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Happy Monday, dear readers. Hope everyone has some eventful Memorial Day festivities planned.
I’ll be out at the Friendly Confines, where the Cubs will host the Brewers for a split doubleheader to kick off a four-game series. Originally, it was supposed to be a regular three-game set, but remember that rainout on the first Friday of the year? This is the day they decided to reschedule the game on. At the time, I didn’t consider what the upcoming stretch would look like with another game added into the mix, but now I can see how rough of a stretch it’s going to be.
I can tell you why here, or I can tell you to keep on reading to find out. Personally, I think the second option is best, because there are some other news, notes and nuggets (including an appearance from my more serious side) that you’ll want to take a peak at.
Let’s get into it. Here are your Monday morning Cubs thoughts for May 30.
Let’s start things off with the good, the bad and the ugly from the Cubs’ 5-4 loss to the White Sox on Sunday.
The good: Marcus Stroman was superb against the South Siders. In his third start since coming off the COVID IL, Stroman pitched seven shutout innings against the Sox and was on track to earn his third win of the season. He struck out two and allowed just five walks and hits combined. After giving up a leadoff single to Tim Anderson, Stroman retired 13 straight batters. Even when he did run into some trouble in later innings, he managed to make it through seven frames without allowing the Sox to cross home plate. As the video below shows, Stroman was just on his game throughout his outing (even though he said afterward that he’s “still not there, body-wise, mechanics-wise”).
The bad: the offense just wasn’t there for most of the day. The Cubs put themselves into position for a win when they scored in the top of the seventh, but through the first nine innings, they only recorded three hits. Even their lone run in regulation came after two walks and an E5, and they later wasted a golden opportunity for an insurance run when they had Clint Frazier on third with no outs in the ninth and couldn’t bring him home. Yes, they faced Dylan Cease for most of that stretch, but the lack of production gave the bullpen little margin for error when the high-leverage moments came.
The ugly: the bullpen just couldn’t cash in on multiple opportunities to close things out. Mychal Givens followed Stroman with a scoreless eighth and handed it off to David Robertson to close it out. But Robertson couldn’t finish off the Sox, though a dribbler in front of the mound and a wild pitch that snuck under PJ Higgins’ glove contributed to the blown save. When the Cubs went up by two in the 10th, Scott Effross let two runs (one earned) cross the plate. When the Cubs went up by a run again in the 11th, the Sox tied it up off Robert Gsellman. The North Siders couldn’t get the automatic runner home in the 12th, and it took just three pitches from Gsellman in the bottom frame for the South Siders to walk it off.
The ugliest part about that? The Cubs used more bullpen arms than they had to going into a long week of games at Wrigley Field.
Today, they host the Brewers for a doubleheader. It’s hard to see either Givens, Robertson or Effross being available for either game coming off appearances in back-to-back days. Gsellman might be a tough call, too, and Chris Martin went on the bereavement list earlier on Sunday. Then you have Keegan Thompson, who probably won’t be available after throwing 77 pitches on Saturday. Without the the 27th-man move that will have to be made for the doubleheader, the Cubs only have Daniel Norris, Rowan Wick and Mark Leiter Jr. (who was recalled on Sunday when Wade Miley hit the injured list and is actually expected to be in the rotation this week) left in the ‘pen on the active roster.
When you take into account the fact that the doubleheader is just the start of a stretch of nine games in seven days (four against Milwaukee, five against St. Louis), you realize that there’s a lot of innings that’ll have to be covered. And considering only eight times through the first 45 games of the season had Cubs starters completed at least six innings, it looks like there will have to be a good amount of bullpen usage coming up.
I saw this tweet from Jeff Passan before the game Sunday, and it felt like something similar would be in store for the Cubs.
Again, with all the innings that will need to be covered throughout this next week, at least one arm (if not two) were expected to get the call to the big league roster quickly for the start of the Brewers series. That first arm ended up being Matt Swarmer, who’s spent this season down in Triple-A.
With Iowa, Swarmer has had the kind of season that makes him a good candidate to be the 27th man. He’s 3-1 with a 2.08 ERA, a 0.95 WHIP and a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Over his five starts this year, he’s finished at least five innings four times. So at the least, he feels like someone the Cubs hope can eat up a few innings and give some of the bullpen arms a breather.
