Cubs

How rotation strength/health tells the story of Cubs season so far

How rotation strength/health tells the story of Cubs season so far

The Cubs don’t believe in Billy Goat or black cats or Bartman or any of that other nonsense. But mention the remarkably good health of their starting pitchers and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein wants to tap the dugout railing at Wrigley Field: “Knock on wood.”

Epstein, once the Boston Red Sox curse-buster, is the architect of a team that has already won 97 games, slicing the magic number to clinch home-field advantage through the National League Championship Series down to two.

Sweeping the Cincinnati Reds with Wednesday night’s 9-2 victory won’t tell us much about the Cubs shaking off their post-clinch hangover and getting locked back in mentally and applying Joe Maddon’s hitting lessons. This week’s headline on FiveThirtyEight — Nate Silver’s numbers-driven website — summed it up: “The Reds’ Pitching Might Be The Worst Of All Time.”

Don’t focus so much on the gaudy run differential (plus-239) or the time-filling MVP/Cy Young Award debates or Maddon’s T-shirt gimmicks or David Ross’ clubhouse influence (which does have a real impact on this team). To understand this runaway season, know that the Cubs now have five pitchers who have accounted for at least 28 starts this season.

“That’s the lead story for me,” pitching coach Chris Bosio said, “because when you have that, you have success.”

John Lackey made it through another tune-up for the Big Boy Games, limiting the last-place Reds (63-89) to two runs across seven innings, giving the Cubs five starters with double-digit wins and ERAs between 2.06 and 3.56. There’s the NL’s defending Cy Young winner (Jake Arrieta) and two leading candidates for this year’s award (Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks). Jason Hammel is a 15-game winner who’s getting questions about auditioning for the playoffs.

“There’s more we don’t know about pitching health than we do know,” Epstein said. “So the things that we do know and that we can prove empirically — or that we have a strong intuition work — we try to put into practice from rookie ball up through the big leagues and hire the best trainers and best coaches and try to focus on a long-term perspective. The season is more important than any one inning or any one situation.

“So give a lot of credit to the guys in the trenches keeping our pitchers healthy. But, look, if we could replicate it every single year — that would be quite a trick. We’re going to try. But I think there’s some good fortune as well.

“Credit our pitchers, too, for doing their work. (We’re) trying to find guys with clean deliveries and good track records of health. We hope some of the things we do work. But we also know we certainly don’t have all the answers in that realm.”

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That integrated-system ideal hasn’t produced any elite pitching prospects or homegrown starters yet. But the Cubs experienced their 97-win breakthrough last year when Arrieta, Lester, Hammel and Hendricks each made between 31 and 33 starts, something that you wouldn’t have bet on happening again in 2016 after an exhausting run to the NLCS.

“It’s one thing at the end of the day I hang my hat on,” Bosio said. “It’s something I’m extremely proud of in my five years here with our horses, our core guys, whether it’s (Jeff) Samardzija and Hammel. (Or Matt) Garza, (Ryan) Dempster, (Scott) Feldman, (Paul) Maholm, all those guys.

“That means a lot to me. That’s my job. That’s how I’m going to be judged at the end of the day — the performance of our starting pitchers and our health. The same thing then goes for our bullpen.”

Restoring and flipping those rotation assets helped build the best team in baseball. Consistent starting pitching means the relievers have thrown the fewest innings in the majors and shouldn’t feel beaten-up by October. It helps explains why the Cubs lead the majors in defensive efficiency and haven’t had a losing streak longer than two games since the All-Star break.

The Cubs can only make educated guesses about why their starters haven’t broken down (yet), but this snapshot of a full-strength rotation fuels their World Series ambitions.

“When you got good mechanics, you’re going to have good results,” Bosio said. “Our guys are pretty mechanically sound. We worked extremely hard on that, because if you can’t locate the ball as a pitcher, then you can’t really follow a scouting report. If you can’t follow a scouting report, then we can’t set up the defense. So all these things coincide. It’s a fine-tuned machine.”

Dexter Fowler was racially profiled by nightclub while with Cubs teammates

Dexter Fowler was racially profiled by nightclub while with Cubs teammates

Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler shared a story on his Instagram Tuesday of a time he was racially profiled while at a club with his then-Cubs teammates.

