The First Hundred
First the spelling is intentional because we could use a laugh today. The 2019 Cubs again dropped a game on the road after a thrilling, turning point of the season type win prior. The club has a bottom ranked farm system and a tapped out budget by all reports, whoever you want to blame for it. It certainly feels like this is an organization moving farther away from being a fully operational Deth Starr. The heights of 2016 seem to be growing more and more distant.
But I am actually optimistic following the loss against a struggling Philly club. And it is in large part due to the performance of José Quintana.
Starting from the Beginning
The offense had a bad game against a soft tossing lefty who feels like the type of pitcher who has baffled Cubs lineup for decades. The Cubs talented lineup almost never squared up Jason Vargas and failed to make the Phillies pay all night for the extra base runners allowed. It was absolutely frustrating to watch, but it is also not something that happens to the Cubs lineup just on the road.
It was the 18th time on the road that the Cubs lineup produced 2 runs or fewer in a game. The Cubs have done that 13 times at home as well. The picture is even more clear when examining the difference between home and road run production. The club scores 5.03 at home per game compared to 4.93 on the road for difference of 0.1 runs per game.
It feels like more because those 18 games stand out in our memory a lot more than the 10 times the team has scored double digit runs on the road this season. It has been far more common for the Cubs to score 6 or more runs on the road in 2019 than it has been to deliver a performance like last night, despite what it feels like. The issue on the road has primarily been the pitching and in particular the starting pitching.
José Quintana has been on a roll recently. He continued that yesterday with one of his best starts as a Cub and provided some hope that the guy who statistically comped to being Jon Lester before the season of his trade might still be in there. Yup Darvish's recent resurgence has been much talked about and should continue tomorrow against a team pulling the cliché firing of the hitting coach due to their own offensive woes.
But the main reason for my cautious optimism is that Cole Hamels is going to shove tonight. You look foolish more often than not when trying to predict baseball, but I'm very sure that Hamels will look like the ace he has been on that Philadelphia mound. It is an unscientific thought and my stated belief is that the ability to raise your performance in clutch situations doesn't exist in baseball. However, we've seen Cole Hamels on particular days just raise his level. The last time the Cubs were no hit saw one of those days as Hamels knowingly made his final start for his then only club. His first performance as a Cub saw a similar type of effort.
Hamels is now making his third start coming off the IL. He is coming off a dreadful outing and pitching in Philadelphia for the first time since leaving. He is going to shove tonight.
Or I'm baseball Costanza.
I know who I want closing until Craig Kimbrel returns, and I know who we are going to get closing until then. The former is Rowan Wick and the latter is Pedro Strop.
The bullpen is thin and the two runs surrendered last night heightens those concerns. The Phillies were able to get big hits against two of the arms not named Rowan Wick who have flashed positive results in their brief time as a Cub. But Brad Kintzler is throwing and will hopeful return soon. Kimbrel is farther away than initially stated, but there is little reason to believe he won't be back this year. So those problems will likely take care of themselves as David Phelps and Duane Underwood will see their roles reduced.
Also criticizing a manager's use of bullpen is often unfair given that so often we don't know all the factors going into a decision. I am not sure that Maddon had a better option Sunday, but Strop's performance likely bought him more high leverage chances. And it really shouldn't have.
Strop emulated Kimbrel on Sunday with his absolute refusal to pitch a clean ninth while still racking up a save. Pedro lost Tucker Barnhart on a 3-2 pitch not particularly close with one out. He recovered to strike out Josh VanMeter with only one pitch in the strike zone and then he threw this 87.5 mph cutter.
Thankfully Nick Senzel missed the pitch and it was a pop up to end the game. However, that could have just as easily been a home run particularly at the launching pad that is the Great American Ball Park. The feelings around Strop would have been a lot different even if Strop recovered after that to end the game with the Cubs still ahead, but it went into the books as a zero to help lower Pedro Strop's ERA. It was a good thing that happened because the Cubs desperately needed the win, but it is worrying to consider that Senzel missing a very hittable pitch is very likely going to be used justifying Strop's usage at the end of the ballgame.
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