The Rundown: Cubs Hitters Trailing Pitchers, Swanson Slumping Badly, Trout Leads Team USA to Quarterfinals
“Can you imagine no love, pride, deep-fried chicken, or your best friend always sticking up for you? Even when I know you’re wrong.” – Train, Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)
Happy St. Patrick’s Day, friends and readers! Do you have any traditions you’d like to share? I already made my corned beef and I’m still getting used to not being at SXSW this week. I usually watch Boondock Saints, eat Girl Scout cookies, listen to my favorite St. Pat’s playlist, and stare out the window waiting for baseball to start. We’ve got 13 days to go. Thin Mints or Caramel Delights, by the way? Did you know you can buy them online now?
With that in mind, what’s the state of the union on the North Side? Chicago’s starting pitching looks as good as advertised and the offense doesn’t look much better than last season. Yesterday’s 3-1 loss to the Diamondbacks had a 2022 regular-season feel, and that’s not a good thing. Cody Bellinger hit a home run, his second (unofficially) as a Cub, accounting for all the offense. It’s enough to have any Chicago sports fan chasing Bears’ free-agent headlines instead of watching the Cactus Cubbies.
Camp has been somewhat boring because there aren’t any real position battles. Hayden Wesneski should be announced as the fifth starter any minute now and Chicago will go with a closer by committee. It’s safe to assume Patrick Wisdom will be the starting third baseman and Christopher Morel is going to Iowa. Maybe David Ross will surprise us. The skipper generally has something unexpected up his sleeve this time of year.
Perhaps Nick Burdi will head to Chicago with the team. I love the triple-digit fastball and he’s got a helluva slider, too. His walk rate will have you reaching for a beer or two, but he’d be a nice surprise if he can command his stuff. That said, Michael Fulmer will be finishing the bulk of ball games for the Cubs. And as long as we’re talking about relievers, I wouldn’t mind seeing Brandon Hughes step it up a little as Chicago’s only lefty reliever.
The Cubs have won just once since reeling off a nine-game winning streak. Cactus League games are meaningless, but it would be nice to see a few more wins.
Cubs News & Notes
- Seiya Suzuki has been playing catch and taking dry swings as he works through his oblique injury.
- Drew Smyly had his second consecutive solid outing and said he is now treating his starts as if it were the regular season.
- Chicago’s everyday lineup should include Nico Hoerner at the top of the older followed by Ian Happ. Dansby Swanson, Trey Mancini, and Bellinger will most likely bat 3-4-5.
- It would be nice if Jed Hoyer would announce extensions for Happ and Hoerner.
- Mike Tauchman will cover right field in Suzuki’s absence. Tauchman has done an excellent job of controlling the strike zone in Cactus League action.
- Craig Breslow had a journeyman career as a pitcher but was always considered the smartest man on his team. That’s helped him adjust to his role in the front office. “I always knew that there was at least a chance that this would be the path that I’d pursue,” said Breslow.
- We have a mock draft and the Baseball Prospect Journal predicts third baseman Aidan Miller will be the Cubs’ selection at lucky No. 13.
- Here’s Miller’s scouting report.
Odds & Sods
Theo Epstein wants you to know that Pedro Báez is the poster boy for MLB’s new pitch clock. In a piece for The Athletic, Johnathan Greenberg writes that Epstein is shepherding baseball into a new era ($) that resembles the game he watched as a kid in the 1980s.
Landon Knack throwing an entire half inning vs. Pedro Báez throwing 1 pitch. pic.twitter.com/wHa2p6K7k8
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) February 27, 2023
Climbing the Ladder
“I wonder what it’s like to be a superhero. I wonder where I’d go if I could fly around downtown, yeah.” – Matchbox 20, Real World
Swanson is only hitting .045 through 28 Cactus League at-bats. He’s accumulated one total base, which means his offensive production has been limited to one single two weeks ago. Time to get worried or not? Swanson hasn’t generally had poor springs throughout his career, so you must take it in stride for now. But this is also his first life-changing contract and he’s playing for a new team while carrying high expectations.
I wouldn’t count on a solid start to the season, either. Swanson slashes .225/.289/.375 in March and April regular season games, plus it’s a lot colder in Chicago than it is in Atlanta in early spring. With Suzuki out for an indefinite period, the Cubs need some power from Swanson or they’re going to lose a fair share of close, low-scoring games.
The shortstop has always been a peaks-and-valleys hitter, so Cubs fans are going to need to be patient with Lieutenant Dans.
How About That!
Mets closer Edwin Díaz underwent successful surgery to repair the patellar tendon in his right knee this afternoon, the team announced.
