The Rundown: Hope Springs Eternal, Cubs Set To Defend Central Division, Schwarber and Contreras Ready To Go

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast; Man never is, but always to be blessed: The soul, uneasy and confined from home, Rests and expatiates in a life to come.” – Alexander Pope

We’re all ready for Opening Day, yes? Even Alex Cobb, if he ever finds a job. Well, maybe not Cobb. Add Greg Holland, too.

Yesterday gave us a glimpse of spring in Chicago with temperatures that exceeded 60 degrees. Like every other dad in my neighborhood, I spent the day de-winterizing the car and talking baseball with those who had similar to-do lists. Invariably, the conversations turned to the potential of this year’s team and remembrances of when Opening Day was the only day of the season worth getting excited about.

It used to be that we were conditioned for the inevitable heartbreak every season, no matter how good or bad that season’s team was. We watched with envy while fans of other teams celebrated championships: The Marlins in 1997 and 2003; the Red Sox in 2004, 2007, and 2013; the White Sox in 2005.

Cubs culture has changed. The team once known as the “Lovable Losers” has seen a complete transformation since 2015. Three consecutive NLCS appearances, including their World Series championship in 2016, have turned a baseball club once plagued by more than their fair share of bad luck into one of sustained success.

As the Cubs head into the last week of training camp, the team seems locked in and ready to defend their Central Division title. This year’s team is arguably the best of them all, and even their reserves could start on most teams. Getting off to a quick start seems to be the primary focus this year. Prior to the 2016 All-Star break, the Cubs had a run differential of +139 over their opponents. Last season, however, the team entered the break two games under .500. World Series hangover or not, they never really got started until they traded for Jose Quintana coming out of the break.

A division title seems to be a certainty, and winning the NL pennant seems possible too. It’s time to get started. Hope springs eternal, and though that phrase makes no logical sense to me, one spring-like Sunday certainly put me in a mode of excited anticipation of the upcoming season.

Cubs News & Notes

Kyle Schwarber is ready to go. “This offense can be really scary,” the Cubs left fielder said Sunday. “I tell people, we have a group of three-hole hitters on our team and even on the bench. You can’t take a break. You’ve got to lock in on everyone. That has to be a tough task for a pitcher. We’re trying to put as much pressure on that pitcher every day.”

Willson Contreras is certainly ready for this season to start.

The Cubs have four starters who could conceivably enter the 2018 season at the top of most teams’ rotations.

Though not elite, the Cubs’ minor league pitching packs some firepower. Wayne Cavadi of Minor League Baseball breaks it down.

The Kansas City Royals have signed pitcher Justin Grimm to a one-year, $1.25 million deal, the team announced Sunday. Grimm was 1-1 with one save and a 5.53 ERA in 55 1/3 innings for the Cubs last season.

Cubs wives hosted high school and college players for MLB initiative Play Ball.

How About That!

The Dodgers’ starting rotation is not the strength it once was.

Shohei Ohtani was blasted for seven runs on six hits during the second inning of Friday’s game against the Rockies at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

White Sox young starting pitching is the key to the team’s rebuild.

Minnesota Twins shortstop Jorge Polanco failed a drug test for Stanozolol and has been suspended 80 games to open the season.

Windows close and open for teams across baseball, but that window may slam shut for the Nationals after this season.

Manny Machado thinks baseball needs to lighten up a bit.

Hot Takes & Syrup

The hype surrounding young ballplayers usually exceeds the product on the field, though exceptions remain, and Kris Bryant is a great example of hype successfully converging with production.Braves OF Ronald Acuna may be baseball’s next great phenom, but comparisons to Hank Aaron may be a bit exaggerated.

Eric Hosmer is concerned about his swing plane this spring but doesn’t take kindly to questions concerning launch angle.

They Said It

“A lot of people are excited for the Phillies in 2018. We’ve got a lot of good things going on here. A lot of guys are healthy and competing, there’s a lot of youth. It’s a really fun time to be in this organization.” – Jake Arrieta.

Walk Up Song of the Day

Hump de Bump by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Happy Monday, friends.

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