Baseball

Ah yes, spring is in the air and the days are getting longer. That means baseball is just around the corner — tomorrow, in fact. The Cubs are opening their season against the Pittsburgh Pirates and the 162-game march to October commences.

Everyone knows the rule that you can’t put too much stock on how players are doing during spring training, but that’s exactly what we’re gonna do here. The Cubs have been busy playing a month’s worth of spring training games to prepare for this season. Some players have looked good, some have looked bad. Some have looked healthy, some have been injured. Let’s break down the starter’s roster so you know what’s going on when the Cubs take the field, assuming you’re watching.

Starting Pitchers
Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, Zach Davies, Trevor Williams, Adbert Alzolay

Ready to watch fastballs that aren’t really fast at all this season? Of course you are, you’re a Cubs fan.

Old faithful Kyle Hendricks will get the Opening Day start now that Jon Lester has moved on. While Yu Darvish was getting all the glory last season, Hendricks was another pitcher that the Cubs could rely on. Last season he had a 2.88 ERA, a shutout, and allowed 26 runs, all of them earned. His spring training numbers are a bit uglier; he had a 6.39 ERA but had two wins. He will be our best starter this season.

Jake Arrieta hopes to rekindle what he once was in his glory years with the Cubs, and Ross seems to trust that he will be better this year. He had a pretty average spring training, with a 4.08 ERA over 5 starts, allowing 19 hits and 8 runs during that span. Baseball Reference projects him to have a 4.67 ERA this season; though not stellar, that would likely be an improvement on his 2020 season and look similarly to his 2019 season with the Phillies.

Adbert Alzolay has also been a part of Rossy’s fan club. He has the fastest fastball of anyone at this team, clocking in at an average of 95 mph, which he throws about half the time. He also enjoys his slider, which he throws 40% of the time. This is a big season for Alzolay, as he is going from 4 starts last year (and 2 the year before that) to being one of the more regular starters. Can he hold up having 10, 15, 20, maybe eventually 30 starts a year? We are all about to find out together.

Bullpen
Craig Kimbrel, Brandon Workman, Andrew Chafin, Rex Brothers, Ryan Tepera, Jason Adam, Dan Winkler, Dillon Maples, Alec Mills

We’ve got some injuries in this area, as Rowan Wick and Jonathan Holder will not be ready to start the season. Wick was one of the best relievers on the Cubs last season with a 3.12 ERA across 19 appearances, so hopefully he will feel better soon. He has been working out with the team and “slowly returning to baseball activities.” Holder took some time off for a chest issue during spring training but is also getting back to throwing. He will likely start on the 10-day injured list this season.

If you’ve been kept awake at night this offseason wondering whether or not Craig Kimbrel will be a good closer in 2021, I am truly not sure what to tell you. He was injured/awful for most of last season until he got hot for the last month of it all. Now he’s back to letting 40% of the batters he faces get on base. And he has a 12.15 ERA in 7 games this spring training. But remember, spring training tells you nothing. Let’s try not to put too much stock into it. …Right?

Rex Brothers, a non-roster invitee, has found the good side of Rossy, even with his 8.10 ERA over three games played last season. He has been good during spring training, however. He played in 9 different games and has a 0.00 ERA over spring training. Let’s be cautiously optimistic?

Dillon Maples kind of sucked during spring training, but what else is new? He pitched 10.1 innings and allowed 8 hits and 9 runs, 6 of them earned. He has issues with control and seems to easily go from an 0-2 count at bat to walking the batter thanks to a HBP. In two appearances last season he gave up 1 hit and 3 runs for an 18.00 ERA. Ross says he’s throwing more strikes and will continue to improve.

Fielders
Anthony Rizzo, David Bote, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Joc Pederson, Ian Happ, Jason Heyward

This team needs to be nails defensively thanks to this wacky bullpen we are throwing in front of them. Luckily, defense is what the Cubs do well, most of the time.

