I’m only a “why” short of being a good journalist. Well, okay, I’m going begging in a few other areas as well, but I think the question of why I’m watching the Cubs is pretty much a foregone conclusion. I do this because I love the Cubs and I love writing, thus I love writing about the Cubs.
Running a blog is not always easy and it’s not always fun, but each compliment paid to me or to one of our writers is far more valuable than any revenue that might one day be generated. Despite the fact that I’ve increased the ad space and put in the store page, the monetization is really the least of my worries here.
We’ve had some growing pains over the last few weeks, but I wanted to say personally how much I appreciate each one of you. But enough of that saccharine soliloquy; as Spring Training games get started for the Cubs, let’s take a look at a few topics I’ll be paying attention to.
Who: Mike Olt, Kris Bryant, and Javier Baez
I wrote earlier about the adjustments the former and latter players have made, but I think it bears repeating. While Baez has a ceiling that could easily hold Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, he spent most of his time in 2014 mopping the floor after spilling his cup of coffee.
Even though strikeouts may not be universally viewed as inherently evil, the rate at which Baez whiffed left even the most morally relative fans saying “that’s bad….mmm’K.” It was clear that the young man was just guessing at times last year, trying to re-write the book MLB pitchers had already read on him.
If he can make some edits in this second printing, Baez can still do some amazing things. He’s got to stop being so passive early in counts and getting himself into do-or-die two-strike scenarios so often. Can you imagine a lineup that goes something like Castro-Bryant-Rizzo-Soler-Baez in the 2-6 spots? That’s scary.
Like Baez, Mike Olt spent his share of time cleaning up on aisle 5 last year too. The guy had dynamite in his bat, but couldn’t get the fuse lit often enough to do any real damage. He was almost a two-outcome player in that regard, and that’s not the type of guy the Cubs need to keep around.
But if he too can get it figured out…wow. Whether there’s a place for him on the roster beyond April remains to be seen, but an improved Olt would give the Cubs all kinds of good problems.
I’m also interested to see how Bryant does on a couple levels. How he looks at both third and the outfield, and whether and how that impacts his hitting, is chief among my interests. But that’s not all.
Given the pre-ordination of his debut this season, I want to keep an eye on Bryant’s handling of the media and of the situation in general. The MLBPA has talked about monitoring the Cubs’ leverage of service time, but it’s something we’ve all been aware of for quite some time with the phenom.
But while it’s not a new topic, this is the first year in which it’s a given that Bryant will be up with the Cubs in the coming season. Will he thrive under the increased scrutiny or will he wilt a bit? Will he push harder to prove a point or fade a bit, knowing that nothing he does will earn an immediate promotion?
For my money, I think he’s going to blow everyone away and throw gasoline on the torches of the “call him up now” crowd. Absent an agreed-upon deal between the league and the players, I’d be right there with those folks, but since holding Bryant back is best for the team in the long run I can’t agree right now.
By all accounts, Bryant’s got the makeup and the pedigree to both understand the nature of the Cubs’ decisions and to want to do everything he possibly can to make them second-guess even their fundamentally sound logic. I can’t wait to see this kid busting out lights on the new LED board in left, but the overzealous reactions to his Spring bombs will be fantastic.
What: 5th spot in rotation
With the Cubs viewing Kyle Hendricks viewed as a lock for the rotation, the battle for that 5th spot is really one of the most exciting storylines heading into April. In his previously-linked piece, Patrick Mooney breaks down the starters for the first few games, many of whom are going to be battling for the same role.
Having a solid 4-man rotation already set is great and the competition between several arms for the final spot can only make the team better. It can sometimes be difficult during these exhibitions to get a great feel for a pitcher, particularly if they choose to throw only fastballs during an outing.
But if the Cubs have been good at anything in the Theo Epstein Era, it’s been creating multiple options. They’ve got quite a bit of versatility on this roster, and that extends to the pitchers. Given the history and potential of the parties involved, it’s a good bet that whoever emerges from this battle royal will have truly earned his spot.
How: Online and on TV
The tough part about these Spring Training games is that most of them are played in the afternoon for those of us back in the Midwest, so it’s a bit difficult to catch them. You can catch the audio stream, but that’s not really watching now, is it?
Between CSN, MLB Network, and ESPN, 16 Cubs games will have a significant broadcast footprint this spring. You can also look into MLB.tv, which starts at $19.99/month (or $109.99 for the season), though blackout rules will still apply. And if you want to keep up with the prospects, you get 50% of MiLB.tv when you bundle the subscriptions.
The trouble is, once the real games begin, many fans outside the Chicagoland area will be scrambling for options when it comes the few dozen games being carried on WGN-9 and ABC-7. Brett Taylor of Bleacher Nation had a nice piece with some updates on the TV broadcast situation, and increased syndication is certainly looking promising.
Being an Indianapolis resident though, I continue to be concerned with the ability of Cubs fans throughout Central Indiana to catch games. After all, there aren’t many local stations that would be willing to pre-empt their network programming for a team that, despite have a huge fanbase here, plays three hours away.
There is, however, a possibility. WISH-TV 8, a longtime CBS affiliate, was forced to go independent on Jan. 1st; that means no more CSI, no NCIS, and no NFL. Not only did they lose a bunch of acronyms, but the money and eyeballs they brought with them.
What better way to carve out a niche and serve a need for local fans than to sign on for Cubs broadcasts?
@DEvanAltman We are looking into the contract but things are still in a very early stage.
— WISH-TV (@WISH_TV) March 2, 2015
I’m going to try to get more details on this developing situation, but I would love to see this happen. While I have no doubt the rights won’t just be given away, I hope WISH isn’t too parsimonious to take advantage of this opportunity.
Where: My home and various watch parties
While I do plan on making trips to at least three road games, a vast majority of my Cubs viewing will be in the comfort of my own home. But a friend gave me the idea for a watch party for the Opening Night game between the Cubs and Cardinals.
The date of the game first seemed a bit inauspicious to me, but then I realized there’d be no better day than Easter to celebrate the rebirth of baseball season. To that end, Cubs Insider is partnering with Scotty’s Brewhouse on 96th Street to host a gathering of Cubs fans.
It’s a locally-owned, family friendly environment (kids eat free on Sundays too) and it should be a great opportunity for Central IN fans to get together. My goal is to have a rotating event every month or so throughout the season and, ideally, to have one up in Chicago at some point as well.
By the time April rolls around, I should have my new Cubs Insider t-shirt as well. You can buy one of your own and support the site in the process if you like; we even have one with a bottle opener in it.
It feels great to know that baseball’s really back and regardless of who, what, when, where, and how I do it, I can’t wait to watch the Cubs begin their journey.