We haven’t done one of these in way too long. In part because I’ve been busy, in part because other bloggers are busy, and we rarely can get our schedules to mesh.
The Cubs are second in the NL Central, with a 59-56 record. As I type this, they are a half-game out of a Wild Card spot.
The are third in the NL in runs scored per game at 5.06. And seventh in runs allowed per game at 4.49.
I sent some questions about the Cubs to Al Yellon, who has been Manager of Bleed Cubbie Blue since, pretty much, the beginning of SB Nation. He says he’s been a Cubs fan since the 60s, which means he must be in, at least, his 30s (by my math), just slightly older than me. I met him a number of years ago and enjoyed spending some time with him.
I sent him a few Cubs questions, and he was nice enough to answer them. And I wrote a little bit about the Jays for his site
I have to ask about our old friend Marcus Stroman. He’s always been a favourite of mine. What’s happening with him? It looked like he was having a great season, and then not so much.
Stroman was indeed having a great season and made the NL All-Star team. Then he left a game against the Cardinals in London with a blister, and he’s had disastrous starts ever since (9.00 ERA over his last seven starts). Finally, the Cubs put him on the IL — but not for the blister, instead it was with a hip issue. We don’t know how long that was bothering him but it appears to have been for a while. The Cubs hope he’ll be ready to go again later this month. I will say that Stroman appears to really love playing in Chicago, and the feeling is mutual from Cubs fans.
I should also ask about some other old friends: Yan Gomes, Julian Merryweather and Anthony Kay.
Yan Gomes has been just outstanding. Last year he missed a lot of games with various injuries, but this year his offense has been solid — way better than you’d expect from a 36-year-old catcher — and Cubs pitchers love throwing to him. He’s been better in every way than Willson Contreras was last year, and most Cubs fans wouldn’t have expected that before this year.
Julian Merryweather has also been better than expected. He throws hard and can hit 100, but he doesn’t always know where the ball is going. That’s been my only complaint, too many walks (23 in 51.1 innings), and long innings that can stretch to 25-30 pitches. Generally, he’s been good.
Anthony Kay threw well for a while, but his last couple of outings got him sent to Triple-A, even though he was the only lefty in the pen. Too small of a sample size (just 11.1 innings in 13 appearances) to make any real judgments.
How do Cubs fans feel about what the team did at the trade deadline?
The team did well at the deadline. I was a proponent of getting Jeimer Candelario a month before they actually got him, and he’s been just great, batting .485/.541/.727 with five doubles and a home run in nine games. They picked up reliever Jose Cuas from the Royals, and he’s also been quite good. That’s a good under-the-radar acquisition. Only minor leaguers were dealt away in those trades.
Solid A- for Jed Hoyer and his staff.
Could we have a quick scouting report on the starting pitchers the Jays are likely to see?
Javier Assad starts Friday. He’s been mostly a long reliever this year, throws a sinker that when it’s working, induces lots of ground balls. He’s also prone to the walk, so it’s important that he throws strikes. He wears horn-rimmed glasses that make him look like he just stepped out of the 1960s.
Justin Steele, also an All-Star this year, goes on Saturday. He’s been consistent all year, though his last two starts haven’t been quite as good. Comparisons have been made about his pitching style to Jon Lester. We can only hope he’ll be that good over time.
Jameson Taillon, who I see started six times against the Jays last year when he was with the Yankees, starts on Sunday. Taillon spent some time on the IL earlier this year and when he came back was a disaster, his season ERA sitting at 6.93 after his first 14 starts. But then he threw eight one-hit innings against the Yankees in early July and including that, he has a 2.17 ERA, 1.018 WHIP and .209 opponents BA over his last six starts.
Who is your favorite Cub to watch?
I’ve always been a big Kyle Hendricks fan, but he won’t go in this series.
One guy who’s been fantastic to watch this year is Mike Tauchman, who came in on a minor-league deal, and expectations were low. He plays a solid center field, literally stealing a game from the Cardinals by catching a ball that would have been a three-run walk-off homer, instead, it ended the game in a Cubs win. He works great at-bats and never gets cheated, currently batting .284/.379/.442 with 13 doubles and seven home runs in 66 games. It’s really fun to see a guy who grew up in the Chicago area as a Cubs fan having a great year for his hometown team.
FanGraphs has the Cubs at a 53.8% chance of making the playoffs. Do Cubs fans think there is that strong a chance?
Yes, I think so. I look at the Brewers and Reds and wonder how those teams are even in contention. They both have glaring weaknesses (Reds, pitching, Brewers, hitting). The Cubs have weak spots, too, I don’t want to gloss those over, but they’ve got as good a chance to win the division as those teams and are also solidly in the wild-card mix.
Is there anything else we should know about the Cubs?
This team seriously underperformed its talent level for the first half of the season. They made significant signings in Taillon, Dansby Swanson and Cody Bellinger (the latter a possible MVP candidate), and all have produced, but it has taken until recently for them to find their team identity and perform every day. David Ross now has a set lineup vs. RHP and one vs. LHP, Adbert Alzolay has been great in the closer role, and I think players having defined roles always helps them play better. Ross’ best quality as a manager is that he has his guys playing hard for him every single day. This was the case even when they were losing. Now it’s paying off in wins. This should be a good series between two good teams.
Thank Al. I’ll wish your Cubs luck after they leave Canada.