The Cubs have a lot to feel good about right now

The Cubs have a lot to feel good about right now

Maybe a trip to South Beach was just what the Cubs needed.

They entered the series against Starlin Castro and the Marlins with a 5-9 record, but after claiming the first two games in Miami, the Cubs are now staring down their first chance at a sweep in 2019. 

Sure, it's the rebuilding Marlins, who are now only 4-14 on the season. But a win's a win and the Cubs are a couple steps closer to getting back to .500 after their slow start.

Here are 8 things the Cubs have to feel good about right now:

1. Positive regression?

Speaking of that slow start, the Cubs are now 6-3 since that 6-game losing streak that stretched from Texas to Atlanta to Milwaukee. They have a +12 run differential, which is behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies in the National League. 

With that run differential, their Pythagorean record actually says they should be a 9-7 team instead of 7-9.

2. Jose Quintana and the starting rotation

Quintana has been absolutely lights out his last two starts following his disaster in Milwaukee (8 ER, 3 HR allowed in 3 IP). Even despite that poor outing, Quintana's season ERA is down to 3.43, second only to Jon Lester (2.57). 

Outside that clunker in Milwaukee, Quintana has not allowed an earned run in 18 innings, permitting just 15 hits and 4 walks while striking out 26. He currently leads the Cubs pitching staff in innings pitched, strikeouts, quality starts and wins. 

Quintana is now 22-15 in a Cubs uniform with a 3.89 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 9.2 K/9 in 279.2 innings.  

The Cubs rotation as a whole have been in a groove, with Yu Darvish turning in his best start of the season Monday night and Cole Hamels continuing his dominance at Wrigley Field. Kyle Hendricks continues to struggle, but he said he feels like he's on the cusp of figuring it out and Lester is on the comeback trail from his hamstring injury.

3. Javy Baez is raking

Baez woke up Saturday morning hitting just .232 on the young season, but he's turned in back-to-back-to-back 3-hit games and is now 9-for-14 in that stretch with 6 extra-base hits. That's pushed his season batting line to .314/.342/.600 and his homer Tuesday night to right-center may have been one of his best swings ever, as he told ESPN's Jesse Rogers:

Hard to argue that — 439 feet to the opposite field on a good pitch down in the zone would certainly rank among the best swings for a lot of players:

So how will Baez follow up his 2018 run at the NL MVP? 

His offensive numbers may be inflated a bit by his current hot stretch, but add in his defense at shortstop and baserunning prowess and it sure doesn't seem like "El Mago" is ticketed for that regression many were predicting.

4. Remember this week if Albert Almora Jr. wins a Gold Glove

Almora is still scuffling at the plate (though he did draw a pair of walks Tuesday night), but he's proving his value with his glove in center field. 

After he did this Monday night...

...Almora went out on his 25th birthday and added another highlight to his reel with a clutch catch to help Quintana avoid a jam:

5. Was that a sign of life from Kris Bryant?

Bryant went 0-for-5 Tuesday night to run his season line to .217/.329/.350. But things weren't all bad — he only struck out once and one of the balls he hit for an out was a rocket:

That's encouraging in a lot of regards and may have been a homer (or at least off the wall) in many other ballparks. Players and coaches regularly talk about how sometimes, it's just one good swing to break a player out of his slump. Maybe this was his one swing.

6. The Cubs offense is still humming along despite Bryzzo's slow start

Bryant is catching a lot of the flak from the fanbase, but Rizzo's 0-for-4 showing Tuesday night dropped his season line to .169/.329/.339.

Still, the Cubs are averaging more than 6 runs a game this season and rank among the NL leaders in just about every offensive category. That's all in spite of this slow start from Bryant and Rizzo.

Just imagine what this team is going to be able to do offensively once the studs return to their normal levels. Bryant's current OPS is 217 points below his career mark and Rizzo is at 183 points beneath his career total.

These guys are going to hit and there are going to be times where "Bryzzo" carries this Cubs offense. 

Remember, Rizzo sported a .149/.259/.189 slash line on May 1 last year and hit .303/.393/.512 the rest of the way. 

