Sunday Rundown: Smyly’s Screwup Stymies Potential Perfecto, Mervis Mashing, Cubs Clicking on All Cylinders

There have been endless near-no-hitters and near-perfect games at the major league level, but Drew Smyly added a new twist to that canon on Friday. The lefty’s 8th-inning collision with Yan Gomes on a dribbler cost him his date with infamy. The official scorer gave David Peralta a single, and it was the right call.

“That’s a tough way to end it,” Smyly said. “You feel like you’re really close.”

No shit. If only Ron Santo were alive to call it.

Keystone Cops moment aside, Smyly has been balling since last July, just like the rest of Chicago’s rotation. The veteran lefty has a 2.87 ERA over his previous 16 starts and three outings account for 18 of the 27 earned runs he’s allowed since then. We all assume he could be the odd man out when Kyle Hendricks returns, but that really seems doubtful. As long as Smyly continues to deal, his spot in the rotation is safe.

There have been 23 perfect games in MLB history, including Don Larsen‘s in the 1956 World Series, and Seattle’s Félix Hernández pitched the last in 2012. Smyly may never come that close again, though he’d rather have a ring and he’d love to get it as a member of the Cubs. The 33-year-old loves Wrigley Field.

“Pitching here at Wrigley Field is so special,” Smyly said. “It’s so awesome. Every single game the atmosphere is just off the charts.”

The fielding faux pas temporarily silenced the crowd, but Smyly walked off to a thunderous and well-deserved ovation when David Ross took him out. He finished the afternoon with 10 strikeouts in 7.2 innings, then Jeremiah Estrada finished the one-hitter in a 13-0 rout. Smyly struck out six straight Dodgers at one point and Los Angeles managed just three baserunners all game.

Smyly has never given us that vibe that he’s one of Chicago’s better starters. Perhaps it’s time we change that way of thinking.

Midwest Farm Report

Matt Mervis is raking for Iowa. He had two hits, including a home run, on Saturday and as of this writing, he’s 2-for-2 with three RBI Sunday afternoon. He’s plated 21 runners in 18 games and he’s doing everything possible to punch his ticket to Chicago. So why hasn’t he been promoted?

I believe there are two reasons, though I’m admittedly reaching.

  1. The Cubs are 12-8 and the offense is clicking. You never leave the table when you’re on a heater, or so the saying goes, and the Cubs are pummeling their opponents this year (see below).
  2. If I’m really nitpicking, Mervis sometimes struggles with pitches that are up in the zone, occasionally has trouble laying off, and could be immediately exploited in the bigs.

The Cubs will be a better team with Mash in the lineup, no question. The easiest solution is to replace Edwin Ríos or Luis Torrens with Mervis. Christopher Morel is also deserving of a roster spot and both will be here sooner than later. Jed Hoyer would like you to exercise some patience in the meantime.

“We’ve played three weeks of baseball, so you have to be patient and be thankful that some of our guys have gotten off to hot starts,” Jed Hoyer said before Thursday’s loss to the Dodgers. “That allows some other guys to struggle. When those guys struggle, the other guys will pick them up, but I don’t think there’s like a specific number [to get a full evaluation of performance].

“At some point, Matt’s going to impact the Cubs. There’s no question. When that is, I don’t know. But we’re aware that certainly, he can have an impact here.”

Big League Chew

On Friday, the Cubs became the second team in MLB history to score double-digit runs six times in its first 19 games, matching the 1885 Chicago White Stockings. The foundation of the team’s success is the top of the order, formed by core members Nico Hoerner, Dansby Swanson, and Ian Happ. It also helps that Patrick Wisdom is on a pace to hit 73 home runs (good morning Barry Bonds), but power does not drive Chicago’s offense.

Like the starting pitching, timely hitting has been a continuation from the final two months of the 2022 season. The Cubs have been so proficient that Eric Hosmer has been able to stave off Mervis, at least for the time being. Hosmer is a high-contact hitter that fits with the team’s mission to not give away at-bats.

