Cubs

Coghlan: Cubs feel like they're going to win every game now

8-14-chris-coghlan.png

Coghlan: Cubs feel like they're going to win every game now

The Cubs are now 12-0 when Chris Coghlan hits in the No. 3 spot in the batting order.

How's that for a stat?

Coghlan drove in four runs on two homers Friday as the Cubs outlasted the White Sox 6-5 in front of 36,386 fans at U.S. Cellular Field.

[MORE: Chase Utley? GM Jed Hoyer says Cubs aren’t close to any deals yet]

After striking out in the first inning, Coghlan hit a three-run shot in the third and added a solo homer in the fifth as the Cubs hung on for their eighth straight victory and 14th win in the last 15 games.

"We feel like we're going to win every game," Coghlan said. "I think that's the reason why we're winning a lot of them. You can say: 'I hope we win a game.'

"But to actually believe it and be convicted in it is totally different than just saying: 'Yeah, I hope we go win today.'"

Coghlan had entered the game with only a .447 OPS in the three-hole and had struggled over the course of this current winning streak.

In the seven games before Friday, Coghlan was just 4-for-22 (.182 average) with a walk, an RBI and a run scored while getting used to a new position at second base.

Does it make the win extra special now that he's contributing?

"I probably wouldn't use the word 'extra' but it definitely makes it better," Coghlan said. "I feel like we've been winning a lot and I really haven't been able to contribute a lot in the stat column.

"I've been able to do other things to help the team, whether it's defense or baserunning or whatever. But anytime you can put some crooked numbers up individually and help the team, it's always gratifying."

Anthony Rizzo also homered (going back-to-back with Coghlan in the fifth) as the Cubs have shown the power the last two games (eight homers).

Kyle Schwarber got the Cubs started with a first-inning sacrifice fly after Dexter Fowler tripled as the North Siders did all their damage against former Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the stretch run, Cubs fans]

Samardzija somehow made it through six innings despite allowing six runs on nine hits and a pair of walks.

Kyle Hendricks got the start for the Cubs, but struggled as well, surrendering five runs on eight hits and three walks in only 3 1/3 innings.

"Kyle couldn't get it going," Maddon said. "Nothing was working. I could see it early on with the command as badly as it was."

Hendricks said the issue is mechanical and he's been dealing with it on and off all year, but especially his last couple times out.

But Hendricks also made sure to give credit to former Sox pitcher Clayton Richard, who came into the game in the fourth inning and helped bridge the gap to Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon with two shutout innings.

"Clayton was huge in today's game," Maddon said. "We hit the home runs, we had some really good at-bats. Of course, CC had a really nice day.

"But what Clayton did coming in, he really defined the game at that point."

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.