Houston Astros Photo Day

The Astros cut Jack Cust. This is important. This means something.


Normally I wouldn’t even write about a bad-defense marginal outfielder being cut in late March, but with Jack Cust — who the Astros just cut — I feel differently.

That’s partially because of the deal he got. Rather than a minor league deal with a spring invite, Cust actually got a one-year deal with an option (it was initially reported as a two-year deal, which caused everyone to freak out). For a guy as ineffective as he had been, and with his negative defensive value, it was odd for an NL team to guarantee him anything, even if was only around $350,000. UPDATE: I was wrong. He wasn’t guaranteed anything. My bad. Still reflecting the confusion about it from the time he signed. The point still stands that it was odd for an NL team to sign him. Anyway:

But the bigger reason I note what is likely the end of the major league road for Mr. Cust is because he represented something more than just what kind of player he is in 2012.  He was … an old flame.

I wrote about this once, many years ago, when he went on a mini-rampage after being called up by the Athletics in 2007.  It was a nice little moment for statheads, because Cust had been something of a poster boy for them/us.

Circa 2001-02, there was no doubt in our minds that he was an All-Star in the making. His triple-A numbers in the Diamondbacks’ systerm were pretty astounding, and he was the epitome of take-and-rake baseball that was then so in vogue.  This was before “Moneyball” was published, mind you, so we all thought we were really onto something new that no one knew anything about. Hipster sabermetrics, if you will.

But then he cratered. He got three whole plate appearances with Arizona. Then he went to Colorado, where folks figured he’d flourish, but he was awful.  In 2003 he got a chance with Baltimore. He had a superficially good season in 2003 — he walked a lot and had power as he always did — but he usually looked awful in a major league uniform, with his vaunted patience at the plate being accompanied by a seeming timidity. A high-profile baserunning mishap that year — Cust fell down twice between third and home in the 12th inning, costing the Orioles the game — sealed his public fate as a one-dimensional DH in a game that would soon change to not favor that dimension as much as it once had. He spent 2004-2006 almost exclusively in the minors, his prospect status transforming into “organizational soldier” mode.

Then 2007 happened. The A’s signed him up and he went crazy, hitting six homers and fourteen RBI in his first seven games. As I wrote at the time, it was like seeing that train wreck of a girl you messed around with a few years ago, only this time she seemed to have it together. Probably still bad news, but man, it was nice to see her. And to see her looking so good.

Cust spent the next few years being Jack Cust. Walking a lot. Mashing a lot. Posting low averages and striking out a lot while providing no defensive value. Even as sabermetrics became more sophisticated, with speed and defense becoming more obviously valuable, there was part of me that felt like Cust was carrying some sort of torch, honoring the Roberto Petagenies, Hee Seop Chois and Erubiel Durazos of the world who didn’t get the shot at redemption Cust got.

It had to end eventually, though. Cust’s power has declined. He can still take a walk, but there usually isn’t any room on a roster for a guy whose only skill is plate patience. Cust is 33 now. He’s not going to suddenly learn how to play left field. He probably has a few triple-A years left in the tank, but it’d be shocking if he showed up on a major league roster again.

But for a stathead of a certain age, Jack Cust’s name will always resonate a little more than your average minor league veteran’s will.  He meant something at one time. Maybe not as much as we thought he did — and maybe in some ways our fixation on him and his ilk kept us from understanding certain things earlier — but we’ll always have feelings for him and will always wish him well.

The Cubs clinch World Series berth with NLCS Game 6 win

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  The Chicago Cubs celebrate defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 in game six of the National League Championship Series to advance to the World Series against the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
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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:

Video: Willson Contreras blasts first postseason home run off of Kershaw

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  Willson Contreras #40 of the Chicago Cubs celebrates after hitting a solo home run in the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game six of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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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.