The Rundown Lite: Morel’s Mercurial Performance, Bellinger’s Knee, Taillon’s BABIP, Fulmer’s Future, Contreras Catching Again
It’d be much easier to operate this site and the dormant Rant Live podcast if the responsibilities of life didn’t keep getting in the way. We’re still planning to get the pod back up and running at some point and we’re really hoping Mr. Canter is back for his regular column soon, but you’re stuck with me in the written form only for now.
I’m out of town for a few days, so this column will be broad and relatively shallow. There’s actually quite a lot to cover from Monday’s game alone, though, so let’s get going.
Morel’s mercurial mashing
Christopher Morel has been a slugging machine since being called back up and he just hit his fourth homer in six MLB games. At 401 feet and just 102.7 mph off the bat, it was both his shortest and “softest” dinger so far. In the Cubs’ win over the Twins this past Friday, Morel hit a 429-footer with 109.2 mph exit velocity which was the longest homer for the team to that point.
Two days later, he bested himself by launching one 461 feet at 113.6 mph. His first longball on May 9 against the Cardinals went 422 feet at 106.6 mph, so it’s safe to say Morel is swinging to terminate baseballs with extreme prejudice. That’s great when he connects, but there are some underlying stats that could prove troublesome if balls stop flying over fences quite so often.
In addition to the game-tying homer, Morel struck out four times. He has at least one K in every game and hasn’t walked yet, which is part of the reason he didn’t break camp with the big club. He seems to have a singular intent right now and, while he does have a hit in every game with four singles and a double to add to the dingers, it’s possible a correction is due.
Or maybe he’ll keep pounding the ball hard enough that the approach issues won’t matter, though we saw what happened last year when the initial shine wore off. Here’s to hoping his adjustments at the plate will keep that from happening.
Another issue of concern is Morel’s defense, specifically the misplay of a long fly by José Abreu that had a 90% catch probability before falling safely near the track. Ian Happ hasn’t looked like a Gold Glover out in left and I agree with using Morel as a utility weapon, but that’s a ball that really needs to be hauled in. If it had been, the Cubs escape the bottom of the 1st in Houston in a scoreless tie.
Instead, two runs came in on the hit and two more came in on subsequent knocks to put the Cubs in a 4-0 hole. Morel made up for it with the big homer, but that could otherwise have been a go-ahead shot.
Taillon can’t buy a break
Jameson Taillon settled in after that rough initial frame that saw the Astros rack up five hits, some of which were aided by the BABIP gods. By the time the Cubs finally managed to close the inning, Taillon’s .403 batting average on balls in play for the season was fifth-highest among pitchers with at least 20 innings under their belts.
He worked it all the way down to .370, good for 14th out of 192 pitchers in that sample, but something has got to be done about his location. Once a big sinker guy, Taillon got away from the pitch in part due to the feel for it after his most recent elbow reconstruction and also because he felt hitters were “scooping the bottom of the zone” for slug.
Now, however, he seems unwilling to go below the belt with anything and it’s costing him because hitters aren’t blown away by 94 mph. There’s more to it than just that, but I do think getting comfortable with the bottom half of the zone would help.
Bellinger relieved after awkward landing
Cody Bellinger has been incredible out in center this season, even better than expected, and he made another amazing catch Monday night to rob Kyle Tucker of extra bases. It wouldn’t have been a homer because the ball wasn’t going to clear the fence, but Tucker would have gotten at least two bags had it hit the wall.
Bellinger leaped up to make the grab and then kind of slid down the chain link portion of the fence before his butt hit the padding. That seemed to push him forward while his left cleat came straight down, resulting in a hyperextension that sent the outfielder to the ground.
Bellinger left the field aided by teammates and trainer Nick Frangella and appeared to be walking a little better as he made his way back to the dugout. He was removed from the game immediately, however, and there were some fears that the damage could have been serious. David Ross said an initial review by a doctor revealed no structural damage, but the team will wait on further imaging to see if it’s more than minor.
“A lot of [relief],” Bellinger said after the game. “It’s just a little sore. You think of the worst-case situation right away, but it’s definitely not that, which is nice.”
I’m not going to belabor this one because it just feels like piling on at this point. Michael Fulmer hasn’t been good this season and he’d been working lower-leverage situations to rebuild his confidence until coming into the game in the 7th with score tied at four runs apiece. After retiring the first two batters, Fulmer gave up a single and the game-winning homer. Then he issued a walk and was replaced.
Apropos of nothing, it was on the very first pitch from Jeremiah Estrada that Bellinger made his spectacular catch.
I don’t think Fulmer was actually that bad, he just caught too much of the plate with a cutter to Alex Bregman. The single by Felix Dubon was on a 1-2 fastball way up and out of the zone, so you can’t really complain about that. Sometimes hitters just beat you and even the best pitchers have to deal with that.
Fulmer’s .375 BABIP is even higher than Taillon’s, though it’s only over 18 innings, so bad luck is at play to an extent. The reliever himself is responsible for a lot of that misfortune, however, and really needs to figure some things out to string together more consistent performances. If he can’t, the Cubs have several good arms in the minors that could use a shot.
Contreras catching again
The Cardinals are such a great organization that they were able to fix Willson Contreras in just one week. Not long after removing him from behind the plate indefinitely, Contreras was back in his gear on Monday. Members of the starting rotation had publicly expressed support for their catcher when word came out about the change last week, but USA Today’s Bob Nightengale offered a different perspective.
The reason for the St. Louis Cardinals’ decision to strip Willson Contreras from his catching duties just five weeks into his five-year, $87.5 million free-agent contract, a high-ranking Cardinals official told USA TODAY Sports, was quite simple:
The starting pitchers told management they simply no longer wanted to pitch to him, at least not this season, after getting off to their dreadful start, producing an ugly 5.40 ERA.
The media shaming must have worked because the Cards ended up winning 18-1 over the Brewers as Jack Flaherty went seven shutout innings to earn the first win by a St. Louis starter since Miles Mikolas on April 27. Maybe the organization should have been better prepared for the very obvious reality that Contreras isn’t Yadier Molina and never will be.
Wow, this was way more than I had intended to cover. Take care, everyone.