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The seemingly perfect storybook ending that Cubs fans are waiting for is unlikely to occur. Why? This:
Sorry, Cubs fans. Your guys have to travel for Game 1 because a KC Royal hit a homer in a pretend game 3 months ago.— Kyle Brandt (@KyleBrandt) October 23, 2016
Cool system, @MLB
The storybook ending, of course, would be, say, Kyle Schwarber with the pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the ninth at Wrigley Field in Game 7. But, really, any kind of World Series-ending win in Game 7 at Wrigley Field. Or even Game 6.
Because of the stupidest rule in the history of sports, Cleveland has the home-field advantage and Games 1, 2, 6 and 7.
There is only one way for the Cubs to obviate this monstrosity: Win it in four or five games.
That's a tall order, but it's the order we have to play.
The Week in Review: The Cubs won three of five to pair with their Game 1 win to conquer the Dodgers and move on to the World Series. No big whoop.
The Week in Preview: Two in Cleveland, then a weekend set at Wrigley. Let's end it there, please.
Musical Outfielders: And no, we aren't talking about Matt Szczur playing the French horn. In fact, Szczur isn't even on the roster for this series, giving way to the relatively surging Albert Almora.
You know who the Cubs' most stalwart corner outfielder is? Ben Zobrist. Zoby has started all 10 of the Cubs' 2016 playoff games - nine in left, one in right. He's also played some second base.
Fellow big-dollar free agent Jason Heyward, on the other hand, has been benched in each of the Cubs' first two series. Against the Dodgers, he got three starts in right. Fans can't be dismissed for hoping he doesn't get another at-bat until he fixes his swing over the winter and comes back anew in spring.
Jorge Soler has been all but disappeared, with just one start (in right) and one pinch-hit appearance in the Dodgers series. Now that (relatively, for baseball) cold weather is here, we might not see him again.
Same story for Chris Coghlan, minus the cold-weather caveat.
Almora, mostly because of his defense and (relative) speed, is seeing more playing time, getting three pinch-hit opportunities against the Dodgers, and playing in both right and left field.
I didn't track Willy Contreras; I'm not sure he's seen the outfield during the playoffs, nor should we expect him to, especially given that he's a likely DH in games played in Cleveland.
Likely, that is, if Kyle Schwarber isn't on the World Series roster. I find it hard to believe he's being seriously considered, but that's what reports say. Hey, Theo & Co. are far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far better talent evaluators than I am, and they have far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far more information than I do, but . . . really?
The guy essentially hasn't seen real pitching for a year, given that he was injured the first week of April. Now he's going to face a World Series-capable staff? Maybe he matches up well with Andrew Miller (Assignment Desk, activate!), but I doubt it, because as great a comic book hero as Schwarbs is, he was still a platoon player last year who couldn't hit lefties (.143/.213/.268).
And though he's been given surprise clearance to run as well as swing the bat, it's hard to imagine it's worth the risk to have him run with playoff intensity (apparently he's forbidden from sliding). So if he did get a hit (that was less than a home run), you'd have to pinch run for him and burn a guy on your bench. And in games at Wrigley, he'd only be available for pinch-hitting duties. So that's a roster spot that jams up virtually every way in which Joe Maddon has uses his bench, if you can even call it a bench because virtually everyone plays somehow, some way.
Then there is the question of who you would take off the roster to make room for Schwarber. The options would seem to be: Coghlan, Montero, Soler (who makes the most sense given that his role at this point is essentially to smack a pinch-hit home run) and only in the hearts of Cubs fans, Heyward. Then again, the Cubs could drop Rob Zastryzny and go back to the pitcher-position player ratio they used against the Giants. Zastryzny was put on the NLCS roster expressly to give Maddon another left-handed option against the left-handed Dodgers, and even then he didn't see any action.
The Cubs could also opt to drop Zastryzny and add back Matt Szczur or even Tommy La Stella, who would be a much safer pinch-hitting bet at this point than Schwarber.
Look, I love the idea of the Schwarber fairy tale too. I'm just kind of shocked at how seriously it's being taken. My read on the situation is that Schwarber got a surprising favorable doctor's report, he called Theo and begged to be considered, and - with nothing to lose and no reason to crush anyone's soul - they sent him to Arizona for a look-see. I could be wrong, but I don't think there's any way we see him in Cleveland.
Annoying Current Cub of the Week: Bullpen catcher Chad Noble.
Mad(don) Scientist: Poppa Joe faces his biggest challenge yet, as it should be. First, he has to manage a bullpen with increasingly shaky choices - and a closer who absolutely should never pitch before the ninth, despite Joe's insistence that he do so. Second, he faces a bullpen with the indomitable Andrew Miller, who would have been a Cub instead of Chapman if Theo had been willing to send Schwarber to the Yankees. Got to get to Cleveland's starters early, which fortunately should be doable as their rotation is probably the least scary we've seen yet in these playoffs. Third, Jake Arrieta and John Lackey are only good for about four mediocre innings each at this point; expect to see Mike Montgomery early in their games. Fourth, the Heyward millstone. Joe says he writes "Don't manage like a fan" on his scorecard before every game. In this instance, you might want to manage like a fan. This is no time to spare feelings. Finally, having dispatched with Bruce Bochy, Maddon now faces the other manager in the elite triumvirate along with his own self, Terry Francona. Game on.
Kubs Kalendar: The first 45,000 fans wealthy enough to attend Games 3, 4 and (if necessary) 5 at Wrigley will get the time of their life. The rest of us who have put in the time can suck it.
Beachwood Sabermetrics: A complex algorithm performed by The Cub Factor staff using all historical data made available by Major League Baseball has determined that win or lose, we ain't seen nothing yet.
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Posted on Mar 24, 2017