The Rundown: Cubs Entering 2020 as Underdogs, Báez Admits Team Was Under-Prepared, Harper Doesn’t Want Phillies to Pursue Bryant

Did the Cubs become just another ordinary team by winning the World Series in 2016? I mean, if you had to define uniqueness, going 108 years in between championships is certainly a suitable denotation. Since then, however, it seems expectations have been elevated with each passing season. Perhaps Lin Brehmer, former morning and current afternoon drive host at Chicago rock station WXRT said it best after the Cubs broke that long-standing curse:

“Just as the Cubs are built on Wrigley and the ivy and the lovable losing, their identity is equally intertwined with bizarre tales of woe: The smelly goat whose eviction cursed the team in 1945; the black cat who crossed their paths in ‘69; that guy in glasses — we dare not speak his name — who reached for a foul ball in 2003.”

Note: that’s a paraphrased quote as I remember Brehmer saying it some three years ago.

This year is the first since the Cubs capped 2016 with that insane victory parade that the North Siders enter a season with minimal expectations, and we’re not handling it very well as a collective fandom. I mean, a lot of baseball experts are picking the White Sox to have a better season than our beloved Cubs, and that’s before we get to real rivals like the Reds and potentially the Cardinals. But the White Sox? Say it ain’t so, Joe. Say it ain’t so.

In fact, there isn’t a single player on this team except for Anthony Rizzo who has played a season in which the Cubs entered as a decided division underdog. Oh wait, we all ignored PECOTA projections last season, including president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. So even though the Cubs were projected to fall short of a playoff spot coming off of a 95-win season in 2018, the team still felt like world-beaters.

Javier Báez dropped a bit of a bomb yesterday when he said that the team was ill-prepared most of last season.

“It wasn’t something bad, but we had a lot of optional things,” the shortstop admitted. “Not mandatory. Everyone kind of sat back on that, including me. I wasn’t really going out there and preparing for the game. I was getting ready during the game, which is not good.”

Not good? That’s a horrific take, especially knowing what it costs the average fan to take his/her family to a game. Don’t get me wrong, we should appreciate that he ‘fessed up. We all knew something was amiss, and he did say “everyone,” but to think that team-wide preparation was lacking speaks volumes about the organization from the front office on down to the last man on the roster. No wonder Nick Castellanos and Nico Hoerner were such refreshing additions at the end of the season. They avoided a season-long malaise that saw the Cubs lose 60% of their road games, with a 39-45 overall record against sub-.500 teams.

Maybe Joe Maddon should have been let go before the start of last season. Obviously the front office had some real concerns, as they provided a number of preparatory mandates ahead of the 2019 season. In retrospect, the team’s former manager may have been somewhat mocking the front office when he entered camp last season with the book Managing Millennials for Dummies in tow.

Brehmer has always been Chicago’s most poetic on-air personality. Taking a step back, and amid a frustrating offseason highlighted by the team’s lack of moves, perhaps it’s his voice we truly need right now. New manager David Ross will try to restore the magic that once surrounded the Cubs, but that has been missing for at least the past few seasons. One would think he will at least have the team better prepared to win.

Cubs News & Notes

On Deck

Here’s my weekly health update, and thank you for those who have provided well wishes in the comments, sent me friendship bracelets, and who have contributed to my fundraiser. Because I am still retaining a lot of fluid, the doctors want to check my heart this week to ensure it is functioning properly and pumping enough blood to keep me healthy. If I am symptomatic of some type of heart disease, I could be denied an opportunity to receive a donor liver, at least as I understand it. I’ll know more as the week progresses.

MLB Spring Training Notes

New York minor league outfielder Tim Tebow has had discussions with the XFL but prefers to continue his pursuit to one day play for the Mets.

Commissioner Rob Manfred isn’t entirely happy with Cincinnati starter Trevor Bauer right now, but he did mention that A’s pitcher Mike Fiers did baseball a huge favor by exposing the Astros for cheating.

The commissioner handled the reporter who broke the story a lot less sincerely.

Manfred’s press conference yesterday was an unmitigated disaster.

Tigers outfielder Cameron Maybin hinted that he tipped off his Yankees teammates about Houston’s sign-stealing scheme last season.

Boston shortstop Xander Bogaerts intends to help the Red Sox recruit Mookie Betts back when the outfielder becomes a free agent next winter.

Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado met with reporters yesterday to express his frustrations with the Rockies and to discuss ongoing trade rumors.

Extra Innings

Manfred continues to be the swill merchant MLB owners wanted when they elected him commissioner. Yesterday, Manfred defended his decision not to strip the Astros of their title, calling their World Series trophy a “piece of metal.” Instead, they’ll have to suffer in the court of public opinion.

“People will always know that there was something [amiss] about the 2017 season,” Manfred told ESPN.

They Said It

  • “It’s a weird feeling, like [the] Olympics. When a player cheats, you can’t have a gold medal, right? But they still have a World Series title. It just makes me feel, like, weird. That’s it.” – Yu Darvish
  • “I’ve been doubted before. I don’t really care. I know what the effort and the preparation that I put in every five days. I know that at 36, I’m not 26 anymore. I know that I have a lot of miles on my body and arm, but at the same time I feel like I can still bring a lot to this team. I think I’ve proven a lot of people wrong throughout my career. I’ve been there plenty of times, and I’m excited for this year.” – Jon Lester

Monday Walk Up Song

Working Man Blues by Merle Haggard. Step up your game, Javy. You get a mulligan, but I know I speak for millions of ordinary humans who would give anything to be in your shoes.

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