Cool, collected Wade Davis visualizing championship clincher for Cubs
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Contrary to appearances, Wade Davis isn’t made of stone.
Oh, the Cubs’ closer is stoic on the mound. Generally expressionless. Seemingly unflappable. Presumably, these traits might help a guy go 20-for-20 in save opportunities as the 31-year-old Davis has done in his first season with the team.
It definitely hasn’t been as easy as it has looked.
“When I’m out there,” he said, “I’m not calm inside. I work hard to stay focused and give my teammates my best that day, but inside it’s always a struggle.”
For all the talk about what these Cubs need for the stretch run — a starting pitcher, a proven reliever, a backup catcher — just imagine where they’d be if their only All-Star weren’t “perfect” in save opportunities. Heading into a weekend series in Milwaukee, they’d surely be looking up, not down, at the Brewers in the National League Central standings.
By the way, the quotation marks around “perfect” are because Davis considers the use of the word in his case utterly ridiculous.
“I don’t know what that even means,” he said. “It really has nothing to do with what I’m doing.”
That’s especially true during this middle third of the season, the period that tends to give Davis — whether he shows it or not — the most trouble.
“There’s always times in the middle of the season where there’s dead arm, or your command goes weird, and you’re starting to have some self-doubt,” he said. “The middle of the year is always a little bit of a grind.”
To get through it, Davis — smiling as he admits this — occasionally indulges himself by daydreaming. What of? What else? Standing tall on the mound, gripping the ball, tuning out a frantic crowd and delivering a pitch that sets off a championship celebration.
It’s the same daydream Davis had as a kid in Lake Wales, Florida, and that he got to live with the Royals in 2015, when he closed out the American League Championship Series and the World Series. When he retired the Blue Jays’ final batter, he threw his glove into the air and jumped into the arms of catcher Salvador Perez. When he crushed the Mets’ final hopes, he again sent glove flying, thrust his arms high and jumped into the arms of catcher Drew Butera.
Be advised, Willson Contreras: Davis has been daydreaming about you.
“I was just thinking about that the other day, for the first time, to be honest,” he said. “You’ve got to envision something like that sometimes in order to be successful when you do get there, so it doesn’t smack you right in the face.”
Typically, Davis has been at his best and most locked in late in seasons. He’s confident that’ll be the case in August and September and, if all goes well, for weeks beyond that.
“Unless I suck this year,” he said.
That line came with a wry grin. Wade Davis, worried? Not a chance.
On to the rest of this week’s One Through Nine:
2. Just how bad are the Brewers, anyway? They’ve lost nine of their last 11 games — none more embarrassing than Thursday’s 15-2 demolition at the hands of the Nationals, who homered six times off starter Michael Blazek and eight times in all.
Even John Lackey had a good chuckle at that one.
3. Wait a minute: Aren’t these the same Brewers who’ve beaten the Cubs nine times in the teams’ last 16 meetings? That dates back to last September, when the Brewers went 5-2 against the eventual World Series champs.
“I think they’re really good,” Cubs shortstop Addison Russell said. “They’ve got a great infield and a fast outfield. They can thump a little bit. They play good, aggressive baseball. They’re not afraid of making plays. They’re not afraid to make mistakes. And I would say the same things about us.”
4. Hat tip to the estimable Gordon Wittenmyer, who points out that Cubs starting pitchers are a combined 9-0 with a 2.50 ERA since the All-Star break going into Thursday. And they need to trade for another arm why?
5. Remember Dexter Fowler? Way back in 2016, he hit leadoff for the Cubs and led them in on-base percentage at .393. Well, guess who was at .393 entering Thursday’s series finale against the White Sox?
Pat yourself on the back if you said Jon Jay.
It just so happens that Jay has done his best work this season in the Nos. 8 and 9 spots in the order and has only a .280 OBP when batting leadoff. Purely coincidental, people. Jay is the obvious answer to the seasonlong question about who should lead off for this team — against righties, that is.
6. The Cubs’ OBP leader? None other than Kris Bryant at .398. It’s a career high — not bad for a guy who supposedly is having a so-so season.
7. The quote of the week, courtesy of Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta: “We expect to remain in first place throughout the remainder of the way.”
8. Not to make Sox fans all misty-eyed, but Boston’s Chris Sale leads the AL in wins (13), ERA (2.37), innings (148 1/3), strikeouts (211) and WHIP (0.88). Other than that, he has been terrible. Seriously, give him the Cy Young Award right now.
9. Dodgers superstar pitcher Clayton Kershaw missed 10 weeks last season with a herniated disk in his back, returning to make five starts — the last four in dominant form — heading into the playoffs. Now Kershaw finds himself on the DL with a lower-back strain and hoping for a similarly successful comeback.
It’s amazing how different the situations are, though. When Kershaw went out a year ago, the Dodgers were eight games in back of the first-place Giants. Who could’ve seen their 38-24 run without him, and NL West title, coming? This time, the Dodgers have a double-digit lead in the division. If they falter even without the greatest pitcher in baseball, it’ll be an all-time shocker.
Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.