Oh...how ordinawy--Braves 5 Cubs 3

During a rain delay in the middle of the fourth inning this evening, a huge bolt of lightning struck near Wrigley Field, emitting an ear splitting crack and sending Kris Bryant scurrying for cover.

It would be incredibly dramatic to report that Willson Contreras walked over to the site of the strike, fashioned a bat from the remains of a Wrigleyville tree, named it “Wonderboy,” and used it to hit a walk off home run. But since this is the Ricketts era, we all know the much likelier ending is Crane Kenney selling it for $300 at the Cubs Authentics stand.

A couple of games ago, Yu Darvish had what we all hoped would be a season-defining brilliant start against the Dodgers. Which was a few games after he had what we all hoped would be a season defining start against Jake Arrieta. At this point, it’s fair to say that Darvish’s walk up music should be from Lili Von Shtupp. Because he is a TEASE.

Although based on the way Braves hitters handled him tonight, everything above the waist was kaput.

Darvish began the game by working a full count to the absurdly impressive Ronald Acuña Jr. His 3-2 pitch appeared to catch the bottom of the zone. But unfortunately for Yu, Ted Barrett was tonight’s home plate umpire. And it’s appropriate that Barrett is an ordained minister because when he’s behind the plate, the strike zone is an eternal mystery of faith. Barrett called it ball four and the game was off to a rough start.

On the very next pitch, Acuña broke for second base. Contreras unleashed a throw that one hopped its way to the bag. Addison Russell played it like a matador instead of an infielder, waving his glove at it as if trying to avoid all contact as the ball careened into center field and Acuña continued on to third. After Darvish induced a popup from Dansby Swanson providing a small reason to hope, his subsequent pitch clanked off Contreras’s glove and rolled through his legs, gifting the Braves a very easy first run.

A word about Russell. It’s time to send him elsewhere. For a lot of us, it’s long past time to do so. When he can’t even be bothered to stop what appeared to be an easy hop in front of the bag, it’s also time to break out the “What exactly is it you do here?” gif. His WRC+ is still so low, you’d assume it measured human decency. And although he had a decent couple of at bats at the start of the game, he still crushed a rally with an overmatched eighth inning strikeout.

Even giving Theo Epstein every benefit of the doubt as to his motivations for keeping Russell around, the fact remains that this isn’t a social experiment--it’s a baseball team. The Cubs sent Ian Happ to Iowa because they were evaluating purely on performance. Based on that criteria, Addison Russell should be in Eugene.

With just one run scoring in what felt like a first inning of bad omens, there was a bit of hope that Darvish could still settle in and pitch a good game. Unfortunately, the Braves lineup wasn’t about to let him up for air. Just as WGN was broadcasting a severe thunderstorm warning, Brian McCann launched a home run off the right field scoreboard. Which was appropriate since McCann wants baseball to be exactly as fun as sitting by yourself in a windowless room. After two innings, it was 2-0.

The coup de gras for Darvish came in the third. With one out, Freddie Freeman lined a double to left and Josh Donaldson walked. After going 2-0 on Nick Markakis, Tommy Hottovy went to visit the mound to offer a bit of advice. Unfortunately, he forgot to add “Hey, don’t throw this next pitch right down the middle so this guy can pulverize it for a three run homer.” Might want to put that on a post-it note for next time.

Up to this point, while the Braves were scoring in every inning, Dallas Keuchel was inducing the Cubs to hit into a double play in the bottom of each frame. It seemed an appropriate way to sum up the month of June: the offense was doing just enough to be the most frustrating it could possibly be.

So why has this month been so obnoxiously inconsistent? Well, let’s look at the June numbers for the three biggest hitters in the lineup going into tonight...

Kris Bryant: .284/.376/.432
Anthony Rizzo: .235/.340/.407
Javy Báez: .247/.272/.517

None of them are doing awful. And there are some good numbers in there like Bryant and Rizzo’s on base and Javy’s slugging. But the biggest takeaway is that none of them are performing at anywhere close to their best. That goes a bit of way toward explaining why it seems like the Cubs can’t get any kind of sustainable winning streak going.

