A lineup that features Kris Bryant, Javier Báez, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, and Willson Contreras should strike fear into the heart of any opposing pitcher, but not this year, and especially not at Wrigley Field. The Cubs concluded their 2020 home schedule last night with an uninspiring 4-0 loss to the Twins in which Chicago’s hitless wonders could manage just four knocks while striking out 11 times.
Including last night’s dismal performance, the Cubs have hit .211 in 33 home games this year, something that will hurt them in the first round of the playoffs if they win the division. The North Siders managed just two runs on 12 hits the entire series, striking out 25 times in the three games. Even Ian Happ is struggling at the plate. In going just 8-for-55 (.145) over his last 12 games, the outfielder, who was once mentioned as a dark horse NL MVP candidate, has seen his average drop from .304 to .264.
If that’s not bad enough, look at the slugging percentages of the fearsome fivesome, from wretchedly best to worst, with each’s career SLG in parenthesis:
- Contreras .394 (.463)
- Schwarber .393 (.481)
- Rizzo .386 (.485)
- Báez .364 (.475)
- Bryant .303 (.507)
They’re simply not giving opposing pitchers or managers any reason to panic.
The one thing ARod says worth listening to was the fact that hitters don’t regress into their primes.
— ?? Bill Quinn ?⚾️ (@CubsQuinn) September 21, 2020
I’ve been more and more vocal lately that hitting coach Anthony Iapoce needs to be let go once the season ends. Cubs hitters have regressed every year since winning the World Series in 2016, and right now each of those players is in the prime years of their respective careers. I understand Chicago has burned through four hitting coaches since, and at some point the blame has to be directed at the players, but this is criminally bad and all signs point to inadequate coaching.
To a man, the Cubs look unprepared, their approach to at-bats is timid at best, and if my two cents counted for anything I’d say trying to turn a team of mashers into hitters over the last four seasons is what has brought them to this point. Iapoce was inherited by David Ross and I expect that next season the rookie skipper will want someone of his choosing, especially since he’s probably stuck with the current roster for another year.
Could the Cubs use a contact hitter? Certainly, but where do they find one? Maybe Nick Castellanos will opt out of his deal with the Reds, but even if he does, Theo Epstein will have no money to entice him back to Chicago. There are no trades to be made either. Bryant, Báez, and Schwarber will be entering their last seasons of team control and, combined with their woeful 2020 at-bats, all would be sell-low options.
The Cubs’ lead over the Cardinals is now just 3.5 games, making the upcoming four-game series against the Pirates all the more important. Nobody wants to see the Cubs facing the White Sox to end the season with the NL Central championship on the line. The Reds are 8-2 in their last 10 and the Cardinals and Brewers have each won four straight, though they still have to play each other five more times to close out the season. If one sweeps the other, however, those Chicago collars may get obscenely tight.
Cubs News & Notes
- The Cubs’ overall .226 batting average heading into last night’s home finale was fourth-worst in the majors.
- Schwarber was removed from last night’s game in the 3rd inning after misplaying a ball hit by Twins center fielder Jake Cave into a triple.
- When the Cubs return from Pittsburgh on Thursday, they’ll head straight into a Chicago quarantine hotel ahead of the opening round of the playoffs.
- Yu Darvish struggled a little last night and his Cy Young candidacy may have taken a bit of a hit as a result.
- Prior to Sunday’s game, the Cubs recalled designated hitter José Martínez from South Bend and optioned lefty reliever Josh Osich to the alternate training site.
- Rowan Wick has an oblique injury and will likely miss the rest of the season, including the playoffs.
- A lot of fans would like to see the Cubs give Brailyn Marquez a shot, even if only in a relief role.
- Though non-committal, GM Jed Hoyer advised fans to pump the brakes on any potential call-up, stating Marquez has never pitched above the high-A level.
