Cubs

Pitcher throws 10 scoreless innings, doesn't win

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Pitcher throws 10 scoreless innings, doesn't win

From Comcast SportsNetSAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Cliff Lee could appreciate a career performance even if he walked away from AT&T Park with no win to show for it.Typically, 10 scoreless innings should be more than enough for a victory.Lee and Giants ace Matt Cain combined to throw 19 scoreless innings in San Francisco's 1-0, 11-inning win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday night, bringing back memories of those great old righty-lefty showdowns of Juan Marichal and Sandy Koufax.Melky Cabrera hit an RBI single in the 11th inning, ending a thrilling pitchers' duel that seemed as if it might go on all night.Strange that Cain and Lee have only a no-decision to show for their remarkable work."Both guys were absolutely tremendous," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.Cabrera came through against Antonio Bastardo (0-1), who allowed Brandon Belt's one-out single up the middle. Belt then advanced when third baseman Ty Wigginton couldn't control Angel Pagan's grounder.The sellout crowd of 41,860 got treated to a game that lasted just 2 hours, 27 minutes. And it left Lee still searching for his first win of the season after three starts."It was a classic pitcher's duel. It's the first time I ever threw 10 innings. It was neat," Lee said. "I'd rather give up two runs and get the win though. Any time you lose it's disappointing. I had a good changeup and I was throwing my curveballs for strikes. I don't usually do both in the same game. When things are going well I try to work fast. I try to keep a good pace. Everybody likes that. I was told I was done after nine, but I said I could easily pitch another inning. I tried it again after 10 but it didn't happen."The Giants won a third straight series after being swept in three one-run losses to open the year at defending division champion Arizona, while the Phillies dropped their third series in four.Lee's 10 innings were a career high and he became the first Phillies starter to go beyond nine innings since Terry Mulholland on May 8, 1993, against St. Louis. Lee allowed seven hits, struck out seven, didn't walk a batter and threw 81 of his 102 pitches for strikes.And Lee didn't throw his 100th pitch until strike one to Nate Schierholtz with two outs in the 10th."I haven't seen two pitchers pitch that well. What a matchup," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "Terrific game by two guys that hooked horns and neither one was giving in."This one marked the second great matchup of aces in three games after Roy Halladay outpitched Tim Lincecum in Philadelphia's 5-2 win Monday night.Both pitchers worked quickly, each allowing only two base runners to reach second in their combined 19 innings."Just nonstop back and forth," Cain said. "Both of us tried to throw a lot of strikes and get guys out. We were both pounding the strike zone. We were through nine before two hours. It's not very often. That's pretty crazy."Carlos Ruiz led off the top of the 11th with a double against Sergio Romo for the Phillies' first extra-base hit of the game and just the second all game on a night nine innings were -- remarkably -- in the books after just 1:50.Ruiz moved to third on a sacrifice by Freddy Galvis, then pinch-hitter Jim Thome batted for Lee and struck out swinging against Javier Lopez.John Mayberry Jr. entered to pinch-hit and Bochy brought in winner Clay Hensley (1-0) as well as Belt to play first in a double-switch. Mayberry grounded out to end the inning."The way he was throwing you wanted to do anything you could to get him the W.' He deserved it," Wigginton said of Lee.Pinch-hitter Hector Sanchez reached on Laynce Nix's fielding error in the bottom of the ninth, but Lee induced the third of four double plays he got against the Giants.Cain dazzled for the second straight start, tossing nine scoreless innings in back-to-back outings for the first time in his career.Coming off a one-hitter in a 5-0 victory over the Pirates in last Friday's home opener in which the only baserunner he allowed was a single to pitcher James McDonald, Cain was nearly as good this time out."Awesome," Lopez said. "That was great. Two starters like that, I haven't seen that in a long time."Manuel mixed things up again, running out his 10th different lineup in the initial 12 games -- but Cain held everybody in check.Cain, who signed a new 127.5 million, six-year contract April 2, issued a one-out walk to Ruiz in the fifth before the right-hander retired the final 13 batters he faced in order before giving way to new closer Santiago Casilla. Cain gave up two hits, struck out four and walked one.Cain went three up, three down in the first on 15 pitches and was through four on 41 pitches, allowing only Galvis' one-out single in the third."That's as good as I've seen. They both threw strikes, pounded the zone and got into a rhythm," Thome said.Notes: Aaron Harang was the last pitcher to go 10 innings, July 23, 2007, with the Reds. Halladay also did it in April that year. ... Cain came in 1-4 with a 4.17 ERA in his previous seven starts vs. Philly. ... The Phillies, who play a four-game series in San Diego starting Thursday, went 23-9 against the NL West last year. ... The Phillies had been 4-2 in their previous six games at AT&T Park, outscoring the Giants 22-12 during that stretch. Philadelphia won three of four here last season for just their fourth series victory in the waterfront ballpark since it opened in 2000.