The good news is that Contreras appears to be operating at full Willy the Beast mode and he made a valiant effort to bring them back in the game. With one out in the fourth, Willson unleashed fury on a 2-0 fastball from Keuchel for a long home run to left field. Also noteworthy was that Brian McCann didn’t yell at Contreras after his home run trot. Which means he did it wrong. Nonetheless, the Cubs were on the board and it was 5-1.

Also encouraging was that Bryant turned in a three hit game and played some stellar defense in left field, third base, and shifted over to the second base position. KB did Willson one better in the fifth, demolishing a 1-0 fastball like it had written a tweet about him after grounding into a double play last night. It ended up glancing off the bottom of the left field jumbotron, making it 5-2.

Things got even closer in the sixth and Contreras was again in the middle of it with a one out line drive triple to right. Jason Heyward followed with a ground ball to second that for once we were happy to see and it was 5-3. The Cubs had three innings left against the Atlanta bullpen to try and come all the way back.

Sadly, that was it for the scoring on the night. The patented fake rally™ happened in the eighth instead of the ninth and was foiled with back-to-back strikeouts from Russell and Victor Caratini.

Through it all, the Cubs managed to stubbornly cling to first place as both the Brewers and Cardinals lost as well. Nonetheless, baseball logic dictates that they’re going to have to start winning at some point if they want to hold it for another three months. And it will probably happen once one or more of the big three finds himself in another hot streak.

As for Darvish? Let’s face it, I’m tired.

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  • Well written Ken. We keep waiting for the Cubs to take off on a 15-5 run, but there continues to be more questions than answers. Thankfully, the Brewers and Cardinals are also struggling. It would seem to be, who can find answers to these questions first?

  • If you can't say anything nice...

    Just saw this interesting tidbit: we know of Javy's MVP runner-up season last year. He's on pace to basically match or exceed those offensive numbers. If he does, he will have a season of 30+ HR and 100+ RBI while playing 100+ games at 2B last year, and again with 100+ games at SS this year. He will be the first and only player in baseball history to do so.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    Frank Robinson ‘59.....most games were at 1B
    ‘62.....most in RF
    Both years way over 30/100

    you mean just in consecutive years?

  • In reply to Wickdipper:

    At 2B and SS, two of the weaker offensive positions. I haven't looked but I would assume Mr. Cub did it at SS and 1B. I admit this is kind of a stat of opportunity, because a healthy Lindor could do it IF he played a season at 2B, for one example. But anytime you do something good, over multiple seasons, for the only time in the 150+-year history of baseball, that's impressive. My definition of a baseball unicorn.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    Just blew some major time responding but it didn’t post....is ok, all I gotta do today is get the re-cycle out in time.....
    Not being a snark, I just didn’t know what your distinction was. Ernie never did it, never had a 30/100 at IB.
    Yes, generally middle infielders aren’t known as big offensive players, Davey Johnson had a big year or two.
    I’m just trying to figure out why we’ve sucked for a month.....we’ve been really lucky that the ones chasing us have also.....

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    Time to dump some dead weight! Russell,Cargo,Descalso,Darvish and Q for a bag of chips!

  • In reply to Rick Rariden:

    Who plays 2B? Who fills the 2/5 of the rotation you just emptied? You can't address a hangnail by shooting your foot off. Well, I suppose you CAN, but...

  • I don't know,what to say and have no idea how to fix this team. It could be that they are just not good enough.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    or it could be that they still are in first place. Strange I know, but it is the truth.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    I think you're spot on. Assuming that they really, really ARE good enough and will magically turn things around if we are just patient seems to be a recipe for a long offseason. And KJRyno, we can argue that they're in first place - they wouldn't be in any other division and they won't be in the NL Central for long at their current rate. They're currently 6 games over .500 - and 6 games from last place, too.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    and being 4-6 in our last ten we have actually gained a game on the brewers. I think people just need to realize that teams streak and fall throughout the season. Even the world series champs had a bad streak right before the all star game.

