Cubs

Which Cubs are ticketed for the All-Star Game? A look at each player's chances

Which Cubs are ticketed for the All-Star Game? A look at each player's chances

It's that time of year again — All-Star voting is starting to heat up and will become a part of the daily conversation in the baseball world for the next month.

The first voting updates have started to trickle out from Major League Baseball with the Midsummer Classic exactly four weeks away.

Let's take a look at which Cubs might be headed back to Cleveland for the big game:

The sure things

Javy Baez
Willson Contreras

It would be tough to mount an argument against having either one of these players in the All-Star Game. 

Baez is one of the faces of the game and the type of player and personality that should be what the showcase is all about. It doesn't hurt that he was the MVP runner-up last year and is actually having an even better season in 2019.

El Mago is tied for the NL lead in WAR among shortstops and may well end up as the starter next month. Trevor Story is another lock to make the All-Star roster and other players have a solid case (Paul DeJong, jean Segura, Corey Seager, Manny Machado), but nobody has a stronger argument than Baez. Even if they did, his positional versatility should guarantee a spot on the roster somewhere in the infield.

Meanwhile, Contreras ranks third in the NL in WAR (behind J.T. Realmuto and Yasmani Grandal) and is right near the top of the rankings in just about every offensive category. He's cooled off at the plate lately, but he's still on pace for 33 homers and 89 RBI — which would be huge numbers from the catcher position.

He still ranks negatively on pitch-framing metrics, but Contreras has thrown out would-be basestealers 10 percent better than league average (38 percent to 28 percent). 

Most All-Star teams carry at least three catchers, so there's room for Contreras, Grandal and Realmuto to all make it. Last year, Contreras was named the starter and he's already well ahead of his 2018 pace.

The probables

Kyle Hendricks

It certainly looks to be trending that way for Hendricks, who is fourth in the NL in WAR among starting pitchers. The Professor is 6-0 with a 1.99 ERA and 0.81 WHIP over his last eight starts and if he can keep that up, he'll enter the conversation to potentially start the game on the mound for the NL squad.

Anthony Rizzo

With Baez's continued ascension to superstardom and Bryant's return to elite status, Rizzo's excellence this year has often flown under the radar. But he's actually quietly having his best season yet — on pace to set new career highs in homers, RBI, runs scored and OPS.

Rizzo is currently fifth in WAR among NL first basemen and the only reason he would be shunned from the All-Star Game is the abundance of options at the position. Josh Bell and Freddie Freeman seem like locks and then Rizzo would have to beat out Max Muncy, Pete Alonso, Rhys Hoskins and Paul Goldschmidt for the last spot on the NL roster.

It might be tough to do, but there's no question Rizzo deserves to pack his bags for Cleveland.

Kris Bryant

Bryant has silenced any doubters with his play the last month-and-a-half and nobody's questioned the health of his shoulder since April. He ranks third behind Nolan Arenado and Anthony Rendon in WAR among NL third basemen, but all three guys should be heading to Ohio next month. 

Mike Moustakas (20 homers, 43 RBI) and Eduardo Escobar (17 homers, 54 RBI) have strong cases as well, but Bryant can also play outfield and that might help lock up his spot on the roster.

The outside shots

Albert Almora Jr.
David Bote
Jason Heyward
Kyle Schwarber
Steve Cishek
Cole Hamels
Jon Lester
Jose Quintana
Brandon Kintzler

Schwarber has been really hot over the last week or so, but he would need to keep this stretch going for another couple weeks in order to make a real strong case for Cleveland. 

Almora's defense is there, but his offensive numbers aren't. Heyward is having a resurgent season at the plate, but not quite enough to earn midseason honors. 

The NL outfield is pretty loaded — with Cody Bellinger, Christian Yelich and Ronald Acuna Jr. locks and a host of others (Joc Pederson, Ketel Marte, Michael Conforto, Bryce Harper, Marcell Ozuna, Starling Marte, David Peralta, David Dahl, Juan Soto) with solid resumes — so it would be tough for any Cubs outfielder to crack the roster.

Second base isn't all that deep in the NL, but Bote hasn't played enough to really earn a spot on the roster there. 

Cishek and Kintzler have been solid all year out of the Cubs bullpen, but it's really difficult for any non-closer to make the All-Star team. 

Lester, Hamels and Quintana have had their ups-and-downs throughout the year and have pretty good overall numbers, but they could strengthen their case with a hot stretch over the next month. They're all in the middle of the pack among NL starters in WAR (Hamels — 15th; Quintana — 20th; Lester — 24th), but it's a deep pool of arms to choose from for the All-Star roster and if any Cubs starter should go to Cleveland, it should be Hendricks.

No shot

Brad Brach
Tyler Chatwood
Yu Darvish
Carl Edwards Jr.
Mike Montgomery
Kyle Ryan
Pedro Strop
Victor Caratini
Daniel Descalso
Addison Russell
Carlos Gonzalez

For myriad reasons (lack of playing time, subpar performance, injury, suspension, etc.), these guys are not in consideration for the NL All-Star roster and probably can't change anything even if they got red-hot over the next four weeks.

How lessons from the KBO and Javy Báez can fix MLB's aging fan base problem

How lessons from the KBO and Javy Báez can fix MLB's aging fan base problem

The cheer master’s whistle echoed through the ballpark, and dinosaur mascots wearing giant face masks danced on top of the dugout.

With fans absent due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sunday’s scene didn’t quite do the Korean Baseball Organization experience justice. But it was still the league that taught Ryan Sadowski how to let loose on the field.

