The Rundown: Hope Springs Eternal, Bryant Looks Healthy & Happy, Stadiums Start Capacity Planning

“New year, new me.” – Almost everybody in the week leading up to New Year’s Day.

The Cubs won the NL Central last year based largely on a scorching 13-3 start to the shortened season. Chicago badly limped to the finish line, however, thankful they weren’t the only example of mediocrity while fighting for a crown that never really seemed worth the effort. If anything, 2020 baseball seemed more like an obligatory gift to its fans and though flags fly forever, few outside of Los Angeles truly recognize the Dodgers’ championship.

Many of the games were unabashedly non-competitive and the oft-disrupted atmosphere more closely resembled sandlot baseball. Sure, there were some terrific moments where fans could genuinely feel drama and adrenaline, but for the most part, major leaguers looked a lot more like kids at summer camp happy to get a break from their families. Few players were able to rise to the occasion, particularly on the North Side.

For some, playing meaningful games in empty stadiums stripped away a lot of the fiery nature of day-to-day baseball. Slumps felt more prolonged, injuries seemed more crippling than normal, and the wherewithal to play at a consistently high level while grinding through a faux-season was absent. The Cubs won a division championship with no offense and barely above-average pitching because none of their competition wanted it more. After that scorching start, Chicago played .477 baseball the rest of the way, mostly against the league’s weaker teams.

Let me apologize for a moment, as none of us need to be reminded of last season’s struggles. The point is, optimism vanished when the pandemic struck, but, based on the first few days of camp this year, things seem to be normalizing a little and the Cubs may actually thrive as underdogs. There seems to be a little more snap and vigor to this week’s workouts than there was when the Cubs held summer camp in Wrigley Field last June.

Perhaps the North Siders don’t deserve a mulligan for last season, but to many of us, the shortened schedule was little more than background noise and a slightly warm diversion to being isolated at home. Few will be able to admit they were fully invested in the exploits of their favorite teams and I’m sure many players chalked up their poor performances to general malaise and indifference, too.

Applying that to the real world, many of us who previously longed for permanent work-from-home gigs are now starting to despise the isolation and work performances are actually suffering. Fatigue intensifies when normal routines are disrupted for extended lengths and that’s no different for professional athletes. We’ve often talked about a “new normal,” but it’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to suddenly adapt to forced radical change.

Things feel decidedly different this year, which perhaps means we’ll once again see players performing to the best of their capabilities. For a Chicago team that slumped badly for the better part of 2020, the new season provides a fresh start and an opportunity to reverse so many disappointments. Yes, hope springs eternal, but that phrase seems far more significant this year.

Cubs News & Notes

  • It’s early, but Kris Bryant is mashing in BP, he’s smiling a lot, looks healthy, and the excitement is palpable. Bryant victimized Jake Arrieta yesterday.
  • Bryant said he remains “open to an extension” and talked about a text he received welcoming him to the Mets, which Jed Hoyer immediately refuted. “That’s the kind of stuff I feel like is nice to know when there’s something that’s completely false, because at the end of the day we’re all human,” Bryant said. “Sometimes when you get a text that says something like that, it’s like, whoa, that might kind of mess with me a little bit.”
  • That transparency from Hoyer was not lost on the slugging third sacker.
  • I’m not one to look for hidden meaning in messages that seem somewhat cryptic, but it was nice to hear the Cubs third baseman question whether this truly is the last hurrah for the team’s pending free agents.
  • Closer Craig Kimbrel pitched yesterday and appears to be in mid-season form. His curveball showed the type of movement reminiscent of his scoreless September.
  • An oblique strain will likely keep Rowan Wick from joining the team before the start of the season.
  • The Cubs start Cactus League play on Monday and Kyle Hendricks will get the start. The veteran righty is also on track to potentially be the team’s Opening Day starter, though that has yet to be officially announced.
  • The team’s mindset remains the same this year as any other.

Odds & Sods

Free coffee and donuts were available this morning? To me, that’s the first sign that the apocalypse is nearing its end!

Spring Training News & Notes

Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper announced that he’s healthy and expects big things for himself and his teammates this season.

The Nationals want Kyle Schwarber to “get more squatty at the plate” in an effort to unleash the elite power he displayed in 2019. That was a theme for him heading into that previous campaign, so it could work out.

The Padres intend to let Yu Darvish basically do his own thing this year. The Cubs found that to be the key to getting the most from the Cy Young Award runner-up.

The first games of 2021 MLB spring training, dozens of college and NBA basketball games, and two NASCAR races headline this weekend’s sports schedule. It almost feels like old times.

Clint Frazier will begin the season as the Yankees starting left fielder and the young star is excited to get the chance to meet or exceed lofty expectations that have followed him since he was drafted in 2013.

White Sox outfielder Luis Robert is hoping to improve on his very successful rookie season. Robert finished third in AL Rookie of the Year voting this winter.

Extra Innings

Baby steps never felt so good. I am of the belief that stadiums will be at full capacity by August.

They Said It

  • “I’m happy to have [Jake Arrieta] back in the Cubs uniform. It was weird seeing him in another pinstripe. I’m sure he enjoyed his time in Philly, but it’s really cool to see him back with the guys. … It’s really cool for the fans and Chicago to see him back on our team.” – Kris Bryant
  • “It seems like the talk every year is, is this the last hurrah? Is this it?”It is a broken record every single year. I don’t know what (else) to say.” – Bryant

Friday Walk Up Song

Here Comes the Sun by The BeatlesSo appropriate today, wouldn’t you agree?

Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” – Plato

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