I leave the country for a week, really only five days, and the Cubs look like a completely different team when I get back. As easy as it might be to attribute some of the changes to my absence, that’d be giving me just a smidge more credit than I really merit. The opposite is apparently true for the success of this site, since our views went up while I was away.
Between the dearth of American TV stations, spotty wifi, no international data plan, and being six hours ahead, I wasn’t really able to follow any games outside of a quick check of the box score the next morning. Come to think of it, that’s more or less how people had to follow teams back in the day.
So rather than try to wax intelligent about what has happened over the last several games for the team as a whole, I wanted to unapologetically scout the box scores for a bit to see what’s happened with a few players. That’s actually kind of fitting, since I just spent a while appreciating things from a different perspective and had to work to backfill my immediate reality with context.
Please bear in mind that what follows has been heavily influenced by a nagging case of jet lag and raging symptoms of baseball withdrawal.
Though many have lamented how his two-strike approach looks and smells like poop, Javy has emerged as a very competent No. 2 hitter over the last few games. Small sample sizes be damned, it was obvious even when he was hitting .190 on April 13 that he was drastically outperforming his batting numbers.
This is a man who can change games before anyone even knows what is happening, kind of like Quicksilver of Marvel Comics fame. So Javy didn’t need to change the way he played, he just needed time for the game to catch up with him. And if that sounds like the kind of thing you’d say about regression to the mean, consider that Javy plays on a different plane and is basically moving so fast that things work backwards for him.
His grounder rates are down, he’s not as wild at the plate, and he’s doing damage when he connects. Even with that .190 average, he sported a very robust .360 wOBA and a wRC+ of 128. In the last five games, four of which have come as Albert Almora Jr’s enforcer atop the lineup, Javy is slashing .480/.480/1.040 with a .645 wOBA and a 320 wRC+.
Can he keep that up? Hell to the no. But the residual heat from his meteoric rise — which actually makes complete sense in this case since, even though meteors actually fall, we have already noted that Javy’s superlatives can work in reverse — should continue to keep his numbers warm even through the occasional swoon or swale.
Albert Almora Jr.
With obvious exceptions here and there, most fans can be said to like the players on their favorite team. There are some, though, for whom you carry a more serious torch, and it doesn’t always need to be rational. Even as I’ve conditioned myself to put some of the more fanatical aspects of my passion up in the attic, I’ve got inherent bias when it comes to a few Cubs players.
One of them is Almora, who struck a chord with me the first time I saw him play for high-A Daytona. He hit for the cycle that night and almost made a fantastic diving play that he had no business getting to. The following season, I saw him double to the oppo gap against a defense that was actually shifting him to hit there.
But what really struck me was something that had nothing to do with the game. You see, I had taken my son down to Tennessee with me and he was trying to get autographs from the players. Almora had finished signing for the gaggle of kids, walking away before Ryne could get one. After retrieving his glove and getting ready to head to the field to warm up, Almora noticed my son and came back over for one more signature.
The guy just gets it. He never complained when he took a back seat to Ian Happ last season or when he was once again serving in a backup role to open the 2018 campaign. All he’s done is perform when he’s been called upon, and that’s been as a leadoff hitter more often than not lately.
Almora has led off in six of his last nine games, slashing .419/.471/.645 with 10 runs and five RBI. His .482 wOBA and 210 wRC+ are both outstanding, though the .500 BABIP tells us he’s due to cool off. Just as we said in regard to Baez, however, it’s clear he’s got the tools to make things work over time. And we haven’t even talked about the glove.
After coming into camp last season looking like he had bulked up to add power, Almora seemed a step slow and wasn’t making the spectacular plays we’d expected. This season has been a different story as he’s making all kinds of Edmondsian diving catches on an almost daily basis.
The first thing I saw when I returned to US soil was Bryant getting beaned in the face, which was pretty scary to say the least. It was his league-leading seventh HBP and raised his OBP to .467, but it also took him out of the game and could have been much worse than what it was.
Bryant did not suffer a concussion and was able to fly on the team charter to Cleveland, so all appears to be well. That’s kind of been the story for him throughout his career, as he has frequently escaped otherwise serious-looking injuries with no major damage. Remember the sprained pinkie and the rolled ankle and getting hit on the hand last year?
His health has been almost as consistent as his production, though that’s not really being fair to his performance. Bryant has actually gotten significantly better since his Rookie of the Year campaign and has the ability to continue on an upward trajectory for years to come.
One thing that hasn’t changed much for him, though, is his pre-swing hand position. It’s truly remarkable to see how, 15 years later, you can tell who the 11-year-old is just by his hands. Sure, they’re a little lower now, but that horizontal bat is a dead giveaway.
Throughout all the changes he’s made over a lifetime of playing, Kris Bryant’s hand position has remained incredibly consistent. Here he is at age 11 playing for the Las Vegas Ballbusters and 15 years later. pic.twitter.com/HUWKYc9EFG
— Cubs Insider (@realcubsinsider) April 24, 2018
Sorry that I’ve already run longer than what I would have liked, it’s just that all these pent-up thoughts have been knocking around for a week. Schwarber is looking like the hitter the Cubs have expected him to be from the time he was called up, collecting multi-hit games in three of his last four games. Maybe it’s the sixth spot in the order, maybe it was just a matter of time.
Since April 10 (36 PAs), War Bear is slashing .414/.528/.655 with a .509 wOBA and a 228 wRC+ that have brought his season stats way up. He’s also playing decent defense in left, which is all that’s required of him out there. The naysayers — and there are some, one of whom shared some particularly incoherent thoughts with me last night — will point to small samples and insignificant situational production and so on, but whatevs.
Schwarber is a force and we’re going to see his continued maturation on full display this season. As Bart Scott once said, “Can’t wait!”
Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for another nap.