“Are you bringin’ the dawn, daddy long legger? The dandelion dawn, baby, when the cat turned blue.” – Rusted Root, Cat Turned Blue
The Cubs won their ninth straight tilt yesterday, including a non-Cactus League win against Team Canada, and now sport a snazzy 9-4 record. Spring games are meaningless, but Chicago’s North Side baseballers are a fun team again. It’s been about five years since we’ve felt a similar vibe, and that 2016 championship gets smaller every day in the rearview mirror. These are not your older siblings’ Cubs, but their brand of baseball is infectious.
Part of the reason is rookies Kevin Alcántara, Pete Crow-Armstrong, and Brennen Davis. But the veterans have chipped in, too, including David Bote. The annual .200 hitter is batting .471 in 22 plate appearances and is a longshot to make the final roster. Bote is entering his age-30 season and struggles badly against lefthanders, which may keep him from heading north with the team. He’s also living in positional purgatory, as Nick Madrigal will probably win the utility infield position.
Dansby Swanson and Nico Hoerner are struggling at the plate but there is no reason to worry. Trey Mancini has more than made up for the pair, hitting .579 with two home runs and four RBI. More importantly, he looks like he’s playing with a purpose. Cubs fans are going to love Mancini the way they loved Nick Castellanos back in 2019. Ian Happ has been clutch all spring, too.
Matt Mervis is playing for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic, but he’ll start the season at Triple-A Iowa anyway. Even though he’s only hitting .118 with a propensity to take a lot of walks in Cactus League games, the big first baseman has impressed David Ross.
“If you watch his batting practice, the way he hits the ball, how it comes off the bat…it stood out to me just how hard he hits the baseball,” Ross said. “You better be positioned in the right place – even on a ground ball – because it’s coming in hot when you’re on the infield.”
Catcher Luis Torrens is your feel-good story of camp so far. He was non-tendered by the Mariners and has no shot at making the club. He’s hit two Cactus League dingers, though, and he’ll be a valuable depth piece at Iowa if he doesn’t catch on elsewhere. The Cubs cycled through eight catchers in 2021 and three last season.
Javier Assad and Hayden Wesneski are waging an epic battle to be the team’s fifth starter. Neither has given up a run and Wesneski has seven strikeouts in 4.2 innings of work. Adrian Sampson is still the favorite, though he’s pitched to a 20.77 ERA and cannot afford another poor outing. I’d like to see Caleb Kilian and Jeremiah Estrada get a little more work. One under-the-radar guy who has had an excellent spring is Anthony Kay. The veteran lefty has six strikeouts and allowed just two hits in four innings. Ben Brown has also been impressive.
I don’t know about you, but I consider 2023 a gap year for these Cubbies. That said, I do think they have the defense and pitching to win 90 games. I also realize that’s an unlikely benchmark, but this team will be fun to watch this season. It’s been too long since we’ve been able to say that.
Cubs News & Notes
- Even if we set the winning streak aside, this already looks like a fully-fleshed group playing a brand of baseball that will remain successful when the games matter.
- Third base coach Willie Harris, who also works with the outfielders, said Crow-Armstrong will eventually be a top 10 MLB center fielder.
- The Cubs are hoping the sum of their parts is better than the individual projections (ESPN+ subscriber content) — especially with their defense up the middle in a new shift-limited world.
- Gomes expects the Cubs to start the season “ready to win.”
- Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman expects big things from Swanson this season.
- Jameson Taillon had a rough outing on Thursday but was thankful for it. He said those types of games “can be valuable.”
- Patrick Mooney and Sadahen Sharma of The Athletic have really been on their games this spring, and yesterday was no exception. If you don’t believe Happ deserves an extension after reading Mooney’s latest ($), you have no heart.
- The Cubs certainly understand the incredible opportunity for Mervis with the WBC but it also limits his first experience in big-league camp.
- Roenis Elías is also away from the team, but he’s proud of his opportunity to play for Team Cuba in the WBC.
- Owen Caissie is getting his first taste of MLB action by playing for Team Canada.
- Ross isn’t very worried about a bullpen that has just one lefty in Brandon Hughes. “We’ll figure out how to get lefties out someway. Somebody’s got to figure it out.”
