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Monday morning Cubs thoughts: The grueling stretch is finally over

Ryan Herrera Avatar
June 6, 2022

Happy Monday, folks.

The long, long week is finally over. No more 11 games in nine days. No more two doubleheaders within one week.

The long week felt even longer when the Cubs and Cardinals went into extras last night, the third time Cubs fans got free baseball at Wrigley Field this past week (and fourth if you count last Sunday’s 12-inning affair on the South Side). The Cubs’ record didn’t come out of it looking as good as it could’ve, but they’ll have their first off-day in a while today to regroup, and so do we.

So let’s get going. Here are your Monday morning Cubs thoughts for June 6.

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This week could’ve gone worse for the Cubs, but it also could’ve gone so much better.

In four games against the Brewers and five against the Cardinals, the Cubs managed a 4-5 record. If you add the two White Sox games that turned it into a stretch of 11 games in nine days, they went 5-6. You don’t look at that record by itself and say the week was a success, but considering the amount of games they had to play, the various injuries that created a ton of roster shuffling and the sheer number of innings the pitching staff needed to cover, that record could’ve looked worse, for sure.

But there’s definitely a scenario where the Cubs end that stretch with upwards of 10 wins. Four of the six losses were by just two runs or less, five of them by no more than three. In five of the six, they held a lead at some point in the game. In four of the six, they scored first.

The starting pitching wasn’t always there, the bullpen blew a few late leads and, after scoring early in just about every game, the offense seemed to fall off as the contests went on, but there was still a chance that the Cubs somehow could’ve gone 10-1 against three teams ahead of them in the Major League Baseball pecking order. That just tells us that this group is capable of competing with better teams and not letting games turn into blowouts very often, but they just haven’t been able to consistently turn that into wins.

David Ross talked about getting over the hump this past week, in reference to coming out on the winning side in close games (and specifically in one-run battles). There were a lot of positive things to take from the last nine days, but the Cubs just aren’t over that hump as they close out the second month of the season.

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I’ve got some good news, and I’ve got some bad news.

The good news: Caleb Kilian made his highly anticipated debut Saturday night, and he looked great! His first major league outing saw him take a no-decision in a five-inning, six-strikeout performance, but for arguably the most-hyped starting pitching debut the Cubs have had in a couple decades, it felt like a taste of what Jed Hoyer’s “Next Great Cubs Team” might actually look.

Now, the bad news: Kilian is no longer on the major league roster after being optioned back to Triple-A Iowa following his first career start. Look, anyone who thought Kilian making his debut would lead to him staying up with the Cubs was fooling themselves. This always felt like a one-time thing because the Cubs were down a couple of starters and needed someone to give the staff some relief during that long stretch of games. As much as he might seem ready, as much as fans just want to see what he can do at this level, it just wasn’t going to happen. He’ll be back at some point this season, and that’ll very likely be for good. And I get that, if fans are going to watch a losing ball club, they at least want to see that happen with some of those pieces of the future consistently getting the chance to show what they’ve got.

But things just aren’t at the point where the Cubs are ready to make Kilian a part of the major league rotation. It’s not what fans want to hear, but it’s just the reality of the situation for now.

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Not even three weeks in his big league career, Morel has been incredibly consistent. Historically consistent, even.

He’s gotten on base at least once in every single major league game he’s played thus far, a franchise record streak that is still going 20 games in. That blew past Willson Contreras’ record that he set in 2016, and now it’s starting to reach major-league record levels. Morel is currently tied with Daric Barton (2007) and Del Bissonette (1928) for the 15th-longest streak.

The all-time leader is Alvin Davis, who got on base in 47 straight games to begin his career in 1984. The closest to him is Truck Hannah with a 38-game run in 1918, while Enos Slaughter rounds out the top three with a 29-game stretch in 1938.

Let’s have some fun and say Morel does indeed break the record. Assuming he plays every game moving forward (he probably won’t, but it just makes it easier for me), here are dates that you’ll want to pay attention to:

  • June 13 vs. San Diego: Morel moves into the top five (a three-way tie for fourth place) with his 26th consecutive game reaching base
  • June 17 vs. Atlanta: Morel passes up Slaughter with No. 30 in a row
  • June 26 @ St. Louis: Morel takes over sole possession of second place from Hannah by reaching base for his 39th straight game
  • July 6 @ Milwaukee: Morel becomes the all-time record holder for most consecutive games reaching base at least once to start a career

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Let’s talk about Patrick Wisdom and his newfound ability to not strike out.

Since May 17, Wisdom has been using a new bat with an usually large knob. In this article from Marquee Sports Network’s Tony Andracki is an image that shows the differences between the knob on Wisdom’s current bat type and the one he used previously. It’s hard not to notice the differences in the knob.