Fowler, who played on the North Side from 2015-16, explained how he wasn't allowed into a club in Arizona with other members of the Cubs because he was wearing a gold chain. He said he was dressed nice and added the profiling of his attire didn't apply to his teammates, some who were dressed more casually.

When the club turned Fowler away, the group, which included first baseman Anthony Rizzo, left to show their support for him.

'What can I do'

Let me tell you a little story

A club in AZ turned me away because I had a gold chain on. While my friends had on shorts & vans & flip flops.

I was dressed nicely.

[Anthony Rizzo] and my friends with the [Cubs] left the club for me.

That's what you can do. Every day. It happens. EVERY DAY. There are opportunities EVERY DAY to help enforce change.

Fowler has been outspoken on social media regarding racial profiling amid nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. He described the hardships black people endure due to racism in a heartfelt Instagram post on Thursday.

View this post on Instagram

Here’s the thing. I know it’s hard to fully grasp why black people are outraged. It’s hard to grasp unless you’ve seen people hold their purses tighter when you walk by, when you have people refer to you as “not black” when you’re not “ghetto”. When your parents have to give you a talk when you’re just a kid. “you can’t act like your white friends. you’ll get killed. they won’t” This is a generational discussion EVERY black family has. It terrifies you as a kid, and as an adult. You don’t understand why we know, those officers didn’t flinch at murdering that man, because he is black. The race card. We hold it. You tell us “it’s not about race” if we ever hold you to it. You don’t want us to have even that 1 bone chilling “privilege” of defense. You don’t want us to hold any privilege. We don’t hold the privilege of being a criminal, making a mistake, or simply taking a jog, the same as a white man, and being treated the same. He couldn’t breathe. He was murdered. They were gently fired from their jobs. This isn’t right. This can’t go on. (if you assume “you”, is you, and you’re upset about the generalization...... just think about that for a second)

A post shared by Dexter Fowler (@dexterfowler) on

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Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts 'optimistic' 2020 MLB season will happen

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts 'optimistic' 2020 MLB season will happen

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts expressed confidence MLB and the players union will come to terms for a 2020 season despite his suggestion some teams might lose more money playing even a short season than by not playing at all.

"I'm pretty optimistic we'll get games back on the field," Ricketts told ESPN’s Jesse Rogers on Tuesday. "I have full faith and confidence in the commissioner. How we get there is yet to be written, but I'm pretty sure we'll get there."

RELATED: Why Scott Boras' comments on Cubs suggest optimism MLB, union can make deal

Ricketts isn’t the only owner to suggest in recent weeks it makes more financial sense to not play this season. The players are seeking their full prorated salaries, which they agreed to take in March. The owners, however, have cited a clause in that agreement where they can reopen negotiations if games are played without fans. That is the expectation for most of the season (should the two sides come to terms) due to the coronavirus.

Ricketts said MLB owners aren’t looking at not playing, however, echoing comments he made on CNBC last week stating the Cubs “definitely” would rather play.

"There are scenarios where not playing at all can be a better financial option, but we're not looking at that," Ricketts told Rogers. "We want to play. We want to get back on the field. ... I'm not aware of any owners that don't want to play. 

“We just want to get back on the field in a way that doesn't make this season financially worse for us."

The league sent the union its financial proposal for 2020 last Tuesday, and the players countered with a proposal on Sunday to play 114 games compared to the owners’ 82-game plan. The aforementioned March agreement allows the league to mandate a shorter season if it sees fit.

RELATED: How deferrals in MLBPA counterproposal could provide Cubs financial relief

ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported Monday MLB could propose something along the lines of a 50-60 game season in which they’d pay players prorated salaries. That would still represent a pay cut for the players, however. In any case, a shortened season means significant revenue losses for the league.

"The scale of losses across the league is biblical," Ricketts said. "The timing of the work stoppage, the inability to play was right before the season started. We're looking at 30 teams with zero revenue. To cover the losses, all teams have gone out and borrowed. There's no other way to do it in the short run. In the long run, we may be able to sell equity to cover some of our losses but that's in the long run.”

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