The Rundown: Cubs Sweep ‘Stros, PCA Breaks Slump in Big Way, Players’ Weekend Returns, White Sox Still Sliding

“Well, I took a piss at Fortune’s sweet kiss… It’s like eatin’ caviar and dirt. It’s a sad funny ending to find yourself pretending a rich man in a poor man’s shirt.” – Bruce Springsteen, Better Days

Craig Counsell rolls with the punches and his demeanor never changes: Any nine guys will do, and he wins a lot more than he loses based on the Cubs’ record through 25 games. Pete Crow-Armstrong, Alexander Canario, and Mike Tauchman were the starting outfielders in Thursday’s 3-1 win over the Astros. Nick Madrigal started at third base and Héctor Neris closed it out instead of Adbert Alzolay.

Crow-Armstrong had the big blow, a two-run homer that was also his first big league hit. Javier Assad had another strong outing and Hayden Wesneski was stellar in relief once again. Counsell has always been a master of matchups, but who knew he possessed those same savant-like qualities while shorthanded? Fielding a team of reserves last year usually meant David Ross was giving a game away for the sake of resting his regulars. This year’s team plays more with an “it is what it is” attitude and just wins.

The best most should have hoped for without Seiya Suzuki, Justin Steele, and now Cody Bellinger was to tread water until those stars return, but the Cubs continue to toss opponents aside like a cicada discards its shell. Counsell has been partly responsible for five wins by my count, and Chicago has lost just two series. They’re also 16-7 (.696) since starting the season with two losses to the Rangers. I don’t mean to disrespect Ross, but the managerial change looks like a stroke of genius by Jed Hoyer at this point.

The Cubs recalled PCA when went Bellinger down with a rib injury and he wasn’t expected to be a like-for-like replacement. His 6th-inning homer sure looked a lot like the exploits of his predecessor, however. A tie-breaking tater in a clutch situation should provide an enormous boost to the young outfielder’s confidence, not that he needs it.

“I think [the slump] has been really good for me,” the outfielder said. “It usually takes me a second to get my feet wet every year. I’m just being me. I’m here to play baseball.”

The Cubs continue their tough early-season schedule with a seven-game road trip against the Red Sox and Mets that begins tonight. Ben Brown may get a start against Boston and Steele should be close to a rehab assignment. Boston is 3-7 at Fenway Park and the Mets are 6-6 at Citi Field. Expect a 5-2 trip with several unsung heroes stepping up, such as Canario, Matt Mervis, or Michael Busch.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

James Triantos looks like a 16″ softball player dying at third base after legging out a triple.

Central Intelligence

Climbing the Ladder

“Yeah, I know I ain’t nobody’s bargain but, hell, a little touch-up and a little paint.” – Springsteen, Human Touch

Nico Hoerner had three hits yesterday and Tauchman was 1-for-1 with three walks. That said, Chicago was just 2-for-15 with RISP in the win. Crow-Armstrong snapped his hitless strike with his first big league home run. The Cubs finished the homestand with a 5-2 record, and are now 10-3 at Wrigley Field this year.

These Cubs do have some holes, however. Their strikeout rate continues to climb as their regulars miss games, and Chicago struggles to generate runs in late innings. That they still find ways to win is a tribute to just how well-coached this team is.

  • Games Played: 25
  • Record: 16-9 (.640), 2nd place in NL Central
  • In One-Run Games: 4-4 (.500)
  • Total Plate Appearances: 950
  • Total Strikeouts: 220
  • Strikeout Rate: 23.16%
  • Team Batting Average: .246
  • With Runners in Scoring Position: 56-for-200 (.280)
  • Runs Scored: 133
  • Runs Allowed: 107
  • Pythagorean Record: 15-10
  • Chances of Making the Playoffs: 86.5%, 4.8% chance to win World Series 

How About That!

Players’ Weekend returns to MLB this summer from August 16-18 for the first time since 2019.

