The Rundown: Cubs Clinch Division Title, Bryant Goes Off, Get Set For Wild Finish to Regular Season, Sunday Baseball Notes

“Sometimes it seems like lately – I just don’t know, better sit back and go with the flow.” – Freddie Mercury, These Are the Days of Our Lives

If you heard a loud beeping noise outside your home at about 9:45pm CT last night, that was the sound of the Cubs backing into their 2020 NL Central championship. Despite losing 9-5 to the White Sox in a game that wasn’t even that close the North Siders celebrated their third division title in five years when the Brewers beat the Cardinals. It’s also the team’s fifth postseason berth in the last six seasons.

Even louder than that, on a night where his high socks were the rage of social media, third baseman Kris Bryant went off for the first time all season, and I’m not just talking about his third-inning grand slam.

“I don’t give a shit,” Bryant told reporters after the game when asked about constant criticism by many Cubs fans. “I really don’t. That’s a good answer. I’m over it. Sometimes I go out there and go 4-for-4 and it’s not good enough for some people, so I don’t give a shit.”

Analytically-minded fans and writers immediately praised the third baseman for his candid comments, but the truth is, casual fans have the right to be down on Bryant, too. Though he’s been injured for most of this season, his .205/.289/.619 slash line is a career-low, he’s struggled with pitches he usually drives, and, while acknowledging the small sample size of the 2020 season, his three home runs and nine RBI in 142 PAs is probably an embarrassing stat line to carry. Last night’s big fly seemed to remove a burdensome weight from the slugger’s shoulders and his comments indicated as much.

Where Bryant is in the right is that he has had to try to tune out comments that he is not as talented as advertised and has been somewhat soft since leading the Cubs to their first championship in 108 years. There’s the constant barrage of trade rumors, too. Bryant was Rookie of the Year in 2015 and won the NL MVP in 2016, and in his six seasons with the franchise he is arguably the best third baseman in team history. Discounting this season because of the limited number of games played, Bryant has slashed .284/.385/.901 while averaging 28 home runs and 81 RBI.

For comparison’s sake, Ron Santo, who is in the Hall of Fame and is generally acknowledged as standard-bearer as Bryant’s most talented predecessor, slashed .279/.366/.838 in 14 seasons with the Cubs, averaging 24 taters and 92 RBI. In other words, KB has a legitimate beef and the criticism he has received has been a little off-base. Including this putrid season, Bryant has still slashed better than Santo.

At the end of the day, however, the Cubs are division champions for the first time since 2017 and nothing else really matters. By the end of today’s games, they should know who they’ll be playing in the first round. The Reds, Marlins, Giants, and one of the Cardinals or Brewers could all end the day with 30 wins and tie-breakers may determine the 5-8 seeds., Further, if San Francisco wins and St. Louis loses, that would force the Redbirds to play a makeup doubleheader against the Tigers tomorrow. Chicago is locked into the number 3 seed, and the Padres have clinched the highest wildcard seed at number 4.

Cubs News & Notes

  • If Saturday was a preview of things to come for Bryant, the Cubs offense is in good shape heading into the playoffs. Even if it’s not, the Cubs are better with him back in the lineup.
  • White Sox reliever Jimmy Cordero was suspended for three games for hitting Willson Contreras with a pitch Friday night. He’ll serve his suspension at the beginning of next season.
  • It appears the race for the NL Cy Young Award will come down to Yu Darvish and Trevor Bauer. With an ERA of 1.73, Bauer holds the edge over Darvish (2.01). That said, Big Yu has pitched to an an FIP of 2.23, which significantly bests the Reds starter (2.87).
  • Both the Cubs and White Sox would like to enter the postseason on a roll, so today’s game might not be the gimme that White Sox fans are expecting. We’ll see how David Ross feels once the Cubs lineup is announced.
  • The team’s core players don’t want to be remembered as just another Chicago “one-hit wonder.”
  • If you had any doubts before last night, Craig Kimbrel is definitely back, and he couldn’t have picked a better time to completely establish himself as a reliable high leverage reliever.
  • Adbert Alzolay takes the bump for the Cubs today, showing off that filthy slider that has earned him 21 strikeouts over his last 16.1 innings. The White Sox will counter with Reynaldo López, who is hoping to earn a spot on the team’s playoff roster. Look for José Quintana to pitch a tuneup inning or two for the Cubs.

