The Rundown: Thoughts on First Half, Cubs Interested in More Tigers Pitchers

Friends, this team is not easy to write about right about now. They flat suck out loud. And at a moderate volume. Hell, they’ve even been awful on mute, which is how you may have wanted to listen to them. If you were actually watching with the sound on toward the latter half of Sunday’s four-hour mistake, you may have heard Kyle Schwarber make a curious proclamation following a pop-out.


Bruh, I’m not sure that’s how I’d describe the game. Or the first half in general. But I’m not really sure exactly how I can describe what we’ve seen over the last four months or so, since there really aren’t any stones left to overturn on the aggregate matter. The Cubs were not good and rarely gave us prolonged reason that they could be, though we know that this is largely the same team that won 200 games over the last two seasons.

Oh, they also won that World Series thing. People forget that.

The only thing I can say is the same thing I’ve said over and over, which is that it’s really hard to repeat and that the general mediocrity of the NL Central is keeping the Cubs’ window open longer than it might have under other circumstances. I guess the most interesting thing to me is how quickly we’ve all reverted back to the knee-jerk reactionary mentality that the fruition of The Plan had supposedly wiped away.

“Just one before I die,” went the saying. Fans of all ages begged for the chance to watch the Cubs raise the trophy for the first time in over a century, claimed that the experience would make all the struggles worthwhile. Then it happened and the perspective changed. After inching along, we finally reached the finish line and looked back over the mile we’d traversed…and decided it was time to run rather than rest.

“One’s not enough, dammit,” seems to be the new mantra. Theo Epstein’s Midas touch turned everything to gold and now we’re going around applying a nitric acid test to everything in sight to see whether it’s all real. So that’s fun.

There’s also been all kinds of talk about the Cubs being sellers, along with some misunderstanding about what Epstein has said about trades. He has not said that the Cubs will not make trades, but rather he admitted that no one trade would fix the team. That could mean that they won’t make a move or it could mean that they’ll make a bunch of moves.

The confusion makes sense in light of all the disappointment and the frustration and whatnot. This relatively Cubs-free All-Star break is going to be a very good thing for the team and fans alike, affording everyone a chance to breathe and maybe space out for a while before getting back to it on the other side.

Things can only get better from here, right?

Cubs asked about Fulmer, Norris

The Cubs’ potential interest in Justin Verlander has been in the news over the last couple weeks, but Peter Gammons added a wrinkle to that rumor and threw another pair of names into the mix in his recent column.

As for the older, more expensive Tigers pitcher, Gammons quoted a Cubs official as saying, “no one is going to pay $70M for him, even though he may still be a very good pitcher.” The longtime baseball scribe and bluesman said that “made it clear they had no interest in Verlander,” which, taken at face value, might seem like the case. Or it could just mean that no one will assume his entire salary if they trade for him.

Setting the search for hidden meaning aside, we learned that the Cubs might be interested in Michael Fulmer and/or Daniel Norris, two other members of Detroit’s rotation. Norris fits the buy-low reclamation profile of past acquisitions and both pitchers check the boxes when it comes to controllable starters. Neither is arb-eligible until 2019 and Norris won’t hit free agency until 2022, while Fulmer is under control until 2023.

Because of that cost control, not to mention his performance over the last season and a half, Fulmer isn’t going to come cheap. While Verlander is likely to be moved to clear salary, there’s no such worry with a guy making half a million bucks. And when you figure they’d have five more years of him, the Tigers could see Fulmer as a guy who could anchor a rebuild. Then again, pitching is fickle.

Norris, on the other hand, could be one of those change-of-scenery guys who Detroit might be willing to move in the face of his struggles this year. After posting a 3.38 ERA in 14 appearances (13 starts, 69.1 IP) last season, the 24-year-old southpaw has seen his primary box score number jump to 5.29 in 85 first-half innings. But his FIP has only gone from 3.93 to 4.30, which indicates that the results could be a little deceiving.

His strikeouts are down a little and walks are way up, possibly due to the efficacy of his slider, which he’s using almost 50 percent more frequently than he had in the past. I haven’t watched enough of him to say anything definitively, but his performance this season has been something Cubs fans are very much used to.

“I just have to figure out a way to not let that big inning happen,” Norris said after the June 28 start in which he gave up 5 earned runs in 3.2 innings. “I wasn’t able to get the big out when I needed it. I have to bear down and make a pitch and I wasn’t able to do that.”

Norris has actually allowed 5 earned in each of his last three starts, with most of the damage coming in the 3rd and 4th innings. Turning over the opposing lineup has been a huge problem, as evidenced by a 6.67 FIP and 1.023 OPS against him the second time through. There has been talk of a Schwarberian demotion to let the lefty get his head right, but perhaps the Tigers would be willing to part with him altogether.

I won’t get into speculation as to what it would take to land either or both of these young arms, but it would certainly be a small fortune. The Cubs have a wealth of talent at all levels of the minors, but the lower echelons are really where it’s at. Given all the interest, the Tigers have been actively scouting some of those young players as well. This is definitely a situation to monitor as we get into the second half.

Don’t be that guy

I know callers to sports radio shows get a bad rap in general, but one gentleman who made it onto The Score’s postgame show with Mark Grote and Ryne Sandberg Sunday managed to take the cake. The dude took umbrage with Pat Hughes saying that other ballparks would have had fewer fans sticking around in the wake of an early 10-run deficit and said the legendary broadcaster should apologize to baseball fans everywhere.

I don’t even know where to start with this, since Hughes was exactly right. Heck, most ballparks don’t draw nearly as many fans as Wrigley in the first place. This gripe is exactly the kind of self-righteous, old-man-shakes-fist-at-cloud rhetoric that is keeping baseball from moving forward.

More news and notes

  • Mike Montgomery will start the Cubs’ first game back in Baltimore, with the rest of the rotation hinging on how Kyle Hendricks’ rehab start goes
  • The Giants, who were 57-33 at the break last year, ended the first half at 34-56
  • Eloy Jimenez was 0-for-2 with two K’s in the Futures Game
  • Ryan Braun continues to battle calf issues but is expected to play when the second half opens
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