Cubs

Edwin Jackson earning bigger role in Cubs bullpen

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Edwin Jackson earning bigger role in Cubs bullpen

PITTSBURGH – Look for Edwin Jackson to play a bigger part in the Cubs bullpen.

Jackson hasn’t sulked since losing his job in the rotation, taking his ready-for-whatever attitude to the bullpen and maintaining the same low-key, easy-going personality that makes him so popular inside the clubhouse.

This isn’t what the Cubs pictured when they gave Jackson a $52 million contract, but he’s thrown five scoreless innings so far, pitching his way into more high-leverage situations.

“You can see him get more opportunities now,” manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday at PNC Park. “He’s just earned that right.”

[MORE: Maddon doesn't think pitchers are targeting Rizzo]

Jackson got the win after throwing a scoreless eighth inning in Tuesday’s 9-8 comeback victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. It helped bail out Brian Schlitter and Jason Motte, who combined to give up five runs that night and have struggled at times to build the bridge to Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon.

The Cubs viewed their bullpen as a real strength before right-handers Justin Grimm (forearm) and Neil Ramirez (shoulder) got injured. It stresses the entire group when those two hard-throwing relievers are on the disabled list and rehabbing at the team’s Arizona complex.

These are small sample sizes. Motte started the season with a streak of five scoreless innings, but has allowed five runs combined in his last two appearances. Schlitter (9.64 ERA) has been hit hard since getting called up from Triple-A Iowa on April 10.

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Jackson bombed during his first two seasons in a Cubs uniform, going 14-33 with a 5.58 ERA. The Cubs are trying to salvage the final two years and $22 million left on that deal.

“I’m not saying that you’re not going to see Schlitter (or Motte),” Maddon said. “Of course, you are going to (see them). But you always (play) it like it was first drawn up and don’t try to make too many adjustments too soon. Until you really think you need to try something a little bit differently.

“More than anything, I think Jackson’s earned the right or the opportunity to pitch in some more opportune moments or more difficult moments.”

Joe Maddon on MLB's absurd home run rate: 'The wind’s being broken here. It’s really weird'

Joe Maddon on MLB's absurd home run rate: 'The wind’s being broken here. It’s really weird'

Cubs manager Joe Maddon usually isn’t one for conspiracy theories, but even he’s wondering what’s going on. MLB teams are hitting home runs at an absurd rate, including the Cubs, who are hitting them at a historic rate for the franchise’s standards.

Entering Saturday, here’s where MLB teams stand in average home run rate and total home runs in 2019 compared to recent seasons:

2017: 1.26/game, 6,105 total
2018: 1.15/game, 5,585 total
2019: 1.33/game, 2,009 total

While the MLB season is just over 30 percent finished, teams are on pace to hit a combined 6,483 long balls in 2019. This would absolutely obliterate the 2017 total, which, like the 1.33 home runs per game figure, would be an MLB record.

The Cubs are no exception to this home run wave. Including Saturday (game No. 50 of the season), the team has hit 80 home runs (and counting) in 2019. Only the 2000 Cubs (83) hit more home runs in their first 50 games in franchise history.

“We’re having home runs hit here into some firm breezes, which has not happened before,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said to reporters before Saturday’s game against the Reds. “That’s the thing that stands out to me. It’s been crazy.

“Even [Kyle] Schwarber’s home run, I know that was hit well, but dang, that wind was blowing pretty firmly across at that point.”

Schwarber absolutely crushed his home run yesterday, a 449-foot blast that needed little help getting into the bleachers. However, Maddon has a valid point regarding home runs being hit despite the wind. Entering Saturday, 54 total home runs have been hit at Wrigley Field this season, 29 of which have come with the wind blowing in.

By the eighth inning of Saturday’s game, the Cubs and Reds had hit a combined six home runs, one of which appeared to be a routine fly ball hit by Jason Heyward that wound up in the left field basket thanks to the wind. At the same time, Yasiel Puig hit one 416 feet onto Waveland Ave. that had a 109 mph exit velocity. The wind blowing out at Wrigley Field helps, but it isn’t everything.

MLB players have questioned time and time again if baseballs are “juiced,” including Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester. And while Maddon didn’t flat out say that he thinks the baseballs are juiced, he notices a difference in how they're flying off the bat.

“I don’t know, I’m normally not into the subplot component of all of this and the conspiracy theorists, but I’m telling you right now, it’s jumping,” he said. “It’s absolutely jumping.

“Nobody is ever going to admit to it. The wind’s being broken here. It’s really weird.”

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Yu Darvish's Cutter Might Be What Turns His Season Around

Yu Darvish's Cutter Might Be What Turns His Season Around

Over the past two starts, Yu Darvish has walked three batters. That stat isn’t going to catch too many eyes until you realize that in the two starts prior, he walked 11. And the two starts before those? 7. 

Control issues have plagued Darvish all season, and if the season ended today, he’d set a career-high in BB% (16.6). He’s walked at least four batters in all but three of his starts. It’s been a mess so far, but it might not be for much longer. Look at how Darvish’s pitch selection has changed over the last eight weeks:


That’s a mighty big increase in two-seamer usage. Darvish was throwing his cutter barely 5% of the time at the start of the season, and now he’s throwing it basically once every four pitches. The cutter seen a 10% increase over the first two months as well. A game-by-game breakdown shows you just how much Darvish’s approach has changed of late: 


So, things look a little different now. That spike in sinker usage came against the Marlins, when he only got through four innings while allowing a run with six walks and seven strikeouts. He admitted after the game that he got too cozy with the pitch. 

More notably, Darvish’s cutter usage continues to steadily rise. That’s good news for the Cubs, because since over the last two years, it’s been one of his more effective pitches. 

It’s also probably not a coincidence that in Darvish’s best years, his cutter has been one of his most accurate pitches. The stretch from 2013-2016 (he missed all of 2015) saw some of the lowest BB% for his cutter: 

“I just think he has better command of that pitch,” Joe Maddon said. “I think he has a better idea of where that pitch is going. I think that’s the biggest difference with it. Because of that, it’s been more effective because he can throw it where he wants to. I think that’s the primary difference. 

News and notes

  • The Cubs called up Tim Collins and Dillon Maples before Saturday’s game. Collins was up briefly in mid-April, pitching 3.1 IPs in four outings. This is also Maples second time up this season, after making three appearances in late-April/early-May. “We had to,” Joe Maddon said about calling up the pair. “There’s a lot of stuff going on right now, a lot of usage. We’ve been in nearly every game we’ve been playing, so it’s difficult to give guy breaks.”
  • The corresponding move saw the Cubs option OF Mark Zagunis to Triple-A Iowa. In 29 games this season, Zagunis slashed .257/.333/.343 with a .676 OPS. “We’ve had these young guys that have not had a chance to play with regularity,” Maddon said. “It’s wonderful for them to be in the major leagues, but developmentally sometimes it can really hurt them. He’ll be back.” 
  • With a short bench, Maddon admitted that pitcher Tyler Chatwood could be a pinch hitter. “He’s legit,” he said. “I don’t know when or how, but he definitely has to have his spikes on.”
  • Pedro Strop is scheduled to throw a bullpen on Saturday. They have another one scheduled in a couple of days. Maddon noted that he’s getting close, and mentioned the end of next week as a potential timeline to when they’d more about his rehab assignment plans.