The Rundown: 8th Inning of Death, Maddon’s Dye Job, La Stella Back from the Dead

Recency bias holds powerful sway over our assessments of both athletes and teams, so I wanted to be careful with labeling the penultimate frame the “8th inning of death” for the Cubs. After all, maybe Pedro Strop’s two-out implosion was a complete aberration in the grand scheme of things.

And I guess it was no matter how you slice it, since giving up three runs like that is never normal. But when it comes to the Cubs struggling through the 8th, that’s a real thing. According to TeamRankings, the Cubs have allowed 0.61 runs per inning in the 8th this season, fifth worst in MLB. That number jumps to 0.77 runs at home, second worst in baseball.

If they’re going to maintain their division lead and make any noise whatsoever in the playoffs, they’ve got to get that setup role figured out. Carl Edwards Jr. is rounding back into form and Justin Wilson may be starting to figure it out too, though he’s got to fix some mechanical issues.

As for the root cause of these issues, Theo Epstein will tell you it’s because these guys are human. Which, yeah, everyone except Kris Bryant. Whether it’s courage, heart, or brains, these bullpen guys are lacking, they’re going to need to see the Wizard of Boz to get things figured out.

Speaking of hearts, I’m not sure mine can handle these late collapses too much longer.

Maddon’s hair is a thing

Well, color me unobservant. I hadn’t even noticed that Joe Maddon’s silver mane had been making like Anakin Skywalker and going to the dark side. Seriously, the Tribune’s Paul Sullivan did an in-depth investigative report and everything.

This change apparently came out of a suggestion that Maddon go with the Derek Zoolander Blue Steel look, which is, uh, something. And with the Cubs floundering at the time, the skipper figured it was time for something new. Once they started playing really, really ridiculously good-looking baseball, he figured he’d keep it going.

So allow me to perform this brief eugoogooly for Maddon’s platinum pompadour, that ashen shock of precious metal that is fast becoming dust. Goodbye gray hair, hello brown, you’d better win games when you’re out of town.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an after-funeral party to attend.

Tommy La Stella, clubhouse leader

Remember last year when Tommy La Stella was optioned to AAA and he went AWOL instead? And then lots of people, myself included, blasted him for it? When more of the story came out and we saw how he was eventually welcomed back to the team, though, most of that harsh judgement softened and passed away like so much water over the dam.

And while there are still some who harbor anger to this day, I don’t think any of them reside in the Cubs clubhouse. In fact, La Stella has gone from a guy who looked like he’d seen his last days in Chicago to one Kris Bryant refers to as the “heartbeat” in the clubhouse.

Bryant told 670 The Score’s Dan Bernstein and Lawrence Holmes that the difference in La Stella is “night and day,” and that he’s always upbeat and smiling. The Jersey boy is even behind the Cubs’ newest celebratory gimmick, which began when he found an extra mic lying around at Wrigley and used it to interview players who’d just hit home runs.

For my money — and there isn’t much of it, so take that for what it’s worth — this is far better than the wave back to the dugout following a hit (sorry, War Bear). This feels a lot more like the bubble-gum-bucket hat or the helmet rub, both of which came into vogue during the 2015 season when the Cubs were coming into their own and didn’t know that they were supposed to behave with a certain decorum.

This season had felt so businesslike for a while there, like Rick Vaughn going all corporate and wearing suits to the point where Randy Quaid’s dubbed him Mild Thing. We’re not talking about a return to full-on California Penal League style, but the Cubs do appear to be having more fun out there these days. And it’s more organic too, which I think is important.

Now we just need to see a lot more dugout interviews taking place.

More news and notes

  • Kris Bryant is going to be wearing three pairs of custom cleats during Players Weekend, each of which represents a different city that gave him wings: Chicago, Las Vegas, and San Diego. The cleats also honor and promote the Wings for Life Foundation, which is dedicated to finding a cure for spinal cord injury. You can read more the inspiration behind the designs and the cause here.
  • The Yankees and Tigers played an all-out basebrawl game yesterday, complete with wrestling matches, sucker punches, and lots of shouting.
  • The Mets’ Michael Conforto dislocated his shoulder and suffered a posterior capsule tear on a swing-and-miss yesterday. It’s not yet known whether surgery will be required, but Conforto is definitely out for the rest of the season.
  • After struggling as a starter in his return from surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome, the Rangers have moved Tyson Ross to the bullpen.
  • Rally Cat has a lawyer. In what has to be one of the biggest, a dumbest, PR snafus in a loooong time, the Cardinals are essentially engaged in a custody battle with the St. Louis Feral Cat Outreach over the cat that ran onto the field at Busch Stadium just before Yadi Molina hit a grand slam.
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