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    In reply to KJRyno:

    The problem is this streak has been going on for a month plus. They’re 4 games under since reaching 25-15.

  • In reply to John Winter:

    So what do you think Milwaukee and St. Lou fans are saying? The exact same thing.

  • In reply to KJRyno:

    They're saying, "Thank God the Cubs stink so bad that it'll only take one weekend series to knock them out of first place." I appreciate that streaks happen, but I think it would be foolish for the Cubs to adopt a "don't worry, they'll get hot" strategy. Changes are needed.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    changes are always needed. Always.

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    As we are all now fully aware of the dead weight , my question is;;
    Who can we get to replace them? In a perfect world scenario let's say
    the Cubs are able to jettison three or four of them , what four players can be on the Cubs roster in a month to actually make a noticeable difference?
    Clearly BigBert Alzolay is here to stay ,, Now who else?

  • In reply to John Nesbit:

    I think it's too soon to insert Alzolay into the rotation, but he could be a 'pen arm. Robel Garcia is another flyer. I love the pop in his bat but do the Cubs really need another 34% strikeout rate on the MLB roster? Still, it's hard to imagine Garcia would be a downgrade from Descalso. Other than that, the FO needs to convert a couple of plow horses into thoroughbreds, in a market that doesn't have a large demand for plow horses.

  • Yu!!!!!!!..........Yu!!!!!!!!!...........Yu stink!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Either donate every penny that you have earned with the Cubbies to charities around Chicago or ask for your release and cancel your remaining contract.......Yu might have been injured since Yu'r World Series pitching with the Dodgers in 2017

  • Yu Darvish is the Cubs worst starting pitcher. They need him to be their best starting pitcher. Really good teams have five starting pitchers that consistently give them a chance to win. The Cubs have 2.5.

  • Overachieving teams are fun to watch. It's becoming clear to me that the sum of this team is considerably less than it's misfit collection of parts.

  • With each passing day of lethargic, .500 baseball, I being to wonder if the only move to make is to fire the manager.

    Not saying that Joe is the problem, but I am not sure there is one move we can do to get this team turned around. We fired the hitting coach last fall, brought in another pitching coach. We have brought up our top pitching prospect and we have 8-9 guys on the final all star ballot. We just signed the best bullpen FA and the back end of the pen is starting to look like a strength, and yet we still sit at 5-8 games over .500.

    Doe firing Joe wake the fellas up? Who would replace him? I am not saying this is the thing to do, but I wonder if Theo is running out of ideas. There is way too much talent on this team for us not to be closer to the Dodgers.

    I am beginning to fear that this version of the Cubs is going to mirror the 85 Bears. All that stinking talent, and only 1 championship to show for it.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    I suggested this a few days ago, and it wasn't very popular. Not that I'm calling for it, but there's a reason Maddon's contract wasn't extended and I wouldn't be surprised if the FO decided that Joe just isn't getting enough from this expensive payroll. There was speculation when Mark Loretta was hired as bench coach that he could be Maddon's replacement - he'd probably be interim guy until the offseason.

  • Hottovoy needs to step up his game and start having a positive impact on Yu. His ineffectiveness against LHB is alarming. He cannot control the inside corner and lacks any variance of velocity for his change. It is nothing more than a BP fastball. Time to get to work on the side between starts. Very frustrating to watch this go on.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    Yep, the team can't have an automatic loss every 5th day. I wonder if Yu simply has too many pitches he's trying to control. Maybe he should pick his 4 best and not throw anything else. Having 6 different ways to throw a ball in the dirt two feet outside doesn't help.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Yu already has limited his pitches. That was given as the reason he hasn't walked as many as he was earlier. But, it has come with some other side effects, most notably the long ball.

  • This is what you get for being a complete 3-true-outcome team offensively. You wait on dingers every night, you get dingers some nights, other nights you only get double play balls. That's how you play .500 ball. This philosophy won't get you a championship!

