The Rundown: Parity at Play as Cubs Drop Tigers, Lester and Schwarber Return Tonight, Sandberg Peddling Reefer Gummies
“When I’m on the road, playin’ in a town without a name,
Honey, I’m feelin’ low and everyone looks the same. ” – Janis Joplin, One Night Stand
Today’s Rundown features references to beer bats and reefer and is intended for mature audiences only. Cubs fans may need both while watching their beloved baseballers.
The Cubs completed a five-game, two-city trip with a 2-3 record against Cleveland and Detroit that was disappointing and also par for the course so far this season. Perhaps I’m not giving the Indians the credit they deserve, but it would have been nice to win at least one of two in the Rock and Roll Capital of the World. The Tigers are on pace for 60 wins and should have been swept.
At times we indisputably overrate the Cubs, which I suppose is part of the jaded optimism that has always been attached to the team’s fandom. It’s become convenient to say the North Siders are underachieving, that they’re better on paper than the majority of their opponents, and that a lineup that includes Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Báez, Willson Contreras, Joc Pederson and Ian Happ should win at least 55% of the games they play.
That seems to be a fair assumption until you travel outside the confines of Chicago’s fanbase, where others see the Cubs for the mediocrity they’ve displayed for the better part of two seasons. It’s been said over and over, but minus the team’s 13-3 start last year, the Boys in Blue are a milquetoast 42-41 under David Ross. That’s hardly indicative of world-beaters. If it’s the best they can do, perhaps Jed Hoyer is much more closer to a roster overhaul than we want to believe.
Promising performances by a trio of rookie pitchers may make a rebuild easier to stomach as Keegan Thompson, Justin Steele, and Adbert Alzolay have been a joy to watch. Imagine those three with Brailyn Márquez, Burl Carraway, and Kohl Stewart added to the mix. Ryan Jensen is another young righty you may want to add to your prospect watchlist.
FIVE strikeouts over two scoreless frames for @kthompson_7!#CubTogether pic.twitter.com/9LAFRew64Z
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) May 15, 2021
Still, from one night to the next, Chicago often displays a vexing split personality that can be downright maddening to witness. That the Cubs swept the Mets and Dodgers but could take just two of five from the Tigers and Indians probably says more about the league than anything else. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make the games any easier to watch.
Indeed, we are witnessing unprecedented parity throughout the game. Only in 1974, when just one team won more than 91 games and three won fewer than 70, did a season start with as much competitive balance as 2021. That certainly adds a little more significance to the results, which is to say that the Cubs may not be as good as we believe or as bad as they’ve played, but rather are casualties of balance and congruity.
Statistics back that up. Based on run differential, the Cubs are on pace for an 80-win season in a league where nine of 15 teams have from 17-21 wins. With roughly a quarter of the season in the books, six American League teams also sit in that same range.
In fact, 19 teams still have at least a 20-77% chance of making the playoffs, though the Cubs aren’t one of them. Scaling that across a full season, two-thirds of the league could be jockeying between a top-10 draft pick in 2022 or a postseason berth based on just two or three outcomes. If nothing else, that’s some pretty fascinating stuff and should make for a very interesting trade deadline.
Cubs News & Notes
- A vintage performance by Kyle Hendricks propelled the Cubs to a 5-1 win over the Tigers yesterday.
- Ian Happ returned from the IL this weekend and his strong offensive performance yesterday included a solo home run. Happ was 3-for-4 with two RBI in the victory.
- Happ said he felt 100% before Saturday’s game and was anxious to play after working out and taking BP for the last 3-4 days.
- After winning the inaugural Team Gold Glove Award last season, Chicago’s defense is still a work in progress this year.
- The Cubs host the Nationals tonight and will face Jon Lester and Kyle Schwarber for the first time since neither was brought back. Expect a pretty emotional tribute to each of the former mainstays. Lester will take the bump looking for his first win of the season. He’ll face Alzolay, who gets better with each start.
- Ross thinks Lester should buy a beer for all fans attending tonight’s game.
- As an incentive for getting inoculated, the Cubs are offering free hot dogs and drinks for those attending any of the next four games who get COVID-19 vaccinations on site at Gallagher Way.
