The Rundown: Lester the Human Highlight Reel, Rizzo Stays Hot, Cubs Looking Like Title Contenders, Maddon’s Quick Hook

Late night last night it seems like I was up all night, so late start this morning.

The Cubs’ offensive explosion continued though the 7-4 victory over the Mets, but it never really felt like a great offensive game. Never before have 14 hits seemed so routine. When all cylinders are firing, the Cubs can look almost too methodical. I’m not complaining, mind you, but it just never felt like the Cubs were going to lose this game, even with Lester’s shaky start. The Cubs gained a half-game on the idle Cardinals and Brewers with their sixth straight win.

As Evan Altman mentioned yesterday, the Northsiders have placed less emphasis on the home run this year. Monday was a great example of a balanced attack that relies on finding gaps, taking advantage of mistakes, and creating runs. Anthony Rizzo’s 8th-inning solo home run seemed almost anticlimatic.

I was a little salty with the way Joe Maddon handled the pitching staff, but that’s Joe being Joe. I thought he could have kept Lester in the game for at least one more inning and it seemed like Pedro Strop got kind of a quick hook too. At some point you’ve got to trust your guys. I worry that as the pressure of the season increases — and that includes playoff baseball — that Maddon overthinks things and shuffles pitchers in and out too often.

I’d hate to see the team get to the playoffs only to burn out the bullpen by relying on only 2-3 pitchers. There’s a reason so many teams, including the Cubs, spent the offseason building titanic bullpens. You shorten the game by requiring your starter to go only six innings, but what is the point when you need three pitchers to get three outs, especially when it is unnecessary.

Still, since Aug. 19, Strop’s opponents have made contact on 74 percent of their swings, so maybe Maddon just felt the de facto closer wasn’t capable of closing it out last night. But to succeed in pressure-packed situations in October he’ll need to work his way out of pressure-packed situations in August.

My prediction? Come October, the Cubs will lean heavily on Steve Cishek, Jesse Chavez, Justin Wilson (who Maddon loves for some reason), and Brandon Morrow (if he is healthy). I don’t see many opportunities for Strop, Carl Edwards, Jr. or Brandon Kintzler when the Cubs need to close out a playoff game.

Cubs News & Notes

When the Cubs played the Mets in the 2015 NLCS, the big debate centered on building a team around young hitters vs. young pitchers. It seems to have worked out far better for the Cubs than the Mets, as this excellent article by Tim Britton of The Athletic points out (subscription required).

Lester showed extraordinary athleticism and was a human highlight reel last night. Never judge a book by its cover.

Rizzo was named the National League Player of the Week.

No other team in the National League has more hitting fWAR (FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement) than the Chicago Cubs.

Kris Bryant was hitless in his first rehab start for the Iowa Cubs, but showed some pop with his new swing.

The club is thinking about launching their own version of the Yankees YES Network once the team’s current media contracts expire following the 2019 season. Such a deal could add funds to the player payroll by giving Theo Epstein a more robust budget. A proprietary network could be well worth an additional $100M or more annually to the team.

How About That!

Marlins pitcher Jose Ureña’s defense for his actions when he hit Braves rookie Ronald Acuña two weeks ago: He’s “misunderstood.”

Despite their current streak of six losses in eight games, the Red Sox are 59-8 when they score first this year. Someone make sure Kyle Hendricks is aware of this statistic when he starts against Boston in Game 3 of the World Series at Wrigley Field.

Don’t look now but the White Sox are one of the hottest teams in baseball with a 15-10 record so far this month. Good for Rick Renteria.

The Astros won their sixth straight game, manhandling the A’s 11-4 last night. Houston now leads the AL West by 2 1/2 games.

The Dodgers’ failure to produce in clutch situations has kept the team in third place and fighting to keep their playoff hopes alive. Still, Los Angeles is only two games behind the Diamondbacks for first place in the NL West. The team sits two games behind the Brewers for a wild card berth as well.

Monday’s Three Stars

  1. Alex Bregman – The Astros 3B was 4-for-5 with a double and a three-run home run last night, leading Houston to its victory over Oakland.
  2. Anthony Rizzo – The Cubs first baseman continued his hot hitting by going 3-for-5 with a home run, two doubles, two runs scored, and two RBI in Chicago’s win over the Mets.
  3. Jon Lester – His pitching line was somewhat pedestrian, but the human highlight reel is here for his two-run single (which gives him the NL lead in RBI for pitchers with nine), a successful pick-off attempt, and his catch of a laser beam off the bat of Jose Reyes in the 6th inning.

Extra Innings

After a long winter of being frozen out as aging free agents and then getting off to slow starts, particularly for pitchers Lance Lynn and Alec Cobb, many players are still more than slightly agitated. Outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, re-signed by the Colorado Rockies to a one-year, $5 million deal on March 12, produced a .214 batting average and .628 OPS in his first 122 plate appearances. He has a .322 average and .916 OPS in 288 plate appearances since.

At a time when so many are saying baseball has become hard to watch, who is easier to watch than Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre?

They Said It

  • “[Strop is] not an ordained closer. He has not been to the Vatican, and he has not received the holy oils. He’s part of the bullpen. We have different guys.” – Joe Maddon
  • “I just feel like every five days right now I’m just kind of wasting my ability to throw a baseball. My stuff’s too good to go out there and go six innings and give up four runs with nine base hits. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.” – Noah Syndergaard
  • “It was ridiculous. It was absolutely absurd. I have yet to understand a reason for it. Every single free agent this season outside of (Boston slugger) J.D. Martinez has struggled in some sort of way. That’s not the players’ fault; that’s Major League Baseball and the way they decided to do business this off-season.” – Alex Cobb

Tuesday Walk Up Song

U Got The Look by Prince. This team, the way it is playing right now, looks like a threat to win it all.

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