The Rundown: Cubs End Skid, Contreras Claps Back, Hendricks’ Start Skipped, Strop Officially Returns, Steele Elite
I’d like to talk about the Cubs’ 3-2 win last night, something that feels a lot more like a rarity than their 5-6 record indicates. Instead, I’m going to talk about the Brewers’ pitching strategy and the collective need of their players, fans, reporters, and announcers to flip the script and blame the Cubs for what is happening between the two teams.
The bear pokes back.#CubTogether pic.twitter.com/ZYusGSfcZK
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) April 14, 2021
- In the 4th inning, Brandon Woodruff hit Willson Contreras on the left hand with a sinker. It marked the third time in five games this season a Milwaukee pitcher has hit Contreras and seventh time in his last 14 games against the Brewers. Last week the Cubs backstop was hit in the head by a Devin Williams fastball and on the arm by a Brad Boxberger pitch.
- In the 6th inning, Woodruff, who didn’t appear to intentionally hit Contreras, stepped into the box and saw a first pitch sinker from Ryan Tepera sail behind his legs. It was a purpose pitch with no intent to hit the Brewers starter, just a reminder that Chicago is quickly tiring of Milwaukee’s aggressive behavior toward Cubs batters.
- Woodruff expressed his displeasure to Tepera and started to approach the mound, but the moment ended with no extracurriculars between the two teams.
- In the 8th, Contreras crushed a Brent Suter fastball 438 feet, registering a 110.4 mph exit velocity, for a two-run home run to give the Cubs a 3-2 lead. He followed with a purposeful, underhanded bat flip, shushed the crowd a few times while slowly circling the bases, and then walked the final 10-15 feet to cross home plate.
Because I live in Milwaukee, I get the local feed on broadcasts when the Cubs and Brewers play, and announcers ripped into Contreras for showing up the home team during that glorious home run trot. Reporters had a field day, too, as they see pitching up and in a viable strategy when it is employed by the team they cover, but “dangerous baseball” when it is used to deliver a similar message, even if said pitch was intended to miss the batter.
No, a pitcher doesn’t “accidentally throw a fastball [narrator: it was a sinker] behind a hitter.” Likewise, a pitching staff doesn’t “accidentally” hit the star backstop and his teammates five times in seven games.
This is why Woodruff was upset. A pitcher doesn't accidentally throw a fastball behind a hitter. https://t.co/id6c6Txqai
— Tom (@Haudricourt) April 14, 2021
Fans calling local radio hosts up here were even worse. Late last night I heard the following takes:
- “If anybody’s hunting heads, it’s Cub pitchers, and it’s been going on for over a decade.”
- “Leave it to a sore loser to [throw at] your team’s best pitcher.”
- “We’re tired of Cub fans treating us like their neglected children, so if it means taking out a star player to send a message then live with it. Why is Contreras complaining? He gets a free base whenever [Brewers’ pitchers] hit him.”
- “Every time Anthony Rizzo opens his mouth I want to scream. Who elected him commissioner of baseball? Shut up and play baseball.”
- “Loved Rizzo walking over, about to get his ass kicked by Rock [Woodruff] while sticking up for a team that won’t even pay him.”
Rizzo, in case you missed it, was clapping back at “Rock” as he approached Tepera after the purpose pitch.
Perhaps this ongoing kerfuffle, which has obviously reached its boiling point, is just what the Cubs need to get out of their offensive daze. When Rizzo singled to right after that long fly by Contreras, it marked only the fourth game this season where the Cubs could muster more than five hits.
The rubber game of the series is this afternoon, and if a player from either squad gets hit by a pitch, expect things to get pretty ugly. Jake Arrieta and Corbin Burnes enter baseball’s new octagon at 12:40 PM central time.
Cubs News & Notes
- Contreras said “it felt good to shut them up” when referring to Brewers fans.
- The star backstop also said he’s confident the Brewers aren’t intentionally throwing at him, in part because he’s good friends with Milwaukee catcher Omar Narváez.
- Right-hander Alec Mills went four innings in a spot start, allowing two runs on two hits after Kyle Hendricks was scratched 30 minutes before the game out of an abundance of caution.
- Pedro Strop made his first Cubs appearance since Sept. 28, 2019 and delivered a scoreless 7th inning. The right-hander, whose fastball velocity was down at the end of his first Cubs tenure, sat 92-94.
- The early-season dominance by Craig Kimbrel continued with a four-out save, his second straight of more than three outs. He entered a two-on, two-out jam in the 8th inning and needed one pitch to end the threat. Including the end of last season, the closer is on the best run of his career.
