ESPN Sunday Night Baseball play-by-play commentator Dan Shulman talked Chicago Cubs baseball with us last night, previewing tonight’s matchup on Sunday night Baseball between the Cubs and Astros. We discussed the matchup between Jake Arrieta and Mike Fiers on the mound, the productivity of the Cubs bats in the September and much more.
I had the privilege of talking about the Chicago Cubs with a fellow Canadian like myself, play-by-play commentator Dan Shulman from ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. He’s been working with ESPN since 1995 and has been on the Sunday Night Baseball crew since 2011. He hails from Toronto and also does play by play for Blue Jays games as well. Shulman is also the lead voice in NCAA college basketball for ESPN.
Quinn Allen: So tomorrow’s start for Arrieta will be sort of a homecoming for him since he does live in Austin and went to school down the road at TCU. He’s been pretty dominant since the break, and a majority of the Astros lineup has never faced him. Jake Marisnick and Colby Rasmus are the only ones who have and didn’t do much off him. Do you think he will continue to do well or do you think the Astros lineup can square him up a bit?
Dan Shulman: Well I think he’s been good, but he hasn’t been dominating lately. He’s on a couple extra days rest and I think that’s intentional, they moved him behind Lackey so I think they want to give him a little more rest and have him as fresh as possible for the playoffs. I’m not much into the prediction business but I think he’s been pitching well but I think they’re hoping to get him back to the level he’s showed at times over the last couple of years and with the extra rest I imagine he will come out and be very strong so I think it’s got a chance to be a very good outing for him.
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QA: So the Cubs haven’t been raking like they were. They’re only hitting just over .200 in the month of September, but they are still winning ball games thanks to good defense and great pitching. They will be facing Mike Fiers has been pretty shaky his last couple starts, and isn’t an overpowering guy. But like we saw today with Collin McHugh, he held them to just one run and he’s the same kind of guy on the mound, not overpowering. Majority of the Cubs lineup has never faced Fiers, either. How do you think they will do against him tomorrow night?
DS: Well, in general, they’re not swinging the bats all that well right now. Fiers aside, I think if I’m a Cubs fan there’s a lot more to be excited about then nervous about this year but the fact that they haven’t been scoring a lot of runs lately would make me a little bit nervous. The Cubs are 0-for-15 in the series with runners in scoring position, and the pitching has been great but if they’re going to win the World Series, and they certainly have a great chance to, they’re going to have to start moving runners around and driving guys in a little bit better than they have so they’ve still got time, baseball is a long season and you always have your peaks and valleys but right now to me that’s a bit of a red flag to me about the Cubs.
QA: I agree. They’re going to have to start driving guys in, especially coming into postseason play. OK, so just a couple questions about the Cubs in general. So I started writing for Cubbies Crib about a month ago, and I’ve written articles about how important it is to have guys on the Cubs roster that are so versatile, and can play so many different positions. Not many teams in the big leagues have players that are able to play so many different positions at any given time. It’s clearly a huge benefit to the Cubs. How important do you think that is to have guys that are able to do this?
DS: I think it’s huge. It gives Joe Maddon the ability to put the eight guys in the game that he wants in the game. He can move Zobrist around, he can move Bryant around, he can move Baez around, he can move Contreras around, so he can always play the match-ups. If he wants to sit Heyward against a lefty he can put Zobrist in right and put Baez at second. If Contreras is catching, he can put Bryant in left, and uh move people around, whatever he wants to do. So I think it’s one of the best things about the Cubs. I mean obviously their talent is great, but I think their versatility always ensures that they’re going to have the right guys in the right places and have some good match-ups.
QA: I totally agree. That just comes down to having true athletes on the team. So with the pitching rotation, they’ve been really good this year I mean they all have ERA’s under four. How about Kyle Hendricks, I mean in an age where most guys are throwing mid to high 90’s then he comes in and he only throws in the high 80’s but he relies on command, and mixing up his pitching, and the movement on his fastballs, what do you think has been a big part of his success other than that this year?
DS: Well, you just named all the things that have been a big part of his success. So I mean he locates very well, he’s got a very good changeup, very good sinker he gets a lot of groundballs, he keeps the ball down. When he leaves the ball up, he’s going to get hit but he keeps the ball down, I think he’s a very intelligent pitcher so he doesn’t fall into any patterns, he keeps hitters guessing, and I just think its classic pitching.
Locating, changing speeds and messing up the timing of the hitter. He’s had an amazing year, I don’t think anybody could have predicted that he would be this good but uh it’s fun to watch when a guy throws 88 can have this kind of success and to know that you don’t have to throw 98 so I like watching him pitch because he’s not just rearing back and firing, he’s thinking and executing and following a game plan.
QA: I know you usually see guys winning the Cy Young that can hit the mid 90’s and have astounding strikeout numbers. Hendricks is in that talk right now to win it with his ERA being just over two, do you think he has a good chance to win it despite the lack of strikeouts?
DS: I think he has a chance, I mean his ERA is way better than anyone else, I think he has a chance. He doesn’t have quite the innings pitched then some of the other guys have, I mean you look at Max Scherzer, he’s thrown 35 to 40 more innings than Hendricks has, but as a voter that would mean something to me. I think he’s got a chance. Bumgarner has a chance, I think Scherzer has a chance, I mean you never know if Arrieta runs the table maybe he has a chance. I think it’s wide open right now, to be honest with you. Syndergaard, I think there are a lot of different guys who have a chance. I think the innings might hurt him a little, but the ERA will help him, but either way he’s in the conversation.
QA: So we know the Cubs have a lot of young players, several guys who are in their early 20’s. They have contributed to this team in a big way this year. A few of them had the playoff experiences last year like Baez, and Russell, and Bryant, and Schwarber, even though he’s hurt now, but how big was that to have them experience the postseason and know what it’s like already coming into a year where they are favorites to win it all?
DS: I mean, it can only help. I also think picking up a guy like Lackey who has a ton of experience, I mean when you have Lester and Lackey and Chapman obviously, I mean they got young guys, they got veterans, it can only help. I mean I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary, when the Angels won the World Series in 2002, 24 of their 25 players had never played in the playoffs before that year so you can overcome it but no question about it, the fact that they were able to beat the Cardinals in the playoffs last year then losing to the Mets in the NLCS, just about everyone on this team has been through it before and I think they have the best of both worlds. They got young guys with a lot of experience, that’s exactly what you want then you sprinkle in some veterans like Lackey, and Lester, and David Ross of course. So they’ve got everything. They are the best team in baseball, that’s not to say they’re going to win the World Series because it doesn’t always work that way but there’s very little not to like about the Cubs this year.
QA: Well thanks, Dan, I really appreciate this and good luck with everything.
DS: My pleasure. You too.