Cubs

Dempster vs. Lilly matchup falls flat

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Dempster vs. Lilly matchup falls flat

Saturday, April 23, 2011
Posted: 5:22 p.m.
By Patrick MooneyCSNChicago.com

Ryan Dempster stood alone on the mound and rubbed his eyes and adjusted his hat. It was almost as if he couldnt believe what he was watching.

Rod Barajas had just deposited an 85 mph slider into the left-center field seats, a game-tying homer in the sixth inning. The Cubs certainly didnt see this coming. Their Opening Day starter now has a 7.63 ERA.

Hes done it for too many years, manager Mike Quade said. You believe hes going to get himself back in sync.

Saturdays pitching matchup between Dempster and Ted Lilly didnt really live up to the hype. Ultimately, the Cubs came back to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 10-8. But competing against one of his best friends didnt exactly bring out the best in Dempster.

Dempster threw three sliders that wound up in the bleachers and was charged with seven runs on nine hits. A 5-1 lead evaporated on his watch. Hes now given up eight home runs in 30.2 innings this season.

The good news for Dempster was that Lilly didnt pitch any better.

I wish we both could have hadwell, actually, I dont really wish (Lilly) had better results, Dempster said. I wish I could have done a better job, but at the end of the day, we won the game, and thats all that matters. Its about Ws for our team.

Lilly didnt know what sort of reaction hed get at Wrigley Field. In the end, there were no loud cheers or boos, just a kind of indifference.

The buzz should have been back 63 degrees and sunny for a marquee opponent. There was a standing-room-only crowd of 41,161 and Arcade Fire singing the seventh-inning stretch.

The response wouldnt have really mattered, because Lilly was always harder on himself than everyone else. But as Lilly walked off the mound in the fifth inning, the fans essentially shrugged their shoulders.

Lilly never lit up the radar gun, but found a way to survive by changing speeds, creating angles and locating his pitches with pinpoint precision. But this time he didnt get by with guts.

Across the past four seasons only two pitchers in the National League Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain accounted for more quality starts than Lillys 84.

That reliability helped Lilly win many friends in the Cubs clubhouse, but its a changing place. Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney who were unknowns when Lilly signed that 40 million contract in the winter of 2006 essentially stole the show.

Combined the new middle-infield combination went 7-for-10 with six RBI and four runs scored. They chased Lilly, who gave up five runs on 11 hits and lasted only 4.1 innings.

They bring a lot of energy, especially at the top of the lineup, Dempster said. They bring a different aspect we havent had in the last couple years speed.

At times like this, Dempster leaned on Lilly. They drove each other to get better. Now its time to go back to the drawing board.

Im just going to continue to work hard (and) push through this, Dempster said. Ive been there before and Ill be there again.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Fantasy Baseball in Math Class? Maddon Offers Unique Perspective On How MLB Can Grow

Fantasy Baseball in Math Class? Maddon Offers Unique Perspective On How MLB Can Grow

You’ve seen the tweets - the ones that take TV ratings from big baseball games and throw them next to a random Warriors game from late March, just to make a point. It’s not a groundbreaking narrative: baseball’s struggle to retain younger fans continues. According to some of the latest Nielsen Ratings research, MLB ranks 2nd among the four major sports when it comes to drawing interest from the 18-24 age group. On the surface, not so bad. And while the “Baseball Is Dying” argument is a heavy-handed one, it’s not hard to see that the NBA is quickly gaining ground - especially among the younger generations. 

“The NBA is definitely attracting a younger audience, there’s no question about that,” Joe Maddon said. “The fact that there’s the glitz and the color and the speed -- I don’t even know what the allure is, quite frankly. I don’t know. I think the spotlight on it and the way it’s promoted appeals to the younger generation.”

Maddon was quick to defend the length of the game, saying he didn’t think the two were correlated at all. (For what it’s worth, a 2018 study revealed that the average NBA game lasted 2:13, while the current average run time of a MLB game this year is at 3:06.) Instead, Maddon pointed to how the NBA’s stars are marketed. 

“I do agree in the sense that I think we could do a better job promoting our players, no question,” he said. “I would not disagree with that. We have so many interesting stories to tell among our groups and I don’t think the fans - the young fans- really get to know that possibly as well as they know NBA players. Even in the NFL, I don’t think you know those players - plus they wear helmets so you can’t see their face. All that stuff matters.” 

Much of the issue lies in MLB’s approach to digital media. There are restrictive (bordering on archaic) rules in place about the use of their footage on all the various social media platforms, and their official website makes searching for video highlights a chore. Contrast that with the NBA, whose Twitter presence has quite literally become its own subculture. Here’s what commissioner Adam Silver had to say on the subject back in 2018:

"We promote the posting of our highlights. The highlights are identified through YouTube's software, and when ads are sold against them, we share in the revenue. We analogize our strategy to snacks versus meals. If we provide those snacks to our fans on a free basis, they're still going to want to eat meals — which are our games. There is no substitute for the live game experience. We believe that greater fan engagement through social media helps drive television ratings"

For his part, Maddon tries to find time to skype into different school classes as often as he can. That face-to-face interaction is something he feels MLB lacks. 

