Sunday’s 1-0 loss to the Reds sucked, no two ways about it. There were, however, some very positive moments from that game that could very well impact the remainder of the season and the playoffs. So instead of yelling until we’re hoarse and flogging the bloated corpse of the Cubs’ offense, let’s put on those rose-colored glasses and try to be more positive for a bit.
Kris Bryant is hitting .298 with a .346 wOBA and 116 wRC+ in 55 plate appearances since returning from a long DL stay with a sore shoulder. As good as those numbers are, there’s one big thing missing: Power. Bryant has yet to homer and his .104 ISO is less than half of his career average (.230). In fact, it’s 13 points lower than he’d posted in 184 PA’s between injuring the shoulder and going on the shelf for the second time.
More than a simple matter of the shoulder still sapping Bryant’s power, it looks as though his timing is off.
“He’s fouling his pitch off, the pitch that he can really drive,” Joe Maddon said Sunday. “He’s just under it a little bit and it’s going straight back. Otherwise, he’s had some decent at-bats.
“He’s keeping two hands on the bat more consistently and he’s just underneath (the ball) a little bit right at contact.”
Much has been made of that new two-handed finish and what it might mean for Bryant moving forward. And while it’s primarily a way to mitigate the torque on that left shoulder by limiting his long follow-through, there were some thoughts that it might improve what had previously been considered one of Bryant’s only weaknesses. Specifically, Mike Bryant told CI the change might increase his son’s opposite-field power.
That has obviously not been the case yet and may not be at all, but Bryant’s pinch-hit single in the 7th told us otherwise. He jumped on a 98 mph Luis Castillo fastball, going with the middle-out pitch and driving it to right at 102 mph. It was an excellent piece of hitting that provided hope for what Bryant can do over the next few weeks.
Maples avoiding sticky situations
As an unapologetic Dillon Maples honk, I’ll seize upon every opportunity to extol his virtues like a dog on a fresh bone. So when the hard-throwing righty with a slider that defies physics made his second straight MLB appearance without issuing a walk, you know I got all antsy in the pantsies.
Maples has now pitched in 12 big league games and he’s walked at least one in eight of those. Three of his last four, however, have featured zero walks, with his last two representing his most abbreviated efforts in terms of total pitches. Actually, those three walkless games all feature the lowest pitch counts of his career (12, 6, 10).
That might seem like digging, but I don’t think we should underestimate the value of building confidence a little bit at a time. And Maples feeling good about his ability to throw his fastball and slider for strikes could be huge for the Cubs moving forward.
Edwards Has a clean outing
Carl Edwards Jr. came into Sunday’s game having walked at least one batter in each of his previous six appearances, one of which saw him fail to cover home following a wild pitch. He had walked 13 (7.63 BB/9) while striking out only 12 (7.04 K/9) since August 1, wholly unacceptable numbers for a pitcher who’s expected to come into high-leverage situations.
And though Maddon has been trying for over to month to get Edwards right by finding “that one moment” that will springboard him back to dominance, nothing has worked. It’s hard to point to one inning against the Reds as such a moment, but facing the minimum and getting a strikeout without walking anyone is a step in the right direction.
Now he needs to take several more steps.
It’s possible to excuse Willson Contreras’s lack of hustle Sunday by saying that he knew Addison Russell had to hold up at first base. Russell was only able to make it to third and Contreras ended up on second after he finally decided to run, so the end result was the same either way.
Or maybe Contreras, who’s been mired in a pit of weak contact for over a month, was just so gobsmacked by the idea of hitting a ball hard in the air that he lost track of what was happening. As we just discussed, it wouldn’t be the first time this month we’ve seen a complete dereliction of duty by a Cubs player who got stuck in his own head.
But Contreras was rightly called out by Maddon — who almost never runs a player down publicly — for pimping what ended up being a double to the wall in center. Calling it “horrible,” Maddon said the rest of the players on the team were equally upset about the catcher’s actions. And that’s where it gets positive.
Rather than try to clap back or explain why his actions really didn’t matter, Contreras showed contrition and owned his mistake.
“Thank God I was able to run hard and make it to second base because what I did was not good for baseball,” Contreras said after the game. “A lot of people are watching me and they’ve been really hard on me. At first, I thought it was gone and I kinda walked and then I started running hard. That was bad on my side.
“I’m embarrassed of myself. I apologized to the pitcher and to the team and I think that’s the right thing to do.”
This may sound odd and it’s only something we’ll really be able to judge after the season, but this could be a moment that shakes WillCo out of his funk. I equate it to being roused from the fog of highway hypnosis by the jarring feel and sound of rumble strips when you drift onto the shoulder.
The whole team could use such an adrenaline dump in light of their anemic performance over the last week-plus. Even if that boost doesn’t come from Sunday’s game, several moments from the loss could well spur individual improvements that end up driving bigger change.