I’m honestly not hating this outfield lineup at all. So far, Joc Pederson has been ripping it up offensively in camp, leading the entire team in hits with 17 and home runs with 8. If he continues go off like this during the season, he will be a great Schwarber replacement. Ian Happ also had a nice spring training, with 44 at bats, 14 hits, 15 runs, 2 homers, and a 1.002 OPS. Jason Heyward, not the player of yore, had 10 hits, 8 runs, and a .729 OPS, but hey, maybe those numbers will improve during the season.

Thought you’d be seeing Nico Hoerner at 2nd this season? You are incorrect. IT IS DAVID BOTE’S TIME, so he will be starting the season with the club. Expect Hoerner to come back up from minors regularly if anyone gets injured or things go sideways. The good news is that Hoerner crushed it during spring training, and Bote wasn’t too shabby himself. Hoerner had 16 hits over spring training and 2 homers for a 1.055 OPS. Bote had 14 hits, 3 homers, 7 runs and a .990 OPS. Neither of these numbers are bad. I think we have two great second basemen this season.

For some reason, the Ricketts family is not negotiating with face of the entire damned team, Anthony Rizzo, for a contract extension. Because reasons. Because money. Because the literal billionaire Ricketts family does not have money to sign an extension. Remind me why I watch this team again?

We’re all breathing a sigh of relief that Willson Contreras is still on this team. He is a rare catcher who is productive on offense and defense. He was also one of the better players at the plate for the Cubs last season, leading the team in runs scored and second only to Happ in hits.

Javier Baez is supposed to improve on this season now that he has the all-important video review at his disposal, but so far his spring training results are a little…meh. He did hit 2 homers, but he only had 9 hits in 52 plate appearances, making for a .184 batting average. Hopefully he figures it out and fast, because it’s a contract year, my friend.

I’d talk to you about Kris Bryant but he’ll be dealt by the end of this season anyway.

Bench
Eric Sogard, Jake Marisnick, Matt Duffy, and NEW SIGNING Tony Wolters

With Victor Caratini going the way of the western wind with our beloved Yu Darvish, the backup catcher role became whoever’s for the taking. Austin Romine, the veteran catcher, is currently sidelined with a knee injury (a recurring knee injury, so buckle up, everyone). We all assumed it would be PJ Higgins as the backup catcher while we wait for Romine to get better, but then just hours ago the Cubs announced the signing of catcher Tony Wolters, recently of Rockies fame.

Wolters’ numbers from last season kind of suck, but it seems like most teams are throwing those stats away and chalking them up to a weird year. He only had 10 hits all year with the Rockies for a .230 batting average. However, the rumor is Wolters is pretty good defensively, which is probably why the Cubs snatched him up. We love defense here, don’tcha know. His caught stealing rate is 32.8% lifetime, which is above the 27% league average. We’ll see how he fares as our backup.

Additionally, Jake Marisnick is an outfielder who, though missed some of spring training with an injury, came back and hit four home runs in only eight Cactus League games. Eric Sogard is a utility player who had 12 hits during spring training, along with a homer, for a .375 batting average. Maybe he can continue his hitting so his batting average improves on his abysmal .209 number with the Brewers last season season. Finally, Matt Duffy is another utility player who didn’t even play in the 2020 season. In fact, the 2018 season was his last season with major playing time, where he had a .294 batting average. He also has a track record of reliable defensive prowess, so hopefully that continues with the Cubs.

The season starts tomorrow. Check back to this glorious website after every Cubs series to get my thoughts on what’s going on. And if the Cubs bore you and you want to enjoy some exciting baseball, you can always turn on the Padres and root for Yu Darvish. Go Cubs go!

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Phillies 4, Cubs 2

Game 2 Box Score: Phillies 11, Cubs 1

Game 3 Box Score: Phillies 7, Cubs 5

If you’ve come here for a rant and rave…well, you might get one. I’m not sure. I don’t really plan on it, but it might just happen. Once you start talking about this team, the anger and bile just tend to flow.

Let’s get one thing straight, no matter what you’re thinking about Joe Maddon, any selection of brain-addled morons should be able to get six outs with a five-run lead. I was actually with Joe after seven, thinking that pulling Yu there with an extra day of rest will leave him full tank for his next couple starts after that. And hey, it’s five runs. If you think he should have left Yu in for the 8th, I don’t think you’re wrong. There shouldn’t be a wrong answer, because it’s a five-run lead with six outs to go. There are tons of ways to get those.

