I don’t know about you, but I had to change my pants three separate times and I found myself wishing we had an AED in on the wall in the basement as I was watching the final innings of Sunday’s game. In the end, I was able to distill the essence of Brian Duensing’s bases-loaded strikeout of Matt Carpenter, along with the reliever’s subsequent celebration, and inject them directly into my veins. Think of it like cutting pure adrenaline with a shot of Fireball.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 17, 2017
Don’t let the smooth taste fool you, though, Duensing played a starring role in the escalation of my fanxiety as he loaded the bases with Cardinals prior the strikeout. He gave up leadoff single to Dexter Fowler that was immediately negated by a double play off the bat of Yadier Molina. But a walk to Kolten Wong, a single by Randal Grichuk, and an intentional walk of Stephen Piscotty set the stage for an epic display of St. Lou voodoo.
That’s when Duensing absolutely clowned Matt Carpenter with a disappearing changeup to log his 12th scoreless outing in his last 13 appearances. The lefty reliever has been nothing short of fantastic this season following a rather inauspicious start with his new team. Duensing allowed six earned runs over his first five appearances (5.1 IP), but has allowed only 10 runs in his last 52 trips to the mound (53 IP).
Three of those runs came in three consecutive outings in mid-June, all Cubs losses. Two of them were blowouts in which Duensing’s performance didn’t matter, but it’s not a great look either way. All he’s done since is limit opponents to five runs over 29 innings, striking out 23 and walking nine. He’s induced grounders at a 55 percent rate and has only given up one home run in that time.
Not bad for a guy the Cubs picked up on something of a no-lose $2 million deal this offseason. I’ve said it a few time since before, but it bears repeating that Duensing has been the team’s most reliable reliever outside of Wade Davis. Given some of the names and expectations they’ve got in that relief corps, this is really saying something.
Maddon’s explanations for lineups
Albert Almora Jr. was in the lineup for the second consecutive game (and third this month) against a right-handed pitcher, but this time it came against someone who doesn’t own reverse splits. Lance Lynn has been hard on righties, so it felt like Joe Maddon was riding the hot hand by having him in there for Sunday’s series finale.
That wasn’t the case, though, at least not according to what Maddon told the media prior to the game. He didn’t give any specifics, but said that the proprietary projections he uses — produced by “the geeks,” as they’re colloquially known — dictated that Almora get the start. While I totally buy that, I couldn’t help but think that Maddon has been quicker to lean on said geeks when it comes to explaining his decision-making.
Before I delve further into that, a bit on the choice to start Almora, who came into the game with a 1.018 OPS against righties at home. He’s also put up an OPS of nearly .950 against four-seamers and sinkers this season, which means he was a good bet against a guy who uses those pitches for 80 percent of his repertoire. So, again, I have zero reason to doubt the assertion that the numbers liked Almora.
What is interesting to me here, and what I’ve noticed all season, is the way Maddon discusses the impetus for his decision-making. I don’t think anything has fundamentally changed in terms of how he actually goes about consuming the information and translating it into a starting (full disclosure, I had initially typo’d that as “sharting” and almost left it because it was funny) lineup, just in how that process is communicated.
And that’s where the synapses in the part of my brain reserved for conspiracy theories and hot takes (it’s a relatively large space) start firing and getting me to think things. Now, this may all be something conscious on Maddon’s part, an open admission of a process that has grown much less esoteric since being laid bare in both Tom Verducci’s Cubs Way book and an article by ESPN’s Jesse Rogers. That’s probably the case.
However, there’s also the idea that Maddon is deflecting a little blame for decisions that have been questioned with increased frequency in light of the Cubs’ failure to live up to lofty expectations. It really started in the playoffs last year, rising to a fever pitch with the bullpen management of the World Series, Game 7 in particular, which the Cubs did actually win. But would Maddon really put up a smokescreen to avoid criticism?
No, I doubt it. I mean, it’s not as though anyone’s going to be like, “I hate seeing Almora on the bench but I totally get how the Cubs’ highly-involved statistical algorithm dictates it.” At the end of the day, Maddon’s the one writing the names in there and he’s the one who’ll bear the blame or get the credit. I guess more than anything, I find his explanation interesting on a couple levels.
Even if he’s not doing it consciously, and even if a vast majority of fans don’t give a rat’s rear end about what all goes into the determination of each day’s lineup, putting the decision on the metrics alleviates at least a tiny measure of blame.
Freakout to sigh of relief
You know you’ve got a problem when you think every batted ball is leaving the yard. No, that’s not a dig at the fans in the Wrigley bleachers who rise to their feet for even shallow infield pops. I’m talking about when Paul DeJong hits what your mind has decided is a home run even though your eyes tell you Javy Baez has a bead on it from short.
You can be excused if you lost it at the sight of Fowler getting into a full-count cutter and driving it deep to right-center. Even if the crack of the bat and the ball’s trajectory didn’t worry you, Davis’s reaction probably did. The closer sunk to the ground in a defeated crouch that told you he thought the ball was long gone. And it would have been all too fitting had Fowler hit it just a little cleaner.
The former Cub had already supplied the Cardinals’ only offense with a three-run homer and Tommy Pham was on first in this instance. It was set up so perfectly for St. Louis…until it wasn’t. When Leonys Martin tracked back and settled under the fly for the final out, the game took on an entirely different feel. Or maybe that’s just because the oxygen was finally flooding my brain again after I resumed my normal breathing.
That’s three straight sweeps for the Cubs, two of which actually helped them. They’ve still got eight games left against the Brewers and Cards, though, so maybe let your fingernails grow out over the next few days.
More news and notes
• Shohei Otani has not addressed the rumors that he plans to come to the US next season and Dylan Hernandez of the LA Times writes that it’s entirely possible for the Japanese star to change his mind. That seems incredibly plausible based on the overlapping interests of nearly everyone involved. We’ve looked here at the idea that Otani’s lack of desire for a monster contract could leave the Cubs in play for his services, but there’s more to it than just his purported desire to jump the States. Not only would his representation stand to benefit tremendously by him waiting two years, but his NPB team might as well. Japanese team owners have reportedly discussed a change to the posting system that would tie the release fee to a percentage of the player’s contract. Should that occur, the resultant fee from Otani’s bonus this winter would be a mere pittance (though they’d be silly to change it from $20 million if they know he’s leaving). This is all hypothetical for now, though, and we’ll need to wait until more comes out before we can really grasp the situation.
• Slow notes day; Cubs are off, I’m traveling. Be good to each other and yourselves.