The Rundown: Ross Catching Heat for Strategic Decisions, Hosmer Raking, Ohtani Sweeping, O’s Funneling
“To illustrate his last remark, Jonah in the whale, Noah in the ark. What did they do, just when everything looked so dark?” – Johhny Mercer & The Pied Pipers, Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive
Cubs fans tend to grossly overreact, and David Ross has borne the brunt of that so far this season. He may have left Drew Smyly in a little too long in the left-hander’s first start of the season, but he didn’t have a lot of bullpen options. Having Patrick Wisdom bunt in the same game was a questionable move, but Ross did a fair job of explaining himself.
In yesterday’s 3-2 win over the Mariners, Chicago’s skipper was vilified on social media for pinch-hitting Tucker Barnhart over Nelson Velázquez with the potential winning run on second base in the bottom of the 10th. I don’t understand Cubs fans’ obsession with Velázquez, who batted .205 with 65 strikeouts in 206 plate appearances last season, but Barnhart did Ross no favors by striking out. That Velázquez could have done the same thing does not make the armchair managers right, however. Nico Hoerner proved to be Rossy’s panacea by winning the game with a single in the next at-bat.
On the plus side, the overreactions mean there is a real buzz to this Cubs team, something we haven’t seen since resigning ourselves to the fact that a rebuild was necessary. Jed Hoyer let all of the air out of the tires after trading Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini to the Padres, adding Zach Davies to the rotation, and sending Kyle Schwarber away for nothing. Hoerner and Dansby Swanson have resuscitated the fanbase, and now Ross and Eric Hosmer are Chicago’s favorite whipping boys. Hosmer, by the way, is batting .320 with seven RBI and continues to come through with runners in scoring position. His only fault is that he is not the unproven Matt Mervis.
Chicago fans have second-guessing embedded into their collective DNA. A large portion of the ever-growing blogger base — yes, that includes me — tend to fan the flames whenever possible. I’m not going to do it when it comes to Ross, though. His team has been incredibly clutch through nine games and though it’s only the second week of the season, this year already feels a lot like 2015. I’d rather have Ross pulling the strings than Joe Maddon.
Here's the Madrigal stolen base. He was on 2B as the free runner to begin the bottom of the 10th and took the Mariners by surprise. pic.twitter.com/tyjmAVq7eU
— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) April 11, 2023
Manager David should be praised for substituting Nick Madrigal as the ghost runner for Yan Gomes to start the final frame, and I saw nothing wrong in retrospect with having Barnhart bat in that situation. If I’m going for the win in a critical situation, I’d rather have a street-smart veteran at the plate than a sophomore part-time player. You need a single or a bunt there instead of a home run, so the percentages favored Barnhart. Madrigal stole third base of his own volition, apparently, but Ross would have been blogger-daggered to death had the attempt been unsuccessful.
A generation of Chicago’s fanbase has grown so accustomed to forced marketing slogans and Maddon’s book of idioms that they’ve ignored the one reality that matters most: Just win, baby. Perhaps we all need to do stupid smarter, or whatever Papa Joe might say were he critiquing Cubs fans. Sometimes there truly is a method to the madness, and it’s not like Ross was squeezing lemon juice all over his face so as to appear invisible. The Cubs are 5-4 and fun to watch. Let’s all leave well enough alone.
Cubs News & Notes
- The Cubs optioned Javier Assad to Iowa to open a spot on the roster for Velázquez. It may be a temporary move until Seiya Suzuki or Brandon Hughes is ready, and provides an opportunity for Assad to work his way out of his early-season funk. Assad probably wouldn’t have been available to pitch this series, anyway.
- The best-case scenario has Suzuki joining the team when it heads to the West Coast this weekend.
- Chicago won yesterday because they did all the little things right.
- Lost in the celebration of last night’s big win was an outstanding start by Smyly.
- Hoerner took part in the team’s new walk-off celebration, and I’m all for it. I still miss the bullpen dancing and that Ian Happ waffle iron. I thought for sure the next iteration was going to be a WaffleBot. “Pop the top and let that batter drop!”
- One could say Nico is the new sheriff in town, apologies to Swanson and ex-Cub Andrew Chafin.
- Are the Cubs players or pretenders when it comes to signing Shohei Ohtani this winter? Recent history works against a pairing, if only because it’s tough to imagine Hoyer handing out a contract that spans a decade or more.
- Insider Jon Heyman says the total value of Ohtani’s contract and the desire to win will eliminate the Cubs, but I don’t agree. It’s going to come down to total years.
- The Cubs believe their farm system is reaching a place where it can offer real depth for the big league roster while developing key pieces to the long-term vision of the organization.
- Here’s something you never knew you needed: The story behind Cubs players’ walk-up songs.
Odds & Sods
I can neither confirm nor deny that Madrigal bathed in lemon juice before Monday’s game.
Yan Gomes joked that Madrigal "thought he was invisible" on steal of third in 10th, but the catcher added:
"Sometimes that's what happens playing here at Wrigley. Fans start screaming, guys turn around like, 'What's happening?' And next thing you know, he's sliding into third."
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) April 11, 2023
The Cubs were the only NL Central team to notch a win yesterday, so they gained a game on everybody.
