Cubs

Sitting on the brink of elimination, Cubs dealt another dose of misery

Sitting on the brink of elimination, Cubs dealt another dose of misery

As Jason Kipnis touched home plate and was greeted by his Indians teammates in the first base dugout, Wrigley Field fell so silent, sounds of the Cleveland celebration could be heard on the opposite end of the stadium.

Wrigley Field was that quiet after Kipnis - a native of Northbrook - drilled a backbreaking three-run homer into the teeth of the wind blowing straight in from right field.

That was the icing on the cake for the Cubs as they were handed a gut-wrenching loss for the second straight night, a 7-2 defeat at the hands of the Indians in front of packed house of fans forced to endure another dose of misery.

The festive mood of the Halloween weekend in Wrigleyville has transformed into a anxious mess of frustration and bewilderment.

"We gotta do our best to not even worry about that stuff," Kris Bryant said. "It’s fun for us to see that, the pictures of everybody outside and so many people. We can’t get too caught up in that.

"Hopefully we win out and these first, whatever, four games will be forgotten."

The Wrigley crowd actually had a lot to cheer about early on as Dexter Fowler led off the bottom of the first inning with a double and came around to score two batters later on Anthony Rizzo's RBI single.

John Lackey, the battle-tested veteran who was signed for these "Big Boy Games," immediately gave up the lead, however, as Carlos Santana led off the second inning with a solo homer. 

Jason Heyward pointed to that moment as the change in momentum in the ballgame and he was right. It was all Cleveland from there.

The Indians added another run on Bryant's second error of the second inning when he threw away Corey Kluber's swinging bunt.

"We gave up the homer; that ball was properly struck," Joe Maddon said. "The other run we kind of gave to them. The ball never left the infield and they got another run."

The Indians added solo tallies in the third and fifth innings before Kipnis' knockout blow in the seventh made Vince Vaughn's rendition of the Seventh Inning Stretch a muted affair.

"We've been here before," Heyward said. "Tonight, if you go back and look at the video of that game, we took a lot of good swings. It's not an excuse. It just is what it is. If the ball doesn't go, it doesn't go."

Dexter Fowler homered in the eighth inning, proving Andrew Miller is not a cyborg and is merely a man who is really, really ridiculously good at pitching.

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

It was the first run Miller has given up in his postseason career in 24.1 innings. 

It was also the Cubs' first World Series homer since Game 1 in 1945.

The Cubs now have their backs against the wall, but send Jon Lester to the mound Sunday night in an effort to push the series back to Cleveland, where Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks will be ready to pitch and Kyle Schwarber will be reinserted into the lineup as the designated hitter.

"We just need that one moment," Maddon said. "We have to have a one-game winning streak tomorrow and if we do that, I really would be feeling pretty good about going back to Cleveland."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Do the Cubs need to make a deal?

cubs-stl-pod-525.jpg
USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Do the Cubs need to make a deal?

On this episode of SportsTalk Live, Fred Mitchell, Seth Gruen and Jason Goch join David Kaplan on the panel.

The Cubs bats come alive against the Giants while Theo says there have been plenty of trade rumors but no trade talks. Do the Cubs need to make a deal?

Plus, Ray Ratto joins Kap to talk about the Warriors struggles and the guys debate if LeBron is playing his final game in a Cavaliers uniform.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

The Cubs are ahead of the game in MLB's brand new world

The Cubs are ahead of the game in MLB's brand new world

"BINGO!"

Joe Maddon couldn't contain his glee as he was told there is actual scientific evidence that proves the Launch Angle Revolution has not had any impact on the uptick in homers over the last couple seasons.

The reason MLB players were hitting the ball into the bleachers more than ever before in 2017 was because of the way baseballs are made now, reducing the wind resistence and causing balls to carry more.

But all these players changing their swing path to get more lift on the ball? Not a thing for the group as a whole (h/t MLB.com):


But in analyzing Statcast™ data from the measurement tool's 2015 inception through 2017, the committee found no evidence that batter behavior, en masse, has been a contributing factor toward the homer surge. In fact, exit velocities decreased slightly from 2016 to 2017, spray angles from the time studied were stable and a small increase in launch angles was attributable primarily to, as the study refers to them, "players with lesser home run talents."

