The Rundown: Kimbrel Has Been Elite Lately, Epstein Quietly Having Superb Season, White Sox & Dodgers Clinch Postseason Berths
The Cubs were off yesterday and the Cardinals lost to the Pirates, so Chicago’s magic number to win the NL Central is now down to seven. St. Louis actually trails the Reds by a half-game in the standings, but the Redbirds still have an extra four games to make up.
The Cubs have a three-game set at Wrigley Field against the Twins this weekend, which means I get to see my man crush, Nelson Cruz. Minnesota just lost two of three to the White Sox and they’re fighting to win the AL Central, so there will be somewhat of a playoff feel to the set despite a lack of fans. In addition to trying to wrap up the division title, the Cubs are battling the Braves for the No. 2 seed in the National League.
Another guy I’ve had a big crush on lately is Craig Kimbrel. Dirty Craig has been downright filthy lately and could potentially seize the closer’s role from Jeremy Jeffress if he finishes the season as strong as he’s been over his last 12 outings. Kimbrel is averaging an uber-elite 19 strikeouts per nine innings in that time and, even better, the former closer has yet to walk a single batter since rolling into September.
Craig Kimbrel’s last 12 outings:
11 1/3 IP
1.59 ERA@GallagherGlobal pic.twitter.com/j4F4kLWoH9
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 17, 2020
If Kimbrel is indeed back to his old self, and 12 outings is not a small sample size for a reliever, the Cubs could enter the postseason with one of the best bullpens in the NL. Walks have always been an issue for the righty and his overall 7.71 BB/9 is still very high, but he’s walked none in his last six appearances. Whatever he, David Ross, and Tommy Hottovy have come up with, I hope they continue putting in the work. There is nothing more comforting than knowing you have a guy at the back end of the bullpen who can limit contact, keep runners off the bases, and nail down a win.
Cubs News & Notes
- It’s possible that Wednesday’s start may have been the last for Jon Lester at Wrigley Field as a member of the Cubs. It’s just my opinion, but I think Theo Epstein will find a way to bring the veteran lefty back unless Lester intends to retire. The Cubs have not had a losing season since signing Big Jon.
- Lester admitted he had “a lot of emotions” before and during Wednesday night’s game.
- When it comes to pitch framing, Willson Contreras has really improved this year ($) and Ross has noticed.
- Reliever Jason Adam is quietly becoming one of the better offseason pickups Epstein has made during his Chicago tenure.
- Reliever Andrew Chafin, who was also acquired at the deadline, could make his debut with the team this weekend.
- Jeffress has been a solid signing, too, and has really helped to solidify the back end of the bullpen.
- Outfielder Cameron Maybin should be recognized for his contributions since arriving from Detroit at the trade deadline. Other than the signing of Steven Souza Jr., this may have been Epstein’s best season at fortifying his roster with role players and relievers.
- Javier Báez may have completely resurrected his 2020 season in the two victories over the Indians.
- The Cubs and the rest of baseball unveiled their 2021 Cactus League schedules on Wednesday.
- It might be a little bit premature to talk about a Cubs-White Sox World Series, which would be played in Texas, but it is fun to think about.
- Kyle Hendricks will take the bump for the Cubs tonight, and the Twins will counter with Rich Hill. It would be nice to see Kris Bryant have a big game tonight.
Odds & Sods
I love it when Len Kasper talks music on social media. “Overkill” is arguably the best song Men at Work has ever recorded.
"Overkill" by Men At Work is such an underrated song. Overplayed in 1983-84 for sure, but underplayed since. One of those songs that never hits me the wrong way when it pops up on my shuffle playlist.
— Len Kasper (@LenKasper) September 17, 2020
How About That!
The Dodgers clinched a spot in this year’s 16-team postseason on Wednesday night and lead the Padres by four games in the race to win the NL West.
The White Sox also clinched a spot in the postseason tournament — their first since 2008 — when they beat the Twins yesterday. Chicago leads Minnesota by three games in the AL West.
The Yankees have hit six home runs in three straight games, a team record. They hit five taters in the 4th inning, three on consecutive pitches (Brett Gardner, DJ LeMahieu, and Luke Voit), and their 19 round-trippers in three games is a league record.
Ryan Braun hit his 350th career home run on Wednesday night.
Josh Donaldson was ejected as he crossed home plate after belting a home run against the White Sox yesterday.
Jomboy Media has a great breakdown of Donaldson’s battle with home plate umpire Dan Bellino.
Thursday’s Three Stars
- Framber Valdez – The Astros starter two-hit the Rangers with 11 strikeouts over 6.1 innings yesterday, earning his fourth win of the season. Houston is now 25-25 on the season, and the Astros trail the A’s by 6 games in the AL West.
- Luke Voit – The slugging Yankees was 2-for-5 with a home run, becoming the first player to hit 20 dingers this season.
- José Ramírez – The Indians third baseman celebrated his 28th birthday by going deep twice, leading the Indians to a 10-3 win over the Tigers and helping Cleveland snap its eight-game losing streak in the process.
Mookie Betts is a stand-up guy.
I'm angered and disappointed by the ambush of the two LA deputies in Compton. My prayers are with both deputies. #JusticeForAll
— Mookie Betts (@mookiebetts) September 17, 2020
Sliding Into Home
I had some tests yesterday and I finally got to see what my liver looks like compared to a completely healthy organ and it was pretty disgusting. I cannot stress enough how bad high fructose corn syrup is for our bodies and how much damage it does. I’ll bet that sometime in the not-too-distant future it doctors will liken it to the damage caused by smoking cigarettes.
They Said It
- “Probably — I don’t know if I should say probably, but hopefully not the last regular-season start [at Wrigley]. Put on the pinstripes tonight. A lot of things on my mind. This year hasn’t been easy for a lot of reasons and I’m not sitting here saying, ‘woe is me’ because there are a lot of people worse off than me. But a lot of emotions coming into this (start). I don’t really know what to say or how to take it. A lot of uncertainties going forward.” – Jon Lester
- “[Contreras] becoming a better umpire himself. When we umpire ourselves as catchers, we either take for granted a strike or not stick that borderline pitch when we think it’s automatically a strike [but] it’s just off. We try to stress fighting for every pitch, fighting for every strike. He’s done a really good job of that and not over-umpiring when he’s catching sometimes.” – David Ross
Friday Walk Up Song
Into The Great Wide Open by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this confident that the Cubs have a legitimate chance to win the division going into the last 10 days of the season. I hope I didn’t jinx them. The schedule is tough, but I feel positive Chicago is going to close out the season quite strongly.