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Know Your Enemy: Chicago Cubs

Who even plays for them anymore?

Brown bears in Kamchatka Yuri Smityuk\TASS via Getty Images

It’s late in the summer and we’re heading into our first round of the Crosstown Classic. Is it me, or does it feel really late this season? At least they’re doing it on the weekend now instead of traditionally doing it during the week. Like it would make people less drunk or something. I don't know why MLB schedules things the way it does, but sometimes it feels like a roll of a dice.

The Cubs are (supposedly) so broke that poor Clark is still pantsless, but let’s get to it.

2020 Cubs: 34-26 (First in NL Central)

The best thing the Cubs could say about the 2020 season was that they got through it. I’m fairly certain that they were the only team to not get COVID-19. That clearly was the main driver for the players not wanting to get their COVID-19 vaccinations: “We dodged it last year, we can dodge it this year!”

Last year the Cubs welcomed new manager, David Ross. Ross made the transition from player to front office as a “special assistant” in 2017 and replaced Joe Maddon after he and the team, um, “parted ways.” It was apparent that Theo Epstein was taking a page out of the Wilpon Book of Baseball Team Operations by appointing a former player to a managerial position to act as a figurehead for the front office’s own managerial desires.

Last year was also the debut season of the Marquee Sports Network, after the Ricketts decided that loyalty was worth nothing and severed ties with WGN and NBC Sports Chicago. Instantly, the Cubs went from a wide-open availability to fans on a national level to charging people $9.99 for the Midwestern-version of the YES Network (without basketball games). The did manage to reach an agreement with Comcast on the day of the first game of the season, and worked out deals with Hulu and DirecTV, so all wasn’t lost. Hulu dropped them after the 2020 season, though.

The Cubs made it into the postseason because just about everybody did in 2020, and ended up getting roundly trounced by the Marlins in two games of the Wild Card series. Would they have even made it that far if the entire St. Louis Cardinals hadn’t contracted COVID? Who knows.

Pitching was the only thing working for the Cubs in 2020. Their staff ERA was 3.99, and Yu Darvish was looking like Darvish of yore, finishing the season with a 2.01 ERA over 76 innings. His only pain point seemed to be José Abreu.

Good thing for their pitching because the offense was stinky. Kyle Schwarber finished the season with a .188 average in 224 plate appearances, Javier Báez hit .203 and struck out 75 times, Anthony Rizzo hit .222, and Kris Bryant hit .206 when he wasn’t hurt.

All in all, it should have served as a precursor of things to come for the Cubs.

2021 manager: David Ross

A shorter season sort of worked for Ross, as there’s a smaller sample size to analyze. Also, he still had his superstars. Now though, woof. The Cubs in 2021 so far are 51-57, and you have to wonder at what point his “aw schucks, guys” good-natured attitude gimmick will wear on fans’ patience. Kind of like Rocco Baldelli.

Are Ross’s days numbered? Can the Cubs convince a decent manager to take the job that’s reduced to basically managing a Triple-Are team? How much do we want to bet that they just leave him in as long as possible so they don’t have to shell out some bucks?

2021 so far ...

Fun fact: the last time the Cubs had been six games worse than .500 was when Rick Renteria was their manager, but after Wednesday night’s loss to the Rockies the Cubs are seven games worse than break-even.

The trade deadline came, and GM Jed Hoyer got rid of everyone, and then started a weird media fight with Anthony Rizzo about how the players really didn’t want to stay so it’s their fault! Hoyer seems to forget that he’s employed by a team whose owner has been crying poor since 2019. Or maybe he remembers, but just doesn’t care. Either way, Theo Epstein saw the writing on the wall and peaced the eff out before the season started. Also in case no one told you, apparently Cubs fans are like totally heartbroken that the team is being dismantled. As if they didn’t know who their owners were, or that the Cubs have a dark history of bad ownership and front offices doing dumb things. But now Anthony Rizzo is off to the Yankees, Javier Báez is on the Mets, Kris Bryant is feeling the love in San Francisco (he was too good for the Cubs anyway), White Sox have Craig Kimbrel and Ryan Tepera, and fans are left with Willson Contreras, Jason Heyward, and Kyle Hendricks. As well as Some Guys™ from the Iowa Cubs.

The Cubs are dead last out of 15 NL teams in batting average and strikeouts, 13th in OBP, 10th in OPS, and ninth in SLG. The best of those numbers are due to take a tumble, considering the core of star players was sold off for some magic beans. Of course, Kyle Schwarber went to the Nationals in the offseason and immediately turned into Babe Ruth, but there’s no telling he’d have had a similar run if he stayed in Chicago.

Take a look at the batting stats on ESPN. Their team leaders are all on other teams now:

In their last 30 games, the Cubs are 10-20. Away, they’re 21-36, and at home, 31-21. The Cubs are in a skid, sitting fourth in the NL Central and 13 games back from the Brewers. Just like how 2000s fashion is coming back into style, the Cubs of the early 2000s are returning.

Pitching matchups

Today is going to see Lance Lynn face off against Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks is 13-4 this season over 128 23 innings, posting a 3.71 ERA. He’s struck out 94 batters and walked 22 while giving up 138 hits. In his last seven starts he’s 3-0 with a 3.43 ERA over 42 innings. Hendricks leads the team in wins (13) and ERA, and relies on four pitches: sinker (41%), changeup (27%), 4-seam (18%), and curveball (14%). Against lefties he’s posting a 3.56 ERA and against righties he’s slightly higher, at 3.82. In his last five against the White Sox he’s 1-3 over 27 13 innings, posting a 3.29 ERA and allowing 29 hits while striking out 25 and walking three.

Saturday is Carlos Rodón vs. Adbert Alzolay. Alzolay is 4-11 this season over 98 13 innings, posting a 4.85 ERA and walking 31 while striking out 99. Against the White Sox he’s 1-0 over five innings with a 1.80 ERA. He relies on six pitches: slider (41%), sinker (30%), 4-seam (17%), changeup (6%), and cutter (5%). Against lefties he boasts a 7.59 ERA, and against righties he’s 2.75.

Sunday is Dylan Cease against Zack Davies. Davies is 6-8 this season with a 4.79 ERA over 112 23 innings. He’s struck out 79 and walked 80 while allowing 112 hits. In his last seven starts he’s 1-4 over 33 13 innings, posting a 5.94 ERA. Davies has never faced the White Sox as a starter. He relies on four pitches: sinker (53%), changeup (33%), curveball (8%), and cutter (6%). Against lefties he’s posting a 4.71 ERA, and against righties a 4.86.

Why do we hate them?