Cubs

Previous playoffs under the new format

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Previous playoffs under the new format

If a one-game wild card playoff existed going all the way back to 1995 -- when the wild card was introduced -- what would've changed?

For one, Boston would've made the playoffs more -- three times, to be exact. But the teams that would've benefited the most from this setup are Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco, all of which would've reached the post-season (or a play-in game to the post-season) four times in years they didn't have the best non-division-winning record.

And while the knee-jerk reaction to this system is that it benefits Boston and New York, had it been implemented for the past 17 seasons, both those teams would've stood to lose more than they could've gained. Here's the complete breakdown for both leagues dating back to 1995:

American League

2011: Tampa Bay (91-71) vs. Boston (90-72)
Tampa BayBoston vs. Texas
New York vs. Detroit

2010: New York (95-67) Boston (89-73)
New YorkBoston vs. Minnesota
Tampa Bay vs. Texas

2009: Boston (95-67) vs. Texas (87-75)
If Boston wins: New York vs. Minnesota, Los Angeles vs. Boston
If Texas wins: New York vs. Texas, Los Angeles vs. Minnesota

2008: Boston (95-67) vs. New York (89-73)
BostonNew York vs. Los Angeles
Tampa Bay vs. Chicago

2007: Detroit (88-74) vs. Seattle (88-74); DetroitSeattle vs. New York (94-68)
If Detroit wins: Boston vs. Detroit, Cleveland vs. Los Angeles
If Seattle wins: Boston vs. Seattle, Cleveland vs. Los Angeles
If New York wins: Boston vs. Los Angeles, Cleveland vs. New York

2006: Detroit (95-67) vs. Chicago (90-72)
DetroitChicago vs. New York
Minnesota vs. Oakland

2005: Boston (95-67) vs. Cleveland (93-69)
If Boston wins: White Sox vs. Boston, Los Angeles vs. New York
If Cleveland wins: White Sox vs. New York, Cleveland vs. Los Angeles

2004: Boston (98-64) vs. Oakland (91-71)
If Boston wins: New York vs. Minnesota, Boston vs. Anaheim
If Oakland wins: New York vs. Oakland, Minnesota vs. Anaheim

2003: Boston (95-67) vs. Seattle (93-69)
If Boston wins: New York vs. Minnesota, Boston vs. Oakland
If Seattle wins: New York vs. Seattle, Minnesota vs. Oakland

2002: Boston (93-69) vs. Seattle (93-69), BostonSeattle vs. Anaheim (99-63)
If Boston wins: New York vs. Minnesota, Boston vs. Oakland
If Seattle wins: New York vs. Seattle, Minnesota vs. Oakland
If Anaheim wins: New York vs. Anaheim, Minnesota vs. Oakland

2001: Oakland (102-60) vs. Minnesota (85-77)
If Oakland wins: New York vs. Oakland, Cleveland vs. Seattle
If Minnesota wins: New York vs. Cleveland, Minnesota vs. Seattle

2000: Seattle (91-71) vs. Cleveland (90-72)
If Seattle wins: White Sox vs. Seattle, New York vs. Oakland
If Cleveland wins: White Sox vs. New York, Oakland vs. Cleveland

1999: Boston (94-68) vs. Oakland (87-75)
If Boston wins: New York vs. Texas, Cleveland vs. Boston
If Oakland wins: New York vs. Oakland, Cleveland vs. Texas

1998: Boston (92-70) vs. Toronto (88-74)
New York vs. Texas
Cleveland vs. BostonToronto

1997: New York (96-66) vs. Anaheim (84-78)
If New York wins: Baltimore vs. Cleveland, New York vs. Seattle
If Anaheim wins: Baltimore vs. Anaheim, Cleveland vs. Seattle

1996: Seattle (85-77) vs. White Sox (85-77); SeattleWhite Sox vs. Boston (85-77); SeattleWhite SoxBoston vs. Baltimore (88-74)
If the White Sox win: Cleveland vs. New York, White Sox vs. Texas
If Seattle wins: Cleveland vs. Seattle, New York vs. Texas
If Boston wins: Cleveland vs. Boston, New York vs. Texas
If Baltimore wins: Cleveland vs. Baltimore, New York vs. Texas

1995: New York (79-65) vs. California (78-67)
If California wins: Cleveland vs. California, Boston vs. Seattle
If New York wins: Cleveland vs. New York, Boston vs. Seattle

Oakland went 91-70, but we're assuming they played game 162 and won it.
Seattle went 85-76, to make things fun we're assuming they lost game 162.