“ When you can connect faces and voices, even though it was through technology, you will be attached,” he said. “I can’t even imagine me growing up having that opportunity. I can’t even imagine that, how I would have taken to that. I don’t think we utilize technology well enough to connect with young kids. To me, that’s the more practical and important way to get them involved with and wanting to be baseball fans.” 

A more off-the-wall idea Maddon threw out was incorporating fantasy baseball into school curriculum. Math classes could offer a gentle approach into the world of analytics, and teachers could give students roles as GMs, Ass. GMs, and scouts of their own teams. 

“They don’t have to play the game, it’s not about playing the game,” he said. “This NBA group you’re talking about, the ones that love the NBA, they’re not there to play the game, they’re there to watch the game. And the enjoy all the components of it. 

“You’re not necessarily needing to attract people who play the game, as much as people who are interested in the game. We do have the most intellectually stimulating game of all, by far. So teach them the game. It doesn’t have to happen more quickly, they just have to understand it better.” 

Cubs ride unconventional pitching performances to 8-6 win over the Reds

Cubs ride unconventional pitching performances to 8-6 win over the Reds

Before Thursday’s game against the Phillies, Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon was asked if, given the current state of their bullpen, Tyler Chatwood could see some innings as the closer. 

“I think he’s amenable to it...” Maddon responded. “... the big thing with him is throwing strikes. If he does that -- his stuff is that electric -- we’ll use him any time. As he gets well from [throwing 4 innings on Wednesday night] it’ll probably a solid two days, maybe three, before he’s ready to go again. We’ll see - we’ll see that night needs. I’m not afraid of it by any means.

“I would say that the first time he got a chance with us, it would be because the other guys aren’t available that night.”

48 hours later, with the Cubs white knuckling a two-run lead, it was Chatwood coming out of the ‘pen in the top of the 9th. Two singles, a double-play, and a Yasiel Puig flyout later, Chatwood had closed out one of the Cubs’ more unconventional wins of the season, a 8-6 nail-biter that featured a little bit of everything.  

“It was a little bit [surprising],” Chatwood said. “But I kept myself ready. I was able to get loose in the pen and luckily I got that double play right there, and we won. So it’s good.” 

On a day when the Cubs’ cobbled together their pitching performance, it was Yu Darvish’s 7 innings -- the first time he’s gotten that deep into a game since 2017 -- that kept Chicago in punching distance. The line itself isn’t particularly flattering; six runs on 12 hits is an eyesore. His performance may not have played well on Cubs Twitter, but those inside the clubhouse could not stop talking about it. 

“That was huge. I thought he was really good today,” Albert Almora, who already surpassed his 2018 home run total (5) with a solo homer in the 2nd inning, said. “I didn’t think he was going to come back out, so I said ‘good job’ to him in the 7th. I saw him back out in the 8th and was like ‘all right, he wanted it.’” 

“It looked like he emptied the tank against Puig in the 7th with a big strikeout,” Chatwood added. “But he still went back out there and battled and pitched into the 8th. That’s huge. We didn’t have many people available today, and I think he knew that. I thought that was one of the best games he’s thrown the ball.”

Darvish managed to strand eight base runners, though, and only walked two. He’s now gone three straight games while walking three batters or less, something he’d failed to do at any point prior. 

“I knew that the bullpen was going through a little struggle, and didn’t have much rest,” Darvish said. “So my main goal was to go more than 7 innings today.” 

On a warm day, with the wind blowing straight out at 16 miles per hour, Wrigley played as small as it has all year. The Cubs (and the Reds, for that matter) went deep three times, which brings their homestand total to 11. 

“The wind was a friend to both sides today,” Maddon said. “But really, you’ve got to give Yu a ton of credit for getting deeply into the game today. He still had his good stuff in the end. The stuff was still there, but it’s 107 pitches, and it’s just deflating when all that happens.” 

Not to be outdone by the guy who started the game or the guy who finished it, recently-called up pitcher Dylan Maples was the winning pitcher of record. He and Tim Collins came in from Triple-A Iowa that morning, and Maddon wasted no time throwing Maples into the fire. After walking his first batter, Maples got Reds’ rookie Nick Senzel to strikeout on a 91mph fastball to end the 8th. 

If it hasn't seemed easy of late, that's because it hasn't been. Of the Cubs’ first 50 games, 16 have been decided by one run (9-7). Over their last 12 games, eight have been decided by two or less runs. 

“They seem to all be like that,” Maddon said with a laugh. “Especially recently. We’re seeing a lot of good pitching. 

“That’s entertainment, guys. Woah.”