1. “Hello, this is Theo Epstein. I’d like Brian Cashman’s extension, please.” On the surface, Chicago Cubs closer Hector Rondon has been one of baseball’s best relievers. Among those with at least 25 innings, he has allowed the third-lowest OPS, ranks 12th in strikeout rate and owns the fifth-lowest walk rate. He’s good! He has given up only seven runs. The concern: his record in close games. Here’s what has happened when he enters in one-run or tie games:
April 19 at Cardinals: Save
April 26 vs. Brewers: Save
May 1 vs. Braves: Tie game, loss
May 18 at Brewers: Tie game, scoreless inning, no decision
May 25 at Cardinals: Save
June 14 at Nationals: Blown save but gets the win
June 15 at Nationals: Blown save, Cubs eventually lose in 12
June 18 vs. Pirates: Save
June 24 at Marlins: Save
July 7 vs. Braves: Blown save, Cubs eventually lose in 11
July 10 at Pirates: Save
July 19 vs. Mets: Tie score, loss
In 12 appearances, he has four blown saves and two losses, including on Tuesday when Rene Rivera blooped the go-ahead single to right field for a 2-1 New York Mets lead (which Jeurys Familia then locked up after escaping a no-out, bases-loaded jam against the Cubs for the second time this season).
For Rondon, that’s a 50 percent failure rate in the tightest of games. That’s not going to cut it as a playoff closer. To me, the ultimate mark of a closer is how he fares in one-run games. Rondon has yet to prove — despite his otherwise dominant numbers — that he’s a pitcher to trust in those games. That doesn’t mean he won’t be perfect in one-run save opportunities the rest of the way, but it does open the door for the Cubs to acquire Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller from the New York Yankees, and justify making them the closer and using Rondon in the eighth inning. Removing a closer can be a delicate situation — witness what happened last year to Drew Storen when he was excelling as the closer when the Nationals acquired Jonathan Papelbon and Storen proceeded to blow several games in the eighth — but if anyone knows how to handle a player, it would be Joe Maddon.
Reports surfaced that the Yankees want Kyle Schwarber as part of a potential Chapman/Miller trade. Follow-up reports suggested that the Cubs won’t trade Schwarber, even if it means acquiring a lesser reliever. We’ll see what happens.
The Cubs lost 3 straight Jake Arrieta starts for the first time since he joined team and 3 straight Arrieta starts vs Mets (inc postseason)
— ESPN Stats Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 20, 2016
2. Joey Votto is OK. Votto through May 29: .207/.330/.367. Offense was up, but last year’s third-place finisher in the MVP vote was hitting like Todd Benzinger. Votto since May 30: .345/.484/.585. The Reds lost 5-4 to the Braves in 11 innings, but Votto went 2-for-2 with three walks, boosting his season OBP over .400. He now ranks third in the National League behind Matt Carpenter and Paul Goldschmidt, and given that Votto went on a similar tear in the second half last year, it wouldn’t surprise me if Votto ends up leading the NL in OBP for the fifth time in his career.
Joey Votto now has a higher AVG, higher OBP, more extra base hits, hits, doubles, and runs scored than Bryce Harper.
— Wick Terrell (@wickterrell) July 19, 2016
3. Jameson Taillon is OK and we’re happy about that. See, this happened, which is a video of Taillon getting struck in the head by a 105-mph line drive. Remarkably, he remained in the game and gave up only one run in six innings, although a blown save cost him the win. The Pirates did score in the bottom of the ninth to pull out the victory anyway.
— Pirates (@Pirates) July 20, 2016
Not exactly how I imagined today going when I got out of bed. But going to bed feeling extremely lucky. Thanks to everyone who reached out
— Jameson Taillon (@JTaillon19) July 20, 2016
4. Mike Napoli has 21 home runs. Did you expect this? I did not expect this. His home run Tuesday came against Kansas City Royals lefty Brian Flynn in the Cleveland Indians’ 7-3 win, but a key to his season has been good numbers against righties. After hitting .191/.283/.320 against right-handers in 2015, Napoli looked as if he was entering the platoon-only phase of his career. But he’s hitting .243/.327/.494 this season, giving Cleveland a consistent power threat in the middle of the lineup. At $7 million, he has been one of the top free agent bargains.
— Miami Marlins (@Marlins) July 20, 2016
5. More Miami Marlins magic. Are you feeling the Marlins? I’m starting to feel the Marlins after their second extra-inning win in two days. Christian Yelich — by the way, he’s having some kind of underrated season with a .318/.396/.481 line — drove in both runs with a home run and 10th-inning single as the Marlins have won seven of their past eight to climb nine games over .500. A.J. Ramos converted his 31st save in 32 chances, one reason the Marlins are 14-8 in one-run games (the Cubs, by the way are 11-15 and the Cardinals are 7-16). The addition of Fernando Rodney has added depth in front of Ramos and if they find rotation help at the trade deadline, they’re going to stay in this wild-card race. How about Jose Fernandez versus Clayton Kershaw as a potential wild-card matchup?