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Chicago Cubs out of the zone as strikeout issues continue – Chicago Cubs Blog

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ATLANTA — Perhaps it’s the hitting background at Sun Trust Park. Or perhaps the Chicago Cubs simply can’t give up their affinity for striking out a lot.

After whiffing just twice in a Monday game against the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field, the Cubs reverted to their old ways once the series shifted south. They’ve struck out 26 times over the past two games against the Braves, including 11 times in a 4-1 loss on Wednesday.

“When they run out arms throwing 100 mph with a slider, sometimes it’s tough just to hit the ball, just in general,” third baseman Kris Bryant said after the loss. “Today, [Brandon] McCarthy had a great sinker and cutter playing off of that.”

Bryant is about the only Cub who has hit in Atlanta this series. He was 3-for-4 on Wednesday — driving in the Cubs’ lone run — but was left stranded each time he reached base. The Cubs were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. It’s an old tune that gets updated every so often.

“We need to do a better job at the plate,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We had an opportunity to score more runs.”

Getting the leadoff man on base in innings 4-8 but scoring only once is the storyline for this loss — not Maddon pulling starter Tyler Chatwood in a 1-1 game in the sixth despite Chatwood having thrown only 79 pitches. Could Maddon have left Chatwood in the game? Sure. But the lefty/lefty matchup he eventually got on Nick Markakis worked out as the .340 hitter bounced into a double play.

Saving his bullpen is an important narrative for another day as Maddon admitted Chatwood pitched great and said he would have left Chatwood in the game — if the Cubs had any sort of a lead. That won’t happen when the strikeouts pile up as they are right now. Javier Baez, for example, struck out three times Wednesday and hasn’t drawn a walk in more than 130 plate appearances.

“He’s opened it up a bit,” Maddon said of Baez’s hitting mechanics. “That’s what I’m seeing.”

Batting right after Baez, Kyle Schwarber whiffed twice, while the two combined to leave nine men on base.

“Hitting is contagious and I feel like striking out and bad at-bats can be contagious, too,” Bryant said.

Maddon added: “Chasing. Just chasing. Getting out of our zones.”

It’s just a couple of games, but every so often Cubs fans will be reminded they’re watching an offense in transition. Focusing on putting the ball in play hasn’t been part of the players’ DNA in the past; the coaching staff is trying to inject them with that ability as the players mature.

Despite having a solid run differential, the Cubs are third-to-last in getting a runner home from third with less than two outs, and are below league average in getting a runner from second to third with no outs. Ian Happ had that chance after a leadoff double by Addison Russell in the seventh inning on Wednesday, but flied out to short right. At least there was contact. There were plenty of other times when the Cubs fanned with men on base.

“I want us to maintain the good work to this point and not start opening up a little bit,” Maddon said. “That was our issue tonight. We were just out of our zones again in RBI situations. We have to force the pitcher over the plate, find your pitch and move it.”

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The year of the position-player pitcher by the numbers

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Remember when position players taking the mound was a rarity? Now it might feel like there’s a backup catcher, utility player … or even an All-Star first baseman pitching every night. Here are some of the most important numbers to know as the year of the position-player pitcher rolls on:

So far, 43 different position players have accounted for 54 pitching appearances this season. That’s the most different position players to appear as a pitcher in the expansion era, which is since 1961.

If this is the year of the position pitcher, July 23 could be the official day of celebration. On that day alone, four position players pitched: Carlos Tocci and Ryan Rua for the Texas Rangers, and Anthony Rizzo and Víctor Caratini for the Chicago Cubs. That’s the most position players to pitch on the same day in the expansion era, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

And not all of these appearances are coming in blowouts. In fact, Enrique Hernández came in to pitch to start the bottom of the 16th inning of a tie game July 24 in Philadelphia. He got a lineout from the first batter, but then walked the next two and gave up a walk-off three-run homer to Trevor Plouffe, which earned him the honor of becoming the only position-player pitcher to give up a walk-off home run in the expansion era.

As you probably can already guess, using a position player to pitch is rarely good news for the team resorting to it:

— Teams to use a position player to pitch this season are 1-45 in those games. The lone win came when the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Miami Marlins on July 3. Jesús Sucre faced four batters, allowing three straight singles before getting a fly ball and coming out. He started the bottom of the 16th inning with the Rays up 9-4.