Odds & Sods

Among his many talents, Anthony Rizzo is also a shaman and spiritual advisor.

Apropos of Nothing

I didn’t have any meat to make my world-famous Henry Blanco Nachos Platter (I use ground beef, pulled pork shoulder, and marinated, pulled chicken breast plus gobs of sour cream) so I had regular old nachos and cheese with sliced jalapenos. I totally blame last night’s loss on that and Bryant’s high socks.

Updates On Nine

  1. Jacob deGrom just missed another quality start last night, but in a shortened season with little margin for error, the Mets ace may have cost himself a chance at a Cy Young threepeat. JdG gave up three earned runs in five innings and did not factor in the decision in New York’s 4-3 loss to the Nationals, raising his ERA from 2.14 to 2.32, though he did strike out 10 Washington batters.
  2. Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff tossed a gem last night and his 3-0 win over the Cardinals — coupled with the Giants’ 6-2 loss to the Padres — temporarily lifted Milwaukee into the eighth seed in this year’s postseason tournament. The Brewerswill clinch a playoff berth  if the beat St. Louis today, possibly sending an unprecedented four teams from the NL Central into the eight-team bracket. How about that!
  3. A win on Sunday by the Cardinals or a loss by the Reds would give St. Louis the second NL Central seed as they own the tiebreaker if the teams are tied at the end of the season. In that scenario, the Cubs would open the playoffs on Wednesday against the Marlins and the Brewers would be eliminated unless the Giants and Phillies also lose today.
  4. Miami manager Don Mattingly said before the season that he believed the Marlins would contend for a playoff spot. “The fact that I think our guys are going to get a chance to play pennant race baseball, that’s exciting,” Mattingly told ESPN before their opener. “We get to play pennant race baseball, in which the games are more heavily contested every at-bat and every play. That’s the most exciting part for me.” That the Marlins, who are run by Derek Jeter, earned their postseason bid with a win against the Yankees probably made it all just a little sweeter.
  5. Thanks to a career game by second baseman Luis Arraez, the Twins magic number to clinch the AL Central is one after beating the Reds Saturday night. Minnesota needs another win Sunday against Cincinnati or a White Sox loss to the Cubs to make it back-to-back division titles.
  6. Shortstop Francisco Lindor is nearing the end of his time with the Indians and it’s possible the free agent-to-be could be playing his last home game for the organization today unless the Indians clinch second place in the AL Central. They’ll need to beat the Pirates and hope the Cubs beat the White Sox. With an 8-2 season record against the ChiSox, the Indians would earn the tie-breaker for second place and the number 4 seed.
  7. Though the Reds played their home games in empty stadiums, they did have an active fanbase cheering them on to a spot in this years playoffs: their grounds crew.
  8. Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, Padres shortstop Fernando Tatís Jr., and Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts are locked in a very close race for National League MVP.
  9. Here are my picks for 2020 awards:

On Deck

Whatever happens for the rest of this season and beyond, thank you Theo Epstein, for keeping the core together and for one helluva ride since 2015. Not for nothing, you have to admit that this season was a lot more fun than any of us expected.

“These are the days of our lives
They’ve flown in the swiftness of time
These days are all gone now but some things remain
When I look and I find – no change.” – Mercury

Sliding Into Home

I know Scott Crandall is reading today and as he embarks on this week’s journey of good health and healing, I wish him “five sixes.” He knows exactly what I mean.

Extra Innings

They’ve only just begun.

They Said It

  • “This is a former MVP… This guy wants to do well for this organization. He’s done nothing but be a model citizen and a great player since he’s been here…I don’t search through Twitter to find out what people are saying about Kris Bryant. I don’t care.” – David Ross
  • “We’re very grateful to be in the playoffs, but our expectations are to win the World Series.” – Anthony Rizzo

Sunday Walk Up Song

A Kind of Magic by Queen – Rizzo and Mike Napoli should give gold chains to everybody during the playoffs.

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