The one hangup? Swarmer isn’t on the 40-man roster, and both Martin’s spot on the active roster (he’ll be out at least three days) and the 27th-man opening have to be filled by someone on the 40-man. So a corresponding roster move will have to be made. I don’t have a good idea of what that’ll be (maybe a 10-day IL guy moves to the 60-day, or maybe someone gets DFA’d). We’ll find out what that is in the morning.
Yeah, I know what everyone’s thinking. I’ve seen it enough on my timeline or in the replies to my tweets. That’s partly why I’m bringing up Swarmer here.
Swarmer’s situation is pretty much the exact one that Caleb Kilian is in. He’s having tremendous success in Triple-A and isn’t currently on the 40-man roster. To call him up, the Cubs would have to open a spot on the 40-man, just like they’ll do at some point for Swarmer. So why isn’t this move being made for Kilian instead of another pitcher I’m sure a lot less fans have heard of?
Honestly, I don’t know. It seems like the right situation, right? Bring up your top pitching prospect for a start or two, see what he’s got up close, and then option him back down with some notes on things to work on. Is there a better situation in which to have Kilian make his debut than this?
What I do know is that the Cubs want to take things slow with Kilian. Jed Hoyer referenced him pitching in the Arizona Fall League into late November as the reason why the Cubs were cautious with him in spring training and into this season. I can only imagine the timeline they’re following is the main reason why they don’t feel it’s time to bring him up. Things weren’t any different Sunday morning, when a reporter asked David Ross if anything had changed with Kilian and Ross responded with a simple “No sir.”
Fans are clamoring to see Kilian on the big league roster. I get it. At some point this season, he will be. Those in charge of the team just don’t think now is the right time, but at least on Monday, fans will get to see the debut of an under-the-radar prospect who’s having a pretty nice year himself.
But no, we have no official update on Velázquez’s reported call up to the big leagues. Velázquez, who MLB Pipeline ranks No. 16 on the top 30 Cubs prospects list, is already on the 40-man and could just take either Martin’s spot or be named the 27th man for the day. There’s also the issue with Seiya Suzuki’s sprained left ring finger, which could result in an IL move and open an active roster spot. There’s just so many variables surrounding today and the days ahead that it’s tough enough to keep track of all the shuffling that has and will continue to happen, let alone to try to get a read on what the Cubs are looking to do to fill those spots.
What I do know is that, if Velázquez’s reported promotion does come to fruition, the Cubs are bringing up a really enticing prospect. After breaking out in 2021 and finishing the year as the MVP of the Arizona Fall League, Velázquez mashed Double-A pitching (.288 average, 1.094 OPS, nine homers and 17 RBIs in 80 at-bats) to start this season. He had a bit of a slow start after he made the jump to Triple-A on May 7, but this is a golden opportunity for Válazquez to see some big league pitching and for the Cubs to see just how close he is to making The Show.
We saw what an awesome debut looked like with both Christopher Morel and Brandon Hughes two weeks ago. Let’s hope we can see another great story from this top Cubs prospect.
Now that we’ve gotten the nuts and bolts out of the way, how about we go a little more into the “Cubs-related” portion of things.
Last Tuesday, 19 children and two adults were killed in a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, at the hands of an 18-year-old gunman, 10 days after another gunman killed 10 Black shoppers and workers at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. Hours after the elementary school attack, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr gave an emotionally-charged statement at his press conference. The next day, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts spoke about the shootings himself. On Friday, Giants manager Gabe Kapler went a step further.
In a post on his personal blog, Kapler criticized the state of the country and said that he had considered taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem, but decided against it. He expanded on the essay in a pregame conversation with reporters in Cincinnati, saying that he wouldn’t come out for the national anthem “until I feel better about the direction of our country.”
What does this have to do with the Cubs? Well, both Ross and Hoyer were asked for their thoughts on the horrific events and on Kapler’s comments, and I think it’s important to share them. For the sake of not leaving anything out, I’ll give your their words in full:
Said Ross: “I think we’re, as a country right now, in a really sad, bad time. I don’t have any answers, but I think something needs to change. Anybody that’s a parent that has kids that saw what’s happening around our country lately, the radar is up. Put yourself in those people’s shoes, and something needs to change. I don’t know what that is. I’m not a lawmaker, not really up to the political industry. But yeah, something has got to happen. … I think everybody’s stance on things are individualized. I think everybody does what they feel is right. That’s hard, so I respect that. That’s how he feels. I respect Gabe.”