7. Daniel Descalso and Ben Zobrist are professional hitters

Zobrist had the night off from starting and only had one plate appearance, but he made it count, lifting a sacrifice fly to right field to plate David Bote in the ninth inning with a valuable insurance run. 

Descalso got the Cubs scoring started with a clutch 2-out single in the third inning to score Bote and finished the night reaching in 4 of his 5 plate appearances (2 hits and 2 walks). He's now slashing .341/.413/.488 in his first three weeks in a Cubs uniform.

Both veterans have been heralded as having "professional at-bats" and they've been proving it all season — whether it's setting the tone from the leadoff spot, hitting behind the heart of the order or coming off the bench.

8. Don't look now, but the bullpen has been...OK

Cubs relievers have not surrendered a run in 5.1 innings in Miami, striking out 5 and walking just 2. 

This comes after a tough outing at Wrigley last weekend (7 walks in 4 innings), but remember — the bullpen was on an 18.2 inning scoreless streak that lasted a week prior to Saturday's blow-up.

Slowly but surely, the numbers are normalizing for this Cubs bullpen.

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Pete Ricketts and Omaha pastor reconcile, audio of contentious meeting surfaces

Pete Ricketts and Omaha pastor reconcile, audio of contentious meeting surfaces

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and Omaha pastor Jarrod Parker met Wednesday, after a disagreement earlier in the week sparked public conversation about the relationship between the local government and the black community.

“We embraced, and we shook hands,” Parker, the pastor of St. Mark Baptist Church in Omaha, said in a live video on Facebook. “We met and vowed to work together in a spirit of peace and reconciliation.”

It was Parker’s second video this week about Ricketts, who is also part of the Cubs family ownership, but who stepped down from the Board of Directors when he took office. On Monday, after a meeting with local government officials and black community members, Parker posted an impassioned video in which he said Ricketts called black leaders “you people.”

In a statement, Ricketts said, “I chose my words poorly, and apologized when it became apparent that I had caused offense.”

Audio reportedly of a portion of Monday's meeting surfaced and circulated online Wednesday. NBC Sports Chicago obtained a copy of that audio.

After a break in the audio, Ricketts can be heard saying, “Where the hell were all you guys when I was trying to—”

Another man cuts him off saying, “Excuse me, what did you just say?”

Several other voices chime in, drowning each other out.

Parker addressed the audio, and the criticism he's received since it surfaced, in his Facebook video.

Posted by St Mark Baptist Church on Wednesday, June 3, 2020

“There’s sound that is kind of washing out what was being said after ‘you guys.’  Let me say this, as a pastor, as a man, … I was sitting right next to him. I stand by what I said, and the governor apologized for it. I thanked him as a man for doing that.”

On Tuesday Morning, Ricketts said on a local radio station, 96.7 The Boss, that he planned to speak with Parker.

“I’m absolutely open,” Ricketts said. “I think what we want to do is let everybody’s emotions kind of cool down here a little bit, but I will follow up with the pastor and apologize to him directly and certainly I apologized to all the folks in the room yesterday as well, while we were still there.”

Parker said he’s uninterested in the argument over the meeting audio.

“I hope that this is a message that as much as we disagree and as much as we can hurt each other and be intensive,” Parker said, “we have to come back to the table. Black people, white people, young people, old people, Christian people, non-Christian, people of all faiths, all colors … we’ve got to come back together now.”

How MLB’s ‘wonderful opportunity’ might turn into a ‘catastrophic result’

How MLB’s ‘wonderful opportunity’ might turn into a ‘catastrophic result’

When Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts or any other baseball owner claims publicly they’d be better off financially by not playing a 2020 season at all rather than accept some of the players’ terms, don’t fall for it.

That’s because whatever the short-term hit — and for teams such as the Cubs it might well be substantial — the long-term damage to the sport from skipping a season over financial negotiations during a global pandemic could be “catastrophic,” according to at least one sports economist.

In fact, baseball might face more dire consequences in recouping fan interest and financial losses than its major-league sports counterparts for several reasons.

