Morning Cubs Roundup: Cubs lose, but clinch postseason berth

anthony-rizzo

Last Game: Pirates 3, Cubs 2

Up Next: Cubs (32-23) @ Pirates (31-20) 6:05 CST

Game Recap

Rejoice! I guess?!?

The celebration will no doubt be muted following a walk off loss to the lowly Pirates last night, but thanks to the Phillies getting swept in a doubleheader by the Nationals the Cubs have clinched a postseason berth for the fifth time in six years. They are also well situated to win the NL Central for the third time in five years barring a final week collapse. I'm sure there will be greater jubilation once the division is secured, but until then, I think the Cubs and their fans are a bit trepidacious regarding recent performances and just how locked in the team is during the season's final week.

While my own comfort level with the pitching staff grows, despite the recent news Rowan Wick and Tyler Chatwood are unlikely to pitch again this year, my confidence in the offense continues to diminish. We all know the issues: the high K rates and lack of contact, the paltry power production even when they put the ball in play, etc., etc., etc.

The offense has been "broken" for years, but it is likely in a worse state right now than it has ever been. And that is with a breakout season from Ian Happ, a resurgent Jason Heyward, and a solid year by Jason Kipnis. This is on the core five. In year's past there were credible reasons to believe the offense could be fixed by increasing production from the depth pieces and by the maturation of the Cubs still young core into true veterans. That no longer flies this season. The buck stops with Rizzo, Bryant, Baez, Contreras and Schwarber. They talked the talk before the season began but they haven't backed it up. At all.

This team will only go as far as these five take them this postseason. Sure, the pitching could let them down too, but these hitters are supposed to be able to score enough to cover for occasional poor outings on the mound. They are supposed to slug and win shootouts.

They know this is their last chance to succeed as a group. At least one of them will be moved this offseason. That has gone from likely to almost guaranteed at this point. I hope they can go out on a high note. I really do. Until I see them start hitting the center cut 92 mph fastballs that they have missed the majority of this season, I will remain skeptical.

Injuries, Updates, and Trends

  • Magic Number: 4
  • To make room for Jose Quintana the Cubs optioned Rex Brothers. Quintana allowed one run over two innings, and fellow lefty Andrew Chafin gave up the winning homer in the 9th. These two figure to be a big part of the left side of the Cubs bullpen come playoff time, especially if they advance beyond the opening round. It is important to get at least one of the two pitching well over the next week.
  • The Cubs seem optimistic Kris Bryant's latest injury is not serious. But given all of the various ailments which have affected him this season, even if the oblique doesn't hamper him much, I think it is clear he's suffering a death from a thousand cuts this season. As much as I talked about the core five needing to lift this team up, I just don't think Bryant is going to be healthy enough to be a part of that, regardless if he returns. He'll unfortunately take the brunt of the fan's wrath if the Cubs get eliminated, but of the core five, he has had the most reason to struggle this season. I'm not sure KB has played a single game at full health in 2o2o.

Side Note

Once again, let me thank all of you who have stuck with us at Cubs Den through this trying season. It would have been difficult for me to keep up on all the news and game coverage under the best of circumstances, but besides all of the craziness of 2o2o, I've also ended up with a change in my work schedule which has me in meetings prior to 7 am most days. Unlike night owl John, I write better in the morning. And my change in work schedule has dramatically cut into my normal writing schedule. I'm doing what I can, but it has been difficult to keep pace.

Filed under: Morning Cubs Roundup

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  • Thanks very much, Michael, for your efforts this season. They are much appreciated. I know that the strain of producing the Den in the current situation is high, and I'm greatly appreciative of you and the other Den contributors for a job well done under very trying circumstances.

    Like you, I look at the Cubs and wonder what the offensive fix might be. To me it seems clear that the core five and others have succumbed to the HR or bust philosophy, and it has been mostly bust. Opposing pitchers now know exactly how to pitch to the Cubs, and even I can predict the 2-strike offering with uncanny precision. Flail Away....

    The hitters will never get consistently good pitches to hit until they are willing to lay off the bad ones, particularly with 2 strikes. The K rates are nothing short of alarming, and the concept of a team (not individual) offense has yet to take root.

    I'm happy we made the playoffs, but if the current offensive mentality remains fixed, I anticipate a rapid exit.