The one problem I would point out is that once you hit Kemp for Darvish, then he should stay in the game. He’s your best second baseman defensively, and that’s what matters. Happ has no range and no hands. I don’t want to get too upset with Bote, because he’s not really supposed to play short but has to once a blue moon.

So yeah, I’m not advocating for him to be on the team ever again, but all those who kept wailing about why Addison Russell was still playing even though he was going up to the plate with a toothbrush, it’s defense. He was good at second, despite the errors you remember and were looking for. It’s hard to remember too many other games that the Cubs lost because they were simply bad defensively, but aside from mistakes. Sure, they’ve made errors and bad decisions, but that came from everyone. Just being unable to actually play the position…well here you go.

And Joe even has his hands tied with the pen. Kyle Ryan and Rowan Wick have probably the ones you can count on most there lately. They couldn’t get it done. Now you’re into the clown’s mouth, literally. Strop’s fastball has been missing to arm-side all season, and he had no business trying to throw it inside because of that. He doesn’t have the control. Start it above the zone in the middle. But no, that’s too simple.

Six outs. Anyone should get six outs with five runs to play with. You have to actually work to blow that. And all the Cubs did.

As for the rest, I’ve seen enough of Albert Almora Jr. for my life. Tuesday’s loss pivoted on him trying to yank another hairball that human sweat-stain Jason Vargas coughed at the outside corner, when it’s all he can do. Almora shouldn’t be playing, which is weird to write after just complaining about the defense. He can play late in games then, but Happ’s bat is probably more needed, especially with Heyward and Baez at least ailing.

You have to do better than two runs off Jason Vargas, with his jersey yellowing by the third inning. Is that on Joe? Can they blame another hitting coach? Or maybe it’s that Theo and Jed filled out the lineup with players who aren’t any good? Just a hunch.

I thought about writing something today about the home and road splits, except on the ground it’s basically the starters have been much better at home than the road, and Wrigley has played to the pitchers more this year. That’s the big number you see. They score the same amount of runs, basically. The bullpen sucks just about anywhere. So whatever.

Still, maybe it’s because they lose on the road all the time now, but maybe it’s because they just don’t like being around each other. Sure feels that way. At home they get to go to their own homes. On the road they’re stuck with each other. But that’s a stretch. A guess. I don’t really know. No team looks like it’s having that much fun when they’re getting their dick kicked in on the road night after night.

The easy call is to say it’s Maddon’s fault. I don’t see it. I think this team is maxed out. He has had no bullpen to work with, whatever missteps there have been in games here and there strategically. Everyone he turns to out there is either terrible or hurt or both. I don’t know what he’s supposed to do.

Is it his fault that his starters seem to share the belt of “Tonight’s my night to get turned into dog vomit?” It seems like they do that at least once per turn through the rotation. It’s not his fault that he wasn’t provided any depth that this team had enjoyed the previous four seasons. You can blame the front office. You can blame ownership. They’re both at fault.

I would say one of Maddon’s strengths, and a bigger portion of a baseball manager’s job than we think, is to create a comfortable atmosphere and keep players loose. Well, the front office decided he can’t do that anymore, so what’s left? A bunch of players on edge with not enough talent to just stroll through the regular season and ease those fears through wins they just accrue because they’re that good. The talent base isn’t Maddon’s problem.

Me, I’m curious to see if this is the breaking point. If this is the finally the point in the season where someone like Rizzo or Bryant (not his style) or Baez (old enough?) closes the doors to the clubhouse and tells everyone to get their head out of their ass and start playing like it. Would it matter? With this pen in this condition? I guess we could find out. They can either look at this as the bottom and decide it’s time to knock it off, or they can use it as an excuse to quit.

But if they quit, it won’t be on Joe. At least not completely. It’ll lie with the front office that failed to buttress a roster that wasn’t the sure thing they wanted you to believe it was. A front office that bought into its own products far too much, and ones that haven’t helped. It’ll be the fault of ownership that for reasons they have yet to explain to anyone decided it couldn’t spend to secure the bullpen and maybe a bench player or two. And maybe the players that are here felt just a tiny bit abandoned by those above.

