Cubs

Carl Edwards Jr., self-actualized

Carl Edwards Jr., self-actualized

Carl Edwards Jr. may be coming into his own.

We've said that before. We've thought that before.

But after the way the 26-year-old reliever has started the 2018 campaign, it's impossible to ignore that Edwards may finally be putting it all together.

After carving through the heart of the Cardinals order Tuesday night, Edwards now has 15 strikeouts in 8 innings this year to go along with his 1.13 ERA and 1.00 WHIP.

Edwards was shaky in his first couple outings in Miami, but has surrendered only 4 baserunners in his last 6 innings while whiffing 12 batters since leaving South Beach.

Much of that success can be attributed to a better understanding of who he is as a pitcher and trusting his stuff in his second full big-league season.

"It's just getting older, I guess," he said. "More repetition. Just being here more is what I feel like has helped me. Going out there and telling myself, 'I have seven other guys behind me that could help me out.' And not try and strike out everybody or put pressure on myself."

Edwards talked a lot about not putting any added pressure on himself and credited the Cubs veteran relievers with setting a good example for how he should approach his role each time his name is called.

The mental part of the game is something every young player has to maneuver and Edwards was no exception, getting too fine with his pitches last season and working around the zone instead of attacking hitters.

"Being in this game longer and longer, sooner or later, you know what you need to do to go out there and get outs," Edwards said. "I feel like I know what it takes to get outs. Go right at guys, don't try to nibble, don't try to be perfect because nobody's perfect. Just go out there and have fun."

His hits allowed are up, but he's still at an elite level (5.6 H/9) and that will also come down quite a bit given he's been pretty unlucky on balls in play. Edwards has surrendered a .357 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) thus far in 2018, almost double his career mark (.196) and significantly higher than the 2018 MLB average BABIP (.287).

Edwards actually should have better numbers. His FIP (fielding independent pitching) — which attempts to strip away all the factors not in the pitcher's control — is 0.43, ranking sixth in baseball among relievers behind guys like Aroldis Chapman, Kelvin Herrera, Chad Green and the red-hot Adam Ottavino and ahead of such pitchers as Edwin Diaz and Josh Hader. For perspective, the league average FIP is 3.93.

Let's dive even further:

Among all MLB pitchers with more than 2 innings, Edwards ranks third in swings-and-misses, contact percentage and zone contact percentage. 

Meaning: Edwards is right up there as one of the hardest pitchers to hit in the game. Even when he does throw the ball in the strike zone, opposing players can't seem to make contact.

It's a small sample size, sure. Everything is right now in the middle of April.

And Edwards has a history of quick starts. Through his first 8 innings of 2017, the flamethrower did not allow a run, permitting only 1 hit and 3 walks. But he also struck out only 8 batters in that stretch.

When asked about all those swings-and-misses, Edwards shrugged it off as just "luck" and was sure to point to how baseball typically evens out.

But that won't necessarily happen here. Edwards has always had incredible, unhittable stuff. His problems in the past have been tied to walks, handing out free passes before giving up hits.

If he's truly understanding how to pitch within himself and limit those free passes, watch out.

That's all that stands between Edwards becoming one of the game's true elite relievers.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa's 18th homer of June and 31st of the season came off the Tigers in the Cubs' brief 2-game Interleague series in Detroit. 

Sosa connected in the first inning off Tigers starter Seth Greisinger, going back-to-back with Mickey Morandini. 

The Cubs wound up getting out to a 5-0 start in the game but still lost 7-6 on a Gabe Alvarez single in the bottom of the 11th.

The aforementioned Morandini homer was only the 3rd of the season for the Cubs second baseman. He finished with 8 homers on the year and 224 total bases on 172 hits in what was a very good offensive season. Yet it paled in comparison to Sosa, who had nearly 200 more total bases (416) and a slugging percentage nearly 200 points above Morandini's (.647 to .471), a testament to how truly incredible Sosa's season was.

Fun fact: Tony Clark was the Tigers' cleanup hitter that day. Clark is now the head of the MLB Players Union.

Fun fact No. 2: Paul Bako was the Detroit catcher in the game. He later became the Cubs backup catcher in 2003 and 2004, when he posted a .611 OPS in 119 games over the two years.

Maddon gets funky with bullpen, calls catcher Chris Gimenez to mound

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USA TODAY

Maddon gets funky with bullpen, calls catcher Chris Gimenez to mound

The Cubs continued their recent struggles, suffering their third straight loss to the Cincinnati Reds. 

But the game was not without its fair share of drama. The matchup was a back-and-forth affair, up until the Reds blew the game wide-open in the bottom of the third inning. This included a grand slam by Reds pitcher Anthony DeSclafani, the first home run of his career.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon turned to the bullpen following Cincinnati's third inning explosion, and things did not get much better from there.

With the Cubs down six runs in the bottom of the eight inning, Maddon brought in catcher Chris Gimenez to pitch. 

This was not new territory for Gimenez, who despite being a catcher, now has 10 MLB pitching appearances to his name. 

Down six runs, Gimenez didn't have a lot to lose. But Reds first basemen Joey Votto hammered a fastball in the zone for his eighth homer of the year.

Gimenez had a career ERA of 8.00 before Saturday's appearance, and he certainly didn't do much to help lower that figure.

According to ESPN's Jesse Rogers: "Including one today, Cubs relievers have allowed 41.1 percent of inherited runners to score in June, sixth most in the NL." 

A tired bullpen is certainly cause for concern for the Cubs, who are locked into a battle in the NL Central with the Brewers and Cardinals. Maddon was surely hoping to keep his bullpen arms fresh with the move, seeing as the game was already out of reach. 

So yes, the game did end in a 11-2 win for the Reds. But with a grand-slam by a pitcher—on his first career HR no less—and four-seam fastballs from a catcher, Cubs baseball always keep things interesting.