The Rundown: Final Homestand Starts Tonight, Ross Shuffles Rotation, Cubs Gain Slight Wild Card Edge

“Hey Moe! Hey Moe! Well, nyuck, nyuck, nyuck, nyuck.” – Jump ‘N the Saddle Band, The Curly Shuffle

A little levity to start the final two weeks of the regular season.

The Cubs shuffled their rotation for the Pirates series to ensure Justin Steele starts Game 162 in Milwaukee, barring any postponements. Manager David Ross is skipping/pushing back Jameson Taillon to get Steele an extra start. That means Javier Assad and Kyle Hendricks will face Pittsburgh in Games 1 and 3, respectively, with Steele taking the bump for the middle contest on Wednesday.

The move makes sense considering Taillon’s recent struggles and the fact that the Cubs have won 19 of Steele’s 28 starts. The lefty is also battling Blake Snell for the Cy Young award, so the extra start could also help him there. The Wild Card tiebreaker rules are currently working against the North Siders, so every win counts. Steele will probably acquiesce to a bullpen game if the Cubs have been eliminated from the ever-shuffling Wild Card race ahead of the final weekend.

That means Taillon will be pushed back to Saturday’s game against the Rockies and he’ll avoid the Braves in Atlanta. That said, I’m not sure Ross trusts him enough to send him to the mound while his team’s fate is still undecided. Marcus Stroman could be tasked with taking Taillon’s remaining starts.

The 2018 Cubs finished 95-68 but lost a tie-breaking game to the Brewers at Wrigley Field before bowing out of the playoffs with a dirt-dicking single-elimination loss to the Rockies. That one-game Wild Card tilt was eliminated in favor of a best-of-three series when MLB expanded its playoffs. Those losses were shocking and gut-wrenching, but it’s going to sting a little more this year if math dictates that Chicago has to sit out the postseason.

The best thing the Cubs can do is win. They’ve lost the tiebreaker to every team within a half-game of the final postseason berth and no longer have head-to-head matchups with any of them. Losing six of seven to the Diamondbacks this month has pushed the team’s playoff odds to right around 50% as of this writing. That would have been acceptable to us when the season began, but it’s annoying AF right now.

The Cubs also need to start hitting, especially with runners in scoring position. The players who led Chicago’s surge through July and August have looked gassed in September. Dansby Swanson, Cody Bellinger, and Ian Happ all look like they could use a day off. Puzzlingly, David Ross refuses to give at-bats to fresher outfielders  Pete Crow-Armstrong and Alexander Canario. Christopher Morel could fill in at second base with Nico Hoerner manning shortstop.

The bigger issue is the absence of Jeimer Candelario, Nick Madrigal, and Adbert Alzolay. He was a fun story for a couple of seasons, but Patrick Wisdom is not the guy you want taking key at-bats in meaningful games. Ross also has no reliable closer without Alzolay. Brad Boxberger seems best suited for the job with Michael Fulmer on the shelf, but he’s not in that late-inning circle of trust.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

If you pitch until you’re almost 50 like Jamie Moyer did, you’re going to serve up a lot of taters.

Central Intelligence

  • Milwaukee (84-66): Republican legislators announced a bill Monday that would devote more than $614 million in public funding to repair and renovate AFI Field. Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson, a Democrat, said the proposal would put too much of a burden on the city.
  • Cincinnati (79-73): The Reds announced that Hunter Renfroe has been designated for assignment.
  • Pittsburgh (70-80): The Pirates haven’t had 70 or more wins since 2018, and they’re coming to Chicago motivated to put a bigger dent in the Cubs’ playoff run.
  • St. Louis (67-83): Veteran hurler Adam Wainwright became the 122nd pitcher in baseball history to win 200 games Monday night with a 1-0 victory over the Brewers.

