slot which resulted in better consistency and a slight jump in velocity. A glance at his release point charts show that consistency, and he added roughly one mile an hour to his fastball.

"It's kept me more consistent in the zone," Chavez said. "Things have been sharper, velocity has been a lot sharper. I was huffing and puffing trying to get a 92 (mph fastball) out there and it wasn't coming.

"Next thing you know, I dropped it and it's right there, and I'm like, 'something's wrong here.' But I just took it and ran with it."

Jesse Chavez 2018 four-seam fastball velocity

  Average Max
Prior to May 13 92.6 mph 94.6 mph
May 13 on 93.6 mph 95.7 mph

Can Chavez be valuable in 2019?  The 35-year old reliever posted the best ERA (2.55), WHIP (1.059) and walk rate (4.5% - nearly two percent better than his previous best) in 2018, and he continued to get better as the season went on. 

He’s a former starter who can pitch multiple innings if needed, and that’s a valuable thing - especially for a manager like Joe Maddon, who uses his pitchers in a variety of ways. It’s unlikely he’ll have a second consecutive career year.

But he’ll likely be well worth the price tag; he only made $1 million in 2018, and even with a slight raise he should be very affordable. There’s definitely room in Maddon’s bullpen for a pitcher like Chavez.