The Rundown: Soft Schedule Ahead, Epstein on Rebuilding Farm, Hawk Calls Wrigley ‘A Joke’

Hey, I’ve got some good news for people who think the Cubs can’t beat good teams. If the schedule plays out according to, well, schedule, they won’t have to. Beat good teams, that is. As they head down the stretch, 40 of the Cubs’ last 52 games come against teams that headed into this past weekend with sub-.500 records.

The NL Central isn’t necessarily a bastion of elite competition, so facing divisional opponents over 60 percent of their remaining games is a very good thing for the Cubs. Oh, and the bottom-feeding Reds account for 10 of those games, including seven of the 10 immediately following this quick West Coast swing. And outside of three games in Arizona, the extra-divisional matchups aren’t too daunting.

The Brewers, on the other hand, have to face the Rockies, Dodgers, Nats, and Cubs a combined 16 times. Is it unfair to count the Cubs as a difficult matchup for the Brewers but not viewing it the same way in reverse — Which, did that make the least bit of sense? — when the two teams are only separated by half a game in the standings? Probably, but this ain’t Brewers Insider.

What I’m driving at here is that the Cubs hold their destiny firmly, yet gently, in their own hands. All they’ve got to do is win the games they’re supposed to win and they’re golden. Okay, maybe silver or bronze.

Epstein on rebuilding farm

“The only outcome that is a failure is holding onto [prospects] too long as they lose their value,” Theo Epstein told The Score’s Bruce Levine. “Also not evaluating them properly or moving them in the wrong kind of deal that doesn’t end up helping you.”

There’s been a lot made of the lack of top-end talent in the system right now, but that’s only because the focus has been relatively narrow over the last few years. The Cubs have done such a good job of picking up fast movers at the top of the draft that it’s easy to forget the players who might be taking a while longer to develop.

They’ve also been doing work in Mexico and picking up plenty of athletes who could really mature into excellent players. It’s all a matter of timing and tolerance, balancing those things as needs change. Five years ago, the Cubs had all kinds of tolerance for losing but needed their top prospects to matriculate quickly through the minors. Now? They need to win quickly and they’ve got lots of tolerance for more gradual development curves.

“We are going to find ways to build the farm system back up,” Epstein said. “I think we have really talented players in our system right now. They are just a little under the radar now but will soon be household names.”

It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: The Cubs’ most talented prospects are already up in Chicago. And with all of them under contract for several more years, it’s not as if they’re worried about getting more young players pushed through. One area where there could be some room, however, is the pitching staff.

That’s going to be something to really watch here over the next year or so as the lament of not developing pitchers becomes a think of the past.

Hawk is salty

So, uh, I think I’m past viewing Hawk Harrelson as a cute little novelty act at this point. He has quickly morphed from kitschy throwback character to hipster icon to red-assed old man with an ax that remains dull and rusty despite his perpetual grinding of it. Lately, Hawk’s been directing an inordinate amount of his grumpiness at the Cubs.

Now that he’s entering the stretch run of his career, the longtime broadcaster has taken the gloves off and is pulling no punches when it comes to his thoughts on That Team Up North. First, he was convinced that John Lackey was intentionally going after White Sox players during that meatball-fest of a city series now know as the Crosstown Cup or whatever. Like, to the point that he was openly rooting for someone to take Lackey out.

To be fair, that’s not something many Cubs fans haven’t openly rooted for themselves. It was also spurred by something that actually happened, whether or not said event was really worthy of his jackassery. This time, however, he’s chosen to pop off about his least favorite team when it was totally unsolicited.

I mean, I guess it was sort of solicited, if you consider a discussion of his limited 20-game schedule next season an impetus to complain. In Boston for what may have been his last time as a guy who sometimes describes baseball games when he’s not busy stewing silently, Hawk was asked about his affinity for Fenway and his plans for next season.

“I’ll tell you this much, I’ll never go back to Wrigley Field again,” the curmudgeon crowed to CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes. “We’ve got three games over at their place, and I told Jerry (Reinsdorf) the other day before we came on this trip, I said, ‘I’m not going back to Wrigley Field.’

“Worst press box, worst booths for television, it’s a joke,” Harrelson continued. “It really is. And so, Jason (Benetti) is getting ready for those three at Wrigley. I will never step foot in that ballpark again. Ever.”

I suppose some people are out there really cheering this on and eating it up, but this is such a tired schtick from a guy best known for more of the same at this point. At least you can’t say he’s inconsistent.

More news and notes

  • Darren Daulton, All-Star catcher for those great Phillies teams of the early 90’s, passed away Sunday after a long battle with brain cancer. I loved watching those guys, all of whom wore their hair long and had perpetual 5 o’clock shadows, not to mention big ol’ plugs of chaw in their cheeks. It was as though the local men’s league softball champs had been allowed to play in the bigs. Dutch won a pennant in Philly and closed his career as a champion with the Marlins in ’97. Godspeed, Dutch, you’ll be missed.
  • Jon Morosi reports that the Tigers and Astros have talked about a Justin Verlander trade.
  • Seattle acquired Yonder Alonso from the A’s in a waiver trade
  • Willson Contreras is on another planet right now
    • Since 6/16 (169 PA): .331/.399/.709, 16 HR, 45 RBI, .453 wOBA, 182 wRC+
    • Since 7/1 (118 PA): .349/.415/.736, 12 HR, 32 RBI, .470 wOBA, 193 wRC+
    • Since 7/14 (87 PA): .346/.414/.782, 10 HR, 29 RBI, .482 wOBA, 202 wRC+
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