The Rundown: Light-Hitting Cubs Lack Identity, Hendricks Continues to Struggle, League Investigates Former Ohtani Teammate

“All about that personality crisis, you got it while it was hot, but frustration and heartache is what you got.” – The New York Dolls, Personality Crisis

We are only 48 games into the season, but the Cubs still lack an identity and that may be part and parcel with Jed Hoyer’s constant desire to thread the needle. Chicago has at times looked like a potential playoff club, a team still rebuilding after trading its core nearly three years ago, and an organization with a prospect group that suddenly seems less touted than those of the Pirates and Brewers. Sunday’s 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh feels like the low point of the season.

I won’t deny that my bottom still stings after getting mercilessly spanked by the Buccos, but doesn’t it seem like the Cubs are treading water? Their hitting funk has become a bench-wide epidemic and the roster as a whole seems to be struggling with paralysis by analysis. The Braves coming to Wrigley Field won’t be the cure for Chicago’s anemic bats, but it sure would be nice to see the team’s hitters just grip it and rip it.

In theory, I love that the Cubs want to drive up the opposition’s pitch counts. The issue is that those teams have adjusted, and now Chicago’s batters are falling behind early and often. Paul Skenes represents Exhibit A. He struck out 11 Cubs in six no-hit innings, including the first seven batters he faced. Chicago managed a total of five hits against Skenes, Bailey Falter, and Mitch Keller, over the final three games of the series.

Thankfully, the Cubs have Shōta Imanaga, Javier Assad, Justin Steele, and Jameson Taillon. Each gives the Cubs a chance to win, though you can’t beat anybody if you don’t score runs. The Cubs hit rock bottom over the weekend and were 9-for-54 (.167) over the weekend. Mike Tauchman and Patrick Wisdom are among Chicago’s top hitters right now, which sums up the team’s offensive struggles quite succinctly.

Change is necessary, and though reinforcements are coming, Hoyer has to learn to be a little less passive. The Cubs have been a better second-half team under his watch because he rides his mistakes a little too long. Kyle Hendricks is a perfect example, as he shows no signs of progressing from his season-long struggles. If the front office isn’t going to go outside the organization other than to bottom feed for relievers, then it’s time to make some permanent internal changes.

  1. Remove Hendricks from the rotation, even if it means cutting him. Drew Smyly is not the answer and though Ben Brown could be, Jordan Wicks will return soon as long as he doesn’t suffer any setbacks during rehab. Cade Horton could force his way into the rotation, too. He’s not ready yet, and shouldn’t be pushed just because other pitching prospects have had successful debuts with other teams.
  2. Adbert Alzolay is injured and Héctor Neris isn’t the most inspiring closer, but Brown might be. Even though I’d rather see him work as a starter, closing games this year shouldn’t change his trajectory. A precedent exists, too. Derek Lowe, Johan Santana, Adam WainwrightChris Sale, and Michael Lorenzen are some of the more notable examples of relievers-turned-starters. Recent conversions include Jordan Hicks, Reynaldo Lopez, DL Hall, and A.J. Puk. Craig Counsell has to find creative ways to fill innings, and Brown’s arsenal and demeanor are ideal for saving games. I’d rather see Julian Merryweather and Mark Leiter Jr. handing the game to Brown than Tyson Miller and Luke Little passing the ball to Neris.
  3. The Cubs have too many injuries. I hope somebody in the front office is conducting a thorough audit of the team’s training staff. Chicago survived injuries to Steele and Taillon, but this season will quickly fall off the rails if Imanaga or Assad goes down.
  4. The hitting instructors are failing the Cubs too. Ian Happ is slugging .302, Dansby Swanson has a .285 OBP, and too many regulars, including Swanson, Happ, Miguel Amaya, Christopher Morel, and Yan Gomes are straddling the Mendoza line.
  5. It’s time to put Hoyer on notice. The Cubs have the highest payroll in the NL Central but they lack the execution to compete with the Brewers and the promise of Pittsburgh’s prospects. Chicago’s North Side baseballers are suffering from an identity crisis and the front office seems at times devoid of vision or imagination.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

Warren Spahn is saying that pitching is so easy that even a caveman can do it.

Central Intelligence

Climbing the Ladder

“In the town of broken dreams the streets are filled with regret.”Ricky Nelson, Lonesome Town

The Cubs hit a season-low in batting average after dropping three of four to the Pirates. Chicago was hitting a robust .288 with RISP one month ago, though their run differential hasn’t changed much. The team must find a way to get its bats untracked.

Since the calendar turned to May, the Cubs’ offense ranks in the bottom third in runs (22nd with 63) and OPS (21st, .671). With runners in scoring position, the Cubs rank 29th in OPS (.544), 23rd in runs (43) and last in batting average (.178).

