Last week was a tough one for Cubs fans as they dropped five games in a row subsequent to a five-game winning streak, being swept in St. Louis during the weekend series. The cherry on top of the steaming shitpile sundae was added by two of those losses in St. Louis coming in extra-innings walkoff homers served up to two of the worst-performing hitters in the Cards clubhouse this year, INF Kolten Wong and ex-Cub OF Dexter Fowler. Thankfully, the three-game series with the Miami Marlins at the beginning of the week to start off the Cubs’ homestand was just what the doctor ordered for the ailing North Side offense. The Cubs swept the Marlins, bookended by two blowout wins, and are looking forward to the opening of the Crosstown Classic series with the intracity rival White Sox starting at 2:20 PM on Friday (Tickets – SeatGeek). However, it’s early in the season and it’s inevitable that the Cubs will suffer another losing streak sooner or later. Since the Cubs’ stinky performance last week opened the floor to discussions by armchair managers, I thought I would throw out a few of my own ideas to shake up the team next time it hits the skids.
- Báez at Cleanup Every Day
This is a no-brainer for everyone except Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who has had the MLB RBI leader hitting just about everywhere in the lineup except in the middle of the order, where he belongs.
Joe Maddon: “let’s put the best hitter in front of the pitcher.”
— Brandon Clenney (@bclenney88) May 7, 2018
There is no reason to have the team’s current MVP hitting 8th. As a league RBI leader, he should be batting cleanup, protected by the team’s other top offensive performer so far this year, OF Kyle Schwarber, and the linchpin of the Cubs offense, INF Anthony Rizzo. The only reason to not have him protected by these two would be in the event of facing a LHP tough on left-handed hitters like Rizzo and Schwarber.
- 6th Day = Bullpen Day
Although the Cubs currently rank 4th in team ERA with a respectable 3.40, this is mainly due to the efforts of the bullpen, which has been outstanding to start the year, led by Carl Edwards, Jr., closer Brandon Morrow and perennially underrated hat-cocker Pedro Strop.
When SP Yu Darvish was not available to make his scheduled start on Tuesday due to a bout of the flu, Joe Maddon was originally undecided on whether he wanted to call up a minor-leaguer or simply declare a bullpen day after the majority of the pen had Monday off thanks to eight innings of work by staff ace SP Kyle Hendricks. Maddon ended up activating farmhand SP Jen-Ho Tseng, who previously started a game against the Mets in 2017. He only made it through two innings, so the game ended up being a bullpen day after all, with the Cubs coming back from a three-run deficit (all allowed by Tseng) for a 4-3 victory.
Other than Hendricks, the Cubs starting staff hasn’t exactly been lights-out to start the year. All have struggled with walks, especially Tyler Chatwood, who currently has a BB9 ratio of 7.9. Jon Lester has a lower ERA than Hendricks (2.82 to 3.02), but has a 4.0 BB9 while Hendricks leads the rotation with 1.8.
As the season continues, it may be worthwhile to give the starters some extra rest and time to get their heads on straight by handing the 6th day over to the bullpen, starting with RPs Mike Montgomery and Eddie Butler (when he returns from the DL). This could be chancy given that if the starters are not performing up to par during a given stretch, the bullpen may already be somewhat overtaxed. However, it would shake things up, which is a significant consideration during a slump.
Carl Edwards, Jr. with one of the filthiest pitches you’ll see.
95 mph Cutter. 😱 pic.twitter.com/n2orl3FGXw
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 9, 2018
- 3rd Catcher
As previously noted on this site, the Cubs signed C Chris Gimenez during the offseason, in part due to his history playing with SP Yu Darvish, who the Cubs eventually signed to a free-agent deal. Most teams generally do not carry three catchers and prefer to have a pitcher take this roster spot. However, the Cubs did carry three catchers during their championship season in 2016: Willson Contreras; Miguel Montero and David “Grandpa” Ross, who served as Jon Lester’s “personal” catcher. Notably, Contreras did not receive either of SP Jake Arrieta’s two no-hitters thrown for the Cubs. These were caught by Montero and Ross, who Maddon preferred to pair with Arrieta during their tenure on the North Side. However, Contreras was the top catcher for the Cubs and benefited from receiving Montero’s and Ross’s input.
At the end of Spring Training in 2018, the Cubs ultimately decided to leave Gimenez off the major-league roster in an effort to further develop prospect Victor Caratini. A decision on Gimenez’s place in the organization will soon become necessary as he will be able to request a release if he is not promoted from AAA by June 1. It may be time to bring Gimenez back up in order to bolster a faltering Darvish and provide advice to Contreras, who is often blamed for Cubs pitchers’ walk issues because he is not skilled at pitch “framing.” According to this analysis from early 2017, Contreras did not rank among the best framers, which included former teammates Montero and Ross, but he certainly was not the worst. Surprisingly, 5-time All-Star and 2015 World Series MVP Salvador Pérez of the Kansas City Royals ranked among the major leagues’ worst framers, yet he is still considered one of the top catchers. It seems his poor framing skills are outweighed by his other catching and leadership skills. This may be the path Contreras will ultimately need to take in his career, but it wouldn’t hurt to bring up the veteran Gimenez to serve as “personal” catcher to Darvish and further assist the development of Contreras and Caratini.