Cubs Give Fans Roller-Coaster Ride

ALSO: DAN SCHLOSSBERG'S BAD GUYS IN BASEBALL

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Pregame Pepper

Did you know ...

After posting a 29-38 mark for Pittsburgh, Joe Musgrove did not allow a run over his first 15 innings with the Padres . . .

A revitalized relief corps is the biggest reason the Angels have been heavenly so far. Their pen had a 5-1 mark and yielded 0.68 home runs per nine innings over the first two weeks . . .

Carlos Carrasco (right hamstring) is on target for a May return to the Mets . . .

The Tampa Bay Rays have owned the Yankees ever since Aroldis Chapman triggered a brawl by hitting Mike Brosseau on Sept. 1, 2020 . . .

Switch-hitters Aaron Hicks (Yankees) and Ozzie Albies (Braves) would be wise to give up hitting from the left side . . .

Asked why he quit the game at age 28, Angels reliever Ty Buttrey said he was tired of playing for money and trying to prove other people wrong.


Leading Off

A Look At The 2021 Chicago Cubs’ Jekyll & Hyde Start

By Nick Vanderah

Coming into the 2021 MLB season, the National League Central division seemed to be a toss-up between four of the five teams. The Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals were favored a bit more than their counterparts, but arguments could have been — and were — made for the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds as well. Even though no one had a great idea of how things would line up by season’s end, certainly no expert could have accurately predicted this start in the NL Central either.

Arguably, no start has been weirder than that of the Chicago Cubs. Entering play on Friday, April 22 (which all listed stats will be current through), the Cubs ranked last in baseball with a .200 team batting average — and that figure has actually seen a healthy increase over the last week’s worth of games. Their main issues have come from not being able to drive in runners when they have them on base and trying to rely on the long ball in the meantime.

The Cubs have hit horribly in games they have lost this season as they own a collective .156/.260/.265 slash line in those contests with a .214 BABIP and an average of 1.89 runs per game. Both of those marks are well below the league average in losses (.196/.270/.312, .250 BABIP, 2.64 RPG).

The pitching staff has gotten rocked in those games as well as the Cubs have allowed a 6.69 ERA (58 ER in 78 IP), .274 batting average against, and a league-worst 1.74 WHIP in games lost.

On the contrary, the Cubs pitchers have been phenomenal in games the team has won. In those contests, they own a significantly improved team ERA (2.52), WHIP (1.10), and BAA (.194). The offense picks up their production significantly as well with a .243/.338/.472 slash line, .283 BABIP, and 6.33 RPG in those contests.

Photo Credit: David Banks / Getty Images via Cubbies Crib

Those statistics make the last week even more interesting, especially considering that one of the teams put up at least 10 runs in three of their last five contests. That does not including Friday’s series opener against the Brewers, in which the Cubs had scored 15 runs through 6 innings before the deadline for this piece.

Saturday’s game against the Atlanta Braves (another team struggling to find their footing out of the gate) ended in a 13-4 win for the Cubs, as they were able to power their way to the victory on the strength of six home runs. This game was similar for the Cubs offense, as it scored 11 of their runs on long balls, but it was encouraging to see them get runners on base before going yard instead of hitting only solo shots. They only left five runners on base in the entire game as they cashed in nearly every RBI opportunity.

Sunday’s series finale was almost the exact opposite, as the Cubs only managed to score four runs in a 13-4 loss. Half of their runs came on solo homers as they were unable to get much going on offense and the pitching staff was unable to prevent the Braves from piling runs on and padding their lead.

Photo via NBC Sports Chicago

Fast forward three days to Wednesday’s second game of the series against the New York Mets, and the Cubs once again had an offensive explosion in a 16-4 victory. The intriguing note about that run tally was that Chicago scored 10 of those runs before hitting a homer (which happened to be a grand slam by Javier Baez).

They were certainly helped out by a number of defensive miscues from the Mets but the Cubs were able to take advantage of those extra opportunities and manufacture runs instead of just relying on the long ball the whole game.

As a Cubs fan, Wednesday’s game was one of the most encouraging to watch just for that fact, since it gives hope that the team has the ability to be more well-rounded on offense and doesn’t hinder itself by trying to go “bridge” every time they step up to the plate.

The Jekyll & Hyde style start to the 2021 season has been quite the roller-coaster for Cubs fans, but hopefully we can start to see more good bad over the course of the full campaign.

If the Cubs are able to shorten the distance between the peaks and valleys of their performances and play with more consistency (especially on the offensive side of the ball), then they could be a major player in the NL Central, which seems evenly matched using 2021 performance thus far as an accurate barometer.

Entering play on Friday, the Cubs stood tied for second with the Reds and just two games behind the Brewers who sit atop the divisional standings. It’s a long season and the race is still wide open, so we will have to watch and see how things unfold.

Nick Vanderah, who used box scores to teach himself how to read as a child, is a lifelong baseball fan who roots for the Chicago Cubs. He has spent most of the last 10 writing for various websites about sports with his main subjects being the Cubs, fantasy baseball, and fantasy football. His current writings for Wrigley Rapport and Fantasy Life App can be found at medium.com/@nvanderah, and he can be found on Twitter @MiniVan25.


Cleaning Up

Baseball Has Its Share Of Bad Guys

By Dan Schlossberg

The vast majority of the people I’ve encountered in baseball over 50-plus years in the press box have been extremely nice.

