Cubs

Cubs offense mostly quiet as bullpen blows late lead

Cubs offense mostly quiet as bullpen blows late lead

The Cubs offense had a quiet Saturday afternoon just 24 hours after putting 12 runs on the board against the Seattle Mariners in Game 1.

The Cubs only recorded three hits in their 4-1 loss to the Mariners on Saturday at Wrigley Field. 

The story for most of the game was Mariners pitcher Wade Miley, who carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning before it was broken up by Kris Bryant.

“He was painting that outside edge pretty well," said Cubs manager Joe Maddon. "Honestly from the first batter when Dexter (Fowler) takes two fastballs for a strike and then swings at a slider, something’s going on for me. That told me the guy was on. He was.”

Bryant added, "He was throwing right where he wanted to I thought. He was just hitting the catcher’s glove. Working quick, that kind of goes unnoticed sometimes, but as hitters, it kind of keeps you out of your rhythm.”

It was the second time this week the Cubs allowed a no-hitter through at least five innings — and second time Bryant was the culprit.

White Sox pitcher Anthony Ranaudo took a no-hitter into the sixth inning on Wednesday before the Cubs poured it on and finished the game with eight runs.

Lost in the no-hitter was Arrieta, who had one of his best outings of the season. But the Cubs had nothing to show for it, losing their fifth straight game when the NL Cy Young Award winner takes the mound.

Arrieta finished the game allowing two runs on two hits and three walks, striking out four in seven innings.

After a scoreless six innings of play, the Cubs drew first blood in the seventh. Fowler opened with a leadoff walk. Bryant broke up the no-hitter with a single. Following a Ben Zobrist bunt that advanced the runners, Javier Baez hit a grounder to third. Fowler tried to score and was thrown out at the plate. But after a second look, Joe Maddon challenged the call and it was reversed, giving the Cubs a 1-0 lead.

A couple batters later, Miley attempted to pick off Baez — who reached on a fielder’s choice — but Bryant stole home in the process. First baseman Adam Lind quickly relayed the throw over to catcher Mike Zunino, and Bryant appeared to slide under the tag. After being ruled safe, the Mariners won a challenge of their own and the call was overturned.

"That stunk," Bryant said. "I thought I had a good slide in there. Obviously looking back on it, I could have slid head first but that's one way to really get hurt. I thought I had my foot in there, but obviously (after) the replay, they overturned it."

In the eighth, the Mariners responded. Arrieta walked the first two batters and was relieved by Hector Rondon, who retired both batters he faced. Aroldis Chapman entered the game to try to get the final out of the inning. That happened, but not before the Mariners added three runs. A double by Leonys Martin scored two. Martin later stole third and scored on a wild pitch, making it 3-1.

"Didn’t see that one coming," Maddon said of Seattle's three-run eighth. "Just didn’t see that one coming."

The Mariners added another run in the ninth.

Slugger Anthony Rizzo didn't start, getting a day off to rest, but he came in to pinch hit for Chapman in the eighth, striking out. Willson Contreras started at first in Rizzo's place.

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?

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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.