- If the season ended Sunday, the Cubs would face the Phillies in the first round. Thanks to this season’s regional schedules, the Cubs haven’t played Philadelphia since last August.
- The Cubs are slotted eighth in the latest power rankings by MLB.com. The Phillies sit eight spots behind.
- Jon Lester will take the mound tonight when the Cubs face the Pirates at PNC Park. The veteran lefty is 12-6 with a 3.30 ERA in 25 career starts against the Bucs. He’ll be opposed by JT Brubaker.
- Hoyer is certain that the front office and Lester will get together this offseason and discuss ways to keep the big lefty in Chicago for at least one more season. Lester enters tonight’s game eight wins shy of 200 for his career.
- Cubs players and coaches had a tour of Wrigley Field’s iconic scoreboard before yesterday’s game.
Odds & Sods
At least Bryant isn’t letting his poor at-bats affect his defense.
Before tonight's game, Ross said: "KB's playing some of the best third base I've seen him play since maybe early on in his career."
Entered night with 3 DRS (after having -6 in 2019).
Nice play here in the ninth… pic.twitter.com/KO7Ur19NCe
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 21, 2020
How About That!
David Schoenfield of ESPN provides everything you’ll need to know to navigate the last week of the 2020 season. That baseball has pulled this off is absolutely amazing.
Nine of 16 postseason bids are still up for grabs.
The Marlins, Mariners, and Reds have the toughest remaining schedules among playoff contenders, while the Astros and Cardinals have the easiest.
The Padres clinched a playoff spot, their first since 2006.
The White Sox will be making their first postseason appearance since winning the World Series in 2005.
The blueprint Sox GM Rick Hahn used to get his team back in the playoffs is similar to the one Theo Epstein engineered when he took over the Cubs.
The 2020 season is over for Justin Verlander, who will need Tommy John surgery. It’s likely the end of his run with the Astros too, as the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner will be a free agent entering 2021.
Sunday’s Three Stars
- José Ramírez – The Indians third baseman had two taters and four RBI in helping Cleveland keep pace with the Twins. The AL Central will field three playoff teams this year..
- John Means – The Orioles starter enjoyed the most dominant afternoon of his career in leading Baltimore to its 2-1 win over the Rays, including a career-high 12 strikeouts.
- Ronald Acuña Jr. – The third-year superstar paced the Braves to a 7-0 win over the Mets yesterday with a 2-for-3 afternoon that included a double, a home run, four RBI, and three runs scored.
Happ, on Schwarber staying in dugout after being pulled:
"To see him out there in the dugout throughout the game — probably the loudest guy in the dugout, honestly, for the next seven, eight innings — it just speaks to his character. He's a great person and we all love him."
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 21, 2020
Sliding Into Home
I spoke on the phone with Scott Crandall (aka Twin31s) for about an hour yesterday and I believe the conversation lifted both our spirits. Scott is feeling good and is going to see a specialist this week about a clinical trial for his pancreatic cancer. Please join me in wishing the best for Scott and his family.
They Said It
- “I put [Darvish] in a tough spot. I just don’t think that [Cave] should have got to third base. And he did. I put the team in a bad spot there. Just got to learn from it and move on. Obviously, it’s not the ideal way to learn from it. But you know what? I think that I can take a lot of different punches. I pride myself on being a team guy and a guy who’s going to play this game at 120 percent every play. I think my teammates understand that. And I think Rossy understands that as well.” – Kyle Schwarber
- “[Schwarber] busts it every time out there. He’s putting in the work, trying to get better, like a lot of our offensive players. When you’re not hitting, it’s just tough. Baseball’s not a whole lot of fun when you’re scuffling. Schwarbs is on that list, working his tail off every day in the cage, grinding, one of our leaders on this team. Kyle brings it every day.” – David Ross
Monday Walk Up Song
This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ to Glide by The Kings – I figured the greatest one-hit wonder of all-time is appropriate this morning considering the team’s inability to make contact this season.