“It’s been a fun group,” Hosmer said. “Really fun, energetic group. A young group that the way they handled the second half last year, it felt like when they got a full 162, they can maintain that pace of play for the whole time. I think they added a group of veteran guys in here that know their roles and gel in with these guys well.”

We were concerned that the Cubs would struggle to blow teams out, but that’s just not been the case so far. Can the Cubs continue to be the juggernaut that they are without a Murderer’s Row type of lineup? Wisdom and Cody Bellinger account for 51.9% of the team’s home runs. Despite the lack of power, Chicago is averaging 5.9 runs per game, trailing only the Rays and Rangers in all of baseball. The Cubs are also allowing just 3.5 runs per game. That 2.4 run differential per game is huge, though it’s a tough pace to maintain. When the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, they averaged 1.45 more runs than their opponents.

It’s safe to say Hoyer knows a thing or two about constructing a roster. It’s only 20 games into the season, however, so let’s check back at the end of May. A very special summer lies ahead if the Cubs can continue to manhandle their opponents.

Sunday Six-Pack

  1. Allman Brothers at Fillmore East ’71 – Often and quite accurately described as the greatest live album ever, and I agree. The sextet had only been together for two years when they recorded this masterpiece, though it sounds as if the group had been 20-year veterans. The key is that the band has always felt more comfortable playing live than in the studio, and it shows. It helped that the Grateful Dead turned them on to acid during the Fillmore shows.
  2. Frampton Comes Alive – Nobody heard of Peter Frampton until he dropped this massively popular live album in 1976. That makes this double live long player a rare occurrence in the annals of rock history. No artist has generated multi-million sales without previously charting a hit. Frampton’s studio works pale in comparison, including monster hits like “Show Me the Way” and “Baby I Love Your Way.” He’s a monster on stage, and few cassettes got as much play in our automobiles as this one did.
  3. Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison – “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.” This is Cash singing fictionally about men with life sentences to prisoners doing the actual time. It’s raw, visceral, often gritty, and simultaneously tender. Cash made his career by making himself equal to his audience, and there’s no finer example than this concert.
  4. The Last Waltz – I’ll admit I enjoy the album a lot more than the movie because Robbie Roberston wears on my nerves pretty quickly. Roberston defined narcissism in the flick, but I suppose I’d be large in the britches, too, if Martin Scorcese made a movie about me. The self-serving elegy is fantastic because Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, and Richard Manuel made it so. Roberston got all the screen time, but he was, musically speaking, the smallest component of the band. The Band’s guests deserve a ton of credit, too, especially Dr. John, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, and of course, The Staple Singers. Helm was the foundation and rock, however, and his voice is so underrated.
  5. Miles Davis at Plugged Nickel 1965 – Released in 1995, this comes as an 8-CD box set covering seven sets over two nights in 1965 at Chicago’s Plugged Nickel. The Davis quintet included Wayne Shorter (sax), Herbie Hancock (keys), Ron Carter (bass), Tony Williams (drums), and trumpeter Davis. Few titles are repeated, believe it or not, but the interpretations vastly differ from night to night. I’d never suggest laying out the kind of dough it takes to purchase this collection but I promise you will not be disappointed.
  6. Nirvana MTV Unplugged – If you watch the MTV special, you can see that Kurt Cobain is basically resigned to the fact that the end of his life is imminent. That gives this effort a chilling and haunting bit of foreshadowing. Nirvana was the biggest band in the world at the time, but the performances here are solemn, temperate, and a little too eery in retrospect. The arrangements are brilliant, however, and the album is incredible. It’s just too bad that it serves as a musical suicide note “written” four months before Cobain checked out.

Sunday Funnies

The 1908 Cubs had the scariest mascot of all time. Is it any wonder Fred Merkle blew a potential Giants’ pennant thanks to the most controversial play in MLB history?

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