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.

Cubs not yet considering ways to get Victor Caratini and Willson Contreras in lineup together

Cubs not yet considering ways to get Victor Caratini and Willson Contreras in lineup together

Offensive production is very much judged in a "what have you done for me lately" manner.

And by that measure, the Cubs offense is just fine and there's no need to tinker.

However, overall, this lineup has weaknesses, including second base (Cubs rank 21st in MLB with .675 OPS from their second basemen) and center field (19th in MLB with .698 OPS). Before the trade deadline hits, it seems apparent Theo Epstein's front office will add another hitter of some sort to augment this offense. 

But what if the Cubs had an in-house solution?

Victor Caratini had another big game Sunday — going 2-for-3 with a sacrifice fly RBI and his only out was a 109.1 mph liner to left field — and is now hitting .301 on the season with a .383 on-base percentage and .505 slugging percentage.

Caratini wasn't initially scheduled to be in the Cubs lineup Sunday, but with Willson Contreras nursing a sore foot, he got the call and continued to do what he's done all year — play very solid defense behind the plate with quality production at the dish. 

Between Caratini's emergence this season and Contreras' huge bounceback year, Cubs catchers are pacing baseball in OPS, average, OBP, SLG, runs and RBI and rank second in homers and hits.

So with Contreras' ability to play the outfield, will the Cubs try to find ways to get both Caratini and Contreras in the starting lineup at the same time in search of more consistent offense?

"We haven't talked about that," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after Sunday's game. "We have a lot of guys who have to be in the lineup when things are rolling properly. I haven't looked at that right now, honestly."

Maddon conceded that as a switch-hitter, Caratini is still utilized almost exclusively as a left-handed hitter. The second-year player is hitting .556 with a homer and a double from the right side this season, but that's come in only 10 plate appearances.

Maddon also admitted the best way to get both catchers in the lineup at the same time is if there's an injury or a natural day off for a regular player. For example, Contreras played a game in right field in Pittsburgh before the All-Star Break while Caratini started behind the plate with both Kris Bryant and Jason Heyward nursing minor injuries.

Caratini has also drawn some starts at first base over the last couple years when Anthony Rizzo is either ailing or getting a day off. 

But beyond that, it doesn't appear as if we're gonna see Contreras and Caratini as cohorts in the starting lineup on even a semi-regular basis.

"Maybe part of the reason they're both playing so well or Victor's hitting as well as he is or playing as well as he is is based on the amount of usage," Maddon said. "Everybody sees a guy do well and all of a sudden, that immediately indicates he should play more often. Maybe just playing the right amount."

Jose Quintana delivers as Cubs sweep Pirates: 'He doesn't get enough credit'

Jose Quintana delivers as Cubs sweep Pirates: 'He doesn't get enough credit'

The Cubs have made a trademark out of having a strong second half, and after beating the Pirates 8-3 Sunday, they completed the sweep in their first series since the all-star break and look on their way to putting more space in the NL Central between themselves and the other four teams.

But through the first three innings, the Cubs and starter Jose Quintana looked more like they were going to let the third game of this series get away.

Quintana held the Pirates scoreless in the first two innings, but then in the third he gave up three consecutive singles, threw a wild pitch, allowed a sacrifice fly, and gave up a double, undoing the 1-0 lead the Cubs had established in the second inning on Robel Garcia's double.

But the difference in Sunday's game was how Quintana pitched after that. He tossed three more scoreless innings, completing a 90-pitch quality start and even contributed an RBI single in the fourth.

"He always goes out there and he competes. He’s so focused," Kris Bryant said of Quintana after the game. "He doesn’t get enough credit for what he does."

Leading up to Quintana's single, Garcia hit a two-out double and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle opted to walk David Bote to get Quintana to the plate for what seemed like a sure out. Instead, Quintana poked Trevor Williams' four-seam fastball to right field, allowing Garcia to score from second and trim Pittsburgh's lead to 3-2.

Quintana had already thrown a scoreless top of the fourth inning, but he gave two more after his RBI single. The hit was a timely confidence boost.

"Felt great, finally to get the base hit," Quintana said. "So excited."

This was Quintana's fifth career RBI and first since 2017, and it may have helped catapult the rest of the offense. The Cubs would score three more runs in the fifth inning to take the lead, and then added some cushion with another three in the sixth.

"Literally, when Q got that hit, Tony goes, 'homer right here,'" Jason Heyward joked after the game.

It wasn't Quintana who got the home run, but Heyward was the one to give the Cubs the lead with his own two-run homer in the fifth after Victor Caratini's sacrifice fly had scored Bryant to tie the game earlier that inning.

"We have fun with that," Heyward said of Rizzo's joking. "But we pull for them obviously because they’re out there pitching their ass off. They want to keep the game close, and sometimes they need to pick themselves up too."

Quintana's last three innings on the mound kept his team in the game. He started the fourth with a walk to Elias Diaz and then did not allow another baserunner until Corey Dickerson's one-out single in the sixth.

"I kept throwing my pitches and believing in my stuff and waiting for our offense to come back in the game, and they did really well," Quintana said. "Always in my mind was they can take more runs, so I wanted to keep it there and wait for our hitters to get back in the game. They did great work. It’s a really good feeling around us right now."

One of the keys to a strong second half for the Cubs is getting more wins like Sunday's. Bryant said after the game that it's important to get a few wins that you shouldn't, like one when the team is down 3-1 halfway through the game. And especially in the last game of a three-game set where the Cubs had already won the first two. With the series win safely secured, it would be easy to let up and drop the final game, but Quintana's timely hit and good pitching in the second half of his outing helped make the difference.

"As soon as he hits his knock, he pitched really well after that," Joe Maddon said. "He got better after the knock."

Quintana might struggle to live up to the expectations of coming from across town in a trade two years ago that cost two darling prospects, but it's worth noting that the average ERA in the National League is 4.39, and after Sunday's win, Quintana's is down to 4.21. If he's the team's back-of-the-rotation starter, that'll do just fine.

He's very capable of stringing together quality starts and pitching like the team's ace, like he has over his last three outings with three straight quality starts, but there are also stretches like his run from May 26 to June 22 where he lost six starts in a row and his ERA climbed from 3.73 to 4.50.

Either way, if Quintana makes more of his starts like Sunday's, the Cubs are in very good position to continue their yearly trend of winning in the second half of the season.

 

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