The Rundown: Cubs Finally Come Home, Maddon Shows Frustration with Bullpen, Exit Velocities Elevated, Dan Vogelbach Has Career Day

The Cubs’ disastrous season-opening road trip has ended, and after a big win and a not-too-demoralizing loss to close out a three-game set against the Brewers, Chicago’s sore ass feels like little more than a pesky irritation. Had Kyle Hendricks managed to avoid a recurring problem with giving up first inning runs, the Cubs might have escaped Brew City with a series win. So they’ll limp rather than stagger into Wrigley Field for today’s home opener against the Pirates.

The Cubs are sporting a 2-7 record after yesterday’s 4-2 loss but there’s a prevailing feeling throughout the organization and Cubs fandom, possibly misguided, that they’ve at least somewhat righted the ship. For the first time since Opening Day in Texas, the Cubs were gentle on the stomach and easy on the eyes in the final two games against the Brewers.

I believe Saturday’s angst-driven blowout was the salve Chicago needed to temper the raging diaper rash of its 1-6 start. Never have I felt so good about a 2-7 record, and trust me, that is as hard to type as it is to read. Kyle Schwarber echoed that sentiment.

“I wouldn’t say there’s any panic,” the right fielder said after yesterday’s loss. “We’re ready to get home and start over.”

Even harder to believe is the offensive outburst by Jason Heyward Saturday night. A double order of slam and legs from the right fielder was just the boost the team needed.

Javier Báez is looking forward to the support of the home fans and doesn’t care about the skepticism that has been attached to the Cubs’ rough start.

“We’ve got to keep everything out of the clubhouse and block everything negative coming to us right now.”

Jon Lester will take the bump this afternoon, and though the Cubs were just 10-9 against the Pirates last year, Lester has a 2.58 carer ERA against the Bucs. That should boost the team’s confidence and help them in their quest to catch up to the rest of the league. After the Pirates leave, the Angels come to Wrigley Field for a three-game set before the Cubs head to Miami for a weekend series against the Marlins.

Caveat emptor: The Pirates are currently riding a four-game winning streak and enter today’s game with a 5-3 record. That being said, all five of their victories have come against the hapless Reds.

Cubs News & Notes

How About That!

Mike Trout hit his fifth homer in four games as the Angels trounced the Rangers 7-2.

Tigers closer Shane Greene has earned a save in each of Detroit’s seven victories so far this season.

Through 10 games, the Dodgers have scored 84 runs, slugged 24 home runs, and outscored their three opponents — all division foes — by 36 runs on their way to an 8-2 start.

The Red Sox start to the season has been just as bad as the Cubs.

Free agent pitcher Dallas Keuchel has reportedly considered lowering his asking price in his attempt to find a job. Sounds reasonable.

Royals’ super utility player Whit Merrifield has a 28-game hitting streak, something that has remained under the radar.

Another star pitcher has questioned the tightened strike zone we have seen so far this season.

With an 0-for-4 performance Sunday, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis extended his hitless drought to 44 at-bats dating to last season, two shy of the major league record for a non-pitcher. Eugenio Velez holds the current record, set between the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

Yasiel Puig was among five players ejected after an on-field brawl between the Reds and Pirates yesterday. Things escalated when Chris Archer threw behind Derek Dietrich. In an earlier at-bat, Dietrich hit a long home run and stayed in the box to admire it for what seemed an incredibly long time. At one point, it looked like Puig was taking on the entire Pirates team by himself while Tucker Barnhart was grabbing at the outfielder’s ankles to try to stop the madness.

Sunday’s Three Stars

  1. Gary Sanchez – The full-time catcher served as the DH yesterday and hit three two-run taters in the Yankees’ 15-3 victory over the Orioles.
  2. Dan Vogelbach – Baseball’s largest adult son had a career day yesterday. The burly DH was 3-for-4 with two home runs and six RBI in Seattle’s 12-5 win over the White Sox
  3. Josh Hader – The Milwaukee closer earned a 36-pitch save by getting the final eight outs against the Cubs yesterday. He had three strikeouts. Manager Craig Counsell is going to regret overusing his star reliever before the end of the season.

Extra Innings

In watching some of the exit velocities so far this season, I am left wondering if something is amiss in the manufacturing of this year’s batch of baseballs. April usually sees pitchers still working to amp up the speeds of their pitches. How fast will the ball leave a player’s bat when pitchers reach peak velocity?

In fact, exit velocities tend to stabilize as the season goes on ($), according to a recent piece by Eno Sarris of The Athletic. Still, those numbers are considerably higher this spring.

An exit velocity of 95 mph or higher usually yields positive results. Mike Trout’s 91.2 mph average exit velocity last year was plenty good but that number has jumped to 94.5 mph this year. The home run he hit yesterday left the yard at 113.1 mph.

In a game last week that saw Paul Goldschmidt scald five baseballs at an exit velocity of 104 mph, including three home runs, the swiftest exit velocity of the evening belonged to Dexter Fowler, who roped a 111.1 mph single to right-center.

Will it hold up, or is Sarris correct in indicating that exit velocities will regress to the mean? It’s at least worth monitoring as the season progresses.

On Deck

I wasn’t kidding about Vogelbach being baseball’s largest adult son.

They Said It

  • “We’re about as prepared as anybody. It’s our job to go out there and execute. [Tommy Hottovy] has done a great job stepping in. It’s not like he’s just stepping in. It’s like he just changed job titles. He was kind of our third pitching coach last year. I don’t think anything has changed. It’s hard to comment on. He’s been doing the same stuff.” – Jon Lester
  • “Jason is hitting the ball as well as we’ve seen him. There’s less push and more snap at the head of the bat.” – Joe Maddon
  • “In baseball, no one is immune to stretches of bad play or really difficult starts or times when you don’t feel like yourself. Sometimes it compounds on itself and it becomes an entity in and of itself, a tough start or a tough stretch. A team-wide lack of strike throwing, team-wide defensive lapses. That’s part of the game. You have to dig yourself out of it and find a way to stabilize it even when things seem really unstable.” – Theo Epstein
  • “It’s fun, but every day with this team is fun. Any time you wake up and look forward to coming to the ballpark, it makes your life a lot more fun.” – Dan Vogelbach

Monday Walk Up Song

Don’t Drop the Baby by the Judybats. I am having a hard time letting go of the Vogelbach man-child thing. Sorry. I do have a great story about attending a Cubs game with the Judybats and singer Chris Isaak that I have to write about someday.

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