  • Maddon's got both González and Descalso starting today. These 3 have got to go. The Cubs have no chance with Maddon as the manager and González and Descalso on the 25 man roster.

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    Joe plans his lineup as everyone is hitting as they SHOULD be, rather than how they are. I get that he's going for the matchup, but Bote hits RHP better than Descalso does.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Everybody hits RHP better than Descalso. I think Maddon sets his lineups on gut feelings. I think he manages the bullpen the same way. I believe he believes he knows better than what stats say.

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    Here are Descalso stats since 4/25 AVE.101 OBP.214 SLG.157 wOBA.180 wRC+5. That is over 2 months of games. A lousy hitting pitchers numbers are better.

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    AKA struggling pitcher starting so get our worst player on the field. Not ideal that bottom of the order is a black hole, and I honestly trust Lester more at the plate then Descalso right now.

  • In reply to kkhiavi:

    So who’s responsible for Descalso being on the roster, same for González?

    If they're not Joes choice for the roster, doesn’t he have to try to use them? If he sits them then he works with a two man bench.

    Seems Joe can’t play someone who’s not there. Theo at fault for the mess. You don’t change players, you change managers.

    Should Theo resign or is this team what it’s going to be .

  • In reply to stix:

    I never blamed Maddon for playing them I generally don't question lineup choices. I'm more of a backseat pitching change kinda guy. Descalso being on the roster is on Theo and I hope that they don't hold the guy all season because he's on a contract. Descalso doens't get paid enough in my mind to have the luxury of having a guaranteed roster spot. And the facts are Russell and Bote bring a lot more value as top reserves. He better start a hitting run soon or I don't see how they can keep him past the deadline.

  • In reply to stix:

    They are already playing with a 2 man bench. Cargo and Descalso are useless.

  • In reply to stix:

    if we start talking about ditching Theo over roster decisions like Descalso we really need to reevaluate who we are as baseball fans. The sport has it's up and down and you roll with the punches. If the FO makes a decision that this really isn't a WS contender (and nobody including them should have come to that conclusion yet) then I expect a measure sell off. Maybe not even enough to miss the playoffs as a WC. The fact remains, however, that this team just spent $43 million for a guy who's just up today, remains tenuously in first place, and is playing under its talent level, and even it's underlying numbers. That botom of the lineup stinks to high heaven no matter who you put there right now. I fully expect Descalso to be gone by around the ASB and if Garcia comes up, like it looks like they're grooming him to with the time in the OF at AAA, Gonzalez could be gone before then. It's foolish to think that money playes no part in a decision like that though. They may very well eat the $3 mil or so left on the deal but to think they wouldn't continue to try to avoid that is unrealistic. Now if we're talking about Descalso in late July that's a different story, but I'd be surprised.

  • In reply to stix:

    This is off topic Stix but I think something has to be noted on this La Stella/Descalso swap. Let's remember that La Stella wouldn't be performing as well with the cubs. He was a soft hitting singles hitter with us that Maddon didn't like to start due to OPS and defensive deficiencies. He was a cub for 4 years where was this breakout under Joe Maddon's coaching staff? I think it's clear that La Stella figured something out under a new coaching staff. Maybe getting traded was a bit of a wakeup call for Tommy, but the facts are he was a different hitter with the cubs. Theo is the one that traded for La Stella clearly he provided Maddon with a very capable reserve talent for years, but this coaching staff was unable to unlock his potential for whatever reason. Theo has certainly made mistakes Descalso being one of them, but he can't control capable players hitting a lot better once they move to new organizations. The cubs had La Stella for 4 years and frankly I never really liked him as a player. He didn't have defensive value as a sub, he didn't have tremendous clubhouse value as a leader/glue guy, and he didn't slug (singles hitter).

