24 in 24 Has Been a Rough Ride

Beginning back on June 17, the Cubs entered a brutal stretch of 24 games in 24 days, with the bulk of those on the road. With six games remaining in that block, it’s been a far from enjoyable marathon.

The 24-game batch got off to a roaring start with a three-game sweep of Pittsburgh. But then St. Louis rolled into town on June 20, sweeping the Cubs in three, and triggering the first four-game losing streak for the Northsiders, capped off by a loss at Miami. After dropping two out of three to the Marlins, the Cubs rebounded with a road sweep of the hapless Reds, only to then be decimated in four straight by the Mets. The Reds came into Wrigley and extracted a little revenge, grabbing two out of three, bringing us up to the current date, a day after the Atlanta Braves steal a win at Wrigley in a makeup game from April.

In all, the Cubs have managed just a 5-13 record in their last 18 games, including two separate four-game losing streaks. What is happening here?

In short, they look tired. It’s no excuse, but over the last few weeks, certain things are very noticeable. First and foremost, the starting pitching, which has been the bread and butter all season, is not nearly as sharp. One through five in the rotation have become prone to ineffectiveness, high pitch counts, walks, and giving up home runs. A lot of home runs in fact. In various times during this stretch the Cardinals, Marlins, Reds and Mets have all bashed Cubs pitchers to 7+ runs in a game. Much of the defense hasn’t looked as sleek-footed either, adding to the struggles. Part of this conundrum can be traced to who’s behind the plate. While rookie phenom Willson Contreras has performed very well in his limited time, it’s a still a small sample size to this point. Miguel Montero has struggled mightily all season both in the field and behind the plate, and with a long stint on the DL one may wonder if he’s been really hurt all season. That leaves 39-year-old David Ross, who has been highly touted this year, and for good reason. The simple fact is the best version of this Cubs team, at least defensively, is when Ross is on the field. The snag there is you just can’t play Ross daily, and now he’s on the 7-day DL for concussion protocol. With a history of concussions in his career, there’s no telling how another bell-ringing could affect ‘ol Gramps.

Offensively there has been a lot of inconsistency as well. Whether that’s partially due to injuries (Dexter Fowler’s absence has been extremely impactful) or virtually a new lineup every day,  it’s hard to tell. There have been some bright spots: Rookies Albert Almora Jr, and Willson Contreras have begun their MLB careers with distinction, and Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant continue to slug well.

The good news: The Cubs still hold an 8 game lead in the NL Central, and are 19 games over .500 for the season. As we’re seeing, it’s great they got off to such a roaring start and built that cushion, because things change faster than people think in the game of baseball. More good news: All the above is correctable. Players will get healthy, pitching and defense can get sharper, and the bats can find consistency. It’s not a question of if.

There’s a whole half of baseball left to be played. Besides, I’m sure most Cubs fans would rather they struggle in June-July than September-October, right?

Advertisements

Milestone for Gramps Is Just Another Contribution

In the fourth inning of yesterday’s 6-2  win over the visiting Phillies, veteran catcher David Ross blasted his 100th career homer, a 3-run, 417 foot rocket out of Wrigley Field, sending the home dugout and 38,000-plus fans into a frenzy.

 “The boys were excited, I was excited,” Ross said. “My favorite part while this has been going on is rounding second base and looking in the dugout. It makes me smile every time seeing everybody so happy for me and counting down for me. They’re as happy as I am. That makes me feel good.”

The new milestone was one of three 2016 Bucket List items for Ross, affectionately known as “Gramps” by his teammates and fans, in his final season before retirement.

As a journeyman backup catcher who’s long been known as an outstanding defensive player but not the greatest hitter, reaching the century mark in homers is a sizable accomplishment. For Ross is a throwback type to the old days when catchers were regarded as the field generals, defense-first players who called great games, mentally and spiritually guided the pitching staffs and terrorized opposing baserunners. 100 homers is nothing to scoff at from such a player. But nor is it a fluke.

“He brings so much more to us and to the game than just being a backup catcher,” says Jon Lester. “He makes our clubhouse better, he makes our guys better. He knows how to go about pushing buttons with certain guys and getting the best out of them. I know that’s true for myself. He knows how to say the right things without going too far.”

Ross’ swan song season has been nothing short of terrific to this point. In just 25 games so far, he sits among the league leaders in Defensive WAR, Assists, Stolen Base percentage and Range Factor, all categories that effectively measure a catcher’s performance. His bat isn’t too shabby either, as he’s hitting a solid .254 with 4 homers and 17 runs batted in. A noticeable increase in walks, long at-bats and sacrifices have rounded out his endless contributions to the Cubs’ early success. In addition, the extremely likable, always humble, team-first Ross provides immense value to this Cubs team both on and off the field, and has developed into a fan and league favorite.

“I’m proud to contribute to a good team,” Ross said. “None of us like to fail. Failing is not fun. I had a lot of failure at the plate last year. You’ve just got to keep working and you never know what’s going to happen the next at-bat, the next month or the next year. You have to keep working hard and trying your best. That’s what I’ve learned over my 14 years is, you know what, I’m going to go out there and put my best foot forward and play hard for my teammates.”

Catch a no-hitter? Check. Hit that 100th home run? Check.

We all know what that third Bucket List item for this season is.

Sources: http://www.cubs.mlb.com

Yet Another Historical Parallel for the 2016 Cubs

It’s been a rather magical start to the 2016 season for the Chicago Cubs, with many eerie historical parallels that I’ve mentioned in previous posts. Tonight, another notch in the history gunbelt was created, as the Cubs now have the best run differential since the 1905 New York Giants.

2005-06-29-moonlight

Why is this particularly significant? Well, one of the players on that Giants team was none other than Archibald “Moonight” Graham, of Field of Dreams fame. In the movie, it was stated Graham played for the Giants in 1922, when in reality, he played in one game, minus an at-bat, in 1905.

History in the making continues…