The Rundown: Darvish Dominating, Epstein Unhappy, Maddon Breezin’, Final Homestand Starts Today

Today marks the start of the Cubs’ final homestand of the 2019 season and they’re playing for all the marbles, so to speak. Any hope of winning the division would likely require the Cubs to go 8-2 during the 10 games, ideally sweeping St. Louis as they close out their Wrigley schedule. Finishing with fewer than six wins would be disastrous, likely leaving Chicago on the outside looking in once the postseason starts. If that seems unrealistic, it should be pointed out that the Cubs have been playing .500 baseball for the better part of the season.

That stretch of mediocrity has infuriated Theo Epstein, who sounds a lot less like a disappointed father and a lot more like a guy willing to torch the joint just to collect the insurance money and start over. In the meantime, Joe Maddon is still breezing along with the Cool Papa Joe facade still in place, seemingly without a care in the world. The lack of urgency as the Cubs fight for their playoff lives is probably adding a lot more fuel to Epstein’s fire.

Here’s a question for you, and feel free to opine in the comments section: If the 2019 North Siders are going to be defined as an underperforming squad, and if that’s not due to anything Maddon does or doesn’t do, why would/should Epstein be blamed instead?

While you are mulling that over, let’s return focus to the present. The Cubs are returning from a 3-5 road trip in which they gave up significant acreage to the Brewers, who have now won seven straight, and a game to the Cardinals, who won just four of eight in that span. After beating the Padres 4-0 in San Diego yesterday, Chicago has 16 games left this season, all against NL Central opponents.

If the Cubs have it in them, it’s time to go chips in and see how it all sorts out. Chicago has a 51.9% shot at reaching the postseason, and, sitting four games behind the Redbirds, just a 16.5% probability of finishing in first place. I know those numbers mean nothing to those of you who focus intently over a raised thumb as your preferred form of evaluating the team’s chances of reaching the playoffs, but they do indicate that as fans we still have reason not to give up.

The Brewers and Cardinals will square off in St. Louis for three games this weekend, so what’s your optimal scenario there? I suppose if the Cubs can simply take care of Pirates, Reds, and Cardinals in the next 10 games none of it will matter, but if I had my druthers I’d prefer Milwaukee sweeps St. Louis.

After a very slow start to his Cubs career, Yu Darvish is looking more and more like he may end up being the best free agent signing of the current regime. The big righty punched 14 Padres tickets yesterday, making San Diego hitters look foolish against his knuckle-curve, a pitch Darvish learned a few weeks ago under the tutelage of Craig Kimbrel. I bet Kimbrel wishes he had the command that Darvish does. Sometimes the student does indeed become the master.

“I used to throw the hard curve, but that was before Tommy John [surgery],” Darvish said post-game. “After that, I struggle with that pitch, my best pitch. Kimbrel taught me the knuckle-curve, and I feel that can be my best pitch.”

Darvish provided exactly what the Cubs needed in a delightfully dominant start. He’s been lights-out during the second half and yesterday was the best outing he’s had since signing last year. Cubs starters tend to be a streaky bunch, so let’s hope this is the kickstart they need for one final run.

Cubs News & Notes

How About That!

Quote of the day: When asked if he was okay after hitting the outfield wall, Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge said: “Oh yeah. Did you ask the wall?” New York beat the Tigers 6-4 and now have 97 wins on the season Their magic number to clinch the AL East sits at five.

The season is over for Angels DH Shohei Ohtani. Team officials announced he will undergo surgery tomorrow to address a bipartite patella in his left knee (which essentially means his knee cap is made up of two bones instead of one). Recovery is typically 8-12 weeks.

If you’ve already given up on this season, you can start doing your homework on the current crop of top free agents.

The A’s beat Justin Verlander last night, getting a leg up on the Indians and Rays in a tightly contested AL Wild Card race.

With a home run and two stolen bases last night, Ronald Acuña Jr. is closing in on a 40/40 season. There have been only four 40/40 seasons in MLB history. Alfonso Soriano was the last to do it, finishing with 46 taters while swiping 41 bags with the Nationals in 2006.

Thursday’s Three Stars

  1. Yu Darvish – See above. Validating this selection would be overkill.
  2. Juan Lagares – The outfielder was New York’s unlikely hero last night, hitting two home runs with six RBI as the Mets crushed the Diamondbacks 11-1.
  3. Juan Soto – The 20-year-old sophomore outfielder crushed his 34th home run of the season last night, and now has 105 RBI on the season. Soto leads the Nationals in home runs.

Extra Innings

More Darvish to brighten your morning.

They Said It

  • “It was good enough. I threw the right pitch in the right situation, but my mechanics were not that good.” – Yu Darvish
  • “His uncanny command of his breaking ball is ridiculously good, especially against left-handers. There’s nothing to say negative about his performance. It was great.” – Joe Maddon
  • “I’d just bat right-handed against [Darvish].” – Anthony Rizzo

Friday Walk Up Song

Ol’ 55 by The Eagles. Nice cover of a signature Tom Waits’ tune. If the Cubs go 8-2 on this homestand they’ll finish 2019 with 55 victories at Wrigley Field.

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