Quantifying Hope: Grousing About First-World Problems, an Improbable Tie, Takeaways from Hammel’s Scratched Start

There was a little drama in the Altman household recently when my son found himself unable to access Netflix on his Fire tablet because his account had been logged out. My wife had set the password several months ago and I couldn’t remember the email or the specific character set she’d used, which meant no Pokemon before school. I’m sure there’ll be some eye rolls from some of you, but others can probably feel me on this one.

Of course, I’m really no better. I’ve been complaining about the new iOS 10 update on my phone ever since I downloaded it and my wife has been somewhat nonplussed by my frequent trials of the new texting features. These are what we like to refer to as first-world problems, issues that you only encounter when you’re spoiled by a lifestyle most of the rest of the world can’t even imagine.

The Cubs aren’t complaining about passwords or having to hit the home button instead of swiping, but it’s clear the fruits of a 101-win season are starting to taste a little sour. After Wednesday night’s bowel evacuation of a game, Jake Arrieta grumbled about the Spring Training feel of it and the fact that his catcher was swapped out midway through. Miguel Montero, who was lifted after 4 innings, expressed similar disdain for playing without regard for the outcome.

“The feeling of the game, from the first pitch, just wasn’t there,” Arrieta lamented after being lambasted by the Pirates. “Switching catchers just felt like we were trying to do a little too much instead of win a ballgame.”

“This game is still important for all the players.” Montero echoed. “It’s still important for every single guy. I don’t want to go out there not caring about winning or losing. That’s not my mentality. My mentality is going out there because I want to win, regardless.”

That might not have come across as much of a criticism of Joe Maddon’s tactics, but then Montero kept going. Mind you, this was unsolicited.

“We didn’t have our closer warming up,” the veteran catcher explained. “That’s something I take personally because I’m catching and I want to win. It’s hard. I understand (Joe’s) point. And I understand the organization’s point. I respect it. I can only control what I can control. It is what it is.”

Arrieta vented further during his weekly appearance on ESPN 1000 with Waddle and Silvy, saying that he wasn’t aware of the plan to go from Montero to Contreras during his outing. With little else of consequence taking place around the team, you knew Maddon was going to have to address it.

“My answer to (questioning strategy) is we’re 7-2 in our last nine games,” Maddon said Thursday when asked about his players’ comments ““I don’t see any kind of real negative patterns right there. They all knew what was going to happen before that game. There were no surprises. And there has been no surprises.

“There’s really not a whole lot of credence to all of that as far as I’m concerned because we’ve been playing well.”

Maddon went on to say that he thought his guys might have addressed the matter differently given more time to think about it after the game and Arrieta admitted that he had allowed the emotion of situation get the better of him. Even so, the irritation isn’t limited to the struggling ace and his partially-displaced catcher.

“Anything that changes your routine a little bit is a little frustrating, because this is such a routine-oriented game,” the generally measured and soft-spoken Ben Zobrist said. “Obviously, it’s frustrating at times, but I get it. I understand the overall goal of these games is not the same as it’s been the last six months of the year. So we have to do the best we can to accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish today, then we’ll prepare for tomorrow, tomorrow.”

That’s the thing, right there, it’s about the change in routine. Athletes in general are beholden to repetition, but baseball players are veritable slaves to it. They’re fierce competitors who want to get out there every game and try to step on their opponent’s throat. Metaphorically, of course. You think you’re fed up with these worthless games in late September? Try going through your gameday prep and then sitting there for three hours watching John Jaso hit for a fake cycle while wearing a rag mop on his head.

Given the nature and history of a significant portion of Cubs beat writers to find new and interesting ways to drum up drama, there’s a tendency of a least some of the general public to write this coverage off as sensationalism. While I’ve taken my share of shots at bad narratives, I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. I don’t think the griping is a big deal, either.

While you’d rather see these tête á têtes taking place in a less conspicuous manner, it’s sometimes inevitable that mom and dad are going to fight in front of the kids after a long drive. I can guarantee you these guys are going to be able to sit down over one of the many fine products carried at your local Binny’s Beverage Depot (now open in Logan Square!) and hash this all out. Or maybe they’ll be real men and just tamp their feelings down.

We know the latter won’t happen, though, because the grievances have already been aired. Happy early Festivus, everyone! In all seriousness, I really do think this is a non-issue issue. By that I mean simply that there is some legitimate frustration being felt by various members of the team. There’s been a lot of conversation among fans lately about how enjoyable this season has been and whether 2016 was more fun than 2015. For me, much of the fun of last season was seeing the Cubs fighting right up to the end.

The strange dichotomy of the situation at hand is that salting things away early has led to players getting salty about the resultant end-of-season strategy. I’d imagine we’ll see more of the regulars out there for the final series in Cincy, both to appease them and to have them in more of a groove heading into the upcoming five-day layoff. Remember how things were getting a little chippy in July right before the All-Star break and what happened after the Cubs came out in the second half?

“Whoever I face in the first round,” Arrieta said Wednesday, “they’re going to be in trouble.”

Tie optional

As if to underscore the squabbles and the general malaise of a game that had no consequences for either team, the Cubs and Pirates ended in a 1-1 tie when torrential rains cut the game short after 5 innings. It was MLB’s first tie since June 30, 2005, a span of roughly 28,000 games. So I guess that’s pretty cool.

Hammel scratched

Originally scheduled to take the bump for the final time Friday night in Cincy, Jason Hammel has been replaced by Jake Buchanan due to tightness in his right elbow. Hammel said he’s had the issue for a few weeks, which raises some interesting questions. First and foremost, at least in my mind, is why the Cubs would continue running a pitcher out there who was having any sort of discomfort in his throwing elbow.

The fact that they were comfortable with Hammel continuing to make his scheduled starts tells me this isn’t anything to be concerned about. At the same time, it’s not something they were willing to to take chances with, even in the case of a throw-away game against the Reds. That, then, leads us into questions about both his immediate and long-term future in Chicago. So let’s talk about those matters in a little more detail.

First, Hammel’s status for the playoffs, which I think has been perfectly clear for quite some time. I didn’t believe he had any shot at the postseason roster in the first place, but a poor showing last time out and now being scratched all but assures that he won’t be active again in 2016. He already lacks the live arm of the other righties the Cubs figure to carry, and that’s without the whole elbow business.

Then there’s the matter of protecting the $10 million investment the Cubs figure to make in Hammel this offseason. I’ve discussed it before, but I think it’s a no-brainer for them to pick up the club option on his deal for next season. Despite inconsistent performance throughout much of his career, Hammel is still a very passable fifth starter and he’s easily worth that price tag in today’s market. At the same time, he’s a relatively fungible commodity if the team feels Rob Zastryzny or Mike Montgomery can fill his spot.

Hammel’s future in Chicago comes down to whether the Cubs feel they can extract more value out of him as a part of the rotation or as a trade chip. And if you don’t think he could bring back a decent haul, consider that Hammel would probably be the third starter in most rotations. Even some playoff teams. My guess is that his option is picked up this winter and the Cubs shop him around to see what they can get. If the price isn’t right, Hammel’s back in the rotation for 2017.

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