The Rundown: Assad Ugly in Relief, Morel Making Case for Promotion, Cubs Considered ‘Sleepers’ for Ohtani
“Singin’ come out upon my seas. Cursed missed opportunities. Am I a part of the cure or am I part of the disease?” – Coldplay, Clocks
Some pitchers are just not meant to work out of the bullpen, and I believe Javier Assad is one of them. It is entirely possible he is suffering from WBC fatigue. Young pitchers who have had a taste of pro ball success have yet to develop offseason routines. For most pitchers, particularly starters, it’s the same: Start throwing in mid-February, build strength and stamina through March before turning up the intensity at the beginning of April.
This year’s World Baseball Classic interrupted Assad’s schedule. He hasn’t looked good since returning from the tournament and he’s put up some pretty unsightly numbers. Assad pitched on seven days rest yesterday — which indicates David Ross is really managing his workload — and was bombed by the Rangers. He’s now given up six runs on six hits with two walks in 4.1 innings of work stretched across two outings. He’s tossed 73 pitches that have garnered a paltry five swinging strikes. Assad forced nine swinging strikes in his first big league appearance, a four-inning outing against the Cardinals last August.
I wouldn’t be as concerned with Assad’s performance if he was on the wrong side of 30 because I’d just blame age. He had eight starts in nine 2022 appearances, but he pitched in relief for Team Mexico and, though he was dominant, he might need more work to get untracked. Before heading off to the WBC, Assad threw four innings for the Cactus Cubs with two strikeouts, one walk, and zero runs surrendered.
Young pitchers are the most valuable commodity in baseball. Though I love the WBC and would like to see it as an annual event, Assad’s early performances have given me pause. For some pitchers, past tournaments have caused an increase in injuries, an across-the-board decline in performance, or both. I’d prefer Assad go back to Iowa, start a few games, and get back into a routine. The young man has an awful lot of promise so it’s tough to watch the regression we’ve seen in his two outings.
Cubs News & Notes
- Jameson Taillon had a rough start to Sunday’s game but finished strong before Assad took over.
- Several Cubs players at Iowa are making a case for promotion, including Christopher Morel, Matt Mervis, and Nelson Velázquez.
- Through his first seven games at Triple-A, Morel batted .346/.500/.654 with a homer, three doubles, one triple, seven RBIs, two steals, and seven walks with 12 strikeouts.
- Lance Brozdowski of the Marquee Sports Network dropped his annual Cubs Top 30 Prospects list over the weekend. I’ll give you one guess as to who sits atop his rankings. Mervis is No. 8 on Brozdowski’s list, and Hayden Wesneski and Ben Brown are his top pitchers.
- The Iowa lineup got a little more stacked when outfielder Seiya Suzuki joined them this weekend. Lefty reliever Brandon Hughes also received a Triple-A rehab assignment.
- Once Suzuki returns, Trey Mancini should spend more time at first base, relegating Eric Hosmer to the bench as a backup and part-time DH.
- Nick Madrigal has had a very smooth transition to third base, but Suzuki’s return may cut into his playing time, too. Patrick Wisdom has played right field quite a bit, but he’ll be back at the hot corner soon.
- Starter Marcus Stroman is on fire right now. Stroman said pitching in the WBC has him in midseason form.
- Dansby Swanson has injected an infectious energy into Chicago’s lineup, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Nick Castellanos joined the team in 2019.
- Cody Bellinger is slowly starting to get his groove back.
- The Cubs took two of three from the Rangers, their first series win of the season. The Cubs have split their first eight games against Texas, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee.
- One report indicates that the Cubs are a “sleeper team” to acquire Shohei Ohtani.
- Insider John Heyman immediately poured water all over that rumor.
Odds & Sods
A fantastic tribute to the legendary Jim Nantz by Dan Hasty and Nathan Wrangler. Also, those are two of the best announcer names I’ve ever heard. Get them to the Cubs, please, and thank you.
Yesterday, our broadcaster @ThatDanHasty announced an at-bat as if it was @TheMasters. pic.twitter.com/Ks0keXM3Eo
— West Michigan Whitecaps (@wmwhitecaps) April 9, 2023
Climbing the Ladder
“Oh the heads that turn make my back burn.” – The Cult, She Sells Sanctuary
The Cubs are third overall in batting average eight games into the season, and they have fewer strikeouts than any other offense in the senior circuit. It’s a small sample size, but the Cubs have also shown their knack for driving in runners in scoring position. Their .328 average with runners in scoring position trails only the Rays and Diamondbacks in all of baseball. They’re near the bottom in home runs (7) and extra base hits (19), however, and Chicago is dead last in total bases.
“When we have the pass-the-baton mentality, on to the next guy, let me take my knock, let me take what the pitcher’s giving me, especially when we’re in the environment we’re in sometimes, that’s a really powerful thing,” Davis Ross said. “The more we’ll do that, the better we’re gonna be.”
Reminds one of the heady days of the 1982 Cardinals, who were dead last in home runs that year with 67. They did win the World Series, though.
