There’s No Place Like Stealing Home, Rust and Rest, Shape of Offense, Red Menace
First things first, I hope everyone had an enjoyable Fourth of July. As I’ve become increasingly misanthropic over the years — which is decidedly different from lycanthropic, if you’re wondering — such a publicly-celebrated holiday holds little sway over me. Ideally, I’d have spent the afternoon and evening inside with a beer or three watching a ballgame and enjoying the day off from work.
Even more ideally, I’d have gotten better sleep and would have woken at a point that better aligned with my Circadian rhythms. My brain feels like it’s slogging through a Midwestern summer day that’s so thick with humidity and pollen you can’t even take a full breath for fear of either sneezing or drowning.
So please forgive me if my thoughts trail off to my empty GhostBed and My Pillow, neither of which has seen enough of me lately.
Javy did it again
One of these days we’re going to stop being amazed by the things Javy Baez does on the diamond. It probably won’t be tomorrow or next year, but at some point he’s going to make like the air around these parts and just reach a saturation point of awesomeness (not that the air is awesome at all, mind you).
Then again, maybe he won’t. Even now that the book is out on El Mago, he’s not about to stop with the sleight of hand that allows him to take advantage of even the smallest windows of opportunity. That’s what happened Wednesday afternoon, when the Tigers were at least cognizant of the fact that Javy might try something.
And try something he did, breaking for home when Francisco Liriano attempted a pick-off throw to first. Tigers first baseman John Hicks saw it coming and actually moved toward home while receiving the throw, relaying it as quickly as possible to catcher James McCann.
The throw home beat Javy, too, no doubt about it. But as the catcher dove to tag him, the Most Exciting Player in Baseball executed some sort of reimagined Fosbury Flop. By rolling to his side, Javy increased the distance between himself and the catcher while also reducing his taggable surface area. And, as he’s been wont to do for a while now, he lifted his left hand — the one closest to the catcher — and reached for the plate with his right.
It was a thing of beauty, made perhaps even more so by the way he reached third in the first place. Having been picked off at first following a single, Baez broke for second and took third on a bad throw. He almost made it home after yet another bad throw.
We’ll have more on the big play in another piece on CI, so I won’t belabor that too much more. What I will finish this section with is praise for Javy’s unmatched acumen for the game. Far from some daredevil who’d trip over his own swag if he wasn’t so athletic, he’s a baserunning virtuoso whose impeccable timing and body control allow him to do things other people can neither imagine nor execute.
That’s why he seems reckless, since what he does on an almost daily basis so often falls outside the scope of what’s traditionally accepted as “good baseball.” It’s why I’ve said many times in the past that Javy is the Cubs’ best pure baseball player, which is an amorphous designation that will surely incite debate. But I’m talking like the Platonic ideal of a player that goes beyond even what the deepest peripheral stats tell you.
Morrow returns, Bryant still out
Joe Maddon set things abuzz Tuesday when he used Pedro Strop rather than Brandon Morrow to close the game. It might not have been a big deal but for the fact that the Cubs had Monday off, which had people wondering whether Morrow’s back issues weren’t all the way gone.
Maddon said after that game that he had planned the absence all along to give Morrow that much more rest following a rare four-out save on Sunday. Sure enough, the closer was out there Wednesday afternoon to shut the door on Detroit. He didn’t slam it by any means, but it was good to see Morrow getting his work in.
Kris Bryant, on the other hand, may need a little more time before getting back out there. The initial hope was that he’d be activated Friday, but his balky shoulder still isn’t feeling right and the Cubs aren’t going to rush him back. It helps that the Cubs have been winning lots of games and scoring lots of runs.
Offense takes shape
Jed Hoyer has spoken in the past about how, despite scoring lots of runs, the Cubs weren’t happy with the “shape” of the offense. As you can easily discern, that means the way they’d score double figures and then be shut out, or how they’d have have huge innings surrounded by futility.
That’s still been the case at various times this season, though things seem to have evened out a little bit over this current run. The Cubs have won six straight and seven of 8, scoring at least five runs in each and averaging 9.4 runs per game.
Ed. note: The initial version of this had them at five straight and six of seven, which is a product of my lack of sleep.
More than that, it’s how they’re scoring the runs that really makes you feel good about what they’re doing. The Cubs are going first-to-third regularly, they’re stringing base hits together, and they’re blasting back-breaking homers. It feels very balanced, which is the best part of it.
Tying in Javy’s exploits from above, the Cubs lead the NL with an 8.9 BsR (baserunning runs) that 2.5 higher than the second-place Phillies. They’re creating runs with their legs and playing really smart baseball, something that puts a great deal of pressure on their opponents.
Including their four-game sweep of the Cubs the last time they met, the Reds are 15-6 over their last 21 games and have been getting solid performances across the board from most of the roster. You’d normally look at a series against them as a walkover, but not the way they’re playing now.
If, however, the Cubs can maintain their strong recent performance, they can use the momentum heading into a six-game roadie in San Francisco and San Diego.