- Manny Rodriguez is building his case for inclusion in this year’s bullpen.
- It’s not much more than a spring formality, but the Cubs agreed to terms with 22 pre-arb players.
- Cody Bellinger hit a home run on Thursday and is working his way back to the form that made him Rookie of the Year and MVP. “We’re talking about a guy who was an MVP,” baseball insider John Heyman said. “You always like a one-year signing. But in this case, the upside is huge. If he can get anywhere close to that, that’s going to be a major bargain.”
- Bellinger said he is seeing progress after a couple of mediocre seasons. Hitting instructor Dustin Kelly sees it, too.
- The Cubs have no timetable in place for the return of injured right fielder Seiya Suzuki. Ross’s silence on Suzuki’s progress from a left oblique strain is fueling talk of a long recovery.
Odds & Sods
I don’t care if this is a group of Cy Young-caliber pitchers, those digs are rank! Can you name these four pitchers?
Fashion statement. pic.twitter.com/cBUwOaW2xH
— Michael Canter of Cubs Insider ✨ (@MEdwardCanter) March 10, 2023
Climbing the Ladder
“From the tops of the buildings to the streets below, between the Wall Street banks and the empty homes. Between the lines of the people standing all in a row, there’s a crack in the gutter where a flower grows.” – Michael Franti & Spearhead, Hey Hey Hey
The Cubs hit three homers in the bottom of the 6th inning Thursday to turn a 5-0 deficit into a 6-5 lead. The team’s resiliency and ability to erase deficits have been extraordinary this spring. Mancini, Patrick Wisdom, and Christopher Morel hit the game-changing bombs, leading Chicago to its victory. I hope the team carries its never-say-die attitude into the regular season. Then again, I hope Chicago doesn’t trail by five runs or more too often.
How About That!
Yankees starter Carlos Rodón has a left forearm strain and will begin the season on the IL.
I’ve never seen the league promote the WBC the way they are this year. It’s almost like the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues are on spring break.
Baseball’s new pitch clock is also impacting some of the game’s unwritten rules.
If spring training is any indication, stolen bases will be on the upswing this season.
Jim Bowden believes the Padres are sacrificing too much of their future in an attempt to win the World Series now.
I root for Morel more than any other player on this team. He will always be the underdog, but I don’t think he minds that.
Christopher Morel – Chicago Cubs (1)* pic.twitter.com/yImKc6YqXy
— MLB HR Videos (@MLBHRVideos) March 9, 2023
Friday Morning Six-Pack
- The Bears and tight end Cole Kmet have started preliminary discussions on a contract extension.
- David Kaplan says that “teams will move Heaven and Earth” to acquire Chicago’s top draft choice. As Yu Darvish once said, The Kapman is never wrong. I wonder how Justin Fields feels about him?
- Virginia beat North Carolina yesterday, ending the Tar Heels’ time in the ACC tournament and likely snuffing any hope of an NCAA Tournament berth. North Carolina could be the first preseason No. 1 team to miss the tournament since it expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Stunning.
- Today has been dubbed Mario Day, and you wanna know why? Because it’s March 10, and if you squish that to Mar10, it looks a lot like “Mario.” Yes, I have way too much time on my hands.
- Allbirds crashed into a squeaky clean window yesterday. The company reported losses of over $100 million, replaced its CFO, and halted any new store openings. Grandpa Rossy has a sad.
- Yeti recalled 1.9 million coolers and gear cases because their magnets can fall off and get dangerously stuck in the digestive system if swallowed. Yes, it was a bad day for expensive niche brands all around.
They Said It
- “The consensus is that models aren’t perfect. There’s some human override, so we made an effort last year to sit down and position the outfielders for the series based on what the model said, but also based on what we know about the guys we’ve seen in this league for a long time and have a lot of data on. The model would spit out a positioning, but there’s some manual override to be able to actually have a better understanding of where the ball’s going to be, and where you play reflects that.” – Happ
Friday Walk-Up Song
I fall back in love with this song every year or so, usually as we get closer to Opening Day. You can’t stop Hootie, you can only hope to contain them.