- Ryne Sandberg is the new spokesperson for Verilife, a company that manufactures low-dosage marijuana gummies.
Climbing the Ladder
“Purple Haze all around…don’t know if I’m coming up or down.” – Jimi Hendrix, Purple Haze
- Games Played: 39
- Total Plate Appearances: 1,467
- Total Strikeouts: 383
- Strikeout Rate: 26.1%
- Team Batting Average: .231
The Cubs are finally averaging fewer than 10 strikeouts per game and their OPS+ of 100 is best in the NL Central and tied with the Nationals for third-best in the National League. But with a rotation that’s been less than stellar, the offense must continue improving for the team to succeed. Only the Angels have a worse ERA among starting staffs.
Odds & Sods
Why isn’t this a thing at all baseball stadiums? If the Pelicans are selling these babies, the beer bat is now at the top of my 4th of July backyard barbecue wish list. Evan, hook me up, kid. I know you’ve got connections.
The @Pelicanbaseball Beer Bat won Twitter today. 📸: @CaptainRMoore pic.twitter.com/fDyHX3PCj6
— OBVIOUS SHIRTS® (@obvious_shirts) May 17, 2021
How About That!
Thanks to eight wins in their last 10 games, the White Sox have become the best team in baseball.
The ChiSox are also among baseball’s leaders in Tier 1 vaccinations and, having reached the required 85% threshold, can now enjoy relaxed team protocols.
Another vaccinated Yankees staff member has tested positive for Covid-19, the ninth to do so in the last week, manager Aaron Boone announced.
The CDC said it is going to investigate the frighteningly high number of New York’s breakthrough positives.
Shane Bieber left Sunday’s start against the Mariners with seven strikeouts to end his MLB record of 20 straight starts with eight or more strikeouts that started on July 24, 2020.
A Red Sox fan caught an errant baseball bat one-handed yesterday while talking on his mobile phone.
Sunday’s Three Stars
- Tim Anderson – The White Sox shortstop was 3-for -5 with a stolen base yesterday, extending his hitting streak to 11 games, six of which have been multi-hit performances.
- Ian Happ – The center fielder had his first three-hit performance of the season, including a home run, and may be poised to break out of a season-long slump.
- Marcus Siemen/Bo Bichette/Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – The Blues Jays trio was a combined 8-for-15 at the top of Toronto’s order with three taters, six runs, and seven RBI.
“If he trades you dimes for nickels and calls watermelon pickles, then you know you’re talkin’ to that reefer man.” – Cab Calloway, The Reefer Man, in honor of Sandberg’s new gig.
Friendly reminder to the Cubs front office that Nick Castellanos will be a free agent this winter once he exercises his opt-out.
Nick Castellanos fist bumped a fan after a home run and then let the fan tell the broadcast why after the game
"I told Nick he should imagine Rob Manfred's face on the baseball."
(via @alexndr_92) pic.twitter.com/nf6mxMhooP
— Jomboy Media (@JomboyMedia) May 16, 2021
They Said It
- “It’ll be weird if [Bryant, Báez and Rizzo] leave and become free agents and go somewhere else. It’ll definitely be weird seeing them in different uniforms.” – Jon Lester
- “You invest in a city — your heart, your mind, your soul. … The hard part about this game is the business side, and you have to separate your heart and the business. Sometimes that can be difficult; sometimes it’s easy; sometimes your heart makes decisions for you.” – Lester
- “I really didn’t know anything about [the marijuana gummies], and didn’t have any interest in it. Now it’s every day sometimes, as I’m looking for something to take the edge off.” – Ryne Sandberg
Monday Walk Up Song
Moonlight Drive by the Doors. When you’re up writing at 2am on a cool, misty morning, there’s not much better than Jim Morrison and bandmates. The lyrics are positively sublime and I believe this was the first song lyrically penned by Mr. Mojo Risin’. I easily could have gone with People Are Strange or Riders on the Storm, too. No, I did not pop a couple reefer gummies before writing, but that’s only because we can’t get them in Wisconsin yet.