The Rundown: Ross Finalizes Roster, Alzolay Earns Rotation Spot, Pederson Raking, No Movement on Core Extension Talks

The Cubs will play their final Cactus League game against the Diamondbacks today before coming home to Chicago for their season opener against the Pirates on Thursday. After watching Jake Arrieta get dinged for four runs, three on a home run given up by Juan Gámez, I’d seen enough. That Arrieta re-entered the game was the tip of the iceberg. I think we’re all pretty much done with spring training.

The Cubs lost 12-8 to the Rangers yesterday, though Joc Pederson continued to rake. The left fielder was 1-for-2 with his eighth homer of the exhibition season and, assuming he doesn’t play today, will leave Arizona with a tidy .372 average and 17 RBI to boot. Not a bad start to his Cubs career and coming off of a similarly torrid World Series last fall, Pederson should help Cubs fans adjust to Kyle Schwarber playing for the Nationals.

The bigger news is that David Ross made some stunning moves over the weekend that included sending Nico Hoerner to Triple-A and Shelby Miller, arguably the team’s best pitcher this spring, to the alternate site in South Bend. Many have said all spring that Hoerner needs more reps in the minors and normally the demotion would seem to be fair, if not slightly questionable, but Iowa isn’t starting their season for at least a month. The Cubs, White Sox, and Brewers are reportedly going to stage a dozen or so practice games, so the second baseman will get his reps, but Hoerner, who was one of the team’s best hitters at Mesa, may have been better served remaining with Chicago.

David Bote earned the starting gig and he’ll have to prove he’s capable of being an everyday player, so his strong spring shouldn’t be anything more than an indication that he’s done straddling the Mendoza Line. Hoerner’s glove will be missed and it’s hard to understand how the demotion is better for him or the team, especially given the rotation’s reliance on above-average fielding.

As the team headed to Arizona last month, few believed that the squad Jed Hoyer put together would make decisions so tough for Ross, but looking back, every new player brought in has truly excelled. Perhaps Austin Romine is the exception, but he’s injured so he gets an incomplete. Though nothing counts until the regular season starts, I’d say Hoyer is much better at filling in the fringes of the roster than Theo Epstein was, no apologies to Daniel Descalso or Steven Souza, Jr. It’s a testament to Hoyer that some fans actually lament that Ildemaro Vargas didn’t make the team.

Realistically, role players may make the difference between winning the division or missing the playoffs completely this year. If that is indeed the case, it will be players like Eric Sogard, Matt Duffy, and Jake Marisnick that will determine the team’s fortunes. For now, the Cubs seem to have a slight advantage over the Cardinals, Brewers, and Reds, especially with a rotation that is much stronger than many of us expected. In fact, the rotation has been so good that Ross bumped Alec Mills to the bullpen. A roster that genuinely runs 30 deep between both sites with eight pitchers capable of starting should make for a solid and interesting season.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

Always nice to remember the legendary Sidd Finch as rosters throughout the league are finalized.

Spring Training News & Notes

With just a few days to go before Opening Day the most important news of the week is health-related.

Félix Hernández has decided to opt-out of his contract with the Orioles rather than accept a minor league assignment.

The Dodgers see one-time top prospect Gavin Lux as an everyday player this season.

Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes tested positive for COVID-19, the team announced on Saturday, while also indicating that no other members of the team have been inflicted so far.

Tim Kurkjian of ESPN provides 30 compelling reasons to be excited about the start of the 2021 season.

Could there be five players better than Mike Trout this season? Jeff Passan says not to discount the possibility.

The Nationals announced they’ve optioned third baseman Carter Kieboom to the minors. Starlin Castro and Josh Harrison will split time at the hot corner to start the season.

Versatile infielders are baseball’s newest secret weapon.

As of yesterday, the highest priced Padres ticket for Opening Day on StubHub is $2,250.00, for a VIP Field Box seat. The lowest-priced will cost a fan over $190 once taxes and dealer fees are added.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Orioles outfielder Trey Mancini will make his return after battling and beating stage 3 colon cancer. That’s just one of 11 stories to keep an eye on when the regular season starts this week.

Apropos of Nothing

I watched a great and highly recommended documentary last night about the history of Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, America’s original haven for outcasts, dope fiends, and loners. Of course, I’m always excited whenever I see a film that features Canter’s Deli on Fairfax. The Strip is the part of L.A. they don’t show you on HBO’s “Entourage.” I followed it with “The Black Dahlia” to complete my thematic evening.

Sliding Into Home

I am getting my first COVID vaccine on Thursday, a great way to celebrate Opening Day! It is nice to see the country slowly opening up again. Milwaukee is abuzz with talk of Summerfest (moved to September this year) and 100% capacity by July 1, though some events well into August are still being canceled or rescheduled.

Extra Innings

If you were hoping the Cubs might extend a core player or two before Thursday, hope is about all you have right now. At this point, it may not be too far fetched to think Miller, Pederson and Marisnick have a better chance of returning next year than Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Javier Báez.

They Said It

  • “When I started looking at it from the lens of someone like, say, Kyle Hendricks, he goes every day and does his work, what he does before his throwing day, what he does during the game, his routine, all of that. I think that helped me a lot to change a lot of parts of my game.” – Adbert Alzolay
  • “I’ve obviously expressed it before. I love Chicago. I love the fans. I love the city. I’m happy here. It’s just about doing what’s right and what makes sense.” – Anthony Rizzo

Monday Walk Up Song

Let’s Get it Started by The Black Eyed Peas – I’m ready for Opening Day. You?

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