- Reliever Justin Steele was elite according to Statcast during his major league debut on Monday. Steele’s slider averaged 2,877 rpm and he topped 2,900 rpm four times, more than all but two other lefties (Lucas Luetge, 6; Tyler Matzek, 5) so far this season.
- Adbert Alzolay said he got chills watching the rookie reliever in his first MLB appearance. The two are best friends.
- Steele said the Cubs have enough “dudes” to silence those analysts who believe the team has one of the weaker farm systems in baseball.
- Offensively speaking, the Cubs have yet to escape some awful, early-season trends. Our own Ryan Thomure has this week’s breakdown.
- Chicago’s consistently awful offense could trigger a full rebuild ahead of the trade deadline if the team continues trending downward. As a team, the Cubs have a 66 OPS+, which means that they are 34% collectively worse than a league-average hitter.
- David Ross feels his team is too “homer-dependent” right now, and that once his players start driving the ball more they’ll break free of their current malaise.
Odds & Sods
The White Sox played to a 0-0 tie at home against Cleveland through nine innings, and then Rob Manfred took over. Chicago lost 2-0.
The ghost runner in a 0-0 game is a desecration.
— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) April 14, 2021
How About That!
MLB Network will air an interview with late actor Chadwick Boseman on the eve of Jackie Robinson Day. The Q&A originally aired a week before the release of the movie “42.”
A handshake by teammate George Shuba publicly signaled Robinson’s acceptance by his teammates and peers.
A’s outfielder Ramón Laureano leads MLB with eight stolen bases this season. He has more stolen bases than all but three teams.
Washington starter Stephen Strasburg looked to be in a great deal of discomfort after St. Louis knocked him out during yesterday’s 14-3 loss. Strasburg blamed execution rather than any speculative injury to his shoulder for his abysmal outing.
The “myth” of Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani is once again alive and well.
White Sox fireballer Michael Kopech said his mindset is “attack mode” while working as a reliever instead of a starter.
Injuries to starters Max Fried and Mike Soroka have Braves fans feeling a little cursed right now.
Free agent outfielder Yasiel Puig issued a public statement indicating that the sexual assault allegations against him are “totally false.”
Take Me Out to the Ball Game
The Padres have announced an increase to 33% capacity for their next homestand.
Perhaps MLB could improve its efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 by making sure teams better enforce stadium policy regarding fan health and safety.
Tuesday’s Three Stars
- Shane Bieber – The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner earned a nine-inning win by shutting out the White Sox on three hits with 11 strikeouts.
- Lucas Giolito – The White Sox ace matched Bieber pitch-for-pitch through seven innings, including eight punchouts.
- Wilson Ramos – The Tigers catcher homered twice last night in Detroit’s 8-2 win over the Astros and now has six taters through 11 games.
A lot of fans wanted the Cubs to trade for Blake Snell, myself included, though my suggestion that he is an average pitcher with one outstanding year and a few exceptional starts was met with more than a little pushback.
Blake Snell has not pitched past the 6th inning since May 24, 2019 (includes the postseason).
That is 33 straight starts. He's pitched to a 4.14 ERA with 186 strikeouts in that span.
— Danny Vietti (@DannyVietti) April 14, 2021
Sliding Into Home
If you’ve followed me on Twitter, I’ve left. A lot of activity over the past year or so by the site’s general population has pushed me to this point, but once Cubs fans started attacking players’ wives and girlfriends, I decided I’d had enough.
A tweet by John Heyman the other night regarding the Twins/Red Sox cancellation, which could and should have been worded more accurately, finally pushed me away. When thousands of people attack one person it becomes a gross exhibition in virtue signaling rather than any type of meaningful, corrective suggestion. The world has many flaws, but only on that dystopian site is life rendered completely hopeless. That platform, which is now almost fully absent of positive humankind, is no longer for me and I’m not planning on returning.
They Said It
- “Tonight, I sent a message. I think they picked the wrong guy to throw at. I think I let all my frustration come out. Whenever you get hit a lot, you feel bottled with frustration.” – Willson Contreras
- “I’ll let you form your own opinion on [Tepera’s pitch]. I don’t have much to say about it.” – Brandon “Rock” Woodruff
Wednesday Walk Up Song
Hope in a Hopeless World by Widespread Panic. A wound will never heal if you continue to tear off its scab. To those who embrace social media, I wish you all peace, love, healing, and most of all, positivity.