The Rundown: Maples Pitches Backwards to Move Upward, Brewers Mad About Schedule Change

We’ve been calling for it for some time now, and it’s actually happening: Dillon Maples is going to complete a journey that incubated at the lowest levels of the minors for over five seasons. Drafted in 2011 — the last draft presided over by Jim Hendry — Maples suffered through maladies of both the physical and psychological variety and contemplated leaving the game more than once before figuring it out this year.

He was a young man who threw triple digits but no longer found himself on any top 100 lists, from phenom to just a guy. This is what he’d bypassed a football scholarship to North Carolina for? It wasn’t a matter of stuff, he still had that in spades. He just hadn’t been able to harness it during the sporadic times he could actually take the mound. Injuries to his UCL, knee, rib, and oblique had conspired against him in four separate seasons.

But then came a revelation that he really did want this, wanted to be a baseball player. That renewed drive, not to mention good health and a new weapon, finally gave him the momentum to escape the gravity of A-ball and sent him rocketing up through the system.

Already armed with the fastball and curve, Maples worked in the 2016 offseason to develop a better feel for the slider. He also made some changes to the pitching strategy the Cubs had set for him since he signed, which was to think fastball-first. It’s hard to blame them, though. Dude’s got a 100 mph heater, gotta leverage that.

“I got into pro ball, and it was kind of a different animal,” Maples told Myrtle Beach Pelicans broadcaster Scott Kornberg back in May. “They wanted me to throw more fastballs, and I’m not going to put all the blame there, because it was a lot of me being in my own way, mentally. But I definitely have been getting comfortable throwing (the slider) this offseason. And this offseason, I felt a lot better about it going into camp.”

Knowing that he’d be released if he just stayed in the same place, Maples decided to start working backwards. Which is to say that he got back to pitching off of the breaking ball and using his fastball almost as a secondary offering. Combined with a greater buy-in to the mental skills program, the flame-throwing righty achieved a level of comfort he hadn’t had since high school.

As a result, Maples has now been promoted three times, from Myrtle Beach to Tennessee to Iowa and now to Chicago. All in less than three months. Think about that, folks. He has struck out 100 men in 63.1 innings across those three levels, holding opposing hitters to a .192 average.

If there’s a concern with the 25-year-old, it’s that his walk totals are a little higher than you’d like to see. Then again, they’re lower than what Carl Edwards Jr. posted during his time in the minors. I’m not saying Maples will come right in and do with the Cubs what he’s done for their minor-league affiliates this season, but I can’t wait to see him try.

Brewers not happy with night game

We found out Thursday afternoon that the Cubs were moving their September 8 tilt with the Brewers to from 1:20 pm to 7:05 pm, quite a change given the ban on Friday night games at Wrigley. Doing so required approval from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and local alderman Tom Tunney, both of whom agreed to a “one-time exception” to give the Cubs a little extra time to breathe following a four-game set in Pittsburgh that concludes on Thursday evening.

“It’s a compromise. It’s a favor. Coach Maddon has his philosophy. I don’t plan to have it a regular occurrence. But it’s something that we’re all trying to work toward to make sure the team gets the proper rest,” Tunney said of the unique arrangement.

“With the Cubs in the thick of the pennant race, we’re going to make sure the Cubs can focus on doing what they need to do: winning ballgames and bringing another World Series back to Chicago,” Emanuel echoed.

And, boy, were the Brewers apparently upset about this whole thing. Not that they were mad about playing a Friday night game, which is something EVERY OTHER TEAM DOES PRETTY MUCH EVERY FRIDAY. No, they “vigorously objected” to the idea that the Cubs were making the move for competitive reasons. What the what?

Keep in mind, friends, that the Brewers have that Thursday off and will not have to change their travel plans from all the way up in Milwaukee one iota. Again, this change creates absolutely zero disadvantage for the Brewers in any way. But the fact the Cubs were so transparent about the move being made for competitive reasons just chapped the Brewers’ perpetually red asses all the more.

No word on whether Milwaukee also objected to the Cubs assembling a really talented roster expressly for competitive purposes. All things considered, you’d think the Brewers would be happy about the move to a Friday evening. Not only does it give them more time to pack additional diapers for the weekend, but the night game means no chance of sunburn.

Justin time

They didn’t get Verlander prior to the playoff-eligibility deadline, but the other Justin the Cubs picked up from the Tigers has started paying serious dividends. Willson’s Cubs tenure got off to a pretty ignominious start as he allowed at least two baserunners in each of his first eight appearances and posting a 6.35 ERA and 3.18 WHIP with nine walks and five strikeouts over that time.

His last five outings, though…whoo, buddy. Sorry, had to compose myself for a moment there. In his last five trips to the mound, Wilson has a 0.00 ERA and a 0.19 WHIP. He has allowed a single hit and has struck out seven while walking none. Not bad, huh?

Sure, he’s done most of that recent work in lower-leverage situations as Joe Maddon essentially nurses him back to health, but this is one of MLB’s elite relievers we’re talking about. This wasn’t a matter of making him good, it was getting him back to normal. And I think he might just be there.

More news and notes

  • After all the rumors over the past couple months, Justin Verlander was finally traded. Not to the Cubs, of course, but to the Astros. It appeared that any deal had fallen apart and multiple reports had Verlander refusing to waive his no-trade. But we got word shortly after midnight ET that an agreement had in fact been made. The Tigers receive prospects Franklin Perez, Daz Cameron, and Jake Rogers and will offset $16 million of Verlander’s remaining salary. All three of those prospects have significant upside, so it’s a pretty good haul for a rebuilding Detroit team.
  • The Cubs picked up Leonys Martin from the Mariners for the ol’ PTBNL/cash option. Martin isn’t much of a hitter, but provides speed on the bases and in the outfield here in September. He’ll cost someone a spot on the 40-man as well.
  • The Angels have acquired Brandon Phillips from the Braves in exchange for catcher Tony Sanchez. Dat Dude BP had the Angels among the 12 teams in his no-trade clause, but the possibility of playing in the postseason likely swayed his thoughts. Oh, there’s also the small matter of a $500,000 that kicks in if he’s traded. Los Angeles of Anaheim is really going for it, having earlier acquired Justin Upton from Detroit.
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