I spent three hours last night buried in the book The Old Man & The Sea so let’s see if we can’t heed some of Ernest Hemingway’s advice to get us through the last week of spring training. Baseball is more than a metaphor in a lot of the author’s works.
- “Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with that there is.”
That quote above can be interpreted a million different ways and it likely won’t be long before Joe Maddon slaps it on a t-shirt. But facts being facts, the Cubs will open in Texas on Thursday with basically the same team that petered out last September. Sure, they are united in purpose — which is to close — whether it is a game, a series, a week, or a month. Or a season, for that matter. To quote Brad Pitt as Billy Beane in Moneyball, “If you lose the last game of the season, nobody gives a shit.”
It would have been nice if the Cubs strengthened their bullpen this winter. I know Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon believe wholeheartedly in their guys, but Craig Kimbrel would look real good trotting to the mound out of that left field bullpen in the ninth inning this season.
- “If the others heard me talking out loud they would think that I am crazy. But since I am not, I do not care.”
Maddon enters this season in the final year of his contract. In four years, he has led the team to a lot of victories despite a number of questionable, outside-the-box decisions. I often wonder what else Joe has cooking up in that brain of his. Maybe it’s better I do not know. Obviously he isn’t interested in what others think about his managerial machinations.
But he certainly goes against the book a great deal and will manage his bullpen like every single game is Game 7 of the World Series. It’s frustrating at times, and I sometimes wonder what he will do if he ever gets to a point where he has nobody left to pitch. He’s come close, and with a banged-up bullpen to start the season, one can only hope that extra inning games will be few and far between.
- “It is good that we do not have to try to kill the sun or the moon or the stars. It is enough to live on the sea and kill our true brothers.”
The Central Division is incredibly strong this year. Each team improved significantly, and the division will be won or lost depending on how well each of the teams play against each other. One thing the Cubs need to do this season is not play down to their competition. Last year they made a point of making marginal pitchers look like Cy Young candidates.
When playing the Brewers and the Cardinals, they have to get into those bullpens early and often. Neither has a particularly strong rotation. Giving either bullpen a lead and then having to face Josh Hader or Jordan Hicks will not bode well for this Cubs team.
If I had the ability to bend Maddon’s ear a tiny bit, I would suggest he pitch around Paul Goldschmidt this season in the same way he did Bryce Harper in 2016. Nobody else in that St. Louis lineup that is a threat to challenge that strategy.
- “’Perhaps I should not have been a fisherman,’ he thought. ‘But that was the thing that I was born for.’”
This offseason has certainly taken a toll on the organization and its fans, but one has to wonder how close Epstein and Jed Hoyer are to being fed up with the extracurricular shenanigans. I believe the members of the front office will finish their contracts before moving on. But if the drama continues into this season, I wouldn’t be shocked if the dynamic duo resigned this October and moved on.
- “I may not be as strong as I think, but I know many tricks and I have resolution.”
The Cubs could carry as many as 12 players who are 32 years old or older on their roster this season, including three of their five starters and their three best relievers.
- “Have faith in the Yankees my son. Think of the great DiMaggio.”
Oh wait, this is a Cubs blog.
Cubs News & Notes
- The Yahoo Fantasy Baseball team previewed the 2019 Cubs and, despite grading Chicago’s offseason at D-level, they believe the Cubs could be a force in the Central. They have copied my walk-up song idea, the coda of this column for two years running, and they used a Kanye song to boot. Oh the humanity.
- The LA Times previewed the Central and predicts the Cubs will win it. But raise your hand if you are already tired of the “season of reckoning” narrative.
- The Cubs have plenty of good hitters and are focused on overall lineup production rather than determining who will bat leadoff.
- Pedro Strop should be ready for Opening Day, though the remainder of the bullpen remains somewhat in flux.
- You knew it would surface sooner or later. Have the tables turned and will Harper be recruiting Kris Bryant to join the Phillies for the 2022 season? I can neither confirm nor deny that the Bryants own a dog named “Luzinski.”
- Javier Báez and José Quintana look ready to start the season. Ben Zobrist, too.
- How do the Cubs stack up against the Brewers this year? Both teams are looking at some regression, but Milwaukee still lacks a competent starting rotation, and with major injuries to the back end of their bullpen, it might be a long season in Brew City.
- In his annual preseason meeting, Maddon said he stressed to his players the need for self-awareness and respect for the improved quality of competition in the National League.
- Nico Hoerner is a rising star within the Cubs organization, and the shortstop prospect has bought into the the team’s desire to roster versatile players.
- Junichi Tazawa had looked very good in limited action, but has reportedly been released.
- Yu Darvish is looking for a little love from Cubs fans, and he is happy to earn his way into our hearts. He’s got a great sense of humor to boot.
Darvish said he felt good. The break during the bullpen session was to fix a bandage. Yu joked that he peed on the blister to help it heal. (He did not actually) pic.twitter.com/jDBnIIqMI2
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) March 22, 2019
For St. Patrick’s Day, strength and conditioning coach Tim Buss led the morning stretch covered in green body paint while wearing a denim Speedo and bright orange wig.
Bryant would “absolutely” love to finish his career with the Cubs and believes any other player would want the same.
Math and analytics geeks will love this look at value surplus on the Cubs roster by CI correspondent Connor Johnson.
From the Cubs Insider Archives
A great, archived article by Todd Johnson: The Wrong Side of History – Flatlanders and the Statistics Movement.
This Week’s Baseball Read
The Home Run Kid: The True Story of Ernest Hemingway’s Baseball Team by Oscar Blas, Fernandez Mesa, and Brian Gordon Sinclair – Hemingway loved baseball, so much so that he owned a Cuban professional team. Mesa was the team’s “home run kid” and Sinclair is the world’s foremost dramatic interpreter of Hemingway. The book captures the innocence and excitement of youth as Mesa tells stories of Hemingway’s generosity and paternal joy and how Mesa looked to Hemingway as a bringer of goodness who showed him and his teammates how to practice, to work, and to behave.
A Flick to Pick
Trouble With the Curve – An aging Atlanta Braves baseball scout, Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood), is given one last assignment to prove his value to his general manager, who views him as unable to adapt to changes within the game. His boss and good friend Pete (John Goodman) does not want to see him let go, and he has to contend with an over-ambitious, analytically- forward junior executive, Philip (Matthew Lillard), who has aspirations of becoming GM and wants Gus fired as an obstacle to his own philosophy and scouting methods.
Scott Simon of NPR provides a satirical think-piece on the slowness of baseball. I am of the opinion that the game is fine the way it is, but the writer makes a good point. “It’s not just more commercials and on-field promotions. It is increased analytics. The data that tell managers a certain player might stand a .001 percentage better chance of getting a hit off a certain pitcher, or the reverse, causes managers to stop the game, go to the mound, pull pitchers, pinch-hit for batters, and move players around like Legos.”
Saturday Walk Up Song
All We Ever Knew by The Head & The Heart. Americana/Folk music is steeped in the traditional mid-20th century Irish folk music. It’s time to wake up from winter’s doldrums and play some baseball.