The Rundown: Almora Lighting It Up, Cubs May Pitch All Lefties in Texas, This Week’s Book & Flick
Albert Almora Jr. and Nico Hoerner are having wonderful springs. It would be nice to say that that portends a great summer, but we thought that about Ian Happ last March. After his opening-pitch home run against the Marlins, Happ was exactly league average for the rest of the season.
We know Hoerner is going to start in the minors. Like Happ last year, Almora has a much quicker bat this spring and has shown an uptick in power. Ironically, the two may be battling each other for playing time this season. Almora, the first draft pick of the Epstein-Hoyer era in Chicago, has the inside track to lead off for the Cubs on Opening Day. He is slashing .344/.534/.938 with two home runs this spring while Happ is struggling at .134/.195/.379 and has yet to go yard.
Almora led off yesterday’s game against the White Sox with a home run against Lucas Giolito and added a two-out RBI single in the second. He’ll need to show a consistently patient approach to grab an everyday spot in the lineup.
Huge fans of this approach from @albertalmora. pic.twitter.com/2wlB2V7iot
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) March 15, 2019
Christhian Adames is turning some heads this spring, too. The versatile infielder is getting plenty of reps because new Cub Daniel Descalso has been injured. Adames has three home runs and an OPS of 1.290.
David Bote has been just as impressive, with an OPS of 1.231. The Cubs really have some nice infield depth this year so if Descalso starts the season on the injured list, and with Addison Russell sitting out due to suspension, the team will head to Texas with a still-potent roster. Happ has been getting a lot of reps at second base, too, and has looked passable defensively.
The season opener is just 12 days away and Rangers will go with a starting lineup that includes five left-handed hitters. That may allow Joe Maddon to rearrange his rotation from the get go. Jose Quintana, who is projected to be the team’s fifth starter, may be bumped up to pitch the series finale in Arlington on March 31, giving the Cubs an all-lefty rotation for the series with Jon Lester and Cole Hamels pitching games one and two. That would also line Quintana up to pitch one of the three games at American Family Insurance Park against the Brewers April 5-7. Q had a 2.13 ERA in seven starts against Milwaukee last year.
Cubs News & Notes
- Maddon confirmed that reliever Tony Barnette, who hasn’t pitched since March 3 because of right shoulder soreness, probably won’t be ready for the start of the season.
- Reliever Pedro Strop said his strained hammy feels better and he remains confident he will pitch in a Cactus League game next weekend.
- The Cubs beat the White Sox 11-9 yesterday. Hamels lasted only 3 2/3 innings against the Sox after blowing a 3-0 lead.
- Cubs left-handed relievers continue to struggle as Randy Rosario failed to hold an 8-5 lead in the seventh of yesterday’s game.
- This is an older article about Rosario, but I liked it and thought I’d share. The quote by Ron Gardenhire in the notes section is priceless. I had forgotten that Rosario was once a highly-regarded Twins prospect.
- Seven-time All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel remains available, but Maddon and Theo Epstein prefer the team’s in-house choices.
- Dillon Maples and James Norwood are hoping to break camp with the regulars. With Brandon Morrow on the mend and Strop’s health still in question, there may be a spot for one or both when the team travels to Texas on the 28th.
- I’m not sure of the necessity of this, but the Cubs are ranked as the least miserable team in the National League, and were third in all of baseball behind the Red Sox and Astros. I thought the Marlins would have topped this list ($) but – spoiler alert – Lou Piniella managed the current most miserable team to a 116-win season in 2001.
- Willson Contreras has been working to avoid a repeat of last season’s disappointing performance. The catcher admitted his behavior and attitude needs more than just a little fine tuning.
- The St. Louis Post-Dispatch posted their weekly Cubs headline in their baseball notes column yesterday.
- Cubs veterans — specifically Lester, Hamels, Kyle Hendricks, and Kris Bryant — have some serious swagger entering this season.
- Bryant got some shift off his chest after facing a four-man outfield earlier this week. That tactic has been employed against Bryce Harper this spring, too.
- Though Commissioner Rob Manfred waived on the universal DH, the Cubs still have plenty of flexibility built into their roster.
- The Cubs/Brewers rivalry is probably going to be a lot more intense this season than most are expecting.
- The Cubs re-launched their YouTube channel on Monday and the content is truly exceptional.
This Week’s Baseball Read
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis – Lewis sat with scouts and A’s GM Billy Beane as they spent the summer of 2002 adding and subtracting players. In the June player draft, Beane acquired nearly every prospect he coveted (few of whom were coveted by other teams) and at the July trading deadline he engaged in a tense battle of nerves to acquire a lefty reliever Ricardo Rincon. The book is an appealing underdog story. The pleasure of rooting for a team like the Yankees is that you can expect to win. The pleasure of rooting for Beane and the A’s is that, while you don’t know what to expect, you should at least be inspired.
There is an interesting subplot to this book that I always thought would make a great sequel. Beane turned down an opportunity to run the Red Sox after that great 2002 season, and the position eventually went to Theo Epstein. One wonders how different things might have turned out for the Red Sox, and now the Cubs, had Beane accepted the offer.
A Flick to Pick
The Sandlot – This week’s baseball headlines have been filled with all of the things that fans would rather not be bothered with: rules changes, financial struggles, and labor unrest. The Sandlot offers a glimpse of just the game in its purest form. Set in 1962, the movie spends a summer with nine underdog kids whose whole existence revolves around their love of all things baseball, and the adventures attached to that passion.
The dialogue is cheesy and a little unrealistic, as are some of the scenes, but the nostalgia angle appeals to the kid in all of us. It’s incredibly over-exaggerated, but that’s the point. And of course, James Earl Jones and Wendy Peffercorn…
I am thinking about doing a semi-regular column called “Beers With…” where I interview some of my favorite baseball writers locally and nationally over a few beers on my dime. Let’s see if anyone accepts my invitation. My initial short list includes Jordan Bastian, Jon Heyman, Jon Greenberg, John Sickels, Gordon Wittenmeyer, and Patrick Mooney.
Saturday Walk Up Song
Come On Eileen by Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Have a great St. Patrick’s Day weekend everybody. Please make good decisions. Too-ry-aye.