Said Hoyer: “I’ve known Gabe for a long time. I think since 2003 or (2004), the first year with the Red Sox. He was a minor league manager for us and played for us again. We have a long past. I think he’s one of the brightest, most articulate guys in the game, and I’m proud of him for taking that stand. I think for all of us, for me, I’ll say that the 20 best minutes of my day every day are driving my kids to school. I drop three boys off every day. Some days a lot of conversation, some days laughing, DJing, whatever it is. It’s a great moment to have with them, and then it definitely felt different at the end of the week, dropping them off and thinking about it. I think we’d all agree that dropping off your kids at school isn’t something you should ever have to think about. I think it’s wonderful that Gabe took that stand. I think it was a difficult week for all of us for those reasons.”
I’m not here to get into a political discourse.
I have my thoughts and feelings about various areas of politics, but I’ve never thought that social media or even this Monday morning column are the right places to have that discussion. That’s just not the way I am as a person, though I certainly respect that others might feel differently. If you want to know where I stand on various issues, including the one in the section above, this won’t be where you find that out.
What I did want to touch on is another comment Ross made surrounding the role sports and the athletes, coaches, media members, etc. who are connected to those sports can play in addressing issues and helping to spark some change.
Again, to avoid leaving anything out, here is his comment in full:
Said Ross: “Anytime you get to get in front of a camera and get in front of millions of people on TV, I think you use that platform for the best that you feel like you can use it. I love what Steve Kerr said. Dave Roberts had some choice words that he said the other day. I couldn’t agree with those two more. Something has got to change. We’ve got to be better, man. We send our kids to school for education and protection. I want to be able to go the grocery store and get cereal that my kids want. I don’t know. I don’t have the answers. Something just needs to be done. Anybody that’s got any ways to help, I’d love to hear them.”
Maybe I’m biased as someone who watches, writes and talks about baseball for a living, but I agree with him. There are so many people around the country and around the world who watch sports, which makes it the perfect platform for people in the industry to speak on things they agree or disagree with. Hell, go ahead and search Kapler or Roberts or Kerr’s name on Twitter, and you’ll see endless tweets about their comments, both positive or negative. There are people who agree with them, and there are people who disagree with them. That’s fine, because having the ability to agree or disagree is part of what this country is supposed to be about, and it helps to further those conversations that do need to happen.
That’s also why it grinds my gears when the “stick to sports” brigade comes around and tries to dictate who can and can’t speak on things. Why shouldn’t two baseball managers or a basketball coach be able to use their platform to address issues they feel need to be addressed, especially if they do their research and can back up what they’re saying? Why does what they do for work mean they shouldn’t be allowed to have a voice outside of that?
At CHGO, we were given the freedom and the support to discuss what happened in Uvalde in whatever manner who chose to on our live shows, and lo and behold, we didn’t avoid being told to stick to sports. I just don’t see how that makes any sense. I know people want to use sports as an outlet to distract themselves from the problems of the world, but I also think it’s our job to use whatever influence we might have to help better the direction of not only our country but society as a whole. And honestly, to me, that tragedy just doesn’t seem like something we should be trying to distract ourselves from.
Like Ross, I’m not a lawmaker. I don’t have the answers. Even if I did, like I said before, this isn’t the medium I would choose to have that discussion. But like a certain Cubs beat writer says at the end of this video, “if anybody wants to tell me to stick to sports, I’ll tell them where to stick that.”
Let’s end things on a lighter note.
Friday was the one-year anniversary of Javier Báez’s magic on the bases in Pittsburgh. I was actually covering that game (remotely) and could hardly believe what I was watching. I don’t think even Javy could really explain it himself, but it was something that I knew right away people would be talking about for a long time.
“He plays the game like a kid,” Ross told us afterward. “I think that’s why a lot of people fall in love with him.”
Now, I’m not saying Christopher Morel is the next Javy Báez. He’s only 22, and he has a long way to go before he reaches the heights that “El Mago” did. But when I think about that quote from Ross and I look at the video I’ll put below, I honestly do get the same vibes from Morel. I think he’s made plenty of people — coaches, teammates, fans, etc. — fall in love with him very quickly.
In case you missed them, here are some Cubs articles from the past week:
- If the Cubs aren’t ‘rebuilding,’ then what’s the plan?
- Keegan Thompson’s flexibility an asset as he steps in and quiets the White Sox
- ‘He has no fear’: Morel winning over Cubs with his personality — and his play
- Cubs benefiting from veteran catching duo in Willson Contreras and Yan Gomes — for now
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