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Hello, CHGO Cubs family.
I do a lot of writing and podcasting for this site, and I’m able to get many of my thoughts about the Cubs out of the way then. However, I always have so many thoughts going on in my head, even little nuggets that I’ve picked up on in the clubhouse or while watching games, that don’t always make it into my musings in my articles or on the show. So, I decided to start this.
Here is the first installment of “Ryan’s Monday morning Cubs thoughts,” a weekly series where I’ll post — as the title suggests, every Monday morning — my thoughts surrounding the Cubs that built up over the last week that I didn’t get to talk about all that much. These thoughts could be about anything, really. They’ll stay mostly Cubs related and include things ranging from specifics from the past week’s games to fun stories I’ve gotten from talking to players and coaches to anything I see on Twitter that has even the slightest relation to the Cubs that piques my interest.
Like I said, this will run every Monday morning for as long as my fingers can type. I’m not going to commit to a specific number of thoughts each week. Some weeks might be so slow that I only get to a few, while other weeks might be so jam packed that I end up with a laundry list. I don’t know how it’ll go week-by-week, so I’m going to just write however many of my thoughts I feel need to be put out there every time this goes out.
If you’ve stuck with me this far, I love you. If you’re interested in learning how my brain functions, keep reading. And just an fyi, these posts will be for subscribers only after today, so if you haven’t signed up for your CHGO membership, make sure you do that RIGHT NOW.
All right, now that we’ve got that all out of the way, let’s jump right into it.
Here are some Monday morning Cubs thoughts from yours truly.
All MLB rosters had to trim down to 26 players by today.
The Cubs managed to cut their roster down to 26 after Sunday’s game, when they optioned Locke St. John back down to Triple-A Iowa and placed Ethan Roberts on the 10-day injured list.
The St. John option didn’t come as too much of a shocker. We knew he’d come up to bring a fresh arm to the bullpen, and his two-inning, three-run performance on Saturday didn’t exactly give him a strong case to survive the roster crunch. What was a surprise, however, was Roberts’ placement on the IL.
Roberts has gotten a lot of usage in his first stint on a big league roster, appearing in nine of the Cubs’ first 20 games. He has had his share of normal rookie struggles, pitching to an 8.22 ERA, a .323 opponents’ average and a 2.09 WHIP. Perhaps that usage got to him, as after appearing on back to back days for the first time on Thursday and Friday (throwing a combined 45 pitches), he hit the IL with right shoulder inflammation.
I talked to Roberts on Saturday, and when I asked him how he felt after pitching two days in a row for the first time in the big leagues, he told me it’s just something he has to get used to.
I didn’t get any indication then that he was dealing with some inflammation, so that tells me it may just be a mild injury that Chicago wants to be patient with. The fact that the IL placement allows the team to avoid having to option or DFA another player probably helps, too.
We didn’t get the news until after we’d gotten done talking to Ross and Co. postgame, and with the off day today, we probably won’t have any more information on Roberts until Ross’ pregame scrum on Tuesday. The injury isn’t ideal, but it at least ended the speculation around who remains on the 26-man roster early.
Keegan Thompson is human after all.
Yep, you read that right. He gave up his first run of the season on Wednesday in Atlanta, so his career is pretty much over.
No but really, despite him finally allowing a run in his fifth appearance of the season, Thompson has been the ultimate weapon for David Ross out of the bullpen in 2022. That run ended his scoreless innings streak to begin the season at 15 2/3 — yes, he technically went 16 1/3 without allowing a run, but official stats only count completed scoreless innings onto the total — which made him the 11th reliever in Cubs history to open a season throwing at least 15 scoreless frames.
It’s kind of wild to think that at one point this season, Thompson had pitched the most innings without allowing a run in the majors. After his four scoreless innings on April 22, Thompson led all big league arms with 1.3 bWAR and led Chicago’s pitching staff with 0.5 fWAR. That’s not to mention that he’s managed to pitch at least 2 2/3 innings in all five of his appearances, eating up plenty of left-over innings as the staff grinded its way through April.
So yes, he’s human. He wasn’t going to pitch scoreless outings forever, and that one run he allowed 10 days ago surely won’t be his last. But he’s still as valuable a weapon as the Cubs have in the ‘pen right now, and I’d bet Ross is just waiting for the next opportunity to unleash him.
