The Rundown: Contreras Ignites Both Teams & Braves Announcer, Epstein Admits Team Has Been a Little Flat, Bullpens Being Overused League-Wide

Willson Contreras was just a little fired up last night, wasn’t he? I don’t think Tyler Flowers is going to want to debate framing with the Cubs backstop in the future, though I think the beef between the two teams runs much deeper than a few borderline strike calls. After all, the benches emptied the first time the two teams met this season, and Braves starter Julio Teheran hit Kris Bryant with a pitch in the 1st inning, something that has become much too annoying to both the Cubs and their fans.

Contreras was more bothered that home plate umpire John Tumpane was a little too generous with the strike zone, so he raised a point of order and Flowers took exception. We all know what happened next, but it’s worth watching again and again.

Contreras was asked what he said to the Braves’ catcher as he was crossing home plate.

“‘You do your job I’ll do mine,'” Contreras recalled saying. “[Flowers] got pissed off.”

He may have done more than just piss off his Atlanta counterpart, though it should be noted that it’s better to be pissed off than pissed on. After allowing the home run, Teheran seemed a little rattled and his pitches started catching too much of the plate. The Cubs took advantage, building a 7-0 lead by the time Teheran left the game with nobody out in the 4th. For a guy who thrives on the edges of the plate, he sure teed up a lot of pitches for Cubs hitters the rest of the night.

As for Flowers, he finished 0-for-4 on the night with three strikeouts as Jon Lester just ate him up low and away.

The two teams had a similar issue back in 2016, when Contreras was a rookie with a lot of outward emotion, and Braves announcer Jeff Francouer was trying to salvage the remains of a largely disappointing baseball career. On last night’s Atlanta broadcast, Francouer said during Contreras’ home run trot that he was lucky to not have been “decked” by Flowers and regretted not throwing “a haymaker” at Contreras during an incident at Wrigley three seasons ago.

Adbert Alzolay pitches against Max Fried tonight in the second of the four-game set. Don’t expect a more civilized game. My favorite moment of Alzolay’s debut was when Robinson Cano called time just as the rookie was about to deliver a pitch, clearly an attempt to rattle the young hurler, though it had little effect. Alzolay threw the next pitch behind Cano, then struck him out. It should be fun tonight.

Cubs News & Notes

  • Contreras is having somewhat of a comeback season and has already homered more this year than all of last when he basically disappeared after the All-Star break. Better prep and a focus on launch angle has helped the catcher regain his stroke this season.
  • Jason Heyward hit his 11th home run of the season in the 8th inning. That matches his career high as a Cub.
  • The Braves will represent a measuring stick of sorts for Alzolay, who will make his first big league start tonight.
  • Cubs pitchers have been mashing this season, at least in comparison to the combination of center fielders and second baseman who have hit ninth on many occasions. Lester had a key hit in the 5th inning last night, lacing a single up the middle after first showing bunt.
  • Kyle Hendricks threw lightly off of a mound yesterday. The Cubs are in no rush to get Hendricks back and may wait until after the all-star break to activate him.
  • Theo Epstein provided injury updates on Hendricks, Brandon Morrow, Carl Edwards, Jr. and minor league shortstop Nico Hoerner.
  • Epstein also acknowledged the Cubs have experienced a “flatter” period during the last five weeks, based on their 13-17 record and road struggles.
  • A guy I’d love to see the Cubs target at the trade deadline is Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis. Since making an adjustment to his approach on Father’s Day, Kipnis is hitting .471 with four homers, 14 RBI and a 1.411 OPS. Platooning Kipnis and David Bote at second base would leave the Cubs with no weak spots 1-8.
  • The Cubs have seven All-Star finalists, tying the Braves and Astros for most in baseball. This year the top three vote-getters at each position (top six outfielders) in the Primary, which ended June 21, move on to the Starters Election, which begins tomorrow at noon ET. The second phase runs for 28 hours.

How About That!