It’s also hard not to notice how much better Wisdom has looked at the plate since. Prior to the change, Wisdom had a strikeout rate of 41.3% since the beginning of the 2022 season. Back in 2021, Wisdom had a 40.8% strikeout rate. Wisdom has certainly been a high-strikeout player since he started his Cubs career, and maybe that old knob didn’t help. But since he switched to this new bat, Wisdom’s looked like a much different player at the plate. From May 17 on, Wisdom is striking out 27.6% of the time, a huge decline in where he was previously, and his strikeout rate this season as a hole is down to 35.6%.

Yes, that’s still a lot of strikeouts, but that just comes with Wisdom’s game. The fact that he’s been able to bring down the strikeouts is a huge plus, and even though we don’t know for sure just how much of that comes as a result of the bat switch, it’s pretty clear that the knob has helped unlock something that’s working for him at the plate.

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If you felt like the Cubs were stealing a lot more bases than usual over the past couple of weeks, you definitely weren’t wrong.

Between May 21 and last Wednesday, the Cubs went on a stretch of 12 straight games with a stolen base. That was tied for the eighth-longest streak in franchise history, and it’s by far the longest run the Cubs have had since they did it in 14 straight back in September 1986. But that’s not all. Dating back to the beginning of that streak, the Cubs have stolen 26 bases in 17 games. No other team in baseball has more than 16 in the same span.

Asked about the uptick in aggressiveness on the base paths, Ross said:

“I wouldn’t say the first two weeks of the season were our greatest baserunning moments. We had some learning opportunities in that. We talked about that, and guys are growing. I think that’s part of just the season and us continuing to know what we’re looking for and how to take advantage of it. I would say that the baseball IQ of the players and their instincts are starting to pick up and play right now, and doing a really nice job of putting ourselves with runners in scoring position late in games and giving ourselves a chance, if we come up with a big hit, to be able to tie or take the lead.”

The Cubs don’t necessarily have a base-stealing makeup on paper. Some of that increase in stolen bases comes in part because Morel (six steals since was called up on May 17) is really good at getting on base and really good at swiping bags when he gets on. In this 17-game stretch, only Morel and Nico Hoerner have more than three steals, but there have been 11 different Cubs to steal a base in that timeframe. No, the lineup isn’t chock-full of “base stealers” per se, but credit the team with looking for more opportunities to be aggressive on the basepaths and finding a lot of success when doing so.

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Jonathan Villar was back at Wrigley Field on Sunday, the last day of his stint on the injured list before he’s eligible to be activated.

That news probably doesn’t excite Cubs fans too much, since he’s earned some ire from the fanbase due to defensive miscues and underperformance at the plate. The reason I’m bringing him up is just to shed some light on why he’s been on the IL in the first place.

Villar said that he was stretching with a band connected to a metal tube/pole, and it snapped off the pole and hit him in the mouth. Anyone who’s ever worked out with one of those bands and had it snap back at them knows it can be pretty painful. Can you imagine taking one of those bands straight to the face, hard enough that it causes significant to your teeth and gums?

We talked about Hoerner’s ankle sprain that came as a result of him running into an umpire in the outfield, and we considered that a “freak injury.” But at least he was actually playing baseball when it happened. Villar’s “freak injury” takes me back to some of the other weird injury stories the Cubs have had to deal with in a recent years:

  • José Quintana cutting his thumb while washing dishes
  • Sammy Sosa sneezing so hard that he went on the IL with a lower back injury
  • Kerry Wood slipping out of a hot tub and bruising his chest
  • Brandon Morrow having back spasms while taking off his pants
  • Felix Pie suffering from “testicular torsion” during spring training in ’08

Those are just a few items from the Cubs’ strange injury history, and I think we can comfortably add Villar’s to the list.

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The “Would it dong?” Twitter account is easily my new favorite account this season.

I think that’s the best way to answer the question, “Would this be a home run in every ballpark?” and it uses Statcast data to determine that. Find me an account that does that better. Here’s one example from Willson Contreras’ last home run on Thursday:

Based on the Statcast data, Contreras’ ball would’ve donged in every single major league ballpark, which amount to a 100% dong rate. Overall, in Contreras nine home runs this season, he has about a 95% dong rate. Every home run he’s hit would leave the park in between 28-29 ballparks out of 30 on average. I don’t know how to find the dong rate leaderboards, but if FanGraphs or Baseball Savant ever want to introduce that kind of data, I’m here for it.

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In case you missed them, here are some Cubs articles from the past week:

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