The Rundown Lite: Runs Still at Premium, Injuries Keep Mounting, July Can’t Get Here Soon Enough
Ed. note: Michael Canter has had some further health complications and may be on the mend for a bit here, so I’m standing in as best I can.
The Cubs hadn’t lost a game in which they’d given up two or fewer hits since 2013, but streaks like that tend to end when you can only score one run against a Brewers team that appeared to be doing everything possible to give the game away. Zach Davies was solid yet again, allowing just the two hits over four innings of work, but two of his three walks came around to score on those hits.
The latter of the two was exacerbated by an uncharacteristic Jason Heyward error that saw the right fielder totally biff a routine grounder to allow Christian Yelich to score from second. It should also be noted that both Willy Adames in the 1st and Yelich in the 4th stole following their free passes to put themselves in scoring position. The Cubs actually stole two bases of their own, but failed to do anything with the extra 90 feet either time.
Their only run of the game came after Javier Báez tripled to lead off the 4th and was then driven home by a Patrick Wisdom double. After Heyward walked to put two on with one out, Sergio Alcántara struck out and Eric Sogard popped out to short on the first pitch he saw to end the inning. It was only the third pitch thrown to the contact-heavy infielder out of eight total pitches he saw in four at-bats.
With full understanding of the fact that Sogard is playing a much bigger role than he should be due to injuries, it’s not enough to just not strike out. He flied out to center on the second pitch in his first AB following a leadoff single, then came the aforementioned pop. Sogard then grounded out on the second pitch he saw to lead off the 7th and lined into a double play with two on in the top of the 8th. At least he worked three pitches deep on that one.
He’s now got a wRC+ of 59, which says he’s 41% worse than average when it comes to producing runs, and his -0.2 fWAR says he’s not as valuable as a standard replacement player. So when you cite the situation and ask who should take Sogard’s place, the answer is…almost anyone. There are 17 MLB players (min. 150 plate appearances) with worse fWAR figures and nine with lower wRC+, but I’m going to go ahead and guess Trent Giambrone or Dee Strange-Gordon could post better numbers.
So could Nico Hoerner, who should be back up from a rehab assignment with the Iowa Cubs very soon. Once Hoerner and David Bote are back, there’s no room for Sogard on the roster.
Who’s going to be the Cubs’ backup catcher now? Guess what, it’s you. Jose Lobatón is only on the roster because a string of injuries and ineffective play from previous backups pressed him into action. He hasn’t recorded a hit in 13 plate appearances and has cost the Cubs -0.3 wins — worse than Sogard! — in his brief time, which may now be over due to what looked like a significant shoulder injury.
With the Cubs down to their last out and two men on, Lobatón fought of an 0-2 Josh Hader fastball and worked a 2-2 count before grounding to first. Hader misplayed the transfer and Lobatón suddenly had to turn on the jets after downshifting in light of what he thought was a sure out, so the pitcher dove back to the bag and tripped up the now-hustling pinch hitter.
Lobatón tumbled and landed awkwardly on his right arm, then appeared to be in serious pain as he grabbed at his shoulder. David Ross would not speculate on the possible severity of the issue, but Lobatón was set to undergo x-rays and it’s a safe assumption he’ll be out for a while.
This probably opens the door once again for Tony Wolters, who has been hitting well at Triple-A Iowa and is already familiar with the pitching staff after a brief stint earlier in the season. The Cubs could also opt for 27-year-old Taylor Gushue, who is batting .272 with five dingers at Triple-A.
Ryan Tepera is on the IL as well, though he remained with the Cubs in Milwaukee and is probably getting as much of a mental rest as he is rehabbing a sore calf. The righty started out that disastrous 8th inning Monday and was charged with four earned runs on two hits and two walks. After a streak of 18 scoreless appearances, and having allowed only two runs over 26 appearances, Tepera has given up seven runs in his last four outings. That’s in just three innings pitched, too.
So the Cubs couldn’t muster enough offense to put Craig Kimbrel in play and are missing his primary setup man anyway. To make matters worse, they had to rely on very unreliable hitters because neither Anthony Rizzo (back) nor Kris Bryant (side) was available off the bench. While it’s admirable of Ross to make sure both players are fully rested, it’s not great that neither could hit in a pinch at a critical juncture in the game. Even with a thin bench, watching one of your more productive hitters go down swinging on fastballs that were all out of the zone before pressing Lobatón into action is less than ideal.
June swoon, July soon
The Cubs were two games over .500 on the month following their combined no-hitter in LA last Friday, but they’re now at 12-15 as they slog through a five-game skid. Winning today’s finale in Milwaukee would mean finishing two games under on what we all knew would be a tough month, so the overall picture wouldn’t be that bad.
Around the corner is a July that sees the Cubs playing 26 games against teams that are a combined 41 games under .500 at this point. True, a vast majority of that can be attributed to the Diamondbacks, but the Cubs get to play them twice after having to face the murderer’s row of the Dodgers, Padres, and Giants in June. The Reds are even as of post time, the Nats are just a game over, and both the Cardinals and Phillies have losing records.
The All-Star break is in there too, so that’s a little extra rest to go with the lighter slate. August should provide a little respite as well, though a seven-game stretch against the White Sox and Brewers won’t be easy. And who knows, the roster could look a lot different by then.
There’s also the matter of getting players healthy, whether it’s having them activated from the IL or just taking time to rest up those nagging issues that accumulate over the course of the season.
We may not know for certain who the Cubs are or what they’re going to do by the Midsummer Classic, but I would imagine the decisions will have been made by the time the D-backs leave Chicago on July 25. That’s still a week before the deadline, at which point the Cubs will have worked through the easiest part of the schedule, so moves are likely to be discussed in earnest by then if they aren’t already in motion.