There’s been a malaise to this team. If you want to use those intangible reasons for tonight’s and this week’s performance, I won’t stop you. Or you can simply look at a pen that is missing its three top arms and simply doesn’t have enough after that. Maybe both are right.

Onwards…

 

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Cubs 12, Reds 5

Game 2 Box Score: Reds 5, Cubs 2

Game 3 Box Score: Reds 10, Cubs 1

Game 4 Boxscore: Cubs 6, Reds 3

Considering all that’s happened against the Reds this year, how annoying they’ve been, how every hitter turns into Barry McGwire Mays against the Cubs, I’m taking this split of four games and sprinting for the airport. Series wins against the Phillies and Pirates would mean a 6-4 roadtrip and yes I’ll have some of that. Sure, it’s still a below-.500 team and you’d like to think the Cubs will find the form to beat teams like that more routinely. But hey, when you get a boil off your ass you don’t really worry about how elegantly you did it.

The thing is it was so close to being better. There was a lot of people trying to remove their own tongues through their neck on Friday night, but if Javy Baez’s hard-hit grounder is two feet to either side of where it was it scores two and it’s 5-4 with no outs and two on. Shit happens sometimes. Sometimes Hendricks or any starter doesn’t have it on that day. You live with it, it’s just that there have been so many other boneheaded losses it gets harder to do.

Most of all, after I complained and moaned after St. Louis that the Cubs didn’t fight or scratch or claw their way back into ABs and games on the road, today they did. Hell, you could argue they did on Thursday too when Hamels gave up a big lead and they just poured it on some more. But today especially, against Luis Castillo-whom they weren’t really close to in the game’s first five innings–they took advantage of some lackadaisical location and selection and found a way back. Helps the Reds pen hasn’t been any good since the break, but you take it.

Oh, and they made Thom Brennaman cry. Good day all around.

Let’s…

-I thought Jon Lester had fucked it today, but that wasn’t totally fair. The 3-0 pitch to Eugenio Suarez wasn’t as bad as a I thought:

That’s more good hitting than bad pitching. He even tried to stay away from Apollo/Aries/Yahweh Aquino, and he still went outside the zone and got it. He kept it close enough, which after that outing on Tuesday is good enough for now.

The real upset was that the pen was flawless, with only one hit and one walk in four innings or work. They may have lucked into Rowan Wick, but he was the main star, going two innings and going through the meat of the Reds lineup to give Strop the easier part. He even figured out to give Aquino nothing below his nose or above his ankles.

-I kind of had it wrong all weekend on Aquino, too. He had a decent 7.9% BB-rate in the minors this year, so he’s not the hack-a-thon I thought/hoped he was. Still, when he’s raining fire down upon you, the Cubs could have figured out to not be over the plate as much if only to avoid damage. Then again, when you’re already down eight…

-Very weird start for Darvish, who gave up four runners all night and all of them scored. He didn’t get away with one mistake, which almost seems unfair. Have that start again and he might go eight shutout next time.

-I want to believe that this IL stint is the rest Cishek needs that Maddon would never give him, instead of the abusive use shredding the hip he’s already had surgery on before. That’s what I want to believe.

-I was just thinking to myself that with the ball being a Titleist, 22 homers for Bryant seemed a touch on the low-side. I’ll take the 23rd and shut up now. The Cubs are seriously just one Bryant binge away from hiding from the Brewers and Cardinals.

-And good on Joe for letting Mills take the last four innings in a blowout to not have to use anyone who will matter. That left Phelps, Wick, and Strop fresh for today. I still want to believe Maples will matter one day, but I’m probably the only one now.

-Y’know, if Ian Happ keeps hitting, it doesn’t really matter if Ben Zobrist makes it back or not.

-My one quarrel with Friday is that with two outs and Amir Garrett on the mound, one of the tougher lefties in the division, Schwarber shouldn’t be given that AB. I know that Bote or Almora is hardly a step up, but presumably Bote is still here because he might actually hit a lefty sometime. Fairly sure Schwarber won’t, especially in a clutch situation. Oh well.

Onwards…