Cubs

Clayton Kershaw to face Cubs in Game 2 of NLCS without any restrictions

Clayton Kershaw to face Cubs in Game 2 of NLCS without any restrictions

Despite more recent usage than normal, Clayton Kershaw said Saturday he’s ready for action.

Only two days removed from his first major league save, the Los Angeles Dodgers announced Kershaw would start against the Cubs in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series on Sunday night.

Working on one day of rest, Kershaw recorded the final two outs in Game 5 to clinch a NL Divisional Series victory for the Dodgers over the Washington Nationals. Kershaw threw seven pitches on what would have been a bullpen day, though he suggested the intensity was “a hair different” than if it were a normal side session. Kershaw’s Game 5 outing took place just two days after he threw 110 pitches in Game 4. But Kershaw suggested Saturday his workload won’t be a factor come Sunday.

“Yeah, I'm not going in with any restrictions or -- yeah, there's no -- no excuses at this point,” Kershaw said. “So we're just going in trying to get a win.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]​

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said there was little debate about whom he would start in the second game as long as Kershaw felt good. The six-time All-Star and three-time NL Cy Young winner worked out on Friday and later told Roberts he’s physically fine.

Roberts said he wanted his ace, who was limited to 21 starts this season because of a back injury, also available for Game 6, if necessary. The Dodgers will start Rich Hill in Game 3 in Los Angeles on Tuesday and haven’t made a decision on their Game 4 starter, Roberts said.

“It's not complicated in the sense of if he feels good, then it's a no-brainer,” Roberts said. “It's just more of just getting assurance that he feels good physically, which he does, and so it's one of those things, obviously, when you get a chance for Clayton to pitch Games 2 and potentially 6, that's a good thing for us and, yeah, it's full go.”

Kershaw has no doubt about what he can deliver. He’s excited to pitch at Wrigley Field in the postseason and noted how much Chicago is buzzing about the Cubs. Kershaw’s heroics Tuesday on the heels of closer Kenley Jansen’s 51-pitch performance have had the rest of the baseball world buzzing. While he’s happy that teammate Charlie Culbertson had the wherewithal to recover the final out game ball and it’s in the pitcher’s possession, Kershaw hasn’t afforded himself any time to reflect on the achievement.

“I'm thankful that it happened, thankful that we got to do it, and it was a lot of fun,” Kershaw said. “But as far as reflecting on it or anything like that, it's just -- you just can't do it right now. It doesn't really matter at this point. I know the Cubs don't care. They know that we're trying to beat them just as bad as they're trying to beat us, and that's what we're focused on right now.”

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

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?

chavez_kamka_story.jpg
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.