David Robertson has been lights out in his short time with the Cubs.
Seriously, he’s been so good out of the bullpen that, even though Ross won’t anoint anyone as the team’s closer, it’s hard to say Robertson hasn’t earned the title.
In nine appearances out of the bullpen, Robertson has yet to allow a run. That’s the most scoreless outings he’s had to start a season since he did it 12 consecutive times from April 9-May 9, 2015. He’s also doing it in the role he hasn’t been in consistently in years, completing his fifth save in as many opportunities to lock down the Cubs’ win on Sunday.
He’s given up just a single base hit and walked five batters, and he’s struck out 14 in 10 innings. While Thompson has gotten the attention for his multi-inning work out of the ‘pen, Robertson has been just as valuable in locking down the late innings for Chicago.
“That’s my job is to come in and be that tough guy that you got to battle with in the ninth — or eighth or whatever, it doesn’t matter to me,” Robertson said.
Yeah, it seems that even Robertson knows he’s not “the closer” because Ross won’t give him (or anyone else) that title. Ross says he still likes Rowan Wick and Mychal Givens as late-inning options, and it’ll be a mix of those three as far as who closes out games.
For now, Ross is just happy he’s got an arm like Robertson that he’s been able to rely on so far.
“I mean, we’re gonna use him in high-leverage situations, yeah,” Ross said. “I think we feel really confident (in him).”
I’ve noticed at least two instances of the opposing team shifting on Ian Happ in the middle of an at-bat.
It started on April 19 against the Rays, when second baseman Taylor Walls shifted into shallow right field to rob Happ of what probably would’ve been an RBI single in the bottom of the seventh. Then, in the top of the third on Thursday, the Braves’ Austin Riley ran across the infield from third base to shallow right and gobbled up a Happ grounder to the right side.
I was curious as to what Happ saw on those two instances, and lo and behold, he told me that he’d also noticed teams loading the right side of the field in the middle of those at-bats. What did those two situations have in common? Happ fell into 0-2 counts before Walls and Riley were moved into heavy-shift formations.
“It seems like it,” Happ told me when I asked about team’s using an 0-2 shift against him. “There’s probably something in there for the way they’re going to pitch me with two strikes. Off-speed, down in the zone. What that kind of profile is for me.”
The scouting report seems accurate, too. Per FanGraphs, Happ has an overall ground ball rate of 55.9% and a pull rate of 32.4% from the left side of the plate, numbers that probably wouldn’t lead teams to lean toward shifting. However, when the count reaches 0-2 from the same side, those percentages rise to 75% and 87.5%, respectively.
Maybe it does have more to do with the way opponents pitch to Happ in that count than him being prone to putting the ball on the ground to the right side in that situation. Still, it’s interesting to see how very specific statistics lead to teams shifting their defensive alignments so dramatically.
Seiya Suzuki is going through a mini-slump, so it was good to see him come through with an RBI double on Sunday.
Suzuki didn’t have those expected struggles right out of the gate, but it was never going to be a surprise if he did eventually go through some growing pains. The more data opponents got on him, the better the scouting reports would be, giving pitchers a better idea of how to attack him.
We may have thought it was starting when he had a couple of hitless games in mid-April, but the struggles really started to come out over the last week. Starting with his last two at-bats on Wednesday and going through his first two at-bats on Sunday, Suzuki was in an 0-for-15 funk, which included five strike outs.
Maybe it’s too premature to say the league has figured Suzuki out, but opponents have definitely learned some things about his approach at the plate and how to use that against him.
“I think you’re seeing a little bit of what we expected early on,” Ross said pregame Sunday. “They’re going to change and the league adjusts, and I think part of being a major leaguer is continuing to adjust back and figure those things out.”
That’s why, as big as his double down the left-field line Sunday was in terms of giving the Cubs an insurance run, it was even better that Suzuki was able to come through in a big moment despite his slump over the previous few games.
Locke St. John’s one-day call up aside, I swear he has the best name I’ve ever seen on a Cubs roster.
