The Detroit Tigers will face off against the Chicago Cubs for the second time this season, this time with the home field advantage.
We took a moment to talk to Al Yellon, managing editor of Bleed Cubbie Blue, SB Nation’s excellent Cubs community, about the team’s health setbacks, their potential postseason run, and which very surprising Tiger has them nervous this series.
BYB: How much have the Yu Darvish and Kris Bryant health situations set the Cubs back, do you think?
BCB: Losing both these players’ expected production has definitely hurt the Cubs. It’s been difficult to replace Bryant’s offense. Joe Maddon has mixed and matched at third base. David Bote, who hit the amazing walkoff grand slam against the Nationals, has been decent, but you can’t expect a rookie like that to keep doing things like that all the time. With Darvish out, the Cubs have relied on Mike Montgomery to fill in, and he’s done a good job, but is now on the DL.
Even with all that, the Cubs enter this series with a solid lead in the NL Central. This could be Joe Maddon’s best managing job as a Cub, as there have been so many injuries and poor performances, yet they seem headed for the postseason.
Do you feel like Cole Hamels is living up to expectation so far?
Cole Hamels has actually pitched beyond any expectation. We figured he’d be better after getting out of Globe Life Park, which has been a house of horrors for pitchers this year, but he’s been more than just “better,” he’s been lights-out in four starts so far. Small sample size to be sure, but so far Hamels looks like the guy who helped lead the Phillies to the World Series title in 2008. Hopefully he can keep this up the rest of the year.
Which of the Tigers do you think will pose the biggest issues for the Cubs over these two games?
I’d be a little concerned about Victor Martinez. I know he’s not having a good year overall and he had only one PH at-bat in the series at Wrigley, but I see he’s been hitting pretty well over the last couple of weeks, and despite his age he can still be a dangerous hitter. Former Cub Jeimer Candelario would probably love to show his old team some hitting prowess, as well.
Which Cubs player do you think gets overlooked because of the bigger name stars?
Pedro Strop has been an underappreciated Cub for almost the entire time he’s been with the team, now more than five years. He’s been a solid setup man, posts almost the same numbers every year, and has had to step in at closer this year with Brandon Morrow out. He’s done a good job there as well. I wrote an entire article in appreciation of what Strop has done a couple of weeks ago.
In the postseason, who do you think will be the biggest thorn for the Cubs?
There are so many teams still in contention for division titles and the two wild cards in the National League that it’s hard to nail down one team that might be the biggest thorn.
But given their recent run of success, I really don’t want to see the Cubs face the Cardinals this postseason. They have guys doing impossible things (seriously, Matt Carpenter? How is he doing this?), and I’d rather see them just sit home in October.
How precisely does Javier Baez defy the laws of physics?
That’s just beautiful to watch, isn’t it?
I think the reason Javy is so successful at plays you don’t see anyone else make is his complete lack of fear. In general, I think most players will have the slightest hesitation when making daring plays or trying to take an extra base, etc. Javy doesn’t seem to have any of that fear. When he decides to do something, he’s 100 percent in, not a speck of hesitation. Sometimes he fails, but the success rate is high enough that he’ll continue to make these kinds of efforts.
Last season the Cubs traded for Alex Avila and Justin Wilson. If they could execute another pre-deadline trade, which player do you think they’d most benefit from claiming?
With Darvish perhaps now out for the season and Montgomery’s status uncertain, the Cubs are probably scanning the waiver wire for a starting pitcher they could claim. Someone who might be available is Derek Holland, who’s having a decent year for the Giants and is on an inexpensive one-year deal.
In the end, though, I suspect the Cubs won’t add anyone else before August 31.
Once again, thanks to Al for taking the time to chat with us. You can read more of his work over at Bleed Cubbie Blue.