"I found that as a player I didn't allow myself to enjoy my success the way I should have because it's the game of baseball,” Sadowski told ESPN in 2016. “You're not supposed to show that you enjoy your success. I think it's something I learned here (in Korea), that I would take to younger kids in the States."

Major League Baseball is well aware that its status in the United States will continue to slip if it can’t figure out how to reach a younger audience. This summer presents an opportunity. If the players and owners can agree to a deal that makes the league’s early July target date a reality, for weeks it will be the only major sport on television.

Sports fans are clamoring for action after a months-long drought. What better time to draw in new fans? In that regard, the KBO could have something to teach MLB.

Sadowski is in a unique position to compare the KBO and MLB. He played in both leagues before becoming a KBO scout. Sadowski’s support for on-the-field expression is one Cubs shortstop Javier Báez would likely get behind.

Báez had a message similar to Sadowski's on MLB’s YouTube channel recently. In a show taped during Spring Training, Báez chatted with Puerto Rican recording artist Residente while running the Grammy Award-winner through baseball drills.

“In my personal opinion, I would like to teach young people growing up to enjoy [the game],” Báez said in Spanish. “And if they fail, fail having fun. And keep doing what is right. Let the kids play.”

Báez has been criticized for his playing style, most famously in 2018 when he bat-flipped after a popup. Afterward, former Pirates manager Clint Hurdle questioned Báez's “respect for the game.”

But Báez's huck wouldn’t have been out of place in Sunday’s KBO game between the NC Dinos and Hanwhu Eagles. The broadcast didn’t feature the kind of ostentatious bat flips that have become so popular on social media. But still, in consecutive innings, players on both teams tossed their bats several feet up the baseline to punctuate base hits. No uproar ensued.

The rate at which KBO bat flips have spread through Twitter speaks to a hunger for showboating among young baseball fans. Why not embrace it?   

“It’s not that it is not the correct way of doing it,” Báez told Residente of his playing style. “It’s just not the way many coaches teach it.”

In the United States, the NBA is the poster child for attracting millennial fans. In 2017-18, young adults led the league’s growth in ratings, according to Forbes. TV viewership among 18- to 34-year-olds was up 14 percent.

The NBA does an especially good job marketing its stars. Admittedly, the game lends itself to that strategy in a way that baseball does not. LeBron James can take over any game down the stretch, but Mike Trout isn’t going to get an at-bat every time the winning run is in scoring position.

But there are other ways NBA stars capture the fascination of young fans. Kids across the country grew up shrugging like Michael Jordan or pumping their arms and pounding their chests like LeBron James.  They take deep dives into YouTube, watching the most devastating dunks of all time – the more embarrassing for the defender, the better. None of that disrespects the game. The NBA and KBO have that in common.

MLB doesn’t have to adopt the KBO’s use of specific chants for each batter and embrace bat flipping for everything from home runs to ground outs – even though, by all accounts, those elements create a delightfully raucous atmosphere.

MLB doesn’t have to abolish baseball’s unwritten rules in one day. But an amendment is in order.

What if demonstrative zeal was instead embraced as a sign of respect for the game? After all, it might be MLB’s best hope of connecting to the next generation.

6 of Wrigley Field's worst 7th-inning stretch renditions in recent memory

6 of Wrigley Field's worst 7th-inning stretch renditions in recent memory

The seventh-inning stretch is a sacred tradition at Wrigley Field. Harry Caray passionately performed “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” every home game during his tenure as Cubs radio play-by-play man, previously doing so late in his tenure with the White Sox.

Caray died in 1998 and the Cubs have continued the tradition in his honor ever since, using a rotating cast of celebrities and former players as guest conductors. Last season, Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster performed at the Friendly Confines.

Some renditions are more memorable than others, though not in an endearing way like Cookie Monster’s. NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon sang 15 years ago Sunday, and not only did he refer to the ballpark as “Wrigley Stadium,” but also was off pace and didn’t really know the lyrics altogether.

Cubs fans showered Gordon with a chorus of boos, to which all he could do was chuckle and finish as fast as possible. 

Singing in front of 40,000 people isn’t easy, so it’s hard to be too tough on those whose appearances go awry. Nevertheless, guest singers know what they’re signing up for. On the anniversary of Gordon’s performance, here are five more of Wrigley’s worst in recent memory.

Mike Ditka — June 5, 1998

Well, Ditka certainly provided some energy. “Da Coach” didn’t take a breath in his 26-second blaring performance; perhaps he was winded from rushing up to the booth, to which he arrived a few moments late.

Ozzy Osbourne — Aug. 17, 2003

This isn’t a ranking of bad performances, but Osbourne sits atop the leaderboard anyhow. The Black Sabbath vocalist started off singing “Let’s go out to the ball game” before breaking into a mumble streak of made-up words. The look on Kerry Wood’s face summarizes things well.

Mr. T — May 25, 2009

It didn’t sound too good, but it sure was enthusiastic. Way to do your thing, Mr. T.

David Cross — Sept. 21, 2013

Hard to say what Cross, a stand-up comedian and actor, was going for here. He starred in three “Alvin and the Chipmunks” films and, fittingly, screeched into the mic a couple of times. Maybe it was all in jest? He ended his rendition by saying, “That was awful. I’m so sorry.” 

Scottie Pippen — Oct. 22, 2016

Pippen performed the stretch in the biggest game in Cubs history (at that point) — the pennant-clincher in 2016. The Bulls Hall-of-Famer was on tune to start before mixing up lyrics, then passing the mic to the animated Wrigley crowd. 

We’ll give Pippen a slight pass here, considering he brought six championships to Chicago during his playing days.  

With that, I'll leave you with this:

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