National League

2011: St. Louis (90-72) vs. Atlanta (89-73)
If St. Louis wins: Philadelphia vs. St. Louis, Milwaukee vs. Arizona
If Atlanta wins: Milwaukee vs. Atlanta, Philadelphia vs. Arizona

2010: Atlanta (91-71) vs. San Diego (90-72)
If Atlanta wins: Philadelphia vs. Cincinnati, San Francisco vs. Atlanta
If San Diego wins: Philadelphia vs. San Diego, San Francisco vs. Cincinnati

2009: Colorado (92-70) vs. San Francisco (88-74)
ColoradoSan Francisco vs. Philadelphia, St. Louis vs. Los Angeles

2008: Milwaukee (90-72) vs. New York (89-73)
If Milwaukee wins: Chicago vs. Los Angeles, Philadelphia vs. Milwaukee
If New York wins: Chicago vs. New York, Philadelphia vs. Los Angeles

2007: Colorado (89-73) vs. San Diego (89-73) note: this game actually happened
Philadelphia vs. Colorado
Chicago vs. Arizona

2006: San Diego (88-74) vs. Los Angeles (88-74) For west title, loser plays WC play-in, for simplicity's sake we'll say the Padres win; Los Angeles vs. Philadelphia (85-77)
If Los Angeles wins: New York vs. Los Angeles, San Diego vs. St. Louis
If Philadelphia wins: New York vs. St. Louis, San Diego vs. Philadelphia

2005: Houston (89-73) vs. Philadelphia (88-74)
If Houston wins: St. Louis vs. San Diego, Atlanta vs. Houston
If Philadelphia wins: St. Louis vs. Philadelphia, San Diego vs. Atlanta

2004: Houston (92-70) vs. San Francisco (91-71)
If Houston wins: St. Louis vs. Los Angeles, Atlanta vs. Houston
If San Francisco wins: St. Louis vs. San Francisco, Atlanta vs. Los Angeles

2003: Florida (91-71) vs. Houston (87-75)
If Florida wins: Chicago vs. Atlanta, San Francisco vs. Florida
If Houston wins: Atlanta vs. Houston, Chicago vs. San Francisco

2002: San Francisco (95-66) vs. Los Angeles (92-70)
San FranciscoLos Angeles vs. Atlanta
St. Louis vs. Arizona

2001: St. Louis (93-69) vs. San Francisco (90-72)
If St. Louis wins: Houston vs. Atlanta, St. Louis vs. Arizona
If San Francisco wins: Houston vs. San Francisco, Atlanta vs. Arizona

2000: New York (94-68) vs. Los Angeles (86-76)
If New York wins: St. Louis vs. Atlanta, New York vs. San Francisco
If Los Angeles wins: St. Louis vs. Los Angeles, Atlanta vs. San Francisco

1999: New York (96-66) vs. Cincinnati (96-66) note: this game actually happened
Atlanta vs. Houston
New York vs. Arizona

1998: Chicago (89-73) vs. San Francisco (89-73) note: this game actually happened
Atlanta vs. Chicago
Houston vs. San Diego

1997: New York (88-74) vs. Los Angeles (88-74); New YorkLos Angeles vs. Florida (92-70)
If New YorkFlorida wins: Atlanta vs. Houston, San Francisco vs. New YorkFlorida
If Los Angeles wins: Atlanta vs. Los Angeles, San Francisco vs. Houston

1996: Los Angeles (90-72) vs. Montreal (88-74)
If Los Angeles wins: Atlanta vs. Los Angeles, San Diego vs. St. Louis
If Montreal wins: Atlanta vs. St. Louis, San Diego vs. Montreal

1995: Colorado (77-67) vs. Houston (76-68)
If Colorado wins: Cincinnati vs. Los Angeles, Atlanta vs. Colorado
If Houston wins: Atlanta vs. Houston, Cincinnati vs. Los Angeles

By the numbers

The top teams in the American League would've been adversely affected by this policy. Over 17 seasons, the average win disparity between the top two non-division winning teams is 5.53, with gulfs as big as 17 (2002) and 12 (1997).

But in the National League, there's not as much of a disparity. Three of these 17 hypothetical games actually took place in real life, while the average win disparity was only 2.18.

As stated earlier, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco would've stood to benefit the most from this setup. Here's how the additional playoff appearance (or appearance in a play-in game for the playoffs) list shakes out:

4: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle
3: Boston
2: Anaheim, Chicago (AL), Cleveland, Houston, Oakland, San Diego
1: Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit, Minnesota, Montreal, New York (AL), New York (NL), Philadelhpia, Texas, Toronto

As for wild card winners under the old format, Boston would've stood to lose the most under the new system. The Red Sox won the wild card seven times since it was introduced in 1995, while the Yankees took it four times. In the National League, Colorado won it three times while Florida, Houston, Los Angeles and New York won it twice.

So maybe this policy isn't as tailored to the Red Sox and Yankees as much as we think. Sure, Boston could've made an additional three playoff appearances, but there also would've been seven opportunities for them to be knocked out in one game by a lesser team.

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.