    I personally believe the league is going to figure La Stella out and he'll regress mightily as teams adjust to his new swing. But let's keep in mind that Theo provided Maddon with a capable backup for years, and the cubs coaching staff never brought out Tommy's full potential clearly. As much as I respect Theo and Maddon, they can't always control the results. Theo has limited control of the team getting the best out of hitters he acquires. On the flip side like you said Maddon can't control Theo acquiring dead weight players for his roster like Descalso. That said doesn't mean these 2 men aren't good at their jobs, they've won a ton of games here and elsewhere for a reason.

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    The problem with Joe is that he keeps his players so loose and carefree that, overtime, they subconsciously lose their sense of urgency to produce. They have a total mindset of 'oh well, we lost a game, we'll get them tomorrow, no need to change approach, etc, the list goes on. That's why I believe we're not situational hitting, getting worse defensively, making dumb mental errors. The players believe it's okay to do it with no repercussions. That mindset only works for so long and I think that it has been proven. We always hear the players owning up, but subconsciously they're still in the mindset that it's okay to make mistakes. Which is ok, until it happens day in & day out for longer periods of time as we have witnessed the last half of Joe's contract. Imo, they need a kick in the butt, telling them they suck. And that is the reason I miss Davey Martinez. He was the one to do that and counterbalance Joe's philosophy.

  • In reply to Wrigley0923:

    This is a great point and I think exactly what happened last year. The "lack of urgency" narrative took off after the season, for better or worse, but the reason for it is what you've explained.

    It is up to Theo and Jed to change that tone and narrative. Joe can't just bury all of Russell, Descalso, and Cargo on the bench. Theo needs to make some cuts. The best way to wake up the under-achieving is to demote, DFA, and/or trade away. I can't believe that Russell is long for this team. Firing Joe is not the solution. Interim managers in their first season don't usually win World Series.

  • Definitely a disappointing setback outing for Darvish putting the team in a 0-5 hole. But that said I really felt like if the bullpen and Yu could hold the braves scoreless after the rain delay, then this cubs offense would make a comeback. Kudos to the bullpen I feel I haven't seen them eat up 4+ innings often enough against these tough lineups, so good for that group. With Kimbrel returning and Barnette/Alzolay providing depth, the backend of this pitching staff is getting deeper.

    What concerned me again last night though big picture for the playoffs is once again this offense just can't generate much offense against LHP, regardless of whose on the mound. I think teams around the league are beginning to take notice, as Atlanta used exclusively lefty relievers like Newcomb and a struggling Minter plus 2 left handed starters in a row. Atlanta's bullpen is very vulnerable easily the weakness of that roster. The cubs have to be able to score enough to win games where their opponent scores 4-5 runs, as this is an explosive and offensive oriented braves team. It seems against lefties and overall frankly that the lineup is too reliant on the big 4, in addition to one of Heyward or Schwarber stepping up. The issue is Schwarber and Heyward don't step up against LHP so it basically puts the onus on Bryant, Javy, or Willson to deliver. The more I watch this team the more I feel like they need to heavily pursue Merrifield from KC.

  • In reply to kkhiavi:

    Barnette was sent down with the Kimbrel move.

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    Yeah that's why I listed them as Barnette/Alzolay. I figured one of those 2 would be sent down, and I was worried it would be Adbert. I wonder if Adbert gets the next start over Chatwood.

  • In reply to kkhiavi:

    I still think the biggest weakness is the rotation. In theory, Darvish should be there best pitcher and you could win a game 3-2, which is what aces do. They don't have a good enough rotation to win three playoffs series, IMO. So I would not aggressively pursue a guy like Merrifield. I'd try to improve the team like they did last year with Murphy.

  • In reply to Cubs09:

    I kinda feel like the cubs rotation is just at rock bottom right now. I think one of Quintana, Darvish, or Alzolay should be able to pitch a game 4. The good thing for the cubs is they don't have to start Darvish or even roster him on the postseason roster frankly. I guess it depends on how you feel also about Jon Lester, but I personally think he'll be find and still trust him any day in a big game. Hendricks recovery is going to be key they definitely can't afford for him to get hurt or not come back the same pitcher. It's definitely frustrating to be questioning this rotation with all of its big name pitchers, but that's where we are right now. I respect your opinion and hope my optimism in this group pans out. But I think this rotation is still fine especially when you view them 1-4 instead of 1-5. It'll be interesting how this front office views this team though. If they're unlikely to win a WS, then does it make sense to approach the deadline so aggressively? This next month of baseball maybe big for their evaluation of this roster.

