We Are Regal Radio co-founder and former MLB scouting personnel Sean Terry writes on the Chicago Cubs
This post may seem like an outside the box perspective on what’s been gnawing at the Chicago Cubs’ offensive attack.
First off, you may be asking, something is gnawing at the Cubs’ offense? The offense that has helped power the team with the best record in the National League (78-54), winners of seven straight prior to their 10-3 loss Wednesday afternoon to the Mets?
Yes, that offense.
The 2018 Cubs offense started well but since turning the page on the second half of the season the offensive punch has been mysteriously characterized by more than a few stagnant affairs where putting crooked numbers on the board, particularly with runners in scoring position (RISP), has been more wispy than crispy.
Things have looked more punchy for the club in the wake of trading for former Cub killer Daniel Murphy, but the final two games of the Mets series showed how thin the margin for error is for the club when it gets good pitching (as in the 2-1 victory featuring another quality start from Cole Hamels) versus when it doesn’t (see Alec Mills getting bashed early in the video above and the Cubs not being able to overcome).
The baseball strategist in me is tempted to go at Joe Maddon for his usual handling of the North Siders’ lineup like duck-duck goose – but for now pivot instead, my Cubs faithful, to an underscored facet of this season that this well-studied fan knows quite well.
Small fact about me – back in 2003 as an intern for the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning I was tasked with becoming familiar with the pulse of development trends on the City’s North Side. Such a commissioning lent to me the opportunity to interface with 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney directly regarding his vision for new retail and ancillary development in the neighborhood.
Tunney never really cared to talk Cubs much back then and well before he’d coin the phrase “you have to be a good neighbor,” his focus for Wrigleyville was more about dog parks than ball parks.
For this Cubs fan however, my engagement with Tunney’s ward that summer along with the club’s surprising success under then first-year manager (Dusty Baker) quickly validated something that I had long rationalized – it was the opening moment of the Cubs’ eventual transition from lovable losers to a relevant and consistently competitive club as well as the genesis of great change to real estate trends in Wrigleyville.
The Answer, My Friend, Blows In The Wind
Many moons have passed since then and 2003 would prove to be more of a primer to championship success than the real deal for the Cubs but the premonitions I felt then have come full circle for the Cubs thanks to the Ricketts family’s purchase of the club in 2009.
Chairman and majority owner Tom Ricketts made good on his vision and promise for Cubs, with his subsequent infusion in investment dollars to improve the grounds both inside and outside (around) the ballpark has only furthered the reach of the Cubs and expanded consumer allure for the team.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have a theory.
Once upon a time ago Wrigley Field stood alone as a goliath: the central focal point of an otherwise deserted and destitute neighborhood on the gritty outskirts of Chicago’s northside and a waning flashback to the days of yesteryear when neighborhood ballparks functioned as outwardly aesthetic to working class neighborhoods.
For the City of Wind, the trademark cross-breeze that swept thru Wrigley on any given game day was at once as omnipresent and reflective of the City as a front row seat at Great America’s old American Eagle roller coaster.
With Lake Michigan less than a mile away, “the wind factor” at Wrigley could always be counted upon to be seasonally present and the silent undertone to aid the Cubs in victory or emerge forebodingly in the agony of defeat.
For as long as I can remember, the wind’s impact functioned as a unique and pivotal park feature that forced the club to play two different styles of ball. During the season’s early start, April thru May’s brand of baseball has always been wet and cold and plodding like a soiled diaper left on the shoulder of the Dan Ryan, with the wind often blowing in from centerfield to home plate.
Then, around the time the ivy turns plush and green signaling in the scorched dog days of summer, the winds of Wrigley could be counted on to breeze thru a couple of alleys on the way to Addison and Clark; wafting with it the rancid grit of greasy food bags and seagulls. On more days than not during this time of the year, the gusts sweeping across the modest ballpark could be identified by the outwardly direction of the flags on Wrigley’s trademark foul poles.
On those days, even the most miniscule of hitters of the likes of Doug Dascenzo looked like they had eaten an extra helping of spinach during the pregame spread.
And again, like clock-work, the switch up would occur around the time that the temperature in the Chi’ drops, bringing with it same ferocity experienced at the season’s start: one that appeared to jump from the rooftops of the upper terrace like Randy Macho Man Savage – slamming the door shut on anything with a trajectory towards the outfield basket and succumbing the most Herculean of hitters to scrawny armed guys with warning track power.
By know some of y’all probably thinking, ‘where is all of this going bro?’
But like I said, I have a theory.