The Cubs are ahead of the game in MLB's brand new world

The Cubs are ahead of the game in MLB's brand new world

"BINGO!"

Joe Maddon couldn't contain his glee as he was told there is actual scientific evidence that proves the Launch Angle Revolution has not had any impact on the uptick in homers over the last couple seasons.

The reason MLB players were hitting the ball into the bleachers more than ever before in 2017 was because of the way baseballs are made now, reducing the wind resistence and causing balls to carry more.

But all these players changing their swing path to get more lift on the ball? Not a thing for the group as a whole (h/t MLB.com):


But in analyzing Statcast™ data from the measurement tool's 2015 inception through 2017, the committee found no evidence that batter behavior, en masse, has been a contributing factor toward the homer surge. In fact, exit velocities decreased slightly from 2016 to 2017, spray angles from the time studied were stable and a small increase in launch angles was attributable primarily to, as the study refers to them, "players with lesser home run talents."

Basically, the long-ball surge was global, affecting players from all spectrums of homer-hitting ability and irrespective of their approach.

"Going into this, I thought that was going to be the magic bullet, the smoking gun," Nathan said. "But it wasn't."


Hence the "BINGO!" cry from Maddon, who has been very vocal in the fight against the Launch Angle Revolution this season.

The end result is the study will eventually lead to baseballs being returned to normal levels and a more uniform way of storing the balls moving forward. Thus, homers figure to eventually return to normal levels, too, and everybody who was caught up in the Launch Angle Revolution may be left behind.

It's the changing landscape of baseball and we've already seen the after-effects this year: April was the first month in MLB history where there were more strikeouts than basehits.

Why? Because strikeouts are a natural byproduct of the Launch Angle Revolution as players are swinging up on the ball more and sacrificing contact for power and lift.

That, coupled with an increase in velocity and higher usage of relievers, has led to more strikeouts.

It makes perfect sense — it's tougher for a player to try to catch up to 98+ mph at the top of the strike zone with an uppercut swing.

"It's one of those things that sounds good, but it doesn't help you," Maddon said of launch angle. "There's certain things that people really want to promote and talk about, but it doesn't matter. When a hitter's in the box, when you're trying to stare down 96 or a slider on the edge, the last thing you're thinking about is launch angle.

"Now when it comes to practice, you could not necessarily work on angles — your body works a certain way. Like I've said before, there's guys that might've been oppressively bad or they just had groundballs by rolling over the ball all the time So of course you may want to alter that to get that smothering kind of a swing out of him.

"But if you're trying to catch up to velocity, if you're trying to lay back and I could keep going on and on. It sounds good."

The idea of hitting the ball hard in the air has been around for decades in baseball, pretty much ever since Babe Ruth on some level. It just wasn't able to be quantified or accessed by the public as easily until Statcast came around and made it all mainstream.

The Cubs, however, have been anti-launch-angle to a degree this season. They let go of hitting coach John Mallee (who liked players to hit the ball in the air and pull it) and replaced him with Chili Davis (who teaches the full-field, line-drive approach).

The effects haven't yet yielded results in terms of consistently plating runs or having a better performance in the situational hitting column, but the contact rate is, in fact, up.

Here is the list of Cubs hitters who currently boast a career best mark in strikeout rate:

Kris Bryant
Javy Baez
Willson Contreras
Addison Russell
Jason Heyward
Kyle Schwarber

Even Ben Zobrist is very close to his career mark and Anthony Rizzo is right at his career line.

