Cubs

Cubs: Rizzo wanted to 'kill someone' after Cardinals threw at him

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Cubs: Rizzo wanted to 'kill someone' after Cardinals threw at him

Before the season, Anthony Rizzo put the target on his back when he predicted the Cubs would win the National League Central.

Eight months later, the target was still on his back as the Cardinals ignited a beanball war with the Cubs Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field by throwing at Rizzo.

Rizzo has walked the walk after talking the talk and he didn't hold back when asked about the incident with the Cardinals.

"Obviously at that moment, I want to kill someone because I know it was intentional," Rizzo said. "At the moment, you wanna go out and strangle someone.

"But it's not necessary right now, especially the position we're in. We have a good opportunity to put a lot of pressure on Pittsburgh."

[MORE CUBS: Heads up: -The Cubs are coming after the Cardinals]

Rizzo didn't actually try to strangle anybody in Friday's game. He walked toward the mound after getting hit in the leg, but things didn't escalate any further.

Joe Maddon was fired up in his postgame press conference and Rizzo appreciated that his manager had his back.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny didn't get into a war of words with Maddon.

"Do what you gotta do," Matheny said before Saturday's game. "That's what it comes down to. He knows what he's doing. He's been doing it way longer than I have. ... He's gonna do what he feels is right for his club."

Maddon, Rizzo and Friday's pitcher Dan Haren all reinforced the point that the Cubs clearly weren't throwing at Matt Holliday on purpose and Rizzo even said it was "scary" to see the Cardinals slugger get hit in the head.

Haren - who came up in the St. Louis system and understands "The Cardinals Way" - warned Rizzo he might get thrown at later in the game.

[MORE CUBS: Redemption - Starlin Castro has game of his life as Cubs beat Cards]

"They felt the need to throw at me - whatever," Rizzo said. "I think sometimes teams overreact when people get hit. You guys have seen me get hit 29 times this year and we've not thrown at one person.

"There have been other issues where we felt teams were intentionally throwing at me, as well. Sometimes teams take care of things different ways. I don't want anybody to get hurt."

Rizzo joked that he's only one hit-by-pitch away from joining the 30-30 club (he also has 30 homers). The Cubs' MVP candidate said he thinks beanball retaliation will continue to be a part of the game, even though Maddon ripped the outdated way of thinking.

"I don't make the rules," Rizzo said. "It's been going on forever. I don't see it going anywhere. We play the Cardinals, Pirates, Brewers and Reds 19 times a year. Guys get sick of each other."

The Cubs went on to beat the Cardinals Friday and moved to within six games of the division lead and one game of the wild card lead after the Pirates lost to the Dodgers.

For the Cubs, this issue is over. They're focused on the standings, not igniting a beanball war.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

"As far as I'm concerned, that's over with," Maddon said. "Keeping with the mantra, I want us to play well on Saturday. It's all about today. I said what I wanted to say [Friday]. 

"It's time to move on. Just play some good, solid baseball. We've been doing that for a bit. I just want our guys to keep doing what they have been doing.

"Our concern is still to catch them - the Pirates first and Cardinals second. We still have time to do that."

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.