“If you need me call me, no matter where you are, and no matter how far.” – Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
The way things are shaping up, next week’s series with the Brewers is going to be one heck of a match. The Cubs trail Milwaukee by three games after last night’s 5-4 win in extras. The Cubs have three more this weekend with the Pirates, who have yet to win a single game against Chicago’s North Side baseballers this season. The Brewers are hosting the Padres in a three-game set that starts this evening.
That means the balance of the NL Central could shift over the next six games for each team. The Cubs will go to war at Wrigley Field starting Monday night with Jameson Taillon, Justin Steele, and Kyle Hendricks facing Wade Miley, Corbin Burnes, and Brandon Woodruff.
Steele tossed six innings against the Bucs last night, allowing two earned runs on six hits with six strikeouts. He kept the Cubs in the game, the bullpen didn’t allow an earned run in four innings, and Chicago improved to 67-60 on the season. It would be nice to leave Pittsburgh with 70 wins.
Things are tightening up in the Wild Card race, too. The Cubs lead the surging Diamondbacks by 0.5 games for the second spot among baseball’s non-division leading teams and they’re a full game ahead of the Giants and Reds for WC3. That said, Chicago controls its destiny because they have six games left with Milwaukee, four with Cincinnati and Arizona, and three with the Giants. Because baseball is fun and simultaneously nerve-racking, those are the Cubs’ next four opponents once they leave Pittsburgh.
Are you ready for the highest of highs and lowest of lows? The Cubs should know if they are contenders or pretenders by the time the NFL opens its 2023-24 season. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Cubs News & Notes
- Drew Smyly will go back to the bullpen and Jordan Wicks could be in line for a weekend start.
- Chicago has played nine straight games that have been decided by two runs or less, and they’re 6-3 in those contests.
- The Cubs aren’t going into panic mode over a taxed rotation and bullpen ($) because experience tells the front office it’s unnecessary, according to Patrick Mooney of The Athletic.
- The team will try to give Steele rest when they can, but the coaches believe that experience is the best form of growth.
- The lefty recorded his 17th quality start of the season last night, though he did not get the win.
- The Cubs were one of at least 10 teams to scout Orix Buffaloes star Yoshinobu Yamamoto Wednesday.
- The 25-year-old righty impressed over seven scoreless innings with poise, focus, and athleticism. He possesses several solid-to-plus pitches, including a four-seamer that tops out at 97 mph, a cutter, a curveball, and a splitter.
- David Ross has the back end of the bullpen in place now. Adbert Alzolay is the closer with Michael Fulmer, Julian Merryweather, and Mark Leiter Jr. as the high-leverage setup relievers.
- You’ll need a subscription to ESPN+ to read it, but Kiley McDaniel rates Chicago’s farm system as second-best in all of baseball, trailing only the Orioles. McDaniel also mentioned that next season Cade Horton could be the top pitching prospect in the game.
- The Cubs recalled reliever Keegan Thompson before yesterday’s game.
- The Reds signed former Cub Trey Mancini to a minor league deal.
Odds & Sods
- Milwaukee (70-57): The Brewers have won five straight while maintaining a three-game lead over the Cubs, and rookie Sal Frelick is a big reason why.
- Cincinnati (67-62): The Reds placed slugging first baseman Joey Votto on the 10-day IL with left shoulder discomfort. Nick Senzel was recalled in the corresponding move.
- Pittsburgh (57-71): The Pirates are now 0-7 against the Cubs this season.
- St. Louis (56-72): The Cardinals haven’t had a losing season since 2007 and need to go at least 25-9 the rest of the way to avoid one this season. They haven’t been over .500 since taking two of three games from the Blue Jays to begin the season.
Climbing the Ladder
“Some day, yeah, we’ll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun.” – The Five Stairsteps, O-O-H Child
Daniel Palencia earned his fourth win of the season and trails Merryweather by one for team lead in relief wins. The rookie has earned a place in the coaching staff’s circle of trust. Alzolay earned his 20th save of the season despite allowing Pittsburgh’s ghost runner to score in the 10th inning.