  • In reply to wthomson:

    Thanks, wthomson.

    I expect the team will trade one of the core five this offseason. They just can't bring them all back again. Not sure who it will be, but they have flexibility depending on what the trade market looks like.

    I actually believe some of the core guys have tried to become more flexible at the plate. All have tried to utilize the whole field more. But I believe what is happening is that they are getting caught between a bit. They aren't aggressively turning on pitches like they are capable and but also aren't fully committed to an opposite field approach.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Perhaps Schwarber for Witt?

  • I was relieved to hear that there are plenty around the game that feel the same way I do about MLB nowadays. From Tim Kurkjian:
    https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/29898470/this-fun-how-everyone-baseball-navigated-very-different-season

    I've noticed that I've become much more interested in the guys developing in the minors and I really miss checking their progress right here. I can't wait until we're discussing prospects again because I have trouble watching the big league club.

  • In reply to DarBar15:

    Fun? Is anyone having fun?

    I have to work from home and help my fourth grade daughter with her remote learning. For about a month I couldn’t go outside because the smoke was so thick it was harmful to breath. I could go inside anywhere, like the gym, because everything was closed. The heat hit 111 degrees one day and we had long stretches of 100+. It’s supposed to hit 100 plus for a stretch next week.

  • In reply to cubs09:

    Sounds as if you get the worst that 2020 has to offer. I wish you a better late 2020 and a much better 2021.

  • In reply to cubs09:

    You dopes got air conditioning out there or are the rolling blackouts still in effect? Enjoy!

  • In reply to Oldno7:

    Sugar t*ts! So what’s your trolling plan now that Bryant is on the shelf?

  • In reply to DarBar15:

    I wish I shared your belief in the Cub farm system but isn't this the one that brought us the core players we have today? Javy, Contraras, Kyle, and Kris all came up in the "system". Did they have a hitting coach or were they exempted from that class because they could hit an occasional home run?

  • In reply to Charly9415:

    More hope than belief, but I hear ya. I don't know if the 3-outcome approach is taught at the lower levels or if it's just the big club. Hopefully, they take notice and start teaching baseball again so that the next wave of talent doesn't peak at 24.

  • In reply to DarBar15:

    It shouldn't be a shock that I enjoy the Minor League season more than the Majors. It has made it difficult for me to get excited about baseball this season, given that my favorite aspect of it has been missing.

  • Isn't this how the season was expected to go?

    Cubs challenge for the playoffs, and certainly would not be the favorite to win it all if they made the playoffs?

    They have a chance just by making the playoffs. Cubs already reached the high water mark for 2020 season expectations. Winning any playoff series should be fun. Cubs are not considered a top tier team anymore, especially when compared to the 16 mlb 2020 playoffs teams.

    Cubs last two off seasons, their actions have suggested, they are not interested in giving out multiple long term big dollar contracts. I'm fine with that.

    I believe the Cubs could possible be in the same position today, even if they dealt a few of the core, and some other player last off season. Cubs roster doesn't scream world series winner, or bust season for the team. I'm more disappointed in status quo with the core, then the team results, and some of players stats this season.

  • In reply to Naujack:

    Yes, this is what I expected record-wise (maybe even a couple games better), but it has also played out a little different with the offense struggling so badly. I don't think anyone anticipated so many hitters struggling to hit 200.

    I figured the Cubs would be a playoff team, with the third best odds of winning the WS behind the Dodgers and Braves in the NL. I still think that is the odds for the NL. The Padres have closed the gap with the Cubs quicker than I anticipated. There may not even be a gap at this point. Difficult to get a read on them given how much their roster changed midseason.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Padres in 2020 look real good. Padres traded away 14 players, plus a couple PTBN. They beefed up their pitching, and really cleaned up their 40 man roster before the off-season.

    Padres seemed to develop not only a few stars, but depth at the same time.

  • I'm a regular reader, rarely sign in to comment.

    Just wanted you to know I enjoy your writing.

  • In reply to HJW49:

    I appreciate it.

  • Michael,

    Thank you for all of your hard work and effort on these posts all year. It is very much appreciated.

    Regardless of how irritating the Core 5 have been this year, I for one, am very happy that we get to watch this team compete in its final playoffs in its current iteration. Sometimes its better to be lucky than good. Maybe all this team needs is a little luck and they can make an improbable run through the playoffs.