That made me want to see how it matched up with other awesome names in Cubs history, and thanks to Bleed Cubbie Blue and this list of top names they put together 11 years ago, I was able to find a few names who could definitely make a case for the best the franchise has ever seen.
I’m avoiding the pre-1900s names, because everybody at that point in time had names that would be unusual now, as well as any wacky nicknames, since that feels a little cheap to me. The list also doesn’t have any names from the past decade, but I have a hard time believing anyone from that era would beat St. John’s anyway.
So here is a very short, non-comprehensive list of names that rival Locke St. John in my eyes:
- Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown (even taking away his “Three Finger” nickname, he still has one hell of a birth certificate)
- Cy Slapnicka (my new favorite “Cy”)
- Vito Valentinetti (wouldn’t be surprised if there was a mobster with the same name)
- Ralph Pierre LaCock (don’t have to explain this one too much)
- Abraham Lincoln Bailey (shout out to Honest Abe)
I heard the Braves’ Austin Riley use Stone Cold Steve Austin’s entrance theme as his walk-up song, and I just had to start thinking of which WWE themes would work for current Cubs.
Giving entrance themes to every player on the 26-man roster for their walk-up/warm-up songs would take a lot more room than I have right now, not to mention that it would be a long, arduous task that I would have to put my blood, sweat and tears into completing. Maybe I’ll get around to doing that someday, but for now, here’s a few off the top of my head:
- Seiya Suzuki: For Suzuki, I’d have to go with John Cena’s “My Time Is Now.” What more really needs to be said about that? He came over from Japan ready to mash some baseballs, and until his recent slump, that’s basically all he did. He was a superstar in Nippon Professional Baseball. Now, it’s his time to make his mark on Major League Baseball.
- Marcus Stroman: I felt like there was really only one right answer for this, and it’s The Rock’s “Electrifying.” Just that word, “electrifying,” helps describe what the Cubs have in a pitcher like Stroman. No, he’s not going to blow anything by opposing hitters, but it’s his stuff that’s electric. Just take his start on Sunday for example. He only struck out five Brewers batters and rolled up a bunch of grounders, but there was certainly a bolt of energy running through the fanbase while Stroman showed how electric he can be. And if that isn’t enough, you know he’ll try to get a little extra noise from the crowd with a bit of showmanship (Stro-manship?) on the mound.
- Frank Schwindel: Frank the Tank already comes out to The Offspring’s “Self Esteem,” so I think he could get down with CM Punk’s “Cult of Personality.” But this goes beyond just the musical genre connection. Merriam-Webster defines a “cult of personality” as “a situation in which a public figure (such as a political leader) is deliberately presented to the people of a country as a great person who should be admired and loved.” We’re not going to go to that extreme for Schwindel, but do you remember how insane Cubs fans went for him the last two months of the 2021 season? Was he not “admired and loved” almost universally? Yeah, this would be a solid walk-up song for him if I do say so myself.
- Keegan Thompson: Is there a title in all of WWE theme song history that fits better with Thompson right now than Mr. McMahon’s “No Chance In Hell”? Thompson has been lights out basically every time he has taken the mound this season. Until he gave up his first run of the season on Wednesday, the question felt like it was becoming “if” any team would score on him instead of “when.” Seriously, it feels like, if Thompson comes out of the ‘pen with a lead and multiple innings to cover, opponents have no shot at getting anything off of him.
- David Robertson: For the guy who’s not technically the Cubs closer but in all reality is the closer, I think the perfect song is The Undertaker’s “Rest In Peace.” Imagine that haunting gong hitting as Robertson slowly heads out to the mound. Robertson may not be the most physically imposing pitcher, but with how dominant he’s been through the first month of the season, this song would just signal to the hitters coming to the plate that the end is near. I mean, just take a look at one of The Undertaker’s entrances and tell me Robertson couldn’t pull it off.
- Anyone currently on the IL: This one doesn’t stick out to me for any player individually, but seriously, the first one who comes off the injured list has to come out to Eric Bischoff’s “I’m Back.” What a perfect way to announce that you’re healthy and ready to contribute to the Cubs than by using a song that literally announces to the crowd, “I’m back.”
In case you missed them, here are some Cubs articles from the past week: