The Rundown: Stro Mojo Nets Birthday Win in Brew City, Steele’s Struggles Continue, Today is Cut Day, Gotham Teams Teeing Off

“Through the door, a harvest feast is lit by candlelight. It’s the bottom of a staircase that spirals out of sight.” – Genesis, Carpet Crawlers

Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition! If Marcus Stroman wasn’t at the top of his game yesterday the Cubs would probably have been swept by the Brewers up here in Brew City. Stro two-hit the Brewers over seven innings with five punchouts, no small feat considering Milwaukee had scored 20 runs in the previous two games of the series. Nothing like showing Cubs fans just how long it will be before the North Siders will once again be competitive.

That 21-0 win over the Pirates seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? No matter what type of offense the team deploys, it remains far too feast-or-famine for the tastes of most die-hard Cubs fans. Chicago’s North Side baseballers won’t win many games scoring one or two runs until they’ve got a starting rotation that can match Milwaukee’s pitch-for-pitch. Stroman managed to do that yesterday, but Justin Steele and Kyle Hendricks weren’t up to the task Friday and Saturday.

It’s not fair to single out Steele, but he’s given up 11 earned runs in 13 innings since blanking the Brewers over five innings in his first start of the year. He is not an awful pitcher, but he gets way too much love because Cubs fans are desperate to cling to any homegrown starter. That’s not on Steele, either, but because Theo Epstein punted on pitching for a decade. Steele’s all we’ve got, for now anyway.

The problem is that the lefty has little idea where each baseball is going once it leaves his hand. Need proof? He’s thrown 358 pitches in 18 innings with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.45. That’s as pedestrian as it gets for a starter, and it’s one reason why Steele is averaging less than four innings per outing.

The better move might be to put Keegan Thompson in the rotation. The casual fan will say that hurts the bullpen but I’ll have none of it. Steele will be fine in one-inning bursts whereas Thompson is better suited for longer outings because he has a better arsenal and can command it a whole lot better.

None of this would matter at all if the Cubs could just score some runs. If you remove the Pirates blowout game and a 9-0 win in Steele’s lone good appearance, the Cubs have been outscored 96-66. Chicago’s starters have a combined ERA of 5.14, and Drew Smyly is the only member of the rotation with a sub-3.00 mark. Averaging 3.3 runs in those 20 games that weren’t blowouts means David Ross is going to put unusually high stress on his bullpen, the one component of his team that is generally outperforming the league.

There’s hope on the horizon in Jordan Wicks, Caleb Kilian, DJ Herz, and Kohl Franklin, but none of those guys will be difference-makers until next year at the earliest. Lack of power in a league that’s soon going to lap the Cubs offensively means Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins are going to shift into sell mode rather quickly. I’ll give credit to Hoyer for the trades he’s made so far, but at some point, he is going to have to add some power hitters to this organization. If the Cubs can’t plate runners, those young hurlers are going to have to be at the tops of their games every time out.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

One of the worst rule changes coming is the pitch clock which will be reinforced by making batters (for the most part) stay in the box. I’m all for faster games, but there are few players who abuse what the rules intend to enforce.

In fact, I believe the league will negate any game time saved by adding more commercials to televised games. Nobody can convince me that league owners want fans to spend any less time at the ballpark with what they charge for concessions. Sorry, not sorry.

Climbing the Ladder

“Can you hear me, can you hear me running?” – Mike + The Mechanics, Silent Running

What if I told you this year’s roster is no different than previous iterations except that it has substituted singles for doubles and home runs?  The Cubs struck out 24 times in the three-game set with the Brewers but managed just 14 hits, five for extra bases. Patrick Wisdom had two doubles and a home run, and the only other XBHs belonged to Seiya Suzuki and Yan Gomes. Chicago got outscored 20-3, but at least they walked away with one win.

On the plus side, Nick Madrigal has improved his walk rate to 6%, though he still needs to get on base more. He and Nico Hoerner have combined for just seventeen extra-base hits in 130 at-bats and have a combined SLG% of .246. For a team that is predominately singles-oriented, the Cubs have just four stolen bases this year.

  • Games Played: 22
  • Total Plate Appearances: 818
  • Total Strikeouts: 190
  • Strikeout Rate: 23.23%
  • Team Batting Average: .246

MLB News & Notes

Yankees’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo is off to a great start and though he never thought he’d leave the Cubs, he loves being a slugging member of New York’s Bronx Bombers.

The Yankees have a nine-game winning streak.

The Mets extended their franchise-record, season-opening streak of series wins to seven by beating the Phillies on Sunday.

Blue Jays starter Kevin Gausman is an early front-runner for this year’s AL Cy Young Award.

Cardinals’ reliever Ryan Helsley threw a pitch over the weekend that was clocked at 103.1 mph by the Busch Stadium radar gun.

Despite record inflation and supply chain issues that have plagued the U.S. for almost a year, you can take comfort in knowing that baseball stadiums are not in short supply of hot dogs and other fan-favorite concessions.

The Reds finished April with a 3-18 record, which is on pace for a mind-numbing 23 wins in 162 games. They lost again yesterday. Let me just remind you that the new CBA allegedly resolved the tanking issue.

Congratulations are on order for Jason Krizan of the Giants, who got his first major league hit after spending 11 years in the minors.

Sunday’s Three Stars

  1. Stroman – By no means was he as dominating as other players yesterday, so consider this a morale move and nothing more.
  2. Dominic Smith | Jeff McNeil – The Mets’ batters combined to go 8-for-9 with three doubles and three RBI as the 16-7 Mets topped the Phillies 10-6.
  3. Aaron Judge – Two taters and three RBI for the homer-happy Yankees makes for a nice Sunday afternoon.

Extra Innings

Is it okay for a man to cry? You betcha, especially when mourning the loss of his best friend. Scott Van Pelt, one of the very few reasons to watch ESPN Sports Center, got incredibly human with his viewers on Thursday Night’s “One Big Thing,” and it was absolutely precious. RIP, Otis. Long live the king.

They Said It

  • “I want [Sunday’s game] to be the standard. That’s how I feel good. I’m the toughest critic [of] myself.” – Stroman
  • “We got to clean up on the bases. We got to clean up some of the mistakes we’ve made on the field. If we do that, we’re two or three games above where we’re at, in my opinion. It’s getting those details locked in. I think everything else is taking shape. We were able to rest some guys early on and kind of take it as an extended spring training. Guys have seemed to buy into their roles. I don’t think we’re the best version of ourselves yet, which is exciting to me. And we still got to get some guys going.” – Ross

Monday Walk-Up Song

The Great Beyond by R.E.M. – This month marks the five-year anniversary that I lost Sue so all month I’m going to post her all-time favorite songs in this section, and there will be no blurbs after this one. It’s the least I can do for someone I consider the best friend I ever had.

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