Just one more day of spring training. One last game this afternoon and then it’s time to leave camp behind along with the facade that 35 days in Arizona turns mere men into baseball gods. Players would have gladly started the regular season back in mid-March had the weather across the rest of the country obliged.
The Cubs looked season-ready in winning their penultimate game of the exhibition season 3-2 over the Red Sox last night. Cole Hamels and David Bote both went yard, and Bote’s tater served as a nice reminder of a key at-bat last season. “Look for something low, get under it, and just drive it as far as you can to centerfield.”
We've seen that swing before.
Can't quite place it. pic.twitter.com/BtkuHTa35H
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) March 26, 2019
Hamels needed little more than 60 pitches to go five innings, surrendering only one run on three hits, with two punchouts. As mentioned, he was a star at the plate as well. Pedro Strop pitched an inning of relief and was absolutely filthy. Willson Contreras was 2-for-2, which is a heckuva lot nicer than watching him get jacked up over a walk.
When you exit the park singing Go Cubs Go it’s never a bad evening. Though it was a meaningless game, it certainly felt much different than an end-of-spring tuneup, as a wisp of (dare I say?) postseason excitement filled Sloan Park. How incredible would a Cubs-Red Sox World Series be?
Okay, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Cubs will enter regular season play on the heels of a devastatingly disappointing two-game losing streak. In fact, the last two days of the 2018 season left the Cubs with their “dicks in the dirt” following a loss to the Brewers in a season-ending division tiebreaker and a loss to the Rockies in the wild-card game. That turn of events didn’t sit well with Theo Epstein, who vowed changes, and left Joe Maddon nearly speechless.
This season is being emphasized as an awakening of sorts for the North side squad: new year, new purpose, new attitude. If I can borrow from Maddon’s idioms dictionary, missteps are often the foundation of achievement. The Cubs have navigated this spring with a like-minded focus and a whole lot of swagger. They’re definitely talking the talk, so now let’s see if they can walk the walk.
After squaring off against the Rangers to start the season, the Cubs travel to play the Braves and the Brewers , so there’s no easing into regular-season play. Both teams won their divisions last year and Milwaukee was one game shy of reaching the World Series. The Brewers own something that the Cubs feel rightfully belongs to them, the Central Division crown. If Chicago’s core is capable of another championship run, the first nine games of the season may be a telling indicator.
Cubs News & Notes
- Part of the team’s new dynamic is that Maddon is either on the hot seat as a lame-duck manager or he’s in the catbird seat as a potential free agent. It’s all about perception.
- Looking for a deep sleeper on this year’s Cubs’ squad? Look no further than Albert Almora Jr.
- The transformation of Kris Bryant from young superstar to team leader is complete. Had the Cubs signed Bryce Harper, we might not be seeing this side of Bryant.
- Bryant’s healthy now and into his age-27 season, so don’t be afraid to count on an explosive season from the third baseman.
- Hamels notched a hole-in-one over the weekend before celebrating with his home run last night.
- Projection systems spit in the face of Hamels because of his age and his awful numbers with the Rangers last season. But he’s a low-risk bet to continue the success he had after arriving from Texas.
- Both on and off the field, Addison Russell still has a lot of work to do before assuming his role as starting shortstop. Russell will remain in Arizona while finishing the remainder of his suspension.
- Maddon said Monday he has yet to talk to outfielder Ian Happ, who was not happy about being sent to Iowa. Perhaps Happ should read how Yankees manager Aaron Boone and Tyler Wade are handling a similar situation in New York.
- Brandon Morrow, recovering from offseason elbow surgery, believes he could start a minor-league rehab assignment as soon as the middle of April if he passes a series of bullpen tests and live batting practice sessions in extended spring training.
How About That!
The Indians have all but admitted that they’ll lose all-star shortstop Francisco Lindor to free agency because ownership has no interest in offering $300 million-plus contracts to anybody. This is your proof that the financial scales of the sport are horribly imbalanced.
In an age of data-driven baseball, the honor of the Opening Day start is still an esteemed assignment.
I hope you listen to the CI podcasts, because they’re genuinely insightful and entertaining. We’re offering up a pair of fresh ones from Ivy Envy and Son Ranto. Both are excellent previews of the Cubs 2019 season.
Maddon and his staff tried to help players visualize the road toward a championship on Monday by employing an end-of-spring-training idea originally introduced by late team psychologist Ken Ravizza. Ravizza would place 162 baseballs on the grass, separated by bats to serve as monthly indicators, plus 11 additional balls representing the playoff wins needed to capture the World Series.
This was the late former mental skills guy Ken Ravizza’s annual thing with the team. The season represented by 162 balls plus 11 more to win the WS. Maddon conducting the talk in place of his good friend who died suddenly last summer. pic.twitter.com/qcZeRo4oAA
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) March 25, 2019
They Said It
- “I feel all these guys have learned from Ken [Ravizza]. He was the pioneer of this area of this game, and he was so great at it. The impact he’s had on my career is substantial. I can’t even put into words.” – Kris Bryant
- “It’s finally that time. I feel healthy, strong. Now it’s go time, get in front of the big crowds and big stadiums and everything starts to matter.” – Cole Hamels
- “I respect the fact that [Happ] is upset [about being demoted to Iowa]. We all believe it’s the best thing for him right now. We think this will make him a better baseball player for years to come.” – Joe Maddon
This Week’s New Spins
…will return in November after the season ends. I’ll keep the focus on baseball until then, but if I find a steal or two as we navigate the next 30 weeks, I’ll let you all know. I don’t want to go cold turkey on you all so here’s one last shopping recap.
- Boston (Eponymous Debut) by Boston – When this record dropped it was the ultimate sonic explosion and remains a true front-to-backer. Released on August 25, 1976, it ranks as one of the best-selling debut albums in U.S. history with over 17 million copies sold. I picked up a sealed, original release for three bucks at a rummage sale on Friday, albeit a record club version. The band’s harmonic style has been characterized as being “violin-like” without using synthesizers, and on their initial demo, Tom Scholz played all of the instruments except drums. Though I used it, I still loath the word albeit.
- Permanent Waves by Rush – Rush will ultimately be remembered for albums that are less mainstream, but when this sucker dropped at the beginning of 1980 it signaled the Canadian trio’s assault on US radio airplay with three hit singles; The Spirit of Radio, Entre Nous, and Freewill. I traded tickets to see the Police at the Stadium in Chicago for tickets to see Rush at the St. Louis Checker Dome in March of 1980. I was 16 and it was my first road trip. Drove to the concert and back and still made it to school and hockey practice the next day. Got grounded for jacking my mom’s car without permission, though.
- Violent Femmes (Eponymous Debut) by the Violent Femmes – A Slash Records masterpiece from 1982 by the folk-punk trio from Milwaukee with all songs composed by Gordon Gano, who was just 18 years old and still in high school at the time. Steve Huey of AllMusic.com called this 5-star long player “one of the most distinctive records of the early alternative movement and an enduring cult classic,” noting that “the Femmes forged a sound all their own,” while crediting Gano for keeping “the music engaging and compelling without overindulging in his seemingly willful naiveté.” Add it Up still sounds fresh, doesn’t it? I love mash-up videos like this one. PS – I do a spot-on karaoke version of this Femmes classic.
Tuesday Walk Up Song
These Are The Days by Van Morrison. These are the days of endless summer; these are the days, the time is now. Welcome back, baseball.