The Rundown: Cubs Small-Ball Mets, Báez Striking Out at Absurd Rate, MLB Urging RSNs to Explore Direct-to-Consumer Options

I had to do a double take last night because I swore the Cubs were playing a brand of baseball I haven’t seen since the old Billy Martin-George Steinbrenner Miller Lite commercial days. Was that an attempted hit and run I saw in the  bottom of the 6th with Eric Sogard on first and pinch-hitter Matt Duffy at the dish? Martin would be proud of David Ross.

On a bitterly cold night where the home team could eke out a meager four hits, the Cubs edged the Mets 3-1. The game that was won the old fashioned way, with gritty pitching, very timely hitting from the team’s more unassuming players, and taking advantage of a couple mistakes by Mets infielders and home plate umpire John Libka. There was little consistency to last night’s strike zone and it cost New York a couple key calls.

Ron Kulpa, who usually works with last night’s umpiring crew, was absent to the detriment of the Mets. Kulpa allowed the Mets to win early last week on a very suspect Michael Conforto hit-by-pitch, a call the adjudicator admitted was wrong after the game. Libka was his replacement last night.

None of that really mattered by the time Craig Kimbrel escaped a self-inflicted bases loaded jam and a few thousand Cubs fans were singing “Go Cubs Go.” Despite 12 strikeouts, including four by Javier Báez  and three by Joc Pederson, Chicago inched a half-game closer to first place with a much-needed win.

Sogard was the unlikely hero, which proved to many of us watching that just making contact can often produce positive results. The backup second baseman was 2-for-3 with two runs scored and an RBI. Jake Arrieta was solid again and, though not as dominant as he was in his first stint with the team, he certainly looks like Jed Hoyer’s best acquisition so far.

Still, the Cubs aren’t going to win many games when they whiff 12 times and as convenient as it is to blame the chilly weather, we know better. The North Siders are striking out a little over 10 times per game no matter the conditions. Had Libka better managed the strike zone, last night could have been much uglier.

Cubs News & Notes

  • Ugly Stat of the Day: Báez has now struck out 31 times in 64 plate appearances, an abysmal 48.4% strikeout rate.
  • Pederson said his early season slump has taken him completely by surprise.
  • Sogard, who rarely strikes out, provided the bulk of Chicago’s offense.
  • If you look deep enough, there are some small glimmers of hope . Ryan Thomure has the breakdown in this week’s Tuesday Trends.
  • Believe it or not, the Cubs are one of only five teams whose lineup features at least two players among the top 30 in weighted Runs Created Plus: Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras.
  • Pitchers across baseball have an up-and-in, down-and-away book concerning Cubs hitters, though a more damning statement was one provided to Jesse Rogers of ESPN by an unnamed scout: “They’re trying to change their philosophy, but with this core group, they had one philosophy and all these guys bought into it. It’s turned into a one-dimensional offense.”
  • My Take: This is why you have yet to see Hoyer commit to a long term extension for any of his pending free agents, though Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are nowhere near as problematic as Báez. We all love El Mago, but how amazing would a Bryant-Trevor StoryNico Hoerner-Rizzo infield look next season?
  • My Take Part II: With Chicago’s shortstop depth in the minor leagues, it’s doubtful the Cubs would sign Story or retain Báez next season. A stopgap for a year or two is probably a more likely scenario, and Hoerner could slide over from second, anyway.
  • Arrieta gives Ross a “solid foundation” at the top of his rotation.
  • David Bote was scratched last night as a precaution against COVID-19. The infielder has since tested negative.

Climbing the Ladder

“Everything looks nicer when you win. The girls are prettier. The cigars taste better. The trees are greener.”Billy Martin

Just don’t look at the offensive stats.

  • Games Played: 16
  • Total Plate Appearances: 571
  • Total Strikeouts: 163
  • Strikeout Rate: 28.6%
  • Team Batting Average: .189

Odds & Sods

Apparently Corbin Burnes is a damn good pitcher even when he’s not facing the Cubs. Last night he blanked the Padres through six innings with 10 punchouts, and his WHIP is an eye-popping 0.33 on the year. That said, Dan Plesac really needs to work on his can-do aphorisms.

How About That!

This is so exciting I’m just going to cut/paste the announcement word-for-word: Major League Baseball is considering a rule change that would help cord-cutters. After years of relying on traditional distribution of local games via cable and satellite (plus, to a limited extent, over-the-top streaming), MLB is now urging its regional sports networks to explore direct-to-customer possibilities for local fans.

Leaders from MLB and the Players Association met Tuesday for their first official negotiating session. The current CBA expires at the end of this season.

Burnes is on a run right now that has no precedent.

Infielder Neil Walker has officially retired after 12 MLB seasons.

Led by Akil Baddoo and Garrett Whitlock, this year’s crop of Rule 5 players are having quite a time through the first three weeks of the season.

Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor is struggling. Heading into last night’s game, Lindor had barreled none of his 36 batted balls this season.

Tuesday’s Three Stars

  1. Corbin Burnes – Double-digit strikeouts with zero walks and just a few hits are becoming the norm for the Brewers’ new ace.
  2. Julio Urías – The Dodgers pitcher is equally entitled to the top spot after an 11-strikeout, one-hit performance against the Mariners last night.
  3. José Abreu – The reigning AL MVP clubbed two home runs as the White Sox beat Cleveland 8-5. Abreu was 3-for-4 with three runs and three RBI on the night.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

  • The Giants have published plans that would allow 50% fan capacity for their home games starting in May.
  • The Indians are going to increase capacity to 40% starting with their first homestand next month, increasing pods from six to 10 seats.
  • The Rangers have a section of seats at Globe Life Field that includes all-you-can-eat selections of food, and concessions include hot dogs, grilled chicken sandwiches, nachos, and soda. Adult libations are sadly not included in the premium package. Tickets, which run in the $22-25 range, are incredibly affordable when you include the perks.

Extra Innings

Kimbrel also had a “hidden” perfect game in a multi-outing span going back to last year.

They Said It

  • “We have high expectations for Jake [Arrieta]. I think he has high expectations for (himself). … When he’s right, he’s one of the best in the game.”David Ross
  • “I’m throwing the ball the way I expect to throw it. There are things I could do better, for sure. But you take what you have at your disposal, and you use it to the best your ability and try and help the team win.”Jake Arrieta

Wednesday Walk Up Song

It’s Only Make Believe by Conway Twitty – If it’s any comfort, the Cubs low batting average and exceedingly high strikeout rates are most likely unsustainable. Expect a teamwide breakout as temperatures warm. On a side note, this was one of my go-to karaoke songs back in the late 1990s.

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