Theo Epstein is counting on common sense from MLB for Thursday's game

Theo Epstein is counting on common sense from MLB for Thursday's game

The Cubs and Theo Epstein are hoping that common sense is used by the MLB for Thursday's potential makeup game with the Nationals as the entire East Coast prepares for Hurricane Florence. Epstein shared his thoughts on the matter during an interview with 670 the Score, and while no decision has come yet from the MLB, Epstein said he felt it would be "unreasonable" for the MLB to push forward with the currently scheduled makeup game. 

"The first step is to wait and see what the decision is and we're all counting on common sense to rule the day. If we get into that position, there will certainly be a conversation with our players to talk about what the right thing to do is. Again, Major League Baseball won't send our players to a situation that's dangerous and we certainly wouldn't either. So absolutely there would be a conversation with our players before we determine what to do. Right now, we're in a wait-and-see mode hoping for a common sense solution."

The Cubs have gone 30 days without an off-day due to postponed games and could really use the day off while they continue to fight off the Brewers for the NL Central divisional crown. And while the weather is expected to be worse more south of Washington D.C. the Cubs already had a four-game set with the Nationals last week that had delayed start times and two cancelled games, Hurricane level rain and wind likely doesn't translate to favorable gameday weather conditions. 

Epstein noted he knew that the MLB would never send them into dangerous weather conditions, but hopes they can see why asking the Cubs to make up this game Thursday night with even a chance of a rain delay puts them in a terrible position for the remainder of the season. 

"We're in discussions with Major League Baseball awaiting their decision on the forecast and trying to make our case that it's unreasonable to ask this group of players to go 30 straight days with a game scheduled and possibly fly back to Washington and sit in a rain delay once again given the night game tonight and day game on Friday."

Of course, if Epstein and the Cubs had their way they would be playing this game after the regular season was scheduled to end in hopes that this single game may not even matter to their playoff race and they can just forgo it altogether. But as Epstein said Wednesday, that's not how any of this works

"Our position is that the game should be played the day after the season, just because of the burden of 30 consecutive days with games scheduled and the risk of flying in for a one-off with the possibility of a rain delay given what we went through," Epstein said. "But that's not the rule and that's not the way it's being enforced right now." 

The Cubs are currently leading the division by 2 games over the Brewers with 19 games left to play, with potentially their most crucial game of the season coming Wednesday night with their series and season finale against the Brewers. Adding an extra day of rest amidst this tight postseason run would be invaluable to the Cubs at this point, but they will have to just wait and see. 

Some perspective on Pedro Strop's tough outing and struggles

Some perspective on Pedro Strop's tough outing and struggles

Pedro Strop has had a tough go of it lately, but that doesn't mean it's time to panic on one of the most consistent relievers in Cubs history.

After blowing the game Monday night in San Francisco — his third blown save of the month — Strop now has a 5.47 ERA on the year and an 8.22 mark in July alone. In fact, nearly half the runs he's allowed in 2019 have come this month — 7 of 16.

But Strop has been pitching better than his ERA indicates — his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is nearly a full run lower than his ERA this season. His strikeout rate (27.4 percent) and walk rate (8.5 percent) are the lowest they've been since 2016. 

That being said, the 34-year-old has also seen a precipitous spike in hard contact rate and his soft contact percentage is way down. He's been plagued by the home run ball this year more than ever before, serving up 1.7 dingers per 9 innings, the highest rate of his career (though the same can be said for many pitchers this season).

So Strop clearly hasn't been his typical dominant self this year, but he also deserves a better fate than he's had to this point in the season.

Take Monday night, for example. 

Strop came on to pitch the eighth inning of a game the Cubs were leading 4-2 and promptly gave up a leadoff double to Pablo Sandoval. On paper, that's obviously not a great start, but look at where this pitch was when the Giants third baseman hit it:

Strop followed that by striking out Stephen Vogt before executing a nice pitch to Brandon Crawford and inducing a groundball...only to see it sneak through the infield for an RBI hit:

Then came a groundout before Austin Slater's game-tying double that came just inches away from Albert Almora Jr.'s glove in center field. 

