A Rare Cubs Sweep Offers Thoughts for the Future, Top Rookies, Hendricks’ Shoulder, and Other Cubs Bullets

Just a week away from the BN Trade Deadline Blogathon beginning! We’re so close to raising enough that I’ll have to do the full 41 hours (yes, up from 40 hours). Your generosity for Make-A-Wish is so appreciated!

  • It turns out there was a good reason I couldn’t think yesterday of the Cubs’ other sweep this season … there was no other sweep. This weekend marked their first of the season, dispatching the Phillies in three. Why did I think they had another sweep this year? Anyway, when your first sweep comes at the end of July, it probably hasn’t been a great season.
  • If you wanted, though, you could view the Phillies sweep as emblematic of how the Cubs could win in 2023: guys like Nico Hoerner, Seiya Suzuki, Christopher Morel, Nelson Velazquez, Justin Steele, and Marcus Stroman playing important roles, another bullpen constructed on the fly and succeeding (they do it every year!), and … Yan Gomes hitting bombs, I guess? Maybe we’ll leave that part aside for now, and instead just note that the Cubs do have some talent that is going to carry forward to next season. So much more would need to be done to win in 2023, but I reject the idea that it’s not possible. This weekend was, to me, a reminder that 85 wins or whatever is absolutely possible.
  • No rookie has a better wRC+ than Christopher Morel’s 136. Oh, well, unless you lower the plate appearance threshold to 90 PAs, in which case one other rookie tops Morel .… PJ Higgins at 142. (Oh, and Seiya Suzuki is just a couple clicks back at 124, so basically the Cubs have all the best rookies in baseball or something.)
  • Speaking of Higgins, I think it’s still important to caution about the small sample. But we are getting close to “but” territory. Because he did hit pretty much throughout the minors, he is a converted catcher for whom an offensive breakout always could’ve come plater, and his BABIP has dropped to a hey-that’s-actually-possible .311. Higgins is taking walks (9.6%), is not striking out (19.1%), and is hitting for a load of power (.241). It’s that last one where the batted ball metrics suggest there’s been a lot of luck, though, since the barrel rate (3.0%) and hard-hit rate (27.3%) are deeply unimpressive. Again, I’m almost ready to say “but”: no one actually expects Higgins to hit .277/.355/.518/142 wRC+ in the big leagues over a full season. He could regress considerably from here in those numbers and still be a very valuable third catcher/reserve corner infielder, or even a true back-up catcher.
  • More on the things that are worth watching for the Cubs going forward, and how this weekend was a reiteration thereof:
  • One point from that article: “It’s little progressions like that for Steele and Thompson that could help them become backend rotation pieces for the team — perhaps more. Instead of paying for free agents like Jason Hammel and Tyler Chatwood to take on those roles, the Cubs look primed to be able to finally develop some starting pitching to fill the gaps, hopefully meaning that money can be spent elsewhere. It’s what every healthy, thriving organization does when it’s really clicking.”
  • Immediately, that makes me think about how, if the Cubs have a healthier and more consistent pitching development pipeline, they could more frequently afford to spend a LOT of money on a top free agent arm for one rotation spot, rather than spreading the money around to cover multiple rotation spots.
  • Speaking of next year’s rotation, I wonder if that’s the next time we’ll see Kyle Hendricks. He is still feeling the issue in his shoulder, so it’ll be a while yet before he can pick up a baseball. That leaves September, maybe, as a return timeline for him. “I’m working through some stuff,” Hendricks said, per The Athletic. “At least I started a strength program and getting back to doing some stuff. Hopefully, once I’m asymptomatic or close to it, I can do some weighted stuff and start getting strength back. From there, I’ll definitely pick up a baseball …. The focus primarily is to just get fully healthy. Then focus on next year for sure, but (hopefully) I get some starts at the end fully healthy just to get some confidence going in and know I’m doing the right things to go into the offseason. The focus is definitely for me a full year next year back to health and getting right.”
  • Wade Miley is going to throw live BP today, and I suppose that makes it POSSIBLE he could pitch a minor league rehab game just before the Trade Deadline. Whether that happens, and whether it would be enough to demonstrate sufficient value for a trade remains to be seen. I wouldn’t count on it. Drew Smyly, who looked great yesterday, will have to carry the torch as the “starting pitcher trade target” this year.
  • This, from Victor Robles, is perfection:
  • This, from Robles’ manager, is the height of irony:
  • If there is any singular thing the Nationals are this year, it absolutely involves a clown nose.

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