- Games Played: 8
- Total Plate Appearances: 304
- Total Strikeouts: 65
- Strikeout Rate: 21.38%
- Team Batting Average: .275
- Runs Scored: 42
- Runs Allowed: 35
- Chances of Making the Playoffs: 27%
Apropos of Nothing
I am going to Houston for the Cubs-Astros series May 15-17 and I’m looking for hotel and restaurant recommendations. Also, raise your hand if you think Cubs Insider should reimburse me for the trip. I’ve got my hand up right now.
- St. Louis: The Cardinals finished the week with a 1-5 record and are now 3-6 overall. St. Louis is also still boring, by the way. I’m heading to a wedding there in two weeks.
- Milwaukee: Jackson Chourio is the Brewers’ first-ever No. 1 overall prospect. Pete Crow-Armstrong isn’t far behind and has some helium. Objects in the side view mirror are closer than they appear.
- Cincinnati: They’re not the Nasty Boys, but the Reds bullpen has been excellent so far this season.
- Pittsburgh: Young star Oneil Cruz fractured his ankle on Sunday in a collision at home plate and will be out for 10-12 weeks at a minimum. Benches for both teams cleared after the incident, though there were no extracurriculars.
How About That!
You can’t stop the 9-0 Rays, you can only hope to contain them. They are the first team since 1884 with a run differential of more than 50 over their first nine games of the season. Tampa Bay’s 21 home runs lead the bigs and they have the fewest strikeouts with 51. They’ve also generated more ground balls and walked fewer hitters than any team in the American League.
The Rays sit atop the latest MLB power rankings and it’s not a particularly close race. The red-hot Brewers are No. 2, while the Astros dropped from first to ninth overall.
The Brewers are 7-2 thanks to playing mistake-free baseball with two starters in Freddy Peralta and Brandon Woodruff who are near the league lead in strikeouts.
One study reports that climate change is responsible for a 50-homer increase across MLB.
The pitch clock has caused MLB stadiums to change their rules regarding beer and alcohol sales.
Cruz reportedly had surgery on his injured ankle this morning.
Juan Soto and Ronald Acuña Jr. have become masters of friendly trash talk.
St. Louis rookie Jordan Walker has started his career with hits in nine straight games, tying Ted Williams (1939) for the second-best start by a rookie. Eddie Murphy holds the rookie record with 12 straight games (1912).
Sunday’s Three Stars
- Matt Chapman – The Blue Jays star was 3-for-5 with a home run, five RBI, and a stolen base, leading Toronto to a 12-11 win over the Angels.
- Kevin Kiermaier – The defense-first centerfielder also plated five runners in the win and was a homer shy of hitting for the cycle.
- Aaron Judge – The reigning home run champion had two taters in yesterday’s 5-3 win. The Yankees star is on an early pace to hit 72 home runs this season. I’m rooting for 74 and offer no apologies to Barry Bonds.
The Cubs could use a little MASH, yes? I wonder if Mervis can one day be the first left-handed hitter to surpass 40 home runs since Billy Williams did it in 1970.
M*A*S*H MERVIS WITH THE GRAND SALAMI!!!
Iowa Cubs up 7-3! pic.twitter.com/7qtvEypNNC
— Rich D'Anna (@Richdanna) April 6, 2023
Monday Morning Six-Pack
- Bears GM Ryan Poles believes in a “best player available” draft strategy and won’t pass on an elite playmaker to fill a team need.
- If future stars Will Levis (Kentucky) and Jalen Carter (Georgia) fall to No. 9, Poles could have a bidding war on his hands if he wants to trade down.
- US defense officials and the DOJ spent their Easter weekend frantically investigating a massive leak of classified documents published on social media, many of which were considered “top secret.” Our government is a legitimate clown car operation, sorry, not sorry. Scratch that, it’s a veritable shit show. I haven’t used that phrase in a while.
- A mayor in Australia is gearing up to file the world’s first defamation lawsuit over statements made by the artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT.
- Today is National Siblings Day. He ain’t heavy he’s my brother.
- Pulitzer Prize-winning political journalist Charlie Savage still remains most famous for his Dark Side of the Rainbow article. Savage was the first to connect the similarities between Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and the first hour of The Wizard of Oz.
They Said It
- “I know that it hasn’t been publicized yet, but [Bellinger] is playing a great center field in some tough conditions. It hasn’t fazed him with the wind early. He’s tracked down a lot of balls. He’s made line drives that aren’t that easy look really easy. The athleticism is super-, super-impressive. And then as a hitter, the pop is easy.” – Ian Happ
- “For sure. My year in 2017 when I played in the WBC, I feel like I had one of the best starts to my season. I came out and threw 200 innings after that year. I just feel it puts you in that competitive mind frame and gets you going much earlier. In Spring Training, you can kinda go through the motions at times so playing super competitive, playoff-level atmosphere baseball in March, it’s extremely fun. Not only fun, but it also makes you get ready for the start of the season. I feel like I’m definitely more prepared because I feel like I was able to experience those games.” – Stroman
Monday Walk-Up Song
I really enjoyed writing Sunday’s Rundown about growing up as a Cubs fan in the early 1970s.