The Rundown: La Stella Back, Bryant and Russell Shine, Hammel Cruises, Cubs Continue Central Ownership
This is my second crack at a revamped Rundown and I’m thinking I may stay at it for a while to see if I can find the right formula. I like the idea of picking out little stats and trivia from the game and presenting them for your consumption. Let me know what you think, whether it needs more or less or whatever.
Tommy La Stella returns
We knew he was going to be back and that he’d eventually have to talk to teammates and maybe even the media, but La Stella being stealthily slipped into the lineup Wednesday afternoon took a few people by surprise. It really makes sense when you think about it, though, as actually being in the game is the best way to break back in and just get the conversation over with.
The Prodigal Son didn’t say much to the media about his motives for leaving or for coming back, preferring to say that it was a personal matter. I can respect that and he’s not obligated to explain to us why he did what he did. In this case, the people whose opinions of La Stella matter are the men in that clubhouse. If the team is good with him, fans should be.
I understand the desire for answers and also the frustration with the way he left the team, so I’m not saying everyone should embrace the guy or what he did. While the Cubs didn’t neccessarily approve of La Stella’s actions, they were perhaps much more aware of them than what we understood from the beginning. Theo Epstein spoke of the desire to let La Stella work things out on his own rather than making a life-changing decision, which fits with the idea that there’s been open dialogue about La Stella’s mindset in the past.
His presence in the game was pretty inconsequential, as he went 0-for-2 before being lifted for Javy Baez in the 6th. I’m guessing his absence will be pretty much forgotten about by the time the Cubs collect their 100th win later this month.
Kris Bryant hit NL-leading 36th HR
I have a little more about the home run and Bryant’s battle with Nolan Arenado in another piece, so feel free to go check that out at your leisure. He also flashed the leather on several occasions. This guy is just so, so, so, so good.
Hammel throws pitches in the dirt for strikes
It was nice to see Hammel get through 6 innings Wednesday, particularly after that abbreviated outing Saturday in which he threw only 39 pitches. Things were looking pretty rough when he gave up a run on two walks and a single before issuing another walk to load the bases for Andrew McCutchen.
But he got Cutch to swing at a fastball to end the inning and I assumed his night was done. Rather than lift Hammel for a pinch hitter, Maddon left him in to bat for himself and then take the bump for the 6th. The confidence paid off, as Hammel set the Pirates down in order on 13 pitches, bookending the inning with strikeouts.
Something I noticed, particularly in that McCutchen AB and another to Marte, was that Hammel was throwing sliders in the dirt relatively early in the count. I mean, he was basically burying the pitches in the left-handed batter’s box. And getting strikes. Just take a look at Pitch 2 in each of the sequences below:
Contreras sets up way outside
Going hand-in-hand with those exaggerated pitches was Contreras’s exaggerated setup. He’d get way outside, like, with his left foot beyond the plate on those aforementioned offerings. I get that there’s a method to it, that he wants to create as much space as possible to be able to cock and load the bazooka hanging from his right shoulder, but a lot of what the young catcher’s doing seems unnecessary. Some of it might even be counterproductive.
He seems to stab at some pitches and isn’t great at framing the lower portion of the zone. Those things I get and he can buff out those rough edges in time. I just wonder whether being set up so far out might throw off the umpire’s perception of the pitches. Or whether the target could mess with Hammel and other pitchers. That’s something they’ll work with him on and I’m sure it’ll only continue if the pitchers are comfortable with it.
The results were pretty good, so I guess I can’t really complain too much.
Cubs 21 games over .500…against the Central
After completing the sweep of the Pirates on Wednesday night, the Cubs moved to 37-16 in the division. Not much else to say here beyond the obvious that it’s really good. Oh, I guess I could mention that the win also pushed the Cubs to 22-8 for August.
Addison Russell is like whoa
If there’s one motto I try to live by, it’s “When in doubt, quote Black Rob.” Okay, that’s actually one of many strict tenets that govern my life, but I think it perfectly describes the play Addison Russell made Wednesday night. I mean, trying to use a bunch of words wouldn’t do it justice anyway.
Heyward walks for first time in 84 PA’s
With a walk Wednesday, Jason Heyward snapped a walk-less streak that dated back to August 6. In fact, he’s only walked six times in the second half and only four times in his last 136 PA’s. That’s alarming on one hand, but it kinda makes sense when you consider that he was hitting so poorly it only made sense for pitchers to attack him.
Heyward has looked a lot more comfortable at the plate over the last couple weeks, though, and it’s probably only a matter of time before the walks start coming again. In addition to taking that rare free pass Wednesday, he went 2-for-4 with an RBI single. It’s no coincidence the the uptick in production followed a change in his swing, ditching the toe-tap that he installed in spring training.
Since 8/14, which I believe is when the change occurred, Heyward is slashing .292/.306/.438 and a wRC+ of 96. The walk rate isn’t good — like, at all — but it’s somewhat mitigated by a 10.2% strikeout rate (17% prior to this run). Heyward also has a .310 BABIP over this stretch, a stark difference from the .268 mark that had some lamenting the “bad luck” that had plagued him earlier. It’s less about luck than it is him actually squaring the ball up better these days, but the moral of the story is that Heyward’s looking better as we near the really important games.
In the wake of all the talk of La Stella’s return, it came out that Jake Arrieta had also contemplating giving up baseball at one point. This struck me as a little odd, but not because I was surprised that a competitor like Arrieta might have walked away. Rather, it was the idea that anyone would be surprised to find that an elite athlete had contemplated quitting.
Arrieta talked to CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney about his conflicted thoughts just a few years ago:
“We were at a point where I had other things that I could segue into and establish a career elsewhere,” Arrieta said Tuesday, the one-year anniversary of his no-hitter at Dodger Stadium, where the Cubs popped champagne bottles and partied in their onesies, showing the full force of their personalities. “Not that I wanted that to happen, but I didn’t want to continue to go through the things we were going through and moving from place to place in the minor leagues at 25, 26 years old.
“Baseball is something that I’ve loved to do since I was a little kid, but it’s not everything. I had to reevaluate some things. I knew I could always pitch this way, but there were times where it seemed like maybe I wasn’t going to get to that point.
“It’s just part of life that we had to deal with.”
“On a long drive — or when the game’s over, just sitting there thinking about where I see myself in the near future — it wasn’t there,” Arrieta said. “I wasn’t going to just continue to pitch in the minor leagues for another five or six years. If I wasn’t good enough to get the job done, I would move on to somewhere (else) where I was.”
It’s hard for those of us on the sidelines to imagine having such a gift and just giving up on it. How could this person give up all that money and fame and talent, we wonder. It’s harder for most to understand the conscious decision to quit than it is falling into the downward spiral of addiction that has claimed so many promising careers. But to shake your fist and angrily ask “How?” is to tie that player’s identity solely to the sport he or she plays, to deny them of a significant measure of humanity.
I think I’ve written about this before, but I’ve often considered scuttling Cubs Insider. The last bit of that quote from Arrieta really strikes a chord with me because that’s where I’ve been with this blog thing many times over the past two years. In the end, this is a minor blip of a story and I’m sure it’ll blow over like a summer cloudburt. It’s just something I saw floating around out there and felt a desire to address.
That’s all for now. Be well, friends.