— In the divisional era (since 1969), there have been only two instances of a position player pitching in a non-extra-inning game that his team won. Both were Detroit Tigers pitchers in the final series of the season to complete a stunt in which they played all 9 positions. Both resulted in a one-run win over the Twins.

Sept. 30, 2017: Andrew Romine in a 3-2 Tigers win over the Twins

Oct. 1, 2000: Shane Halter in a 12-11 Tigers win over the Twins

— The Cubs and Brewers each have six appearances from position players, the most of any teams this season. The Cubs have used five different position players to pitch, while the Brewers have used two different position players.

— Overall, 24 teams have used a position player to pitch at least once. The teams yet to do so are the Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox, Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates.

— The Angels’ case is particularly interesting. Mike Scioscia is the longest-tenured manager with his current team, having been at the helm of the Angels since 2000. In that span (and again, excluding Shohei Ohtani), he had never used a position player to pitch until Francisco Arcia pitched on Aug. 11. The last Angels position player to pitch before that was Chili Davis on June 17, 1993. Every other team had done it at least once in that span.

— The sample size is of course small, but the position players to pitch this season have a 9.59 ERA and 1.82 WHIP with a .306 opponents’ batting average and 1.051 opponents’ OPS.

Slow coming in (pitch velocity) …

— 19.4 percent of pitches thrown by position players this season have been slower than 70 mph. When traditional pitchers throw, hitters see pitches slower than 70 mph just 0.1 percent of the time.

— Position players have thrown a total of 34 pitches of at least 90 mph (4.0 percent) and nine of those were thrown by J.D. Davis in a single outing. Traditional pitchers throw 90 mph on 52.1 percent of their pitches.

— Overall, the position players to pitch this season have an average velocity of 76.8 mph. The MLB-wide average velocity is 88.6 mph.

Slow going out (exit velocity) …

— Despite the slow velocity of their pitches, hitters aren’t teeing off on position players to the tune of a significant increase in exit velocity. The average exit velocity of the 175 balls in play against position players pitching that Statcast has tracked has been 90.0 mph. League average exit velocity is 87.8 mph (Statcast).

— Hardest-hit: 111.7 mph by Tyler Austin (home run) off Ryan LaMarre.

— Slowest-hit: 48.2 mph by Bryan Holaday (ground out) off Mark Reynolds.

So why is this happening?

One possibility is that it’s a reaction to last season. Last year there were 113 games decided by 10-plus runs, tied with 1996 for the most such games in a single season in the modern era (since 1900). That could’ve spurred managers to be more proactive when large deficits do occur to save their bullpens. We’re on pace for 83 games decided by 10-plus runs this season.

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MLB — Real or Not? Ronald Acuna Jr., instant superstar

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The first thing that strikes you about Ronald Acuna Jr. is how much this kid enjoys playing the game. He’s flat-out fun to watch and not just because he’s doing things we’ve never seen from someone so young. He brings that extra flair that carries the enthusiasm of youth with the air of the spectacular, with his tongue sticking out during a theatrical trot around the bases or a smile as wide as the Atlantic. He’s good and he knows he’s good, and this is OK.

The 20-year-old phenom continued to blast his way into the record books with two more home runs in the Atlanta Braves‘ 10-5 victory over the Miami Marlins on Tuesday:

Over this historic eight-game run, Acuna has 16 hits and eight home runs, giving us this impressive list of accomplishments:

A week ago, Acuna was hitting .261/.321/.478. He’s now hitting .288/.346/.576, raising his OPS 122 points. There’s no other to way put this: When you’re this good this fast, you have clearly established not only the possibility of becoming the best player in the game, but comparisons to other 20-year-old stars like Ken Griffey Jr. or Mike Trout no longer feel outrageous or silly.

In the case of Griffey, that comparison extends beyond the performance on the field. During a week when we heard the needless and silly apology from the Cubs’ David Bote for celebrating his walk-off grand slam on Sunday with a bat flip, Acuna is a reminder that — like when a young Griffey wore his hat backward — we should just go with it and enjoy the show.