  • Games Played: 48
  • Record: 26-22 (.542), 2nd place in NL Central
  • In One-Run Games: 9-9 (.500)
  • Total Plate Appearances: 1,804
  • Total Strikeouts: 419
  • Strikeout Rate: 23.23%
  • Team Batting Average: .230
  • With Runners in Scoring Position: 88-for-370 (.238)
  • Runs Scored: 212
  • Runs Allowed: 204
  • Pythagorean Record: 25-23
  • Chances of Making the Playoffs: 79.2%, 2.8% chance to win World Series 

How About That!

The Cubs aren’t the only team that is struggling offensively, and in fact, it is a league wide trend.

The league is expected to investigate Angels infielder David Fletcher for gambling. Fletcher and Shohei Ohtani were teammates in Los Angeles last season.

The Braves have built a model MLB franchise.

Skenes was more interested in pursuing a career as an F-16 pilot than as a flamethrowing starter. It’s too bad he chose the latter, at least for Cubs fans.

Mets closer Edwin Díaz blew three leads in his past three outings and has three blown saves in his past six games. His role remains in flux.

A’s closer Mason Miller is raising awareness for children with diabetes.

Rob Manfred announced that retired slugger Nelson Cruz will serve as a Special Advisor for Baseball Operations.

Sunday’s Three Stars

  1. Yu Darvish – The ex-Cub improved to 4-1 with a 9-1 win over the Braves. Darvish tossed seven innings of two-hit ball with nine strikeouts in the Padres win. Darvish earned his 200th career win (MLB and NPB) with the effort.
  2. Alek Manoah – The 26-year-old righty one-hit the Blue Jays over seven frames with seven punchouts.
  3. Kyle Tucker – The right fielder led the Astros to a 9-4 win over the Brewers, blasting two bombs with four RBI.

Mike’s Upcoming OOO Schedule

As I mentioned last week, I will be having surgery in June to remove the leads/wires from my heart. The doctors will do that surgery on either May 28, June 4, June 14, or June 18. There is a 50/50 survival rate but I am not worried about that as much as the recovery. I will miss 3-5 weeks while I recover and at least a week or more of writing here. I also do not have short term disability because I opted out, a spectacular mistake on my part given my advancing age and medical history.

I’ll let our readers know once the date has been finalized.

In the meantime, consider purchasing my book. The $12 option helps Alzheimer’s research while providing a meal or two for me (I do love cheeseburgers). You can purchase it via PayPal or CashApp, just make sure you select goods and services so you do not have to pay any additional fees. Tips are always welcome, too. And, if you cannot afford to purchase a book, let me know and I will deliver you a digital copy at no charge. Please spread the word if you do not mind. Raising a couple of bucks for me and also for Alzheimer’s would make for a successful week. I promise to enroll in the disability option in 2025. Pinky swear.

I also need someone to review the book for me, if anyone is inclined to do so.

Extra Innings

I still can’t believe that Imanaga is rarely mentioned as a potential Cy Young candidate.

Monday Morning Six-Pack

  1. One analyst says the Bears have a top-10 NFL roster but that’s assuming that all NFL quarterbacks are equal.
  2. The NFL released its schedule on the 15th, and the Bears have a grueling second half that includes all six games against NFC North opponents in the final eight weeks of the season.
  3. Memorial Day Weekend kicks off on Friday. Sunday brings the Indy 500, the Coca-Cola 600, the Monaco Grand Prix, and the start of the French Open.
  4. Pro-Palestinian protestors disrupted Jerry Seinfeld’s comedy show in Norfolk, VA on Saturday evening.
  5. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Iran’s foreign minister were found dead at the site of a helicopter crash in a remote northwestern region of the country. Raisi was an ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, espoused hardline, anti-Western views, and was infamous for his role in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988. His eternal residence should be plenty toasty.
  6. A new loophole will allow those who imbibe with NA and LA beers to still catch a buzz thanks to the unregulated hemp market. By 2027, beer sales are expected to plunge to 33% of the US alcoholic beverage market from 45% in 2017, per Bloomberg Intelligence.

They Said It

  • “We certainly need better [from Hendricks]. That’s not going to work. And that’s not going to be good enough.” – Counsell
  • “I think when things don’t go Kyle’s way, where he’s struggling a little bit and thinking about mechanics and all these little things, sometimes the pitch selection falls a little bit to the back burner and then you end up getting a little predictable. You have to rely on execution solely instead of being creative and mixing in other pitches. So I think for him, it’s just keeping it simple, executing what he does well and letting the catchers kind of help guide him through.”Tommy Hottovy
  • “Where we’re at with pitching right now, it would be a mistake to do that. We don’t have the depth right now to say ‘There’s no chance that Ben [Brown] starts.’ We’re not there yet. And if you get to a position of strength, maybe it’s something that you can consider. But I also think Ben gets better by being out on the mound more. He develops by being out on the mound more and pitching more innings. I think we can do that and still pitch him in spots that are important.” – Counsell

Monday Walk-Up Song

No team needs a day off more than the Cubs do. Not that this has anything to do with that, but raise your hand if you spent young adulthood doing most of your contemplation and reflection while driving to no particular place late at night while listening to your favorite songs. Come to think of it, I think I saw Counsell cruising around Whitefish Bay and Third Ward late last night.

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