Wow, kind of a lot happened over the weekend with the Cubs. Nothing really landscape-altering, at least not yet, but there were several developments that serve as great water-cooler conversation starters. With that in mind, I want to knock out some quick thoughts on various Cubs pitchers/pitching issues here on the off day.
As an aside, I was unable to watch any of Saturday’s game and was resigned to following Sunday’s game on the radio while driving home. The former was a function of an ABC-7 broadcast that can only be picked up in Chicagoland or those regions served by a local affiliate syndicating the coverage. As such, a lot of Northwest Indiana is left in the dark.
Had I been home, I’d have had the game on either WISH or WNDY in all their technicolor glory. Getting significantly closer to Chicago, however, left me without an option. I know folks in Chicago are lamenting the impending loss of free games on ABC-7 and WGN when Marquee launches next season, but the consolidation of broadcasts will be better for a lot of fans.
Anyway, on with the show.
The Darvish enigma
By all accounts, Yu Darvish is in a good place both physically and mentally this season after neither may have been the case when he first joined the Cubs. The mental stuff is something we can only deduce from we see and hear, but Darvish is clearly much more comfortable and has said as much. Even so, his performance and usage have led to plenty of questions.
There’s no denying that Darvish hasn’t yet been the pitcher the Cubs thought they were getting when they made him the star of their free-agent class last season. Much of that rests solely on his shoulders, or his right shoulder, as the statistical performance simply isn’t what it needs to be. At the same time, the perception of Darvish has been skewed by early hooks and a stated desire to protect him.
His 2019 debut was all on him, but in each of the three subsequent starts that have seen Darvish fail to exceed 85 pitches, Joe Maddon has lifted the righty at the first whiff of trouble. And in each of those, the bullpen has proceeded to give up runs. We’ve seen that Darvish has plenty of stamina, as he showed by throwing 99 mph with his 95th and 96th pitches against Miami. So what gives?
It’s perhaps too simple to pin it on Maddon’s historically quizzical pitching decisions, but that’s sort of where the path leads us. Listen, I get the idea of keeping a guy out of trouble to protect and promote his confidence, but this is a guy you’re paying to be an ace. And I don’t mean like the whole meatball notion that Darvish has to be good simply because he’s earning a lot of money.
What I mean is that the Cubs are paying Darvish a lot of money because he’s good, so he needs to be allowed to keep working rather than taking the ball from him in favor of Allen Webster. Maybe Darvish gives up another three runs Saturday like Webster did and all the rabble is based on something. Or maybe he carries on with the obvious momentum he’d built.
Darvish faced 11 batters over his final three innings Saturday, throwing 43 pitches in the process. He got to only five two-ball counts, only two of which went to three balls and only one of which resulted in a walk. What’s more, Darvish was touching 96 and needed only 11 pitches to retire the top of the Diamondbacks’ order in order in the 5th inning.
Enough with this out-on-a-high-note hooey, Maddon should have left Darvish in there to keep pushing for a quality start and a chance to keep the Cubs in the game. This isn’t the first time it’s been said on these pages — or on the Inside Corner YouTube show — but the ongoing attempts to protect his pitcher may actually be undermining him.
I must also admit that it’s entirely possible Darvish has told Maddon ahead of time to go get him, but that doesn’t seem to be the case based on what we know.
If any of you deny having a sinking feeling when Tyler Chatwood walked Sunday’s leadoff hitter on four pitches, none of which were close, you’re flat-out lying. Unless, that is, you’d already felt so bad about the start that you could no longer sink. But then a crazy thing happened.
Chatwood got a grounder for a double play and another to end the inning, needing only 11 total pitches to get through the opening frame. He didn’t walk another batter until the 5th, the only other time in the game he racked up more than two balls in a plate appearance. It was a much-needed outing for both Chatwood and the Cubs.
The hope is that this provides a boost of confidence to the veteran swingman and allows him to blossom as a long reliever/spot starter. With Jon Lester set to return soon, Chatwood and Mike Montgomery would give the Cubs a nice righty/lefty combo in that spot. The downside is that the performance has probably spawned takes that Chatwood and Darvish need to swap spots.
Morrow shut down
The Cubs offset good news of Lester’s Saturday sim game with the mild bombshell that Brandon Morrow was in a “shut-down period” after he failed to bounce back well from a mound session earlier in the week. It’s hard to spin this in a positive way, though it’s perhaps less negative if we look at as the Cubs just being overly cautious. Jed Hoyer admitted as much, so taking it really easy with Morrow is a given.
That said, and even though literally everyone with even limited knowledge of Morrow’s history was at least a little iffy on the signing, it’s still highly disappointing that this whole thing has played out like it has. Until such time as Morrow comes back healthy, this stands as another example of the Cubs’ inability to figure out the bullpen formula.
The organization has admitted to being overly conservative when it comes to pitching development, but they have almost adopted the opposite tack with veteran relievers. Like bargain shoppers haggling for discounts on dented cans of green beans, the Cubs have sought out players whose injury-driven risk lowers their asking price.
It’s understandable to want to mitigate the high cost associated with what is a naturally volatile group, but there’s a reason “You get what you pay for” is a thing. In the case of Morrow, we can also apply “caveat emptor.” Absent a lock-down closer at the end of the ‘pen, they’ve had to resort to a series of misfit arms in the hope that one of them emerges.
There are no sure things among relievers, but the Cubs have put themselves in a bind by avoiding the surest of them out there and opting instead to place smaller bets on longer odds.
Edwards on rampant racism, journey back to Chicago
If you haven’t already read Gordon Wittenmyer’s excellent piece on Carl Edwards Jr. from Sunday in the Sun-Times, please do so. I’m not even going to summarize it here for you, except to say that Edwards’ origin story is great and it lends additional context to the reason he reported the racist social media messages he received earlier in the month (not that such tripe needs to be further contextualized).
Should Edwards find his way in Iowa, he’ll find his way back to Chicago quickly enough. From there, it’s a matter of maintaining his composure and not allowing a few bad pitches or borderline calls to derail an outing. You can’t make proclamations on four innings of work, but the slender righty does seem to have regained a little swagger during his brief time in Iowa so far.
That’s the whole key, too, building that confidence and then internalizing it to the point that it’s unshakable.
“I have no doubt in my mind I’m going back up there,” he said, figuring it will be soon. “Just as long as I get my work done. And if I go up, I’m not coming back.”