And what a show it has been. For the season, Acuna has hit nearly everything thrown his way:

OK, you can get him out with sliders off the plate and sinkers down and away, but he has the bat speed to catch up to any fastball and has shown the precious aptitude to adjust to the slow stuff. There’s certainly room for improvement — his strikeout rate of 28.0 percent and walk rate of 7.3 percent are well below what Trout posted in his age-20 season (21.8 and 10.5 percent) — but this week of dominance might suggest that those adjustments are already in progress.

Even if he’s not the next Trout — an impossible standard — is Acuna at least destined to become an annual MVP candidate like Trout? Sure, with his speed and defense added to his growing power, it’s possible. Nothing is guaranteed, of course. Consider what has happened to Cody Bellinger this season. His line from 2017 as a 21-year-old matches up with Acuna’s current line:

Bellinger, 2017: .267/.352/.581
Acuna, 2018: .288/.346/.576

Bellinger even had a stretch of eight home runs in eight games (Bellinger was the previous youngest player to hit eight home runs over eight games). Bellinger also showed the ability to hit the fastball and adjust to the off-speed stuff, which seemed to indicate a long future as one of the premier hitters in the game. Instead, he has hit .254/.337/.465, solid enough, but not MVP-type production.

Anyway, it has been an amazing stretch for the Braves’ outfielder. Let’s see what happens Wednesday. Nine in nine?

We don’t like each other: Benches cleared in the San Francisco Giants‘ 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers, with Yasiel Puig in the middle of the action:

Puig and Giants catcher Nick Hundley were both ejected and will probably receive a one-game suspension for shoving each other, but the bigger picture is the Giants won the game on Alen Hanson‘s go-ahead single in the top of the ninth — the fourth straight game the Dodgers have lost on their opponents’ final at-bat. Courtesy of Elias Sports Bureau research: That’s the first time that has happened in Dodgers franchise history.

While the bullpen blues are of major concern, the offense has dried up of late. Since beating the Brewers 21-5 on Aug. 2, the Dodgers are 3-8 while hitting .219/.289/.364. Manny Machado has hit .258/.345/.392 since joining the Dodgers with only two home runs and six RBIs in 25 games. Matt Kemp has predictably regressed from his hot start and is hitting .155 with two home runs in 22 games since the All-Star break. The bullpen needs to fix the late-inning issue, but it has become an issue because the offense is no longer carrying the team.

The A’s are one game behind the Astros: Man, an Astros-Yankees wild-card game would be something, wouldn’t it? The A’s are now 50-0 when leading after seven innings, beating the Mariners 3-2. Here’s your nightly Matt Chapman highlight:

Jed Lowrie did double damage to the Mariners. He knocked out James Paxton in the first inning with a liner off Paxton’s left arm (X-rays were negative, but Paxton will miss at least one start). Lowrie later had a two-run home run off Felix Hernandez.

Meanwhile, Justin Verlander failed to pick up career win No. 200 as the Rockies won 5-1, scoring three runs in the late innings against the Houston bullpen. The Astros haven’t won a home game since July 14 as they’ve lost nine straight at Minute Maid. The lineup, still missing Jose Altuve, George Springer and Brian McCann, continues to struggle as the Astros have hit .219/.298/.377 in the second half while averaging 3.95 runs per game (compared to 5.05 in the first half).



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Brandon McCarthy of Atlanta Braves to retire at end of season

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Atlanta Braves pitcher Brandon McCarthy will retire at the end of this season, ending a 13-year career that has been plagued by injuries.

McCarthy, who has been out since June 24 with a knee injury, told MLB.com that he hopes to return to the Braves as a relief pitcher at some point this season.

“I’m done after this,” McCarthy told MLB.com. “This is it. The offseason is the rest of my life. If I was going to keep playing, a month and a half ago, I would have had the surgery that cleans the [knee] and I’d be back next year just a little bit after spring [training].”

McCarthy, 35, said he is making a mechanical adjustment in his delivery to decrease the stress on his knee. The right-hander is 6-3 with a 4.92 ERA in 15 starts this season with the Braves.

McCarthy has battled multiple injuries to his shoulder and elbow throughout his career. He also had a major scare in 2012 when he was struck in the head by a line drive, suffering a skull fracture and an epidural hemorrhage.

McCarthy is 69-75 with a 4.20 ERA in 255 career games over parts of 13 seasons with the White Sox, Rangers, Athletics, Diamondbacks, Yankees, Dodgers and Braves.

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