  • In reply to nukee:

    Agree, thanks so much Micheal. And yes, the Cubs can still win it all. Hot streak a possibility. It starts with a couple breakout games and builds from there.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Thank you, both.

  • In reply to nukee:

    I am definitely appreciative of all they've done and I hold nothing against them. I don't subscribe to the notion "we can't win with these guys" given we already have. They need to get going though, and quick. At least 2-3 of the core five need to get hot at the same time if this team is to advance more than a round or two.

  • Michael,

    Thank you for all your hard work and long hours in making this site a very enjoyable place to come to read realistic commentary about our favorite team, the Chicago Cubs. Thanks also to all the other folks who contribute here in various ways.

    it's great to be in first place in the division, but for some reason the joy isn't as strong this year, as in past years. I think we all realize how fragile and demanding life is during 2020 staying healthy safe and employed and how all that becomes a greater priority in our lives than sports right now. I know we will eventually get back to normal at some point, and hopefully we can get back to fully enjoying Cubs baseball again when that happens.

    The offensive struggles of the core has been totally perplexing.
    They can't use the excuse of too long of a season or the pressure of playing in front of rowdy, and sometimes mean, fans, or the toll travel takes on their bodies over the course of a season. This should be their prime years characterized by reaching their full potential and putting up eye-popping numbers offensively. Instead we get a bunch of Mendoza-line ballplayers who can't hit a 93mph fastball down the heart of the plate. I can still hear all the announcers and ex-players telling us how this is the major leagues and you can't sneak a fastball by a major league hitter unless you're throwing 100mph. Guess those days are over.

    It will be sad to see this core get broken up in the off-season, which will surely happen, but not really a surprise. You can't build a winning team around a bunch of core players with high swing-and-miss rates and triple slash lines hovering in the bottom half of all baseball.

    Besides the huge amounts of money owed these guys for next year, the other sub-optimal thing is that without a minor league season to watch and evaluate players, the Cubs are probably in the worst possible situation in years to evaluate and get decent trade value for any of their core guys. We really can't rely on the fact that 2020 was a fluke year and expect every core player to get back to their normal numbers again. I just don't think it will happen.

    During the offseason, the hard part for the FO will be trying to guess which players had a truly fluky year, and which players have actually reached their ceiling and are beginning to trend downward.

    Hopefully they guess right!

  • In reply to DetroitCubFan:

    Thanks.

    I agree with basically everything you stated too.

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    Michael, thank you for all the work you do, and I know that we have no idea how much you do while working full time and family too. I certainly appreciate anything you can do for Cubs Den and all you've done in the past.
    As for the Cubs, I just feel like we're crawling to the end of the season. I'm happy we qualified for the playoffs but don't have enough confidence in this team to do much. I love the Cubs and have for many, many years, but the last few 2nd halves of the years for some reason a switch was turned off and the bats keep missing balls. It reminds me of the Ray Milland movie "It Happens Every Spring." We could have been in that movie. Ever since 2015 when this Core started making noise there was excitement--they were young and talented. They're still in their prime but what happened to the talent or at least the development of the talent? I just don't know.

  • MICHAEL, I'VE ENJOYED READING YOUR POST. I THINK BASEBALL HAS FINALLY SHOT ITSELF IN THE FOOT. THE UMPIRING IN LAST YEARS PLAYOFFS WAS WORSE THAN BAD. WHAT'S WORSE, THE BASEBALL COMMISSIONER DID NOTHING TO FIX THIS. THEO'S DRAFTING WAS D+ AT BEST. DRAFTING K.SCHWARBER WITH THE FOURTH OVERALL PICK WAS A MULTI MILLION DOLLAR MISTAKE AND HAS CRIPPLED THE CUBS THESE PAST YEARS. THERE IS A TIME AND PLACE FOR EVERYTHING AND MAKING POLITICAL STATEMENTS IN BASEBALL AND OTHER SPORTS IS WRONG. ITS NOT THE RIGHT FORUM. R.I.P. GAYLE SAYERS, A TRUE AMERICAN HERO,NOT A CAREER CRIMINAL LIKE THAT BUM IN MINNESOTA.

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