Baseball, like many industries, faces a potentially weak economy in general for the next couple of years because the impact of the COVID-19 crisis as it tries to rebound after a year of losses, regardless, noted sports economist Andrew Zimbalist said.

And sports could be further impacted by coronavirus fallout related to how many fans are allowed to gather in stadiums even by next year, and how many will be willing to do so.

But even beyond that, baseball could face a unique challenge compared to the other sports, Zimbalist said, if a season isn’t played because decades-long animus between owners and players cause these negotiations to break down.

“Especially during a time when most of America is suffering and baseball players have an average salary of almost $5 million, and owners of course are sitting on assets that are generally worth $1 billion and more, people don’t want to hear about squabbles between those two groups,” said Zimbalist, the longtime economics professor at Smith College who has published more than a dozen books on the economics of baseball and other sports.

Look no further than what happened after the 1994-95 strike and lockout, he said, when the full-season attendance equivalent in the 1995 return season represented more than a 20 percent decline from 1993.

“I would expect a similar impact now but the impact compounded for two reasons,” he said. “The economic situation [at large] is not as auspicious, and, two, all of this is happening during a pandemic when really everybody is suffering. It’s harder to understand or accept the owners and the players battling this out during a period of generalized depression and anxiety.”

Common sense? Sure. Most of us recognize the risk owners and players take anytime the millionaire-vs.-billionaire fight is waged publicly, especially at a time of such health, economic and social gravity, including the protests and unrest since the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on Memorial Day.

RELATED: Cubs' Jason Heyward on racial injustice: 'It feels like a broken record'

But if baseball expects to rebound from a season missed because of money matters following a decade of record revenues and enormous gains in franchise values, then it might want to consider long and hard what the means for doing that will be.

Ricketts told ESPN on Tuesday that “the scale of losses across the league is biblical.”

Nobody disputes teams are dealing with almost zero revenue during the pandemic shutdown or the likelihood of a season of any length resulting in steep losses, especially without fans allowed in stadiums. The Cubs have been hit especially hard by the timing of the shutdown because it coincides with costs associated with the launch of their new TV network.

Ricketts told ESPN the teams and league don’t have “a pile” of cash from recent seasons of record industry revenues, because, he said, teams put that money back into their teams, including payrolls.

“No one expects to have to draw down on the reserves from the past,” Ricketts said. "Every team has to figure out a way to plug the hole.”

That would seem to make an offer by the union to defer a percentage of salaries a viable solution in negotiations. But Zimbalist said that while some teams might have a cash-flow problem, he doesn’t believe the league or teams generally face that issue — rendering deferrals with interest of “minimal value.”

Whatever it takes to close the gap in negotiations, that ticking baseball is hearing could start sounding a lot more like a detonation device than a clock before long.

If they cancel the season and try to dig out later, there’s no Cal Ripken Jr. consecutive-games streak just waiting to resume and provide a made-for-TV, record-setting moment.

Not only are there no Sammy Sosas and Mark McGwires on the visible horizon, but even that boost of interest to the game in 1998 turned a few years later into one if its biggest scandals.

And this, perhaps most of all: The average baseball fan is a white guy in his 50s — the game’s core consumer is aging out fast with the generations behind him too often showing indifference to an increasingly slow-paced game with decreasing action and more strikeouts than hits.

“A greater sensitivity of fan response in part because of shifting culture across the generations? I think that’s true,” said Zimbalist, who includes in that the increasing choices and popularity of video games.

“Baseball’s status as a national pastime is certainly being challenged,” he said. “Those elements will certainly complicate baseball’s effort to rejuvenate their fan base if they don’t come back.

“The other side of the coin,” he added, “is if they do come back and play baseball this summer, when people are basically starving for sports, there’s potentially an opportunity to extend its allure to more and more people and generate a level of passion and avidity that baseball hasn’t seen in a while.

"There’s a wonderful opportunity awaiting them if they can get their act together, and there’s an almost catastrophic result if they can’t. … I think both sides are fully aware of that.”

RELATED: Major League Baseball swinging and missing on big opportunity

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