- Games Played: 127
- Record: 67-60 (.528)
- Total Plate Appearances: 4,871
- Total Strikeouts: 1,128
- Strikeout Rate: 23.15%
- Team Batting Average: .254
- Runs Scored: 641
- Runs Allowed: 574
- Chances of Making the Playoffs: 65.2%, 1.8% to win the World Series
How About That!
Stephen Strasburg, who hasn’t pitched since last June, has decided to retire. Injuries have beset the righty and he has only thrown 31.1 innings over the last four seasons. He signed a seven-year contract worth $245 million after the 2019 season. The 35-year-old was a three-time All-Star with a 113-62 lifetime record and a career 3.24 ERA.
Strasburg possessed generational talent and he fulfilled it in his 13-year career. He led the league in wins in 2019 when he helped the Nationals win the World Series, and he is also the only player drafted No. 1 overall to be named World Series MVP.
Notoriously loyal White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf shocked folks by firing VP Kenny Williams and GM Rick Hahn on Wednesday after 30-plus and 20-plus years, respectively.
It’s been a wretched month for the Angels, who tried to build a playoff-caliber team around Shohei Ohtani at the trade deadline. Instead, Los Angeles completely fell out of the race and the two-way star is now suffering from a UCL tear.
Buster Olney of ESPN reports that Ohtani’s free-agent value took a big hit ($) with the injury. After news of the injury broke, some industry sources speculated that offers to him might need to come in two parts: The payment for his offensive production — which alone makes him one of the league’s most valuable players — and then a creative structure to compensate him for whatever he does as a pitcher.
Barring several miracles, neither the Yankees nor the Red Sox will be among the top two teams in the AL East for the first time since 1992.
The Giants are postseason contenders and are doing it without any real stars.
Thursday’s Three Stars
- Mookie Betts – The Dodgers outfielder has been among baseball’s hottest hitters recently, and he was 5-for-5 with two RBI in a suspended-game 6-1 win over the Guardians. Betts was also 2-for-3 in the regularly-scheduled game.
- Shea Langeliers – Oakland’s catcher was 2-for-4 with two homers and four RBI as the A’s upended the White Sox 8-5.
- Alex Verdugo and Wilyer Abreu – The Red Sox pair combined to go 8-for-12 with two home runs and six RBI in a 17-1 win over the Astros.
Ian Happ with the ugliest game-winning hit ever. It doesn’t have to be pretty to count, though.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) August 25, 2023
They Said It
- “If we’re going to make the playoffs, [Steele] is going to be a big part of that, so he’s going to take the ball. He wants the ball. We want him to take the ball. You have to get to pitching a full season at some point.” – Ross
- “It’s always funny to hear those questions… ‘The guy’s never done that.’ But, [he’s] got to do it, right? Somebody at some point is going to have to do it. Whether that’s on a winning team or a losing team, you’d rather it be on a winning team, right? They’re going to go out and compete their tails off. That’s all they’ve done. They didn’t start the season saying, ‘I’m going to take the last month off because I’ve never done it.’ They prepare in the offseason for a full workload. Same with Justin Steele. We’re on a winning team that’s proving that we’re good. They’re going to go out and do their jobs.” – Ross
- “Just wanted to make sure I was doing my part, keeping the team in the ballgame. Didn’t feel like I had my sharpest stuff tonight, but when your stuff is kind of like that, you just want to go out there and give the team a good chance to win the ballgame.” – Steele
- “I would be lying if I said, ‘No, I’m not,’ but I’d also be lying if I said, ‘Yes, I am.’ It’s so easy to scoreboard-watch, but at the end of the day, it’s our duty to go perform. And we can’t help ourselves unless we play good baseball.” – Dansby Swanson
- “Pete Crow-Armstrong, a somewhat divisive player who was the return for Javier Báez, continues to tick up. Ben Brown, one of last year’s trade deadline adds, is on the verge of being a big league factor, and [Horton] might be on track to be the best pitching prospect in baseball by this time next year. We’re getting close to the point where it could be tricky to fit everyone on the 40-man roster without blocking a prospect in Triple-A, while still staying competitive at the big league level. That’s a nice problem to have.” – McDaniel
Friday Walk-Up Song
I rarely look forward to autumn, but I make exceptions for Cubs playoff baseball and trips on LSD. Let’s do it!