Cubs Math

  1. The Brewers lost last night, putting the Cubs six games behind in the NL Central. Milwaukee’s magic number to clinch the division is seven and it is just five to clinch a playoff berth.
  2. The Phillies beat the Braves 7-1 and hold the top Wild Card spot, 3.5 games ahead of the Diamondbacks and four games ahead of the Cubs.
  3. The idle Cubs gained a half-game on the Marlins, who lost 2-1 to the Mets.
  4. The Reds won and are essentially tied with Chicago, but trail by a game in the loss column. That means the Cubs lead Cincinnati by a .0003 margin for WC3.
  5. If the season ended today, the Braves and Dodgers would have first-round byes, the Cubs would play a best-of-three series at Milwaukee, and the Diamondbacks would travel to Philadelphia to take on the Phillies. Cincinnati holds the tie-breaker, but they’re one loss behind the Cubs and they have two fewer games remaining.

Climbing the Ladder

“Watch me clinging to the beat I had to fight to make it mine.” – Culture Club, Church of the Poison Mind

A 6-0 homestand will do wonders for Chicago’s psyche, not to mention their playoff chances. Bellinger, who is the Cubs’ best hitter, has just 27 at-bats in the top third of the order, all of them coming in the three-hole. Ross has done a remarkable job of robbing Bellinger of plate appearances while hindering the team’s opportunities to score more runs.

Some Twitter analysts say Bellinger can’t catch up to fastballs and was exposed in Arizona. That’s just not true. As I mentioned above, he’s fatigued and nothing more.

Who becomes the organization’s top prospect assuming Crow-Armstrong starts the 2024 season on the big league roster? Horton, Kevin Alcántara, and Ben Brown deserve it, but I prefer Matt Shaw or Owen Caissie. Shaw will probably be a regular by the end of next season and could break camp with the Cubs unless the player development staff wants him to work on his fielding at Iowa.

  • Games Played: 150
  • Record: 78-72 (.520)
  • Total Plate Appearances: 5,744
  • Total Strikeouts: 1,294
  • Strikeout Rate: 22.53%
  • Team Batting Average: .254
  • Runs Scored: 749
  • Runs Allowed: 663
  • Chances of Making the Playoffs53.5%, 1.8% to win the World Series

How About That!

Ken Rosenthal and Dennis Lin of The Athletic dropped a California-sized bombshell about the current state of the Padres. Interviews over the past several weeks with more than two dozen current and former Padres employees and others in baseball, almost all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity in exchange for their candor, revealed deep cultural issues ($) that start near the top of the organization and, in some cases, filter down to the players.

Two of the six division winners have been decided and four playoff berths have been clinched, but the Wild Card races are far from decided.

Expansion to 32 teams is potentially much closer now that the Rays have reached an agreement on a new stadium.

The Orioles will stay in their ballpark for at least 30 more years according to CEO John Angelos.

Mets closer Edwin Díaz, who is recovering from a torn patellar tendon, will not return this season.

Shohei Ohtani is also done for the year and is unlikely to return to the Angels, but his teammates praised him for his “ultra-professionalism.”

Twins shortstop Carlos Correa is dealing with plantar fasciitis and may not be at full strength for the postseason.

The Brewers have the best rotation of all playoff contenders. Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Freddy Peralta are the keys to an extended postseason run.

Rafael Devers and Juan Soto are the AL and NL Players of the Week.

Monday’s Three Stars

  1. Wainwright – Congratulations are in order, but good riddance.
  2. J.D. Martinez – The 36-year-old Dodgers DH found the fountain of youth last night, blasting two homers with five RBI.
  3. Cedric Mullins – The Baltimore outfielder plated four runners on a 2-for-5 night, the big blow being a three-run 9th-inning blast that gave the Orioles a 9-8 win over the Astros.

Extra Innings

Regardless of what happens this week and next, the Cubs still have a pretty stacked farm system.


They Said It

  • “Merryweather is probably the unsung MVP of our team. When we locked things in, his success, him holding down that seventh inning transitioned us to set a lot of guys up in roles that have helped.” – Ross
  • “We’ve been doing a good job having each other’s backs, even when it hasn’t been going our way. And so we’re just going to continue leaning on each other.” – Bellinger

Tuesday Walk-Up Song

Happy 65th birthday, Lita Ford! I met her at a record-signing event about 35 years ago and couldn’t speak in coherent sentences.

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