The Rays remain in the thick of the AL East race and may target a closer at this year’s trade deadline. Some options could include Kirby Yates of the Padres, the Tigers’ Shane Greene or Blue Jays closer Ken Giles.

Cardinals closer Jordan Hicks has a torn UCL and has been ruled out indefinitely.

Two managers on rapidly sinking ships were in the news yesterday. Phillies skipper Gabe Kapler received the oft-dreaded vote of confidence from his GM. Meanwhile, Mets manager Mickey Callaway was fined for his incident with a reporter after Sunday’s game against the Cubs. Mets pitcher Jason Vargas was similarly docked.

New York GM Brodie Van Wagenen was apparently dictating Callaway’s managerial moves from his home during a game earlier this season, per Mike Puma of the NY Post. That’s crossing the line just a little.

The Mets are a shitshow at the moment and their fans are demanding wholesale organizational changes. When are they not? I’m still pissed about the Cubs’ 10-2 loss to New York on Saturday, in case you’re wondering.

The Orioles gave top draft pick Adley Rutschmann a record-breaking $8.1 million bonus.

Angels outfielder Mike Trout currently has the best on-base percentage, slugging percentage, walk rate, strikeout rate, extra-base rate, homer rate, hard-hit rate, and line drive rate of his career. The guy just keeps getting better every year and yesterday he was named AL Player of the Week.

Monday’s Three Stars

  1. Willson Contreras – I’m giving the top spot to Willy. His home run and three RBI aside, Contreras changed the course of the game with his burst of emotion. The Cubs have played flat, as Epstein said, and the catcher injected some much-needed fire into the team.
  2. Yankees Offense – New York tied an AL record by homering in their 27th consecutive game, matching the 2002 Texas Rangers. The major league record is 28, so all eyes will be on the city that never sleeps in tonight’s game against the Blue Jays.
  3. Jon Gray – The Rockies starter shut down the Giants, scattering four hits with six punchouts in Colorado’s 2-0 win.

Extra Innings

Tom Verducci of SI has a great article regarding the current state of major league bullpens. Relievers are lagging starters this season, with the likely culprit being overuse.

But what’s the answer?

In my opinion, it might be piggybacking starters in similar fashion to Thursday night’s Cubs game, when Alzolay followed Tyler Chatwood in staving off the Mets. The Cubs could theoretically piggyback Alzolay with a starter every sixth outing. It keeps each member of the rotation on a five game schedule, allows opposing hitters to get no more than two looks at each pitcher during those games, and gives the bullpen a much-needed day off, provided each successfully navigates his assigned workload. It also limits Alzolay’s innings. He could then be deployed in the same way Maddon used David Price in the playoffs and World Series during his rookie year.

Could it work? I can see the pros and cons, but I believe there is some merit to my idea.

They Said It

  • “To be honest, those pitches weren’t even close to the strike zone, and [Flowers] got mad because I was talking to the umpire about that. He jumped into the conversation.”Willson Contreras
  • “I know I think [Contreras] does that from time to time. I don’t know. It was all very unnecessary in my opinion. The guy is a decent hitter, he doesn’t need to complain about every call. We won’t get into that aspect of the game we just finished. He got plenty of calls for his guys, too. Sometimes you need to pick your battles, and that’s hopefully something he will learn as he gets a little bit older.”Tyler Flowers
  • “It was an exchange based on catching technique. I was kind of amused by the whole thing.”Joe Maddon

Tuesday Walk Up Song

Street Fighting Man by The Rolling Stones. This classic was released in late 1968 but was a big hit in the summer of ’69. Though this is not the version from their show at Altamont, it was included in the concert documentary. A fitting tribute to Contreras as well.

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Michael Canter

Favorite Quote: "Look Ma! Top of the World!" Cubs fan since I was five years old (1969): lover of B&W movies, the Oxford Comma, classic rock, and of course, baseball; annual roto-champ; partial insomniac; I detest the liberal use of the word 'albeit' by baseball writers; Nice guy, though somewhat brooding. Comment me, please and thank you.

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