The final blow was the go-ahead double by Joe Panik...on a ball that was higher than Strop would've liked it, but still not a bad pitch off the plate outside:

These are not bad pitches; it's not like Strop was leaving the ball over the heart of the plate all inning.

How's this for bad luck — the Sandoval double was pegged for just a .070 expected batting average. 

Crawford's single was hit at 89.7 mph and had an expected batting average of .360. By comparison, Kyle Schwarber hit a grounder in the top of the inning at 102.9 mph with an expected batting average of .630 and it was an out. It was simply a matter of Crawford's ball finding a hole while Schwarber hit his right at a defender. 

No matter which way you slice it, this was a tough luck outing for the veteran setup man. 

But bad luck or not, Strop still hasn't been getting the consistent results the Cubs need in crucial innings of a tight playoff race, so it's understandable manager Joe Maddon was asked about the bullpen usage on his weekly appearance with 670 The Score Tuesday afternoon:

"When Pedro's in the game, I really feel good about it," Maddon said. "We all do. I think last night, it was more about pitch selection than it was necessarily about stuff. He was one pitch away from getting out of that thing. 

"If you replay and look at it, you see the hit by Sandoval — that ball literally almost bounced. It really did and it almost hit his back foot. I don't know how he kept that ball fair, but he did. Good for him. And then Crawford hits a slow ground ball up the middle that gets between two guys that are outstanding infielders and that's a hit."

Maddon went on to say the last hit — Panik's double — was the more concerning one because it was a sinker that just didn't drop enough. Maddon said he'd rather see Strop go to his wicked slider in that situation than lean on a pitch (the sinker/fastball) that has seen a dip in velocity and value this season.

"I don't think Pedro's that far off," Maddon said. "Maybe the velocity's down a little bit more than anything. To utilize his cutter/slider and really get that to where he wants it — those are the devastating pitches. So that was my bigger concern last night."

Moving forward, it doesn't sound as if Maddon will shy away from utilizing Strop in high-leverage situations again, but the Cubs also have the luxury of a pretty deep bullpen where they could utilize some other arms (Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler) to pitch the eighth inning and help bridge the gap to closer Craig Kimbrel.

Strop is 34 now and has dealt with some health issues over the last calendar year, but he has such a long track record of success that it wouldn't be surprising to see him once again emerge as a lights-out reliever before the season ends.

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Cubs lead Bears, Bulls on Forbes' Most Valuable Sports Teams 2019 list

Cubs lead Bears, Bulls on Forbes' Most Valuable Sports Teams 2019 list

The Chicago Cubs tied the Washington Redskins for 14th on Forbes' Most Valuable Sports Teams 2019 list with a $3.1 billion valuation. The Cubs' valuation grew by 7% year over year.

The Cubs are the fourth-most valuable franchise in MLB behind the Yankees ($4.1B), the Dodgers ($3.3B) and the Red Sox ($3.2B). Only seven MLB teams made the Top 50.

Two other Chicago teams, the Bears and the Bulls, are tied for 19th on the list with a value of $2.9 billion. The Bears' value grew just 2% while the Bulls' valuation grew by 12% year over year.

The rise of the pro sports teams valued over $2 billion has been pretty meteoric over the past decade. In 2012, only Manchester United was valued over $2 billion and in 2019 that number has risen to 52.

In 2012, only the Knicks and Lakers made the Top 50 list but in 2019 the Bulls are one of nine teams to earn a spot. The Bulls were the fourth-most valuable NBA franchise in 2019 behind the Knicks ($4B), Lakers ($3.7B) and Warriors ($3.5B).

Forbes credits the NBA's international prospects and worldwide revenue growth for the league's rise in the list.

No NHL teams made the list, the New York Rangers were the most-valued hockey team at $1.55 billion, 72nd highest.