  • In reply to kkhiavi:

    It's not impossible, depending how well the manage his innings, that Alzolay could be part of the post season mix. The kid attacks the zone which is something only Hamels does consistently, even if Lester does it too when his mechanics are right. A playoff rotation of Hamels, Hendricks, Lester and Alzolay is not implausible but until then either Quintana or Darvish have to stop farting around and at least pitch like solid BOR. I get where Cubs09 is coming from when he says that very good teams have 5 starters that help them win but that isn't quite true. Very few teams do. The Dodgers manage to do it with a rotation but really they're the only contender in the NL out there with that luxury, or frankly even close to it. the Cubs staff is better than Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Colorado and should be better than the Reds even if it doesn't feel that way. In the AL Houston, NY and Boston really only have 4 guys before it gets dicey, Tampa Bay and Minnesota have 3 and Cleveland, decimated by injuries doesn't have that many. The Cubs should have 5 if Q and Darvish pitched to their skills. As far as that goes Quintana is a very good second half pitcher so I expect more out of him. Darvish is broken, I don't get it but it is what it is. If you can hobble through with him as your 5 and improved bullpen it might be fine.

    I continue to be optimistic but realistic. This offense needs to get better. Having black holes at 7 and 8 in the lineup will not get it done. Guys in our top 6 (I've added Heyward because of his spectacular June) will slump and should be allowed to without the whole offense falling apart. The fact is that except for Baez all of them put up good numbers this month. Yeah, Bryant has this weird thing where he's aiming at the sky but he has strung together hits and the numbers aren't awful at all. I heard someone say that his June OPS/wRC+ of .864 and 131 respectively is soft, it still is what it is. I get that our pitching feels scary, but it wouldn't if the offense had any consistency. If we don't get there, we don't win period.

  • In reply to TC154:

    Great post TC. Interesting research as well on other teams. The way I see it the cubs clearly have better starting pitching then their divisional rivals, and in my opinion a better rotation then Atlantas. LA is the class of the NL but will Ryu, Kershaw and Rich Hill hold up? Hill is already on the shelve again and isn't getting any younger. I'm also more optimistic about Quintana, Darvish, and Alzolay then most. Darvish is the odd man out right now but I can see him contributing if he throws strike 1 and doesn't fall behind like he did the 8 starts before Atlanta. And while I'm not a fan of the Quintana deal I think he's fine as the 4th starter. He'll turn it around in my opinion Joe Maddon seemed to indicate he's going through some midseason fatigue. And Alzolay is a nice insurance option for both of them. To me the biggest thing is keeping the top 3 starters some of whom are aging healthy and effective. That's why Hendricks successful return looms large, and I'd be careful with him.

  • Bottom line is one of either Bote or Russell should have made Descalso sit more but neither have done it so Joe is playing the lefty righty type of thing. Bote is hitting .093 his last seven games. Almora is like .110 his last seven. That is why Cargo is playing. Caratini is flailing lately too. Sure wish Nico hadn't got hurt. His contact and OBP might have pushed him all the way to Wrigley.

  • Would you consider Starlin over Merrifield? Doesn’t fit their window nor salary structure but fits ours. Can backup shortstop position. How much more does he cost over Whit? Of course Addy is part of this deal..........

  • In reply to 523WSC:

    Starlin Castro is slashing .232/.261/.313 .246 wOBA 53 wRC+. That's Daniel Descalso with a slightly better BA in a larger sample size. No thank you.

  • In reply to 523WSC:

    I have never thought much of Castro's "baseball intelligence." He could help a little, but I wouldn't want to see the Cubs give up much for him.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Cliff, not sure if you saw my post but his numbers are literally about the same as Descalso's.

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