The closer’s injury has been a polarizing subject on social media, but it’s not going to force the league to abandon the WBC. As far as I’m concerned, it should not be under consideration.
Most injuries sustained during the World Baseball Classic are covered by insurance, which will likely protect the Mets financially for the $19.65 million Díaz is owed this upcoming season.
Mike Trout helped propel Team USA past Colombia and into the WBC quarterfinals.
Puerto Rico faces Mexico in tonight’s quarterfinal tilt. The Americans face Venezuela tomorrow evening. Japan and Cuba have already advanced to the semifinals.
Retired manager Whitey Herzog thinks baseball should expand the size of home pate if it wants to improve the pace of play. Makes sense.
The league announced it is going to intensify its search for illegal substances.
Bally wants the rights to stream games locally while it goes through bankruptcy proceedings.
Future Cubs star Shohei Ohtani repping the Czech team and handling his own luggage. How do you not love the WBC?
👀 @shoheiohtani out there casually wearing #baseballczech cap while arriving in USA for @WBCBaseball semifinals!!! 🇨🇿🏻 What a great honor!
🎥 : https://t.co/7jFQebuVl6#CzechIN #baseballczech @MLB @MLBNetwork @MilujemeBasebal @MLBONFOX pic.twitter.com/09aQMD4gXZ
— BaseballCzech (@BaseballCzech) March 17, 2023
Friday Morning Six-Pack
- Google raised the price of its YouTube TV subscription from $65 per month to $73—a 12% bump. The service, intended as a cable replacement, now costs more than basic cable (it’s $59.95 for a 125-channel Premium Basic subscription in Milwaukee).
- When The Cure announced its latest tour, the band promised to keep ticket prices affordable, after which Ticketmaster, the behemoth that handles ticket sales for just about every live concert, appeared to drive prices to Jupiter by tacking on lots of fees. An $80 ticket costs $177.12 because of said fees.
- Goth rage is a real thing. Robert Smith, who is The Cure for all intents and purposes, convinced Ticketmaster to issue partial refunds to some ticketholders. It’s not much though.
- The National Retail Federation said people intend to spend an average of about $44 on St. Patrick’s Day festivities this year. They obviously duck into the nearest portable bathroom when it’s their turn to buy shots.
- I know you all want to know the story behind Chicago’s annual tradition of dyeing the river green. I got you.
- The name of the Creedence Clearwater Revival song (and album) Green River was inspired by the soft drink of the same name, according to John Fogerty. The soda is also shown being poured by the band Smith Westerns in their Weekend video. Green River is a soda that was distributed in Chicago as a beer substitute during Prohibition. Contrary to popular belief, it was not invented in Chicago, but rather in Davenport, IA.
Apropos of Nothing
I hope you didn’t think I’d sign off without dropping my St. Patrick’d Day playlist. Sláinte! By the way, getting St. Patrick’d is what happens when you imbibe too quickly and too often in honor of your real or faux-Irish ancestors.
By the way, I hope you didn’t have Arizona and/or Virginia in your brackets. Ouch.
They Said It
- “The people that watch spring training are normally your avid fans. Your casual fans don’t watch spring training much, but I think just about everyone has seen the video of [the Dodgers and Padres] playing a whole half-inning in the time it takes Báez to throw one pitch in the ’16 NLCS. It’s actually funny, the camera at one point cuts away to me being like, super frustrated up in the GM box, ironically enough. But yeah, those viral moments have also helped bring attention to it.” – Epstein
- “I’m a look-forward-type guy. You know the talent is in there, and what [Bellinger] can bring every single day. We can stab at a lot of different things, right? The injury, just mechanically getting off after that, creating bad habits, having to play every day through not being fully healthy. But I don’t like to do that stuff. He’s here. He’s also got a fresh start to the season. I really believe everybody’s season is unique to that year. It doesn’t matter who was the MVP the year before. Great players have bad seasons. And bad players have great seasons. He’s identified what he wants to work on. DK [Dustin Kelly] and J-Wash [Johnny Washington] and our hitting group have loved the work he’s doing. He’s translating that into the weight room and creating good habits. I think he’s in a really good place.” – Ross
- “We’d love to reach a deal with [Happ and Hoerner]. I hope it happens. Obviously, we have to have things line up correctly, but certainly, that is the desire. I think they’re both really good players, they’re both really good leaders, and they both represent the organization exceptionally well. That’s the hope.” – Hoyer
Friday Walk-Up Song
Enjoy your weekend, my friends, and if you’re drinking today, make smart choices.