The Rundown: Cubs Are Best Leadoff Hitter Ever, Javy’s Ridiculousness, Rizzo’s High Five

Because of course Willson Contreras homered to lead off the game. At this point, the fake title of greatest leadoff hitter of all time is just being conferred like a WWE strap to whomever Joe Maddon plugs into the top spot in the order.

When Contreras stepped into the box at Nationals Park for the first time Monday night, it marked only the second time in Cubs history that a catcher actually led off the game. What’s more, it was only the ninth time in the last 10 years in all of MLB that a catcher has served as his team’s leadoff hitter. Can you name them? Feel free to leave your answers below, but I’ll give you a hint on the previous Cubs catcher: He swapped numbers with Ramon Garciaparra’s son after he was traded to Chicago.

For the first seven innings, WillCo’s dinger stood as the only run scored by either team. Then the Cubs pushed another across in the 8th and three more in the 9th to put the game comfortably in their collective back pocket. Or so it seemed. Despite, or perhaps because of, the nail-biting 9th, this game was somewhat reminiscent of what we saw last year, a win in which the Cubs combined spectacular plays with timely hitting and even got the benefit of some good luck.

Eddie Butler was his typical self, which is to say his stat line belied his true performance. Butler was bailed out by a few nice defensive plays and benefited from the fact that a lot of hard contact either went foul or ended up in gloves. At the same, though, he didn’t walk anyone and he needed only 64 pitches to get through his five innings of work. It felt very Jason Hammel-y.

You keep waiting for Butler to really soil the bed and pitch himself out of the rotation, but he just keeps doing well enough to stick around. Not great, mind you, but serviceable during a season in which consistent health and production have been hard to come by from the starting pitchers.

Wait, how did we get here from talking about a leadoff homer? Does it really matter?

Javy is a freak show

One of the things that makes Javy Baez so fun to watch is that you never really know what in the hell you’re going to get from game to game, let alone at-bat to at-bat or even pitch to pitch. He’ll look like a hot mess one time, swinging at pitches that start outside and end up outsidier. Then he’ll shorten things up and flip a high, outside curve into right for a rally-starting single.

Or he’ll assume the play on a fielder’s choice is going to first and he’ll go into second base standing, only to still manage to be safe. Then he’ll steal third without a throw, which is good because he overslid the bag by a fair bit. Then he’ll break for home and score on a bunt. Just Javy being Javy.

That also means playing stellar defense, which was the name of the game last night.

And how about this sliding snag at the wall that saw him range 132 feet, the farthest distance traversed by a shortstop since 2015?

Anthony Rizzo’s five-year ann’y

Monday marked the five-year anniversary of Anthony Rizzo’s Cubs debut, and what a half-decade it’s been. In honor of the milestone, Joe Maddon ran out a patchwork lineup that resembled something we’d have seen in 2012 or ’13, just with a lot more latent talent. But in terms of the salaries involved, Rizzo easily out-earned the rest of last night’s starting lineup…combined. And the crazy thing is that Rizzo only earns about $7 million.

At $1.05 million this season, Kris Bryant was actually the next-highest-paid player on a field that included eight players who haven’t yet reached arbitration. The others are all on rookie contracts that vary from $509K to $609K, giving the Cubs a total non-Rizzo cost of around $4.87 million (not factoring in proration for service time). It is patently absurd in this day and age to roll out a lineup that earns ~$12 million. It’s even more absurd that they had the game won handily until the 9th inning.

Looks like that cheapskate owner, Tom Ricketts, is back to his old ways, amirite? Remember when that was the big gripe among fans and people were convinced that the Cubs were going to maintain a cheap lineup because fans would come to the ballpark anyway? Oh man, that was rich (pun intended). There are so many logical fallacies in those arguments that I’m still mad in spite of their obvious dissolution.

But the best part about this team now is that they can roll out such a cheap squad because they’ve done a great job of drafting and developing players. Not that I’d want to see this group out there regularly, mind you, I’m just saying that it’s pretty damn cool to see seven players the Cubs either drafted or signed as international free agents — Rizzo and Butler were the only two who had been acquired via trade — all playing in an actual big league game.

Things were a little different five years ago, when Rizzo batted third in a lineup that looked like this otherwise: David DeJesus (CF); Starlin Castro (SS); Alfonso Soriano (LF); Bryan LaHair (RF); Luis Valbuena (3B); Darwin Barney (2B); Steve Clevenger (C). Randy Wells started the game and was followed by relievers Scott Maine, James Russell, Shawn Camp, and Carlos Marmol. The Cubs ended up beating the Mets 5-3, but those were some dark times, my frents.

More news and notes

  • The Cubs traded Zac Rosscup for righty reliever Matt Carasiti; more on Carasiti here
  • Buster Olney said on Mike and Mike (and he’s probably written about it) that he believes MLB will institute a pitch clock as early as nex season
    • No big deal, right?
    • Well, the players may want a concession from the league in order to agree to the clock, which could mean an electronic zone
  • After being released by Detroit, Francisco Rodriguez has agreed to terms with the Nats
    • K-Rod’s fastball averages < 89 mph these days
    • He’ll still probably come up and shut the Cubs down for an inning because that’s how these things work
  • CarGo has hit the DL
  • The Rays and Marlins finalized a deal for SS Adeiny Hechavarria
    • Miami received minor leaguers Ethan Clark (RHP) and Braxton Lee (OF)
    • It’s a minor move, but interesting to see the Rays sort of buying
  • Yankees activate Jacoby Ellsbury
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