Basically, the long-ball surge was global, affecting players from all spectrums of homer-hitting ability and irrespective of their approach.

"Going into this, I thought that was going to be the magic bullet, the smoking gun," Nathan said. "But it wasn't."


Hence the "BINGO!" cry from Maddon, who has been very vocal in the fight against the Launch Angle Revolution this season.

The end result is the study will eventually lead to baseballs being returned to normal levels and a more uniform way of storing the balls moving forward. Thus, homers figure to eventually return to normal levels, too, and everybody who was caught up in the Launch Angle Revolution may be left behind.

It's the changing landscape of baseball and we've already seen the after-effects this year: April was the first month in MLB history where there were more strikeouts than basehits.

Why? Because strikeouts are a natural byproduct of the Launch Angle Revolution as players are swinging up on the ball more and sacrificing contact for power and lift.

That, coupled with an increase in velocity and higher usage of relievers, has led to more strikeouts.

It makes perfect sense — it's tougher for a player to try to catch up to 98+ mph at the top of the strike zone with an uppercut swing.

"It's one of those things that sounds good, but it doesn't help you," Maddon said of launch angle. "There's certain things that people really want to promote and talk about, but it doesn't matter. When a hitter's in the box, when you're trying to stare down 96 or a slider on the edge, the last thing you're thinking about is launch angle.

"Now when it comes to practice, you could not necessarily work on angles — your body works a certain way. Like I've said before, there's guys that might've been oppressively bad or they just had groundballs by rolling over the ball all the time So of course you may want to alter that to get that smothering kind of a swing out of him.

"But if you're trying to catch up to velocity, if you're trying to lay back and I could keep going on and on. It sounds good."

The idea of hitting the ball hard in the air has been around for decades in baseball, pretty much ever since Babe Ruth on some level. It just wasn't able to be quantified or accessed by the public as easily until Statcast came around and made it all mainstream.

The Cubs, however, have been anti-launch-angle to a degree this season. They let go of hitting coach John Mallee (who liked players to hit the ball in the air and pull it) and replaced him with Chili Davis (who teaches the full-field, line-drive approach).

The effects haven't yet yielded results in terms of consistently plating runs or having a better performance in the situational hitting column, but the contact rate is, in fact, up.

Here is the list of Cubs hitters who currently boast a career best mark in strikeout rate:

Kris Bryant
Anthony Rizzo
Javy Baez
Willson Contreras
Addison Russell
Jason Heyward
Kyle Schwarber

Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. are close to their career marks, too.

Some of that jump in contact rate can be attributed to natural development and maturation of young hitters, but the Cubs are buying into the new way of doing things and it's paying off.

It's also probably the way the game is going to shift, with an emphasis on contact going to become more important the less balls are flying out of the yard.

The Cubs have seen firsthand how to beat the best pitching in the postseason and they know that cutting down on strikeouts and "moving the baseball" (as Maddon likes to put it) can help manufacture runs in low-scoring, tight affairs in October.

Now science is supporting those theories and Major League Baseball teams will have to adjust. 

The Cubs, however, are at least a step ahead of the game.

It's a long game — the offensive strides will take time to fully take effect even for the Cubs, who are at least a full offseason and two months ahead of the curve in terms of bucking the Launch Angle Revolution.

Maddon concedes that launch angle is a cool stat to see on the video board after homers, but other than that, he doesn't see much of a use for it, pointing to Kyle Schwarber's laser-line-drive homers having the same effect as Kris Bryant's moonshots.

However, Maddon does believe there's a place for launch angle and exit velocity in the game, though mostly for front offices trying to acquire players (think "Moneyball").

"As a teaching tool, you either come equipped with or without," Maddon said. "It's like you buy a new car, you either got this or you don't. Sometimes you can add some things occasionally, but for the most part, this is what you are.

"I like inside the ball, top half of the ball, inner half of the ball, stay long throughout the ball, utilize the whole field. I still think that's the tried and true approach and I'm not stuck in the mud on this by any means.

"The harder pitchers throw the baseball, the more laying back is going to be less effective."