The league is not bringing back fan-favorite nicknames to the Players’ Weekend jerseys, which is a marketing mistake in my opinion.

Former Red, Royals, and White Sox pitcher Brandon Finnegan is still the only person to pitch in the College World Series and MLB World Series in the same year.

The White Sox lost for the ninth time in 10 games and are playing baseball at a 19-win clip…for the entire season.

William Contreras is batting .365 with 22 RBI and is the early favorite to be the starting NL catcher in this year’s All-Star Game.

Willson Contreras has improved defensively as a catcher thanks to help from his little brother.

Thursday’s Three Stars

  1. José Ramírez – The Cleveland third baseman completed the Denny’s Special — a grand slam with a stolen base — on a 3-for-4 night as the Guardians dropped the Red Sox 6-4.
  2. Zack Wheeler – Pitching one-hit baseball over six innings with eight strikeouts is a good thing, yes? The Phillies starter dominated the Reds in a 5-0 win.
  3. Édouard Julien – The White Sox (3-22) lost again, and Julien had two sol taters to help the Twins sweep the four-game set.

Extra Innings

Pete Crow-Excitement, am I right? The rookie tattooed that ball like he knew what pitch Bryan Abreu was throwing.

Friday Morning Six-Pack

  1. It’s official: Caleb Williams was selected first overall last night and is the Bears quarterback of the future.
  2. Williams explained that his success as a collegiate quarterback can be traced to an interception he threw when he was nine years old.
  3. Chicago nabbed wide receiver Rome Odunze with its second pick. Odunze is a speedy but gritty pass catcher who rarely loses contested balls.
  4. Due to hot temperatures and insane levels of dust, Athens looked like a creamsicle or a scene out of The Martian yesterday.
  5. What is the deal with Chipotle’s Chicken Al Pastor? Is it that good? I may have to DoorDash some today. I’ve never eaten at Chipotle.
  6. The Eagles’ comeback and subsequent “Farewell Tour” started 30 years ago, and is still going strong.

Sliding Into Home

It has been medically proven that music helps Alzheimer’s patients with long-term memory. With that in mind, I just finished writing a book on the history of rock-and-roll from 1960-95 for a friend’s dad, who has just been diagnosed. The kicker? The man was my middle school music teacher, and he’s also in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease. The book is called Liner Notes, and its 250+ pages are part history, part autobiography. He gets the first copy, but I’m going to make it available via Kickstarter next week to raise money for Alzheimer’s. My fundraising goal is $25,000, but selling even one copy would be beyond my wildest dreams. I’ll post the link here on Monday and I hope my readers will spread the word.

I never would have had the confidence to write a book were it not for the popularity of this column among its readers. I thank you all for that, from the bottom of my heart.

They Said It

  • “You’re in the wrong place if you’re not trying to win. Getting to come into a situation like this is pretty cool. Not many people get to do that coming up. If anything, the way I see it now is it just takes pressure off of me, knowing that I’m here because I will be impacting (the team).” – Crow-Armstrong
  • “It’s just next man up. Craig does such a good job of starting this process early in spring. It’s been known we’re going to be using a ton of guys. It’s a long season. We’re using a lot more early than we would have wanted to, obviously, but this is just what’s going on right now. Those younger guys are so prepared. They’ve put in so much work. They’ve known from the start that they were going to contribute at some point.”Kyle Hendricks
  • “One of my favorite things about this team and these guys is how professional they’ve been about the weather. Because these are not ideal baseball conditions, to understate it. And it’s been impressive to see how they have handled these nights and these days with the thought that like, ‘maybe I can be mentally tougher than the next guy.’ And that’s that’s a pretty cool way to handle it.” – Counsell

Friday Walk-Up Song

Chicago has some very talented young athletes making headlines these days: PCA, Williams, Odunze, Connor Bedard, Kamilla Cardoso, Angel Reese, and coming soon, Cade Horton. Enjoy your weekend, friends.

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