More Than Wins & Losses
This theory requires the spectator fan to pause from the score of recent games, as successful as they’ve been, and to take-a-look around the ballpark. When you’re done with that, take a stroll up any one of the adjoining Wrigley Field blocks and stand in awe as you soak in the new look Wrigley – one that now surrounds the ballpark with new development and massive concrete structures (some of which now standing taller than the ballpark itself).
If you’re like me and you’ve been looking at the meager home run totals and inconsistent run scoring affairs that have plagued this first-place team during the second half of this season, look no further than the new look Wrigleyville.
The Friendly Confines always felt like Disney World to the baseball savant, be they a Cubs fan or not, but the area around the ballpark has literally transformed into something like an amusement park. Today, the much-appreciated creature comforts that have helped to modernize the inside the ballpark are now equaled by the scores of new retail establishments, hotels and other more vertically oriented structures that now surround the ballpark.
And while this ancillary development has proven savvy maneuvering from a business standpoint, the former player and construction nerd in me can’t help but draw the correlation between the retrofitted ballpark and stadium grounds and a now stymied wind pattern.
For all my millennials out there, did you know that once upon a time ago long before there ever was a behemoth of a jumbotron in left-centerfield, Slamming Sammy and Glenallen Hill used to routinely hit balls that rode the wave of an invisible jet stream on their way out to Waveland Avenue and beyond?
The Chili Effect
The nostalgia of a quaint old ballpark remains at the park thanks to tactful retrofitting but Wrigley itself now plays entirely different thanks to the many alterations which have normalized the ballparks, virtually eliminating the wind factor. You’re not alone if watching the Cubs offensive attack feels more like watching a game of pocket billiards.
I credit team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer for recognizing a new hitters mentality taking root in the game and approach would be needed in the new look Wrigley – hence the Chili Davis effect: a slap stick brand of offense rooted in the premise of driving the ball in the opposite direction.
When making a drastic shift from “chicks dig the long ball” one must understand that change doesn’t occur over night. The philosophical change the Cubs have made under Chili’s tutelage can best be described as a transition from forcing deep counts and waiting on the long ball, to pick one you like and poke it somewhere with authority.
This change has come with mixed results all season as the Cubs hitters have dogged the nine on more occasions than not – particularly of late. The residual benefits of the Chili effect should manifest itself completely next season, but for now, despite maintaining a wrangle hold on first place all season long the eye test just doesn’t look right for the 2018 Cubs.
Javy’s had one helluva season, but him aside who’s really hit the ball with authority throughout the majority of the season?
Certainly Jason Heyward has looked a ton better this season but a steady diet of power arms looms on the horizon come October and Heyward’s track record with ace pitching has not proven itself favorable.
Mr. Ben Zobrist, ever the consummate professional, has embraced change this season by making a few subtle tweaks at the plate to get back on his Ginsu knife slick, but where’s the rest of the thump?
Where Have You Gone, Kris Bryant?
The chase for proverbial launch angle perfection has finally caught up with Kris Bryant this season – who at 6-foot-5 places considerable stress on his lead shoulder with his upward swing. Not to say an injury was bound to happen, but the timing couldn’t be worse to have an injury-riddled season overtake your best hitter.
And then there’s Kyle Schwarber. The now svelte version of Schwarbino put on quite the display during this year’s home run derby but the big homie has looked bad chasing the high heat all season long.
We’re approaching the final 30-day stretch of the season and at this stage the Cubs’ best chance at resuscitating the offense for an October run may have just arrived in the form of former nemesis, who provides just what the team needs at the top of the order.
Dan The Man
Murphy has already ingratiated himself with the boys, fitting in as a fellow baseball rat. He’s enough of an OG veteran to not rock the boat too much down a pivotal stretch and he has the exact approach needed to consistently set the table via a prototype Chili Davis swing tailor made for October.
The self-described gap hitter has benefited from fair share of long balls at Wrigley, but the reality of the matter is Murphy is not a power hitter – he’s a line to line guy who’s at his best when he’s spraying the ball to the alleys.
With a NL Central still up in the air and the Cubs infield riddled with injuries and inconsistencies, I expect Maddon to lean heavily on his vets down the stretch as the Cubs come out of American Legion week mode and transition to September call-ups.
As Chicagoans, we all know our rats love to dwell in the alleys. With Murphy now playing the role of the new “mister you-go, we-go” hopefully we’ll see him jump-start the attack down the stretch, leading this year’s band of baseball rats in the chase for the cheese that finds the hole.
Live it, breath it, smell it — the hunt for another Cubbie blue October is coming.
Follow Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under Regal Radio; Sean Terry is a co-founder of We Are Regal Radio