The Rundown: Dumping Water on Harper Rumor, Cubs Equipment Heads to Arizona, This Week’s Baseball Book/Flick Picks
If you didn’t know me yesterday, you probably know me today as I have become mildly notorious on social media thanks to a phone call I received from a friend that I relayed to Evan regarding Bryce Harper. I’ll save any commentary I have on that for the comments section of his piece so that people aren’t toggling back and forth between his post and mine.
So, business as usual. And though I truly believe my friend is being up front with me, there’s this:
Groundhog Day update: The Cubs did not meet with Bryce Harper on Friday, a source told The Athletic, dismissing one Harper rumor that's out there. For months, the Cubs have been clear about their expectations and limitations re: doing that kind of megadeal this winter.
— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) February 2, 2019
It’s not April Fool’s, Patrick!
Let’s talk about the currently-employed Cubs, because they have a pretty darned good roster as the team sits right now. As you may know, I commute from Milwaukee to Chicago and back for my job, so I spend a lot of time listening to MLB Radio on Sirius XM. Last night I had the rare treat of hearing nothing but positive reports from analysts and callers alike. It’s almost as if the mini-Ice Age that just blasted through the Midwest took all the bad Cubs juju with it.
It’s been a long time since I’ve heard the Cubs mentioned as “the team to beat” and “a legitimate championship team,” and it was nice to hear a few predictions for 90+ wins this season. I don’t mean to cut the hearts out of any of the fanbase, but it’s almost like we are convincing ourselves the Cubs are teetering on mediocrity so that we can justify signing Harper. When did we take the “die hard” out of our fandom vocabulary?
Projections are about to start filtering in through the online periodicals, and though they’ll be somewhat farcical with about 100 free agents still unsigned, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Cubs will enter the season as at least the second best team in the National League. I personally like Chicago better than the Dodgers. Call me crazy, but Los Angeles has had a lot of player turnover and is operating with more personnel risk than any team I’ve seen coming off a league championship.
They’ve lost or traded Manny Machado, Alex Wood, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Yasmani Grandal, and Brian Dozier. They’ve acquired A.J. Pollock, Joe Kelly, and Russell Martin. This is the elite team of the National League? Give me the Cubs in five of every seven games against the Dodgers, please. I’ll take all bets.
The Cubs were a stellar team last year, despite winning just four of 40 games — including the Wild Card loss to the Rockies — when they scored one run or were held scoreless. In August and September they were 3-14 in those games. Unfortunately, they were 0-2 in October, which, yeah, stings a little. Though not all of those games were close by any means — a 9-0 dusting by the Royals in August and an 11-1 loss to the Brewers in September really stick out –17 of the losses were decided by two runs or less. If the Cubs won nine of those, maybe with just a dozen more key hits if you really want to break it down, we are talking about a 104-win juggernaut rather than a 95-win disappointment.
Here’s a little trivia for you: Which Royals pitcher blanked the Cubs 9-0 on August 8? If you said Heath Fillmeyer, give yourself a big hand. How would you have liked to sit next to Epstein for that game? You absolutely have to win that game against that pitcher! At least the Cubs got a Meatloaf in that series. As Joe Maddon will gladly tell you, “Two out three ain’t bad.”
I don’t know if there is a real need to spend $300 million for 12 more hits. There may not be a need to spend a single penny. After all, Kris Bryant missed a third of the season and Anthony Rizzo struggled through some significant stretches, too.
I’d say Chili Davis probably cost the Cubs at least that many hits just because he couldn’t connect with anybody under 30. So maybe Anthony Iapoce truly is the most significant move that Epstein will make this winter.
Cubs News & Notes
- The Cubs signed relief pitcher Tony Barnette to a major league deal while giving Ian Clarkin a semi-permanent home with their Iowa affiliate.
- If you like your baseball mixed with a little national politics, Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts has been named to oversee the fundraising for President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign in the 2020 presidential race. I hope Trump isn’t counting on actually spending any money.
- Jed Hoyer likes the Cubs and the Patriots this weekend, in that order.
- Is it soup yet? The Cubs have shipped the team equipment to Arizona and are confident that this winter’s stadium renovations will be complete in time for Opening Day.
Next stop: Mesa! ?⚾️ #SpringTraining pic.twitter.com/kkKlkMJbM2
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) February 1, 2019
- Yup, we get to see real baseball games in just three weeks from today.
- Evan talks about the bullpen’s strategy being pinned on positive regression. Back in my day we just referred to that as “you’re better than that, son.”
- Doug Glanville says Maddon needs to get off to a good start in 2019, and he’s confident the team will do just that.
A look back at some of the more significant Cubs-related news items from the past week.
- If you thought the North Side-South Side rivalry was dead, White Sox infielder Nicky Delmonico raised the stakes at Sox Fest last weekend.
- This front office strongly believes that the Cubs will have a dominant offense in 2019.
- Brad Brach is a sneaky good addition to the team’s bullpen.
- Reds’ announcer Thom Brennaman thinks the Cubs could be a .500 team this year unless a lot of things go right
- Bryant really wants a chance to redeem himself. The slugging third baseman had his least productive season last year thanks to shoulder injuries.
- Cole Hamels has been working to continue the success he had after being traded to the Cubs last season.
- Kyle Ryan is someone to keep an eye on as spring unfolds. Ryan turned heads in 2018 during his debut season in the Cubs organization. He worked as a swingman, starting eight games and appearing 14 times in relief for Triple-A Iowa. He posted a 2.86 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, struck out 61 batters in 66 innings, and was added to the 40-man roster in November.
Weekend Baseball Read
Seasons in Hell by Mike Shropshire – If Dr. Hunter S. Thompson had been a baseball fan assigned to cover a really lousy team, he might have rattled off something like Seasons in Hell, which immortalizes the deeply mortal 1973-75 Texas Rangers and provides the definitive eyewitness account of Cleveland’s fabulously ill-conceived Ten-Cent Beer Night promotion.
Weekend Baseball Flick
Super Bowl? What, you’re going to watch that 15-hour pregame spectacle? How about you catch A League of Their Own, instead?
My good friend Ellie Weingardt portrayed the Charm School Instructor in this Penny Marshall sports comedy-drama classic that tells a fictionalized account of the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). I’m going to ask Ellie if I can interview her for a future article. Tom Hanks is great in this movie that features the unforgettable line, “There’s no crying in baseball.”
In 2012, A League of Their Own was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”
So many great stories in this feature, but since weather was a viral topic this week, the Tribune takes a look at the top 12 weather-related sporting events in the history of Chicago. I was actually at the very last College Football All-Star Game in 1976, which was in fact, the most depressing sporting event I’ve ever attended. But guess which event takes the top spot? I’ll give you a hint. It included a $184 million pep talk. This game also made the list.
Saturday Walk Up Song
Electromagnetic Force by Wanton Looks. These rocking ladies are great friends of mine and the lead singer, Traci Weingardt, is the daughter of our favorite charm school instructor, Ellie. If you dig on bands like The Donnas and The Runaways you’ll love Wanton Looks.