The Rundown: Of Cowards and Losers, Force Multipliers, Heyward as Bench Bat

In two days the games count. The last time they counted it wasn’t very pretty for these Cubs. By the time the final game of 2017 ended — an 11-1 shellacking administered by the Dodgers in the NLCS that was really over midway through the 3rd inning — I found myself wondering if we were watching a one-and-done championship team like the 1986 Chicago Bears. That is certainly still a possibility, but I think this team is focused enough to win another championship or two over the next four seasons, possibly as soon as this season.

By the way, is Enrique Hernandez on the airport watch lists yet? Someone should give Steve McMichael a picture of Hernandez and have him waiting at O’Hare the next time the Dodgers come to town. Mongo strong.

Before the 2018 Cubs can officially shuffle out to their positions on their home turf, they have to get through four gimmies (not to be confused with Gimmy, the backup-backup catcher) in Miami, a two game set in Cincinnati, and four games in Milwaukee that will invariably come with a “pivotal series” comment or two. Don’t believe that nonsense.

I think it was Tommy Lasorda or Earl Weaver who said something like “every team wins 54 games and every team loses 54 games and it’s what you do during the 54 other games that matters the most.” Am I the only one who thinks that makes absolutely no sense? Maybe it was Yogi Berra who said it first. Or Dusty Baker. The only game that matters to Baker is his last game as a manager, where a string of awful decisions in Game 5 of the NLDS left the Nationals starting their winter break much sooner than they should have.

Still, the past is for cowards and losers, thank you very much Mike Ditka, and every team starts with a clean slate on Thursday. Of course, I believe 12-15 teams have already been eliminated from postseason play just on roster decisions and front office strategy alone, so the present can also be for cowards and losers. O, Death, where is thy sting?

Cubs News & Notes

Do the 2018 Cubs have the best starting rotation in Chicago baseball history? Even without a single game being played, they are part of the conversation. Barring injury, this could be an historic rotation.

The Cubs are on track to open the season this week with baseball’s third highest payroll at about $183 million. The Giants enter the season with the highest financial commitment at roughly $219 million.

The Cubs/Red Sox game at Jet Blue Stadium in Florida last night generated all kinds of vibes and feels, and not just because of the matchup.

Joe Maddon wants the Cubs to recognize the artistry in their play, so classic pieces with a baseball twist now surround the team’s work space. For example, Salvador Dalí wears a catcher’s mask, while David — in a jockstrap — stands on the mound as if pitching from the stretch. The artwork is covered in Maddonisms — “Chicks dig the leather,” meaning defense; “Dominate 1-1,” meaning the all-important 1-1 pitch — that the manager hopes will seep into players’ consciousness.

Maddon draws influence from an unlikely source: General Colin Powell, the former U.S. Secretary of State and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Powell used the term (as had others before him) “force multipliers,” meaning people who increase the effectiveness of the group. Maddon sees that in his coaches.

Jason Heyward could find himself on the bench more often this season if young players like Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr. play well, writes Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

How About That!

The Diamondbacks have agreed to a five-year contract with Ketel Marte that will pay the infielder $24 million dollars.

The Cardinals have their sights set on taking the Central Division crown in 2018. My prediction? 82 wins and 3rd place behind the Cubs and Brewers, missing out on a wild card berth.

For the Indians, anything less than a championship-winning season will be a letdown.

Jake Arrieta and Brandon Morrow made the Sporting News’ All-Bust Team for 2018.

The Yankees have their lowest payroll ranking since 1992.

Milwaukee released starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo. The Brewers will be on the hook for $500,000 of his $2 million non-guaranteed salary.

Bleacher Report looks at 10 offseason moves that are bound to backfire in 2018.

Hot Takes & Syrup

  • While John Farrell was addressing his firing from the Red Sox for the first time Monday morning, second baseman Dustin Pedroia was also addressing it, telling WEEI that Farrell’s approach “would wear on guys” last season.
  • Yankees first baseman Greg Bird is injured again and Yankees fans are ready to bail on the young slugger. Bird is entering his fourth season having played a total of 94 career MLB games.
  • Marlins Man won’t be sitting behind home plate this season, reports radio host Andy Slater. The famous fan, Laurence Leavy, sent the team a check for $200,000 dollars but was reportedly unable to come to an agreement with the team’s new ownership to renew his seats this year. No truth to the rumor that Derek Jeter is trying to trade Leavy to the Yankees.

They Said It

  • “[Our coaches] are force multipliers. They add to our experience on a daily basis, and as a group, it’s really, really a dynamic group.” – Joe Maddon
  • “We’re going after it, man. We want to win. We’re not backing down from anything.” – Indians SS Francisco Lindor
  • “I wish the Marlins much success. I look forward to becoming a Diamond Club member again when they have a winning product, if that happens in my lifetime.” – Marlins Man Laurence Leavy.

Tuesday Walk Up Song

Stubborn Love by the Lumineers.

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