Buzz is back for Cubs-Mets as Jake Arrieta upstages Noah Syndergaard


Buzz is back for Cubs-Mets as Jake Arrieta upstages Noah Syndergaard

A buzz is back at Wrigley Field, with MLB Network and ESPN setting up here on back-to-back nights to showcase two of the National League’s X-factor teams.

By now, the Cubs have heard enough about the New York Mets and all their young power arms, but they better get used to the attention if Jake Arrieta keeps pitching like this.

Arrieta upstaged Noah Syndergaard’s big-league debut on Tuesday night, facing the minimum through seven innings and leading the Cubs to a 6-1 victory that underlined all their potential.

After collecting all these young power hitters, importing veterans with World Series rings and hiring a star manager, the Cubs are turning the corner in their multiyear rebuild.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs need Jon Lester, the perfectionist, operating at full strength]

“Once you taste it, once you get that blood in the water, man, you want some more,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Once you get to the playoffs, there’s nothing else that satisfies you going into a season. You got to get there the first time. You got to learn how to do it.

“And once you learn how to do it, nothing — nothing — satisfies you during that baseball season, unless you get back to the dance. It’s pretty simple, man. I use the term: ‘A mind once stretched has a very difficult time going back to its original form.’”

Syndergaard is 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds with a “Thor” nickname and bright blond hair flowing out from his cap. The Mets made Syndergaard the centerpiece in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays after R.A. Dickey’s 2012 Cy Young Award-winning season.

Almost seven months later, the Cubs flipped one-year rental Scott Feldman in a deal with the Baltimore Orioles that involved Arrieta, who had been stuck in neutral at the Triple-A level.

[MORE CUBS: Why haven’t Cubs made a deal with Mets yet?]

Arrieta never got quite as high as Syndergaard (No. 11 heading into this season) on the Baseball America lists, but he had been a well-regarded prospect who wound up needing a change of scenery.

At the age of 29, Arrieta (4-3, 3.00 ERA) continues to blossom into a frontline starter. He delivered eight strong innings, limiting the Mets to one run on three hits in a dominant 10-strikeout performance.

“We knew it was going to be a tight game,” Arrieta said. “(Syndergaard) was electric. We kind of knew what we were up against. He came out strong.

“That was a great team victory, from start to finish.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

The Cubs knocked out Syndergaard in the sixth inning after 103 pitches. Starlin Castro — the All-Star shortstop linked to the Mets in so much trade speculation — hammered a Syndergaard slider into the left-field corner for an RBI double that easily scored Jorge Soler from first base.

The next batter, Chris Coghlan, launched a 96 mph fastball into the under-construction bleachers in right field for a two-run homer as the Cubs (17-15) wore out the first-place Mets (20-13) and continued to imagine the possibilities.

“Once you’ve stretched the mind, man, it’s tough to not be in that playoff situation on an annual basis,” Maddon said. “Our guys got to taste it, feel it, understand it, and then you really crave it. That’s when good things happen.”

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


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


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

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
Javy Baez
Willson Contreras
Addison Russell
Jason Heyward
Kyle Schwarber

Even Ben Zobrist is very close to his career mark and Anthony Rizzo is right at his career line.

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."