But there are exceptions: the half-vast guys.

As mentioned in yesterday’s column, my friend Kevin Barnes in Atlanta actually keeps a list of people who have stiffed him, rubbed him the wrong way, or even been downright hostile. And he asked me if I did the same.

I didn’t – until now – because what’s the point of harboring unpleasant thoughts, especially about people who may have died or incidents that seem insignificant in retrospect?

In addition, publicizing such a list has no advantages and plenty of disadvantages, since some of the people who would be on it might make a bad situation worse.

That being said, I’m never one to back down from a challenge.

So here’s my personal list of “bad guys,” based purely upon my own experience:

1. Amos Otis – Totally forgotten, except perhaps by fans of the Kansas City Royals, he was a pretty good base-stealer in his time. But when I politely asked him for a quote for a roundup story I was writing about stolen bases, he huffed and said, “The Royals don’t pay me to talk.” Mind you, I had never met the man before, had an obvious media pass, and went out of my way to be respectful. Freddie Patek, an Otis teammate who was also adept at stealing, witnessed the incident and said to me, “I’ll be glad to help you.” Score one for the little guy.

2. Steve Carlton – At the time I was writing The 300 Club, my book on pitchers who won 300 games, there were 10 living pitchers I wanted to interview. I got them all – even Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson – but Carlton was by far the most difficult in the group. I wasn’t surprised, since he once dissed me in the Phillies clubhouse when I quietly asked him for some quotes on a magazine article I was writing. When I learned that Carlton refused to talk to all media members because one local guy allegedly misquoted him, I was even more incensed. And it didn’t help that I heard Carlton was an engaged and articulate speaker at baseball winter banquets that paid him to appear.

3. Eddie Murray – Another stiff with a stiff upper lip, he wouldn’t give me the time of day either. And I approached him before a spring training game when he was standing alone and not doing anything other than watching. You might be a Hall of Fame player, Eddie, but you’re not a Hall of Fame person. Not to me, anyway.

4. Billy Martin – There was a reason he was called “Battling Billy.” Seldom sober but always ready for a fight, he barely said hello when we passed each other in the bowels of Yankee Stadium. I’m not surprised he blew so many managing jobs and had so many brawls, from the Copacabana to the marshmallow salesman. Oh yeah, his own pitcher too (Dave Boswell in Minnesota).

5. Earl Weaver – My spring training interview in his office was going well until I asked him why the Orioles traded for Earl Williams, an error-prone catcher who hated that position. That was when Weaver suddenly turned mean and threatening, throwing me out of his office.

6. Dave Kingman – A legendary head case, this is the guy who sent Bay Area writer Susan Slusser a dead rat. He did no such thing to me but I witnessed his temperament in action while at his home working with him on a commercial project. A kid seeking unsolicited work rang his doorbell and was brushed away rather rudely. It made a strong negative impression.

7. Frank Robinson – Like Jackie Robinson before him, he suffered a lot of hardships and indignities. I certainly understood and sympathized but that was no excuse for an attitude that can be described in one word: disdain. A great player and successful manager, Robinson looked down his nose at many media members, including me. Perhaps it was a black vs. white issue but neither one of us could help what we were.

8. Eddie Mathews – One of my heroes growing up, he sullied his reputation with too much drinking. The fact that he was a nasty drunk only made it worse. I saw him up close many times, at the ballpark, on my cruises, and at a Braves fantasy camp where he was billed as one of the stars but showed up in no shape in talk or play. He was even fired as Braves manager in 1974, after Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s record, when the team had a winning record. Clyde King, a teetotaler, made a welcome contrast.

9. Graig Nettles – Just as I have zero tolerance for drunks (and hated the movie Arthur for that reason), I have no respect for anti-Semites either. A close friend who covered the Padres when Nettles was there told me he would never quote him, no matter what he did, because of that attitude. When a former player told me something similar about him, that confirmed his place on this list.

10. Leo Durocher – During his last run as a major-league manager, Leo wore the rainbow duds of the Houston Astros. But his notorious knack for causing trouble never left him. I was taping a clubhouse interview with a member of the team when Durocher inched within earshot and let loose with an invective of blue language for no apparent reason. This was 1973 and I had been in the trenches for five years already but Durocher decided he overstepped his bounds. So he sent a note of apology up to the press box. But the damage was done; a good interview was ruined.

Despite the people on this ignominious list, former AP newsman Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ believes most people will respond in kind if you’re polite to them. Dan edits Here’s The Pitch on weekends, writes for forbes.com and USA TODAY Sports Weekly during the week, and authors baseball books in whatever spare time is left. E.mail him at ballauthor@gmail.com.


Timeless Trivia

After the Mets got nothing from his two-year, $20 million guaranteed contract, Jed Lowrie is enjoying a renaissance with the Oakland A’s with surgically repaired knees…

The Mets have to pay Bobby Bonilla $1.19 million every July 1 until 2035 . . .

With 37,000 victims in 136 countries, Ponzi mastermind Bernie Madoff deserved his 150-year jail term but how did Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon, who made money on their investment with Madoff, manage to keep their team for more than 12 years after the scheme was exposed on Dec. 11, 2008 . . .

Two weeks into the season, the Mets had played eight games but suffered seven postponements (three to Covid, four to rain, and one to snow) . . .

Early-April games should never be scheduled for Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, or Denver – especially with so many covered ballparks and warm-weather cities available as alternatives.


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.

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