A funny thing happened while Derek Jeter was on the disabled list with a calf injury, as the Yankees went 14-4 without him in the lineup and fill-in shortstop Eduardo Nunez hit .339 with a .906 OPS.
Jeter’s ongoing decline combined with Nunez’s impressive work in his absence has an awful lot of Yankees fans thinking ahead to the future of the shortstop position in New York, but before anyone gets too carried away allow me to burst a few bubbles: Nunez isn’t that great.
Sure, he’s 24 years old and played well in Jeter’s place, but youth and a nice two-week stretch does not a future star make. Prior to Nunez’s strong run filling in for Jeter he hit just .255 with a .293 on-base percentage and .355 slugging percentage in 63 games as a big leaguer and his minor-league track record isn’t a whole lot more encouraging.
Nunez has hit .274 with a .318 on-base percentage and .369 slugging percentage in 656 games as a minor leaguer, including .289 with a .340 OBP and .381 SLG in 118 games at Triple-A. That works out to a .687 OPS in the minors overall and a .721 OPS at Triple-A. Last year, in what was the worst season of his career, Jeter had a .710 OPS against big-league pitching.
Nunez has also flashed 20-steal speed and shown signs of improvement that you’d expect from a young player, but at 24 years old he’s not that young and there’s little in his track record to suggest an upside beyond “solid regular.” Obviously even “solid regular” is plenty valuable in a 24-year-old shortstop, but there’s also a strong chance Nunez tops out as “utility man.”
Either way, he’s far from the type of long-term solution optimistic Yankees fans started dreaming about during the past two weeks and may not even be good enough to eventually push Jeter off shortstop. Assuming, of course, that Jeter will some day cease playing shortstop for the Yankees. You know, in 2050 or so.
After 71 years, the Cubs are headed back to the Fall Classic.
The dominance with which Clayton Kershaw attacked the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS was nonexistent in Game 6 as the Dodgers’ ace loaded the bases to start the first inning and scattered five extra bases and five runs over five frames. By the time Dave Roberts pulled his starter in the sixth inning, Kershaw was sitting on a Game Score of 33, the lowest he’s mustered since the start of the 2015 season. Only one of his strikes came via curveball, and whether he was having difficulty locating his off-speed stuff or felt more confident with the fastball-slider combo, it was the fewest curves he’d seen land for strikes all year (per David Adler).
Where the Dodgers were able to give Kershaw the edge in Game 2, they found themselves powerless against opposing hurler Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks turned out 7 1/3 scoreless frames with two hits and six strikeouts, preserving the Cubs’ second shutout of the postseason and the first since they bested the Giants in Game 1 of the NLDS. After his 1-0 loss to the Dodgers early in the NLCS, seeing the MLB ERA leader turn out a gem was a relief for the Cubs, especially one as spectacular as an 88-pitch two-hitter.
With Hendricks effectively stymieing the Dodgers’ best attempts to get on base, the Cubs played to their strengths at the plate. Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist cleared the bases in the first inning for a two-run lead, followed by a Dexter Fowler RBI single in the second. Willson Contreras came through in the fourth inning for the Cubs, lifting an 87 m.p.h. slider to left field for his first home run of October, while Anthony Rizzo hit his second homer of the postseason on a 1-1 fastball in the fifth.
Neither bullpen allowed a single run from the sixth inning onward. Dodgers’ right-hander Kenley Jansen took the ball from Kershaw in the sixth, scattering four strikeouts over three innings and denying the Cubs so much as a single baserunner through the end of the game. Aroldis Chapman, meanwhile, issued just one walk in 1 1/3 scoreless frames, inducing a Yasiel Puig double play to clinch the Cubs’ 17th franchise pennant.
With the win, the Cubs will face off against the Indians in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday at 8 PM EDT. And, in case you needed a reminder:
So much for Clayton Kershaw posing a threat tonight. The Cubs got their knocks in early and often against the Dodgers’ ace during Game 6 of the NLCS, racking up three runs in the first three innings before rookie catcher Willson Contreras unleashed his first postseason home run in the bottom of the fourth inning.
According to MLB.com’s Phil Rogers, Contreras became the 10th Cub to homer in the 2016 playoffs, following big hits by Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant, Travis Wood, and Javier Baez. Of the ten home run hitters, Contreras joins catchers David Ross and Miguel Montero as yet another backstop capable of driving the long ball (and, less importantly, as another player capable of a sweet, sweet bat flip).
Rizzo, whose last homer was a deep drive to right field off of Los Angeles right-hander Pedro Baez in Game 4 of the NLCS, piled on Kershaw’s five-run outing with another home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. Kershaw called it a night after five frames, and the Cubs currently lead the Dodgers 5-0 in the sixth inning.