- St. Louis: The Cardinals are 3-7 and looking for scapegoats. Pleased to meet you, Tyler O’Neill. Some ever-optimistic St. Louis fans have pointed out that the 1927 Yankees had a four-game losing streak during that historic year.
- Milwaukee: Craig Counsell became the longest-tenured manager in franchise history yesterday evening.
- Cincinnati: The Reds asked Alex Díaz to preserve a win with a six-out save and it backfired when Sean Murphy hit a walk-off, two-run homer for the Braves.
- Pittsburgh: Outfielder Bryan Reynolds was named NL Player of the Week, but Pittsburgh still hasn’t extended him.
Climbing the Ladder
“I want those feeble-minded axes overthrown.” – The Who, You Better You Bet
I went to bat for Ross earlier, and now I’ll do the same for Hosmer, who is a steal at the league’s minimum salary. Aside from being one of Chicago’s best hitters, Hosmer has been magnificent defensively and this play is equal parts impressive and mesmerizing. Yes, he’s a bona fide picking machine.
With an OPS+ of 116, Hosmer is Chicago’s sixth-best player through nine games. He’s got eight hits in 25 at-bats with just five strikeouts. At this stage of his career, he can be counted on for 10-12 home runs and 60-70 RBI, and if he continues hitting at this pace, he’s Mark Grace-light. Give credit to Ross, too, for playing Hosmer only during favorable matchups.
- Games Played: 9
- Total Plate Appearances: 341
- Total Strikeouts: 75
- Strikeout Rate: 21.99%
- Team Batting Average: .269
- Runs Scored: 45
- Runs Allowed: 37
- Chances of Making the Playoffs: 31.1%
How About That!
MLB batting averages are up 16 points, stolen bases have increased by 30%, and night games aren’t entering the promise of a new morning. I’d say baseball’s new rules are here to stay. Theo Epstein saved two franchises and now the game itself. Punch his ticket to Cooperstown and put him in the express lane.
Leave it to Joel Sherman of the NY Post to piss all over the Rays’ 10-0 run to open the season.
The record for most wins to start a season is 13, something the Braves did in 1982 and the Brewers in 1987. Milwaukee also had a 12-game losing streak that season under manager Tom Trebelhorn.
Yes, Trebelhorn is the former Cubs manager who lost 12 straight home games at the start of the 1994 season.
Ohtani has mastered the sweeper, baseball’s hottest new pitch, He sounds like a future Cub to me.
The Orioles do a faux-beer funnel celebration when a player hits a home run. One would presume they use water instead of alcohol. “I love it. We’re just huge proponents of staying hydrated,” said catcher Adley Rutschman, who became the second homer-hose user after he swatted a solo homer on Monday.
Monday’s Three Stars
- Tampa Bay Rays – The Rays became the first major league team since the 1987 Brewers to open the season with 10 straight wins, getting a solo homer from Brandon Lowe in the eighth inning to beat the Red Sox 1-0 on Monday night. Manager Kevin Cash used five relievers instead of a traditional starter to three-hit Boston with 10 strikeouts.
- Max Muncy – Because the Rays are so hot, a 3-for-3 night with two home runs and seven RBI is still not enough to grab the top spot. It was a special night for Muncy nonetheless.
- Andrew Heaney – He struck out nine consecutive Royals batters and gets no better than the bronze. Yes, baseball was amazing on Monday. I hope you got to watch as much of it as possible.
First career walk-off for @nico_hoerner! pic.twitter.com/Gov2ZUmVZm
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) April 11, 2023
Tuesday Moring Six-Pack
- It’s a lot of work, but I finalized my two-round big board ahead of this month’s NFL draft. The mocks will be coming fast and furious over the next two weeks.
- The national COVID emergency is officially over. Joe Biden signed a bill yesterday ending the national emergency declaration put in place by former President Donald Trump in 2020 to free up federal funds to address the pandemic.
- If you want to make an omelet, you need to break about 15,000 eggs. That must have cost a small fortune at today’s prices. Shouldn’t we be feeding the hungry instead of partaking in this absurd excess?
- It sounds like it’s straight out of The Onion, but sadly it is not. The Dali Lama has apologized for a video in which he kisses a young boy and asks the child to “suck my tongue.”
- If you’re into true crime podcasts, Cosmopolitan Magazine lists 50 that deserve your attention. Don’t be afraid to link up because it’s Cosmo, there’s some good stuff in there.
- Roger Daltrey said that The Who will probably never tour again. That’s one band I never got to see live. I’ll learn to be thankful for DVDs and streaming options I suppose, and there’s always the Woodstock movie.
They Said It
- “I feel like we’ve built a team that from top to bottom can really do this. We got a lot of experience here. When something happens, we got 10-15 guys that have done it already. We got a lot better things going on that we can turn to different things here.” – Gomes
- “It’s a play where it might look like it was lucky and obviously it was not what we drew up, you don’t wanna get picked off. But so many people freeze at that moment. They get in the rundown, and it never works. But [Madrigal] just was committed to it, and he went for it, and it ended up working out.”– Hoerner
Tuesday Morning Walk-Up Song
I found the Power Ballads Volumes 1 & 2 CD set for a buck at a rummage sale over the weekend and I’m in 2004 heaven. Apparently, I got quite a bargain.