The Rundown: Cubs on Life Support, Castellanos Joins Elite Company, Sunday Baseball Notes

Two pitches. Two home runs.

That’s five straight losses for a team that probably needed to go at least 4-1 in that span and do no worse than grabbing wins in three of those games. Now the Cubs are facing three enemies in their quest to make the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season: the Nationals, the Brewers, and time. Each day that Chicago doesn’t make up any ground on either of those two teams puts them closer to what I will assume is the reckoning we were promised last October.

Today marks what will likely be the last game of the 2019 season at Wrigley Field, and probably the last home game in the Windy City for Joe Maddon and a number of players. The debates will rage on for weeks as to who should stay or go, and who should lead the Cubs during their next, ahem, championship window. I cleared my throat there because every season should entertain hopes of a World Series victory. That may seem entitled seeing that Chicago’s North Side baseball team has won just three championships since the turn of the 20th century, but that’s where my expectations lie.

Until the Cubs are mathematically eliminated, I refuse to completely bury this squad. They’re on life support and another loss today should have us reading last rites. Could they twin heir last seven games? Sure they could, but that may not be good enough.

Do the Cubs need to blow everything up and start over? That’s reactionary thinking and would be poor executive management. Still, it’s going to be a busy, if not gut-wrenching, offseason.

Cubs News & Notes

  • I don’t need to tell you this if you’ve watched the team at all this season, but the Cubs are among baseball’s worst at making hard contact. Maddon was given working orders to provide a more hands-on approach to coaching Cubs hitters this season and the results haven’t been very flattering.
  • The Cubs set the tone for this season with a 2-7 start before playing their first game at Wrigley Field. With that in mind, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times believes any offseason reckoning should start at the highest levels of the organization.
  • Jon Heyman focused on the Cubs during the final segment of his latest Big Time Baseball podcast, indicating that Maddon will certainly be working somewhere next season, and may find himself managing the Phillies, Giants, or Angels. He also said a possibility exists that Theo Epstein or Jed Hoyer could fill the opening with the Red Sox for president of baseball operations. Both would seem to be slight longshots, however.
  • Tony Kemp stunned Cubs and Cardinals fans by hitting a home run after striking out in the 7th inning. The third strike by pitcher Giovanny Gallegos was ruled a balk, so Kemp got a do-over and smashed the next pitch into the left-center bleachers to give the Cubs a late lead.
  • Javier Báez made an unexpected pinch-hitting appearance in the 9th inning of yesterday’s game and looked like a player who hasn’t hit in a few weeks. He was a little late on a first-pitch fastball from Carlos Martínez that he consistently drives when fully healthy before eventually striking out.
  • El Mago’s return to the batter’s box came two days after first baseman Anthony Rizzo made a shocking return to Chicago’s lineup.
  • Nicholas Castellanos and Rizzo are among the group of MLB’s second-half all-stars. Big Nick Energy has a .330/.365/.1.030 slash with 19 doubles since joining the Cubs at the deadline, upping his free-agent value along the way.
  • Nicky Two Bags hit his 58th double of the season yesterday, becoming just the 10th player in the history of the game to reach that lofty benchmark.

Updates on Nine

  1. The Padres dismissed manager Andy Green yesterday and speculation started almost immediately that the job could go to retiring Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy. Maddon and Cubs’ bench coach Mark Loretta might be considered for openings in both San Diego and San Francisco. When asked about the opening with the Padres, Bochy refused to comment. He can’t because he’s still under contract and there is still a week left in this season. The 64-year-old skipper started his managerial career with the Padres in 1995, leading the Friars for 12 seasons and winning 951 games, including a National League pennant in 1998.
  2. Need another reason to consider Brant Brown for manager if an opening presents itself with the Cubs? The Dodgers are fantastic against high velocity, stunningly so in fact, something the Cubs have struggled with under Maddon and a bevy of hitting coaches since 2016. Los Angeles is a 95+ mph powerhouse, excelling in all areas necessary to have success against increased velocities: patience, contact, and slugging. Brown currently serves as the team’s hitting strategist.
  3. Don Mattingly is taking a pay cut to remain manager of the Miami Marlins, sources told Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. The veteran manager will reportedly earn $2 million per year, or possibly less, on his new two-year contract. Mattingly’s $2.8-million salary in 2019 is believed to be the sixth-highest among all big-league managers. The Marlins are 53-101 heading into the final week of the season.
  4. In an effort to get ready for next season, Red Sox starter David Price will have surgery to remove a cyst from his left wrist on Thursday in Boston. Manager Alex Cora expects the lefty to be ready for a normal spring training in five months. Price was one of the team’s best starters in the first half of the season, going 7-2 with a 3.16 ERA over his first 17 starts.
  5. Red Sox slugger Rafael Devers hit his 31st home run of the season yesterday, a new team record for third baseman. Butch Hobson hit 30 taters for Boston in 1977 and has held the record since.
  6. Ben Zobrist hasn’t decided on whether he will retire next week or play another season. Since returning from an extended leave of absence, the second baseman went into Saturday’s game hitting .326 with three doubles and a home run in 46 at-bats, leading to a .404 OBP. The 38-year-old Zobrist is in the final year of his contract with the Cubs and will be a free agent if he continues playing.
  7. It’s debatable as to whether Bryce Harper is or isn’t worth the $330 million contract he signed earlier this year, but he has been the Phillies’ most valuable player this season. His teammates may be a little too reliant on the perfectly-coiffed slugger, however. Philadelphia is  24-7 this season when Harper homers and  42–17 when he drives in a run. That means that they’re also 20 games below .500 when teams keep Harper off the scoresheet.
  8. Mets slugger Pete Alonso hit his 50th home run yesterday and leads the major leagues. He is now two home runs shy of tying Aaron Judge for the rookie record. Judge blasted 52 bombs in 2017.
  9. Godspeed to my father-in-law, Dr. Paul Palen, who passed away Friday at about 4:15 PM. He was a rabid Brewers fan, and if the Cubs fail to make the playoffs my allegiance will mirror his come October. Dr. Palen was also a big fan of the San Antonio Missions and would tell anybody he met that he could have been a starting third baseman with the minor league organization in 1949 had he not instead pursued his dental career. He served with the Army in the early 1950’s and was stationed in San Antonio, watching his favorite player at the time, Brooks Robinson.

Extra Innings

Reds pitcher Amir Garrett is well on his way to earning a reputation as one of the most fun-loving dudes in the game today. Add Saturday’s injury fake-out to his growing highlight reel, one that also includes beating bullies on the baseball diamond by being the bigger person.

They Said It

  • “It doesn’t matter how you lose this time of year. It stinks. A loss is a loss, especially with seven games left.” – Anthony Rizzo
  • “We had the right guy there at the end. You talk about two shots to the jaw, and they got the win.” – Joe Maddon
  • “I feel like I made two competitive pitches that I wanted to and they went out. It’s frustrating. It’s the only thing I can say.” – Craig Kimbrel

Sunday Walk Up Song

Time by Hootie & The Blowfish. Time, why you punish me? Like a wave bashing into the shore, you wash away my dreams. Time is wasting, time is walking. Time, you ain’t no friend of mine.

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