The Rundown: Cubs Falling into Trap of Home Run Reliance, Q’s Early Struggles

The Cubs opened six different innings with a strikeout and closed four more in the same manner, stifling their production all night long. Think about it, they scored a single run on nine hits. And that lone tally came from a Kyle Schwarber jack job in the 1st inning.

At no point over the next 8 2/3 innings were the Cubs able to turn eight more hits and three walks into a run. You almost have to try to be that futile.

“How many times did we punch out?” Joe Maddon asked the media members crowded around his desk after the game, quickly getting the answer of 14. “Yeah, I didn’t know, but I knew a lot from the side. That’s it right there, man. We gotta move the ball in situations.

“We had the runners once again and the strikeout was our enemy. Listen, I’m with you, man, that’s just…I don’t wanna fall back into that trap of just trying to hit home runs.”

I’m reminded here of Where the Red Fern Grows, that classic children’s novel by Wilson Rawls. In it, young Billy Colman needs to trap a raccoon in order to properly train his dogs, Old Dan and Little Ann. Knowing that raccoons find shiny objects irresistible, Billy constructs a simple trap that features two nails driven at an angle into either side of a hole dug into a piece of wood, at the bottom of which is a reflective trinket.

The idea of the trap is that a raccoon will reach its paw in to grab the object. Due to the angle of the nails, the paw can get to the bottom but then will be caught by the nails and can’t get out. And that, my friends, is what Maddon fears for his team.

Home runs, dingers, longballs, round-trippers. All just different names for the same shiny object, the kind of game-changing hit that can erase all the other mistakes all by itself. Unless, of course, the other team hits more of them. And with men on base to boot.

We should note here that this isn’t just a Cubs thing, as FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan points out in an article about the increasing reliance on dingers. Despite a monumental spike in home-run rate, time-on-base events (everything that gets you on base, sans homers) are at their lowest level in roughly 50 years. That’s a direct result of the increase in K-rate, which has eroded everything other than home runs.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just the next step in the natural evolution of the game, but there’s a point at which over-reliance on any one aspect is going to leave a team vulnerable. While the Cubs are far from the most homer-dependent team in baseball, the company they’re keeping near the upper third of the results isn’t desirable.

Of the 10 teams that rely more heavily on homers for their run-scoring than do the Cubs, only two (MIL and NYY) have winning records. Even taking those squads into account, the group is 64 games under .500 and features three last-place and four fourth-place teams.

Then again, you’ve got four division leaders grouped right in there with the Cubs. Weird, it’s almost like having a ton of talent and maintaining a somewhat balanced offense will yield good results. Bingo.

Join me next time, when I’ll find a way to relate some aspect of the Cubs’ season to Dear Mr. Henshaw.

Early struggles

Friday’s game was over shortly after it had started, with a Rhys Hoskins bomb erasing Kyle Schwarber’s earlier shot and giving the Phillies all the offense they’d need. Oh, but they’d add more in the form of a Cesar Hernandez triple and subsequent Freddy Galvis single.

While the overall results weren’t to be expected, Jose Quintana has shown pretty clearly since joining the Cubs back in July that he’s a slow starter. Case in point, he’s got a 6.26 FIP and allows an .894 OPS when facing an opposing lineup the first time through. After that, it drops to a 2.89 FIP and .718 OPS the second time through and 3.27 with a .529 the third.

“I think at the beginning we got a little fastball-heavy and they got us,” Maddon said of Quintana’s rough start. “Physically he’s fine, there’s not a thing wrong with him. The stuff is good, I think it’s more of execution and location.”

We’ve seen Q becoming more of a sinker-baller of late, a strategy that seems to have worked wonders for Jake Arrieta. But in order for it to really work for Quintana, he’s got to dial in that location early. You can have the best numbers in the league from the 3rd inning on, but it doesn’t matter if you’ve already allowed six runs.

Some happy thoughts for your day

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More news and notes

  • Yoenis Cespedes is back on the DL with a strained hammy; the Mets just can’t keep anyone healthy.
  • The Angels claimed Blake Wood off waivers from the Reds; you may recall Wood as the reliever whose wild pitch led to a Cubs walk-off.
  • Andrew Miller has been diagnosed with patellofemoral syndrome, which sounds way worse than what it actually is. He’ll be shut down for up to a week before getting back to throwing.
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