Here are four takeaways from the Chicago Cubs’ four-game weekend series against the Cincinnati Reds, which the teams split 2-2.
1. Jose Martinez will give the Cubs roster a caffeinated jolt.
In addition to hitting left-handed pitchers, newcomer Jose Martinez is a coffee aficionado.
Martinez — nicknamed “Cafecito,” or “little coffee,” since his youth in Venezuela — embarked on a coffee venture before the 2019 season when he was with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Like his new teammate Ian Happ, Martinez — whom the Cubs acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday — has earmarked a portion of sales of his coffee to charity.
“I’m sure we’ll be comparing notes,” Happ said. “I have not tried his coffee yet. I learned about it for the first time last year, and I know he gives back (to charity) and it’s a very cool project he has.
“I’m sure we’ll compare notes on our love of coffee and (I) look forward to having him here.”
Martinez partnered with Texas-based roaster Primos to develop his brand of coffee, grown in Nicaragua and named “Cafecito #38.”
“I’ve heard nothing but great things about him,” Happ said. “He loves coffee, so I love him.”
Happ embarked on his coffee venture, “Quarantine Coffee,” this spring to provide aid to COVID-19 patients. Martinez’s coffee raises funds for children’s hospitals.
2. Yu Darvish is limiting left-handed hitters’ power.
As dominant as Yu Darvish was during the second half of 2019, he has improved in one area: limiting damage by left-handed hitters, who are batting .208 against him in 96 at-bats.
Darvish has allowed only four extra-base hits to lefties for a .281 slugging percentage. That’s a dramatic improvement over last season, when lefties batted .243 against him with a .465 slugging percentage.
Darvish allowed 25 extra-base hits, including 19 home runs, to lefties last season.
He has allowed only home run to a left-handed hitter this year: Justin Smoak of the Milwaukee Brewers on Aug. 13.
“I can tell my stuff is much sharper than last year,” Darvish said. “Especially the fastball is coming out (of my hand) well.”
3. Javier Baez’s strikeouts are piling up.
Javier Baez’s three-hit game Aug. 24 in Detroit was in the middle of a six-game hitting streak and inspired belief that his woes were over.
But Baez has regressed since, going hitless in 11 at-bats with eight strikeouts against the Reds.
Baez’s 37.9% strikeout rate in 124 at-bats isn’t as severe as his 44.6% rate during his rookie season in 2013. But for a player of his talents and experience, this is alarming.
The decision to insert Ian Happ at the leadoff spot after Kris Bryant’s left hand injury was a no-brainer, based on Happ’s maturation as a hitter since losing the leadoff duties in 2018.
But Baez’s struggles, combined with the addition of Jose Martinez and the likely return of Bryant, might lead manager David Ross to consider other options for the third spot.
4. The Cubs bullpen remains in flux.
The signing of A.J. Ramos to a minor-league contract comes at a very low risk, and his experience at the end of games can’t hurt.
David Ross’ decision to employ a closer by committee looks better in the wake of Craig Kimbrel’s bout with wildness and the unavailability of Jeremy Jeffress in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader after he threw 16 pitches in the first game.
Ross and others have mentioned how strange this truncated season has been, and there’s no need to stick with a traditional closer as long as the bullpen is finding ways to get outs.
Ryan Tepera was trending well until he failed to keep Wednesday’s game in Detroit close, and he walked three with a five-run lead in the seventh inning Sunday and needed second baseman Nico Hoerner to make a diving catch to prevent damage.
Look for the bullpen to have a revolving door in the next week as the Cubs try to find the most reliable combination entering the final four weeks.
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