The Rundown: Home Opener Means New Beginnings, Imanaga Takes Bump, Bryant Returns, Happ Hustling in Leadoff Spot

“Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night. You ain’t a beauty but, hey, you’re alright. Oh, and that’s alright with me.” – Bruce Springsteen, Thunder Road

The Craig Counsell era in Chicago is off to an inauspicious start with a 1-2 road trip to start the season and a hamstring injury to No. 1 starter Justin Steele. That’s left a lot of Cubs fans skeptical, if not downright worried, about whether this team is good enough to compete for a playoff berth. That’s nonsense, of course. Let’s not let overreactions run amok.

The good news is that Steele is only expected to miss the first month of the season. The bullpen appears to be the bigger issue to me, but I’ll give Counsell a few weeks to let his pecking order work itself out. At least the key relievers pitched well for the most part. And, as far as I’m concerned, a season-opening road series is nothing more than extended spring training. With that in mind, the 2024 championship season starts this afternoon with a tilt at Wrigley Field against the Rockies. Mother Nature might take issue with that, however.

Shōta Imanaga gets the start today and I can neither confirm nor deny that he’ll take the bump wearing a rain poncho. Kris Bryant also returns for his first Wrigley Field opener as a member of the opposition. Bryant is a vestige of Chicago’s mid-2010s glory days, while Imanaga represents hope for Chicago’s current core. The Rockies dropped three of four to the Diamondbacks to start the season and will counter Imanaga with Dakota Hudson, a former Cardinal righty who has never lost to the Cubs.

Home openers represent new beginnings, and as such, Chicago should put the weekend series with the Rangers in its rearview mirror. It’s therefore apropos that Imanaga is making his MLB debut today. You can bet Counsell has the team facing forward, but I’m sure he also recognizes the players must also look internally to effectively bounce back.

“One of the best things [losing] does is it gives you experience in those times when you’re uncomfortable and you’ve screwed up and how do you react to those times — does it paralyze you, does it set you back or does it bring out your best?” Counsell said. “That’s the great teacher of experience.”

Look for a more relaxed Cubs team today, weather permitting, and if the two teams complete the game, Imanaga should be a joy to watch.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

I am not a fan of April Fool’s Day.

Climbing the Ladder

“Sometimes you gotta get scars to get what you deserve.” – Andy Grammer, Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah!)

The Cubs stranded 23 runners and none of their starters reached five innings in their three games against the Rangers. Chicago is the toughest team in the NL to strike out after three games, but an unsightly 1.725 WHIP means they’ll need to plate more runners. The Cubs had just seven XBH against Texas.

Jon Lester suffered an injury similar to Steele’s in the 2019 home opener and only missed 2.5 weeks. It’s impossible to compare hamstring injuries, but Counsell did deliver some upbeat news about Steele over the weekend.

“Frankly, as we saw him walking off the field, it’s better than at least I anticipated,” Chicago’s manager said. “Just how he was walking after the game [Thursday], he’s much better [Saturday]. He played catch [on Saturday], which is a great sign.”

  • Games Played: 3
  • Record: 1-2, 4th place in NL Central
  • Total Plate Appearances: 120
  • Total Strikeouts: 22
  • Strikeout Rate: 18.33%
  • Team Batting Average: .228
  • With Runners in Scoring Position: 5-for-21 (.238)
  • Runs Scored: 14
  • Runs Allowed: 20
  • Pythagorean Record: 1-2
  • Chances of Making the Playoffs: 75.5%, 4.7% chance to win World Series 

Central Intelligence

  • Pittsburgh (4-0): Rookie Jared Jones struck out 10 Marlins’ batters in his MLB debut to secure the win on Saturday. The Pirates’ 4-0 road sweep to start the season is their first since 1903.
  • Milwaukee (3-0): The Brewers are off to a fast start after sweeping the Mets in New York. The 0-3 start by the Metropolitans is the team’s worst start in 10 years.
  • Cincinnati (2-1): Christian Encarnacion-Strand hit a walk-off home run to give the Reds a 6-5 win over the Nationals on Sunday.
  • St. Louis (1-3): The Cardinals were knocked around all weekend by the homer-happy Dodgers, but shortstop Masyn Winn turned some heads across the league with his 8-grade arm.

How About That!

Daniel Kim, a prominent Korean baseball analyst who has worked as a Major League Baseball interpreter and scout, believes Ohtani is telling the truth about his former interpreter, Ippei Muzahara.

Author Keith O’Brien traces the rise and fall of Pete Rose in his unflinching new book “Charlie Hustle.”

The Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, and Cardinals are among the teams scouting Japanese sensation Roki Sasaki.

The Yankees acquired RHP Jake Cousins from the White Sox in exchange for cash considerations.

The Mets-Brewers series was loaded with all kinds of shenanigans and extracurricular activities.

The Giants designated former top draft pick Joey Bart for assignment.

The gap in MLB payrolls continues to widen.

The city of Oakland offered the A’s a five-year extension proposal to continue playing in the Coliseum.

Sunday’s Three Stars

  1. Brady Singer: The 6-foot-5 Royals righty blanked the Twins 11-0 with 10 punchouts in seven innings of work.
  2. Justin Turner: The veteran Blues Jays third baseman was 3-for-4 with a double, home run, and four RBI in a 9-2 win over the Rays. He was also 3-for-3 with runners in scoring position.
  3. Ian Happ: Chicago’s right fielder enjoyed a 4-for-5 day with a walk and an RBI hitting leadoff for the Cubs. Happ is hitting .417 with a .500 OBP and looks like a natural at the top of the order.

Extra Innings

An Easter bomb courtesy of Christopher Morel.

They Said It

  • “We hit some balls really hard. Buschy [Michael Busch] hit a ball 106 [mph] and 33 [degrees launch angle]. It’s a homer in every single ballpark except this one and maybe Detroit. That’s part of it. We hit balls hard all week. Just keep having those solid at-bats, keep the approach, keep the faith. We’re early into this thing.” – Happ
  • “There’s no question we’re going to rely on depth this year. I think we have really good starters and bullpen guys, but I thought some young guys took steps forward in the offseason. They looked good in spring training. There’s no question we’ll need a lot of pitching. I think we’re in good shape that way organizationally. But that’s one of the daunting aspects of starting this marathon. This isn’t 20 years ago, we’re not going to rely on five starters and a couple of bullpen guys. It’s going to take everyone.” – Jed Hoyer

Monday Walk-Up Song

The home opener tradition continues…

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