Saturday update: Yesterday's game was weird and terrible. I understand the umpiring crew's desire to try and make sure that enough innings had been played to make it a complete game if the rain kept them from resuming later on. But, as we saw, the rain dissipated later on in the evening, so there was little chance the two teams would have been forced to halt play altogether. The most perplexing decision was probably starting the 6th inning, when it was more than evident that the conditions were not right for baseball. Just a poor decision, and I wonder if it might not have been better to just wait to start the game altogether until the early evening. No choice but to move on, I guess. Let's hope today doesn't play out the same way, as the weather is no less unpleasant.
Also, with Ian Happ in today's lineup, he's clearly not going anywhere with Jason Heyward activated again. And the move to put Kyle Schwarber behind Ben Zobrist in the batting order is interesting. I don't want to speculate that he is being removed as the leadoff hitter, but a sub-Mendoza batting average at the very top of the order can only be tolerated for so long, I suppose.
No official word at the time of this post, but it would appear that Tommy La Stella is the odd man out for now:
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) May 20, 2017
Assuming that the rain doesn't interfere too much, the Cubs have the opportunity this weekend to either accelerate their rise to first place in the division or return to where they were just a few days ago. Fresh off of a hugely successful series against the Reds, the momentum certainly seems in the Cubs' favor. And perhaps we will look back on the Yankees series as the point in the season when the futility ended.
This will depend on the surprising first place Milwaukee Brewers, something that even fans in Wisconsin can't expect to continue for much longer (right?). For now, however, they sit a game ahead of the Cardinals and two games above the Cubs. A lot of this is due to the remarkable hitting of Eric Thames, whose resurgence has sparked some (probably unfair) questions from both John Lackey and Chris Bosio, but like the Cubs' most recent opponents, the Reds, Milwaukee has a generally potent offense that extends beyond their first baseman.
The Cubs offense carried them through the Cincinnati series for the most part, and with the pitching matchups ahead of them this weekend, the bats will probably need to be relied upon again.
Today, we'll see Eddie Butler for the second time, who secured the favor of Cubs fans---temporarily, at least---by earning Chicago's only win during the series in St. Louis with six scoreless innings in his Cubs debut. Butler's major league pitching performances have not been great otherwise, but even before getting the call to come to the show, he had been brilliant in Triple-A Iowa. He goes against Paolo Espino of the Brewers, who is making his major league debut.
After Butler, it's Jake Arrieta and then John Lackey. Both have shown that they can just as easily throw a quality start as cough up several runs in the early innings. Lackey is simply too old to be consistent anymore, and Arrieta's mechanics have been betraying him for a year now. But, if the offense can keep posting football scores like they have been this week, this might not matter.
Friday: 1:20 pm - CSN/670 AM
Saturday: 1:20 pm - CSN/670 AM
Sunday: 1:20 pm - WGN/670 AM
Friday: Paolo Espino - Like I mentioned above, this is his debut. The 30 year old was signed to a minor league contract last November, and he has impressed in the minors so far. In 39 innings with Triple-A Colorado Springs, he has gone 4-0 with a 2.54 ERA and 1.026 WHIP. It's worth noting that he's been a career minor leaguer to this point, having floated around the Cleveland and Washington systems from 2007 to 2016 before the Brewers picked him up. He has five pitches, but seems to lean most heavily on a fourseam fastball and decent curveball. We will likely also see some of his sinker, and occasional changeup and slider. The fastball does not work particularly well---it rarely avoids being put into play---so the offense will need to sit on that pitch this afternoon and capitalize when it comes.
Saturday: Chase Anderson - Anderson nearly no-hit the Cubs in Milwaukee just over a year ago, and he is an even tougher draw so far this season. Through eight starts, his ERA is down nearly a full run, his FIP is down from 5.09 last year to 3.02, and his K% his creeping up---18.6% in 2016 to 20.4% now. The most interesting thing might be his massive drop in HR/FB rate, however. It was 11.1% in 2015, 14.9 last year, but it's currently sitting at 3.8% right now. Of course, these things can level out over time, but thanks to a drop in his arm slot, they might not.
Sunday: Jimmy Nelson - Like Anderson, Nelson is turning in a strong season thus far. The strikeouts are up, the walks are down, and he, too, is giving up fewer homers. He has changed his usage and sequencing to improve on the number of walks he issued, dropping his sinker in favor of his fourseamer. The sinker, thrown 45% of the time last year, is down to 30.2%, and his fourseamer is up to 39.1% after he used it only about 24% of the time in 2016. This will be Nelson's third time facing the Cubs this season, and after throwing six one-run innings on April 7, the Cubs blew him up for seven runs eleven days later.
Ian Happ has justifiably secured his spot on the 25-man roster, for now, but Jason Heyward is due to return from his rehab assignment in South Bend on Saturday, so this will make getting Happ into the lineup more challenging, should he stay in Chicago instead of returning to Triple-A. Understandably, we are all anxious to see him remain with the team, and given the way he has been hitting, he very well might, but he needs to play every day.
I'm convinced that keeping him on the roster only to use him sporadically would be a disservice to his development---I've said this before, I know---and thankfully his degree of defensive flexibility allows for Joe Maddon to move him around. He can play a serviceable outfield in all three spots, second base, and he has taken reps at third in the minors. If it were up to me, I'd keep him here and find a spot for him, even if that means less of Ben Zobrist and/or Javy Baez. At least for now, Happ's bat is hot, so it should stay in the lineup.