The Rundown: Cubs/Blackhawks Parallels, Pace of Play Issues, Bullpen Rebuild
I went to the Blackhawks game last night as a guest of a vendor my company does business with, and I couldn’t escape the feeling of apathy that surrounded the team and the fans. The play was uninspiring and, frankly, last night’s crowd seemed more interested in things like Kiss Cam and Shoot the Puck. It made me wonder if there is such a thing as getting too used to winning and whether it’s possible that the Cubs and their fans might one day experience similar malaise. Let’s hope not.
As my old man would say, “A coupla-three-four observations” from the game:
- White Sox 3B Nick Delmonico was 1-for-5 in Shoot The Puck, so his game is a little rusty heading into spring training. He’s a career .262 hitter, although the sample size is pretty small.
- I know patriotism is a tired concept to a lot of people, but I felt very proud to be an American when Jim Cornelison did his goosebumps-inducing version of The Star Spangled Banner. The Blackhawks played the Maple Leafs last night so O Canada was an extra bonus, and that song gave me goosebumps, too.
- I love the speed and athleticism of professional hockey, but baseball is still more exciting to me. I hope the pace-of-play changes don’t distract from the wonderful aesthetics of traditional baseball. I’d rather see a limit on mound visits and a 15-second ceiling on walk-up songs than a pitch clock.
- I think the NHL’s hard salary cap as diluted the game too much. There has to be a better way to ensure parity than having teams constantly tearing apart their rosters to avoid cap penalties.
How do you feel about the implementation of a pitch clock? The MLB Players Association has dug in its heels on the matter and may force Commissioner Rob Manfred to unilaterally impose his initiatives for the 2018 season. Baseball wasn’t always this slow, and even when eliminating the extra commercial time, video replays, and all of the other fan-based extracurriculars, there was a time when pitchers wasted little time on the mound.
In 1967, the average baseball game was completed in 2.62 hours. Last year games lasted, on average, 3.15 hours to complete. On Opening Day at Wrigley Field in 1971, Billy Williams hit a 10th-inning walk-off home run against Bob Gibson to end a game that lasted just 1:58.
Players are not really opposed to speeding up the game. The bigger issue at play is that the union appears to be opposed to collective bargaining tax limits and their subsequent penalties, which basically ties front offices to a de facto salary cap. Though still much softer than NHL restrictions, I believe baseball’s current agreement is ultimately bad for the game.
When combined with the current trend of tanking in the sport, this has given teams reason not to spend on free agents while they make rebuilding their priority. Though this strategy has helped the Cubs, Royals, and Astros build championship teams, the real impact is in free agency. The teams at the bottom of the chain are sitting out completely, while teams at the top can simply wait for the market to fall to more affordable levels. Baseball has truly bifurcated: there are 15 teams with an honest chance of grabbing one of 10 postseason berths and 15 more that know they will likely finish under .500.
The truth, at least for the time being, is that opposition to pace-of-play initiatives may be a precursor to tenuous CBA negotiations in 2021. How free agency plays out for the rest of this winter will go a long way toward a peaceful agreement. Players may ask for a spending floor — the Astros Opening Day payroll in 2013 was just over $22M — or they may ask for radical modifications to the current ceiling and the implications for going over. A failure to agree on payroll structure may produce baseball’s first work stoppage since the strike that canceled the 1994 World Series.
Cubs News & Notes
The small-market Brewers are poised to go big to take down the Cubs this season.
I’m all for under-the-radar, contrarian strategies, but adding one or more of Travis Wood, Trevor Cahill, or Matt Garza to the Cubs pitching staff would seem more like a desperation move than one to fortify rotational depth.
The Cubs have spent the bulk of this offseason fixing a “diseased” bullpen. From September 1 through the end of the postseason, the Cubs’ bullpen ranked 17th in baseball with a 4.38 ERA. Cubs relievers tied with the Mets for the second-highest BB/9 mark (4.25) across the season as a whole. The only relief pitcher who turned in a quality strike-throwing season was Brian Duensing, which is part of the reason why the Cubs re-signed the veteran southpaw to a two-year deal last week.
Pearl Jam will play two shows at Wrigley Field August 18th and 20th, the band announced yesterday.
Javier Báez announced early Wednesday morning that he is expecting his first child with girlfriend Irmarie Márquez.
Hall of Fame induction announcements were made yesterday evening. Congratulations to Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, and Chipper Jones. Neither Kerry Wood nor Carlos Zambrano received enough votes (5 percent) to remain on the ballot. In fact, Zambrano did not receive even one vote from any of the 422 Baseball Writers Association of America voters. Wood had two votes, good for 0.5 percent. Sammy Sosa earned 33 votes, just enough to remain on the 2019 ballot.
Free agent SP Yu Darvish is likely to sign somewhere by the end of the week.
Craig Calcaterra looks at the backstabbing, behind-the-scenes tactics of professional sports agencies.
Mike Trout predicts a 31-24 Eagles victory over the Patriots in next Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Thursday Walk Up Song
Breathe by Pearl Jam. Welcome back to Wrigley Field, boys.