The Rundown: Phillies Fans Get Punk’d, Cubs Could Be Sleeping Giant Despite Frigid Predictions, Brutal Late-Season Schedule Again

Phillies fans were epically punk’d yesterday, and excuse me for leaning on my early 2000’s version of Eugene Landy’s Underground Dictionary of counterculture slang. If you didn’t catch it, all of Philadelphia woke up with visions of Bryce Harper signing a long-term deal to play for the City of Brotherly Love, only to have Bartolo Colon snatch that cheesesteak from their hands just as they were about to take a bite.

It appears Phillies fans keep getting duped by the same bogus Twitter account, which was recently suspended. What’s the definition of insanity again?

In fairness, the Phillies are not out of the Harper sweepstakes and Philadelphia’s front office still has some of that “stupid money” left in their budget, so no need to start a riot at the Central City Wa Wa just yet. Philadelphia is a rabid sports town by any definition of the word and their fans can get more than a little nutsy at times. Besides, the city hasn’t finished greasing up the light poles, so on that logic, a Harper announcement is at least a week or two away.

Meanwhile, Cubs fans keep clinging to the hope that Theo Epstein is going to surprise everyone with the announcement that he’s going to give $200-300 million to a guy who hit .249 last year. I know, batting average is an archaic stat and shouldn’t be used to determine a player’s worth. We keep asking Theo to give it to us straight, and he has, though guys like me tend to think he’s coloring outside the lines of the team’s stated baseball operations budget without telling any of us.

Harper’s 133 OPS+ last season would have led the Cubs. Yes, despite batting .249, he was better than league MVP runner-up Javier Baez. (Gosh darn it Javy, take a walk now and then, please!)

A quick look at OPS+ indicates that for a team that won 95 games last season, the Cubs really didn’t have a dominant year offensively. And there’s that huge matzo ball floating atop their soup bowls: the Cubs scored no more than a single run in 40 games. Is that an anomaly, or the start of a disturbing trend?

Thom Brennaman said on MLB Roundtrip last night that the Cubs could be just a .500 team in 2019 unless they get “big improvements” from the following players: Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber, and Addison Russell. He even mentioned that Anthony Rizzo needs to have a better year. He later indicated that he expected the rotation to fall to the bottom half of the National League this year due to age and/or injury.

So maybe the Cubs need Harper, and maybe they don’t. Are you hopeful? You should be.

As allegedly pathetic as the team was last season, they still won 95 games. Some will say that the Cubs need Harper or Manny Machado because the division got stronger. Well, did it really? The Brewers have yet to make any major additions, while the Cardinals have added Paul Goldschmidt. and Andrew Miller. The Pirates will get a full season from Chris Archer but look to be a team on the verge of selling off assets. The Reds traded for a bunch of players on expiring contracts, so their window, much as the same as the Cardinals, is confined to this year.

My prediction, right now? I see the Cubs winning 90+ games and finishing at the top of the division, with a bunch of 84-88 win teams trailing them. That’s without Epstein signing either all-star free agent.

For what it’s worth, Brennaman, who is every bit the Cubs basher that his father Marty is, thinks the Cardinals will win the NL Central in a very tight race. He added that the Reds and Brewers will battle the Rockies for one wildcard, with the other wildcard coming out of the NL East. That leaves the Cubs out of the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.

Still, the Cubs are a potential juggernaut that may have been roused from the peaceful slumber that sometimes comes with winning often and easily, especially for younger players. If they won 95 games in a down year, what could this team do if the offense is firing on all cylinders? In 57 days the Cubs can start silencing the critics.

“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” — Isoroku Yamamoto, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Cubs News & Notes

Wednesday Stove

With just 12 days until pitchers and catchers begin to report league-wide, yesterday may have been the most bizarre day of this offseason.

MLB players continue to take to Twitter to express their disappointment at what has been a very frigid hot stove season.

Neil Walker has signed a one-year deal to play for the Marlins. The switch-hitter will play second base for Miami.

Talks between the Marlins and Reds for catcher J.T. Realmuto continue, but nothing is imminent.

Dansby Swanson is poised for a breakout year now that he is 100 percent healthy.

The Brewers are counting on a big season from starting pitcher Jimmy Nelson now that he is healthy again.

Clint Frazier detailed his harrowing battle with a chronic concussion that lasted for months.

Turns out Mariano Rivera is really not a Metallica fan. Well I am, so there’s that.

On Deck

Why do fans have such a hard time choosing players over owners in salary negotiations? One reason might be that so many fans now treat front office executives like rock stars. Who doesn’t love a nerd who wasn’t a very good athlete and then became wildly successful running the teams he couldn’t play for? I’ll discuss tomorrow.

Extra Innings

Cold enough for you yet?

Wednesday Walk Up Song

I’m on Fire by Bruce Springsteen. Right now, I only wish.

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