Some of that jump in contact rate can be attributed to natural development and maturation of young hitters, but the Cubs are buying into the new way of doing things and it's paying off.

It's also probably the way the game is going to shift, with an emphasis on contact going to become more important the less balls are flying out of the yard.

The Cubs have seen firsthand how to beat the best pitching in the postseason and they know that cutting down on strikeouts and "moving the baseball" (as Maddon likes to put it) can help manufacture runs in low-scoring, tight affairs in October.

Now science is supporting those theories and Major League Baseball teams will have to adjust. 

The Cubs, however, are at least a step ahead of the game.

It's a long game — the offensive strides will take time to fully take effect even for the Cubs, who are at least a full offseason and two months ahead of the curve in terms of bucking the Launch Angle Revolution.

Maddon concedes that launch angle is a cool stat to see on the video board after homers, but other than that, he doesn't see much of a use for it, pointing to Kyle Schwarber's laser-line-drive homers having the same effect as Kris Bryant's moonshots.

However, Maddon does believe there's a place for launch angle and exit velocity in the game, though mostly for front offices trying to acquire players (think "Moneyball").

"As a teaching tool, you either come equipped with or without," Maddon said. "It's like you buy a new car, you either got this or you don't. Sometimes you can add some things occasionally, but for the most part, this is what you are.

"I like inside the ball, top half of the ball, inner half of the ball, stay long throughout the ball, utilize the whole field. I still think that's the tried and true approach and I'm not stuck in the mud on this by any means.

"The harder pitchers throw the baseball, the more laying back is going to be less effective."

Theo Epstein brushes aside rumors: 'There's essentially zero trade talks involving the Cubs'

Theo Epstein brushes aside rumors: 'There's essentially zero trade talks involving the Cubs'

No, the Cubs are not currently talking to the Baltimore Orioles about bringing Manny Machado to the North Side of Chicago.

So says Theo Epstein, the Cubs president of baseball operations who met with the media at Wrigley Field ahead of Friday's series opener with the San Francisco Giants.

Epstein vehemently shot down the notion of trade talks and specified the major diffence between trade rumors and trade talks, while refusing to comment on Machado in particular.

"I'm not addressing any specific rumor or any player with another team," Epstein said. "I would never talk about that in a million years. The simple way to put it is there's been a lot of trade rumors involving the Cubs and there's essentially zero trade talks involving the Cubs.

"There's a real disparity between the noise and the reality and unfortunately, sometimes that puts a player or two that we have in a real tough circumstance. And that's my job to clarify there's nothing going on right now.

"We have more than enough ability to win the division, win the World Series and we really need to focus on our roster and getting the most out of our ability and finding some consistency. Constant focus outside the organization doesn't do us any good, especially when it's not based in reality right now."

The Cubs have presented a united front publicly in support of Addison Russell, whose name has been the one bandied about most as a potential leading piece in any move for Machado.

After all, the Cubs have won a World Series and never finished worse than an NLCS berth with Russell as their shortstop and he's only 24 with positive signs of progression offensively.

Trading away 3.5 years of control of Russell for 3-4 months of Machado is the type of bold, go-for-it move the Cubs did in 2016 when their championship drought was well over 100 years.

Now, the championship drought is only one season old and the window of contention is expected to remain open until through at least the 2021 season.

Epstein likes to point out that every season is sacred, but at what cost? The Cubs front office is still very much focused on the future beyond 2018.

"Everybody's talking about making trades in May — the first part of the season is trying to figure out who you are," Epstein said. "What are the strengths of the club? What are the weaknesses of the club? What's the character of the club? What position is the club gonna be in as we get deeper in the season? What's our short-term outlook? What's our long-term outlook? What's the chemistry in the clubhouse?

"All those things. It's a process to get there and figure it out. If you rush to those kinds of judgments, you can oftentimes make things worse. I think it's important to figure out exactly who you are and give guys a chance to play and find their level and see how all the pieces fit together before you make your adjustments."

So there's no chance we could see the Cubs once again jump the market and make an early deal like they did last year for Jose Quintana or five years ago for Jake Arrieta? Will they definitely wait another five weeks until July to make a move?

"It's just the natural order of things," Epstein said. "We wouldn't be opposed to doing something, but that's not the case right now. It's not happening."