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What To Know: News and Notes From the Upcoming Reds-Cubs Series

What To Know: News and Notes From the Upcoming Reds-Cubs Series

It’s finally Memorial Day Weekend, which is great time to take a moment and reflect on all those who were, when the Cubs were 2-7, adamant about waiting to pass judgement until the holiday weekend. It’s here, and you were right. Congrats to you. Conventional wisdom rules the day, once again. 

The Cincinnati Reds are in town for the final series in this 7-game homestand. The two teams played in Cincinnati a little over a week ago, and the Reds took two of three despite never winning a game by more than two runs. It’ll be Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish, and José Quintana on the mound for the Cubs, countered by Anthony DeSclafani, Tyler Mahle, and Tanner Roark for Cincinnati. Here’s what else to look out for: 

Schwarber’s Staying Put

It sounds like the Kyle Schwarber Leadoff Experiment isn’t going anywhere. He’s lead off for the Cubs in each of the last nine games (including Friday), and is hitting .267/.368/.567 with a .935 OPS over that span. He’s hit 2 of his 7 homers and drawn 6 of his 26 walks out of the leadoff spot. While it’s not his first rodeo, Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon talked pregame about how the team is more convinced that it’s the right fit now. 

“It’s one of those things where you have to believe it to see it,” he said. “And sometimes there’s folks that have to see it to believe it. I just thought it was the right time. Again, I liked it back then -- I did -- however he did not react to it well in that moment. But if you look at his overall abilities  as they stand right now, for me, that’s the perfect spot for him.” 

Cincinnati’s Record: a Reds Herring?

The Reds enter this weekend’s series as the last-place team in the NL Central, and owners of the 5th-worst record (22-27) in the NL. What’s interesting, though, is that they also have the 2nd-best run differential (+25) in the division, which also happens to be the 4th best in the NL. According to Baseball Reference, their actual record is *five* wins lower than it should actually be. 

“We’re playing a team right now that’s record is not good, but they are really good,” Maddon said. “I have a lot of respect for this group.”

The Reds have had some of the best pitching of any team in baseball through the first 40+ games. Going into the long weekend, they rank:

2nd in FIP (3.47)
3rd in ERA (3.50)
5th in K/BB% (17.6)
7th in WHIP (1.23)
4th in HR/FB (12.4% - especially impressive given how homer heavy Great American Ballpark is.) 

Miscellaneous News and Notes

The Cubs called up James Norwood before Friday’s game. He briefly pitched for the Cubs last season, making 11 appearances to the tune of a 4.09 ERA. This season, over 20 innings in Triple-A Iowa, Norwood is holding batters to a .206 average while posting an impressive K/BB of 22.5%. The corresponding move was optioning Rowan Wick back to Triple-A. There’s also been no update on the status of Ben Zobrist, who remains away from the team on a personal absence. 

Cubs bullpen gets another reinforcement with Craig Kimbrel activated

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USA TODAY

Cubs bullpen gets another reinforcement with Craig Kimbrel activated

The Cubs bullpen has had its share of struggles in recent days, but the team’s new closer is coming back from the injured list.

 

Craig Kimbrel was activated off the IL ahead of Sunday’s game against the Pirates. The game will be played in Williamsport, Pa., as the Little League Classic.

Kimbrel took the spot of Duane Underwood Jr., who heads back to Triple-A Iowa. Outfielder Mark Zagunis also joined the Cubs roster as the 26th man for Sunday’s game.

Kimbrel joined the Cubs as a free agent in the middle of the season and debuted on June 27. He made 14 appearances before going to the IL with right knee inflammation. He last pitched on Aug. 3.

In 12 2/3 innings, Kimbrel has 17 strikeouts, eight walks and 13 hits for a 5.68 ERA. He has nine saves.

The Cubs suffered back-to-back walk-off losses on Thursday and Friday with the bullpen blowing late leads. Three of the team’s most experienced relievers, Kimbrel, Brandon Kintzler and Steve Cishek were all on the IL at the same time. Kintzler was activated Friday, but promptly blew a lead in Pittsburgh on Friday in his first game back.

Kimbrel’s return gives Joe Maddon another option in the bullpen after going through a rough stretch with relievers.

With Cubs reeling, Jon Lester comes up big and plays stopper

With Cubs reeling, Jon Lester comes up big and plays stopper

The last three games have been more than forgettable for the Cubs.

From Wednesday’s 11-1 drubbing at the hands of the Phillies to back-to-back walk-off losses on Thursday and Friday, the Cubs’ current road trip has looked much like those that preceded it. At various times, the offense has scuffled, the rotation has pitched a clunker and the bullpen has cracked.

The solution to the latest road trip woes? Give the ball to Jon Lester and get the hell out of the way.

Lester —  who pitched a clunker himself Aug. 6 against the A’s — did what the Cubs have become so accustomed to see him do over the past four seasons. The 35-year-old tossed 6+ shutout innings, allowing just four hits, leading the Cubs to a 2-0 win.

Lester had no room for error on Saturday, as the Cubs offense went hitless for the first 4 1/3 innings. While the Cubs bats were asleep, the Pirates threatened to break the game on open multiple times, loading the bases with one out (first inning), no outs (fifth) and getting runners on first and second with no outs in the sixth.

The latter two of those instances were assisted by errors by third baseman Kris Bryant, but that’s neither here nor there. Point being, with how the Cubs looked offensively, any Pirates runs could have proved critical on Saturday. Instead, Lester worked out of every jam, stymying the Pirates bats to an 0-for-12 line with RISP.

Winning Saturday’s game was obviously important for the Cubs, as it puts them a game ahead of the Cardinals in the win column (pending the outcome of St. Louis' game against the Reds later Saturday). But it was equally important for Lester, who called himself the “weakest link” in the Cubs starting rotation after that tough outing against the A’s.

The beautiful thing about baseball is that the regular season is 162 games long. Each day presents teams with a new slate, a chance to forget about what happened in the previous game and move forward.  If Saturday’s start shows anything, it’s that Lester and the Cubs are more than capable of putting a tough game in the rearview mirror and keep moving forward.

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