The Rundown: Revamped Bullpen Key to Season, Souza Touts Cubs as World Series Contenders, Ross Has Yet to Manage

“Fame you’ll be famous, as famous as can be, with everyone watching you win on TV, Except when they don’t because sometimes they won’t..” – Dr. Seuss

There is one loaded team in the National League, two that have a legitimate shot of winning the pennant, and three teams that will compete to win the NL Central and hope to surprise in the playoffs the way the Nationals did last season. Here’s how I am ranking the Senior Circuit as of this morning:

  1. Dodgers
  2. Mets
  3. Braves
  4. Cubs
  5. Nationals
  6. Reds
  7. Cardinals
  8. Brewers

Some of you may be surprised that I rank the Cubs ahead of the Reds but, like last year, I expect Cincinnati to be one of the more injury-prone teams in baseball. I’m not sold on their bullpen, they could be wretched defensively, and I think fans and many writers are expecting too much from Nick Castellanos and Trevor Bauer.

By divine intervention, the Dodgers should advance to the World Series and in a perfect world they would trounce the Astros in four games. Los Angeles has the most complete team in the league, having added Mookie Betts, David Price, and preseason Rookie of the Year favorite Gavin Lux to a team that won 106 games in 2019.

But I’m not here to write about the Reds or Dodgers.

A lot of things need to go right for the Cubs to even think about winning the division and making some noise in the playoffs. The lineup is sound, if not one of the best in baseball. But the rotation and bullpen have the potential to be either surprisingly good or so brutally awful that the North Siders may be tough to watch. Digging a little deeper, the weight of the division will fall on the shoulders of Craig Kimbrel and a relief corps that will open the season as a largely untested group.

Of the team’s expected starters, only Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks have the ability to consistently shut down opponents. Darvish was lights-out at the end of last season and nobody pitches better at Wrigley Field than Hendricks. The remaining starters should be counted on simply to keep games close with hopes that the bullpen can win a majority of those games. That said, Tyler Chatwood could turn out to be a pleasant surprise. Of the team’s projected 2020 starters, Chatwood had the second-highest ERA+ last year, finishing just behind Hendricks.

Cubs relievers blew 28 saves in 2019, converting just 58% of all opportunities. Kyle Ryan, Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek, and Brandon Kintzler accounted for 255 of the Cubs’ 576 relief appearances last season, and of those four, only Ryan remains with the team. Strop lead the team in blown saves with six. As a whole, Chicago’s bullpen allowed 95 of 290 (33%) inherited runners to score in 2019. With even a league-average bullpen, the Cubs would have ended the season with 91 wins last year. Coincidentally, Chicago finished seven games behind the Cardinals with a record of 84-78.

Cubs News & Notes

On Deck

Rob Manfred is at the top of my baseball feed every morning, and it is a very exasperating trend.

MLB Spring Training Notes

The Red Sox placed second baseman Dustin Pedroia on the 60-Day IL, and it seems doubtful the oft-injured veteran will play at all this season.

Chris Sale is optimistic that he’ll be ready by Opening Day. The southpaw has been battling elbow inflammation since the end of last year, and just recovered from a bout with pneumonia.

A’s starter Mike Fiers was greeted with cheers before he took the mound this weekend.

Mets outfielder Yoenis Céspedes expects to be ready for Opening Day.

Tim Tebow is simply not a baseball player. I am making myself a promise not to mention him ever again in this column.

Apropos of Nothing

I made a grilled cheese for lunch yesterday and I cut it diagonally. I’ve noticed that some people cut their sandwiches horizontally across the middle, which I think is barbaric. Which do you prefer?

Extra Innings

No single Democratic candidate looks strong enough to take the majority of delegates heading into the DNC this summer, though Bernie Sanders will likely hold the lead. Should be a crazy week in Milwaukee this July, where the convention will take place during baseball’s All-Star break.

Sanders vehemently opposes Manfred’s plan to end MLB’s affiliations with 42 of its minor league franchises.

They Said It

  • “It’s an awesome clubhouse. Everybody’s hungry in here to get back to the World Series. It’s funny for me, from the outside in, listening to all the writers talk about how all these guys are past their prime, so to speak, or write them off when this is one of the most talented teams I’ve ever been on in my career. It’s funny to me. I laugh at it because I think we have a legitimate shot to win the World Series.” – Steven Souza Jr.
  • “Last year was tough [in multiple bullpen roles], but the way I pitched at the end of the year I feel like set me up for a good year this year, and I’m excited to have that.” – Tyler Chatwood
  • “Getting Brandon Morrow anytime in the year is beneficial for us, whether it’s opening day, mid-June or September. Right now the process is just him getting comfortable and continuing his progression and knowing there will be bumps in the road.”Tommy Hottovy

Monday Walk Up Song

Take Five by Dave Brubeck. Stumbled onto a live performance of this classic jazz number. Goes well with a bourbon old fashioned and a handful of $100 chips at your favorite casino.

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