March…it comes in like a lion and goes out with regular season baseball. That’s right, the Cubs will start playing in games that count in 25 days when they take on the Brewers at Miller Park. Yu Darvish, who started against Milwaukee yesterday, will likely take the bump that day, too.
If you feel like March 26 is a little premature for baseball, you’re not alone. Other than games that kick off the season in foreign countries, this is the earliest an MLB season has ever started. I can neither confirm nor deny that this is the first step in Rob Manfred’s master plan to actually push the starting date back to mid-April. Then he can schedule the World Series for a fun-packed seven-game set played at a neutral site in mid-November. If enough games become weather-related cancellations in late March and early April, well, you can see how this all plays out. It’s not too difficult to understand the machinations of a dullard.
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m not a Manfred fan. In fact, I believe Homer Simpson would be better as baseball’s commissioner. I have yet to find a single thing he has done during his tenure that has made baseball a better sport. Here’s a summation of the rules changes he’s instituted — most of which are considered pace-of-play or safety initiatives — and I’ll let you decide if any has improved the game.
- In 2015, Manfred limited the number of warmup pitches and enforced the one-foot-in-the-box rule. Pretty mild and unspectacular, but nothing dramatic. He was just testing the waters at this point.
- In 2016 he changed the 15-day DL to 10 days, changed the rules about sliding into second base, and limited mound visits to 30 seconds.
- The commissioner got a little more ballsy in 2017 when he instituted the no-pitch intentional walk, lowered the time limit managers have to challenge a call, limited the challenge review time to two minutes, and forced base coaches back into their boxes.
- 2018 is the season in which Manfred instituted rules about illegally stealing signs — not that he had verifiable knowledge of the Astros’ hijinks from the previous season — and limited the number of mound visits to six per game.
- Last season, MLB implemented a single trade deadline, changed the format for the Home Run Derby, as well as the process for fan voting for the All-Star Game, and reduced mound visits from six to five.
- This year’s rule changes include active roster provisions (26/28 rule), implementation of a three-batter minimum for pitchers, and going back to the 15-day injured list.
Is the game more enjoyable because of these changes? Taking it a step further, is it more marketable to a younger audience now? I’d say no to both. Baseball’s primary demographic consists of mostly white males over the age of 33.
But hey, let the countdown begin to the season opener in Milwaukee. When the Cubs play their home opener against the Pirates on March 30, I’ll be watching from the comfort of my home, likely beneath a heated blanket. I know we are all excited for spring, but March is traditionally one of Chicago’s most volatile months when it comes to weather.
Cubs News & Notes
- With Darvish pitching yesterday, the rumor mill naturally started heating up again. The latest has the Yankees interested in the Cubs’ ace, but probably not until the July 31 trade deadline. That’s how Theo Epstein gets Gleyber Torres back, right?
- Darvish tossed 26 pitches in his two innings of work, allowing a homer and a double and striking out three. His fastball was sitting 95-96 mph, and he even touched 98 several times. Milwaukee shortstop Orlando Arcia took Darvish deep on the first pitch he threw.
- That Darvish-Christian Yelich beef is on hold for now, but should make for a decent rivalry once the season starts.
- It’s one step forward and two steps back for reliever Brandon Morrow, who has been sidelined again, this time with a mild calf tear. The injury will set him back 10-14 days and he’ll miss the start of the season.
- Lefty reliever Brad Wieck, who underwent a successful cardiac ablation on Monday to correct an atrial arrhythmia, was back in the clubhouse with his teammates on Saturday. “It’s all good,” Wieck said. “Just have to wait for my vein to heal up before I mash on the gas pedal again.”
- Anthony Rizzo is drawing leadership comparisons to former South Side first sacker Paul Konerko.
- Kris Bryant and his wife are expecting a son, and the third baseman sure seems to be enjoying that he will soon become a father.
- New reliever Jeremy Jeffress is hoping to help unify the bullpen this season.
- Catching prospect PJ Higgins is a player you should keep your eye on. Chicago’s catching depth is the envy of baseball.
Odds & Sods
The bar is awfully high in Canada, even when it comes to potential pandemics.
This is the only way Canadians can process any type of information pic.twitter.com/jAs29Le9si
— Chase Mitchell (@ChaseMit) February 29, 2020
Updates on Nine
- A’s third baseman Matt Olson could find himself in rarefied air this year, pulling off a combination that has been achieved by just four players in MLB history: 50 home runs and a Gold Glove Award in the same season.
- Congress is making a push to get former Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame. Flood, who challenged the game’s reserve clause in 1970, is one of the main reasons free agency exists. Over 100 different lawmakers have signed the petition for his induction.
- Advances in technology have separated the game of baseball from its soul, per Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated. Discussions with MLBPA chief Tony Clark have included an all-out technology blackout, something most managers are in favor of and many expect to happen.
- The Dodgers have DFA’d $16 million Cuban pitcher Yadier Alvarez. Los Angeles also paid a $16 million tax to acquire Alvarez because they exceeded the cap when signing him as an IFA in 2015. The starter left minor league camp last week because he “didn’t feel like pitching anymore.”
- Team USA will have access to some significant talent for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but superstars like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are unlikely to participate. The existing agreement only allows players on 40-man rosters who are not in the majors to represent the US in the summer games.
- ESPN has reached an agreement with former Braves third baseman Chipper Jones to work as an analyst for its Wednesday Night baseball games.
- New Yankees starter Gerrit Cole pitched for the second time this spring, throwing 21 of 30 pitches for strikes in his 2.2 -inning stint against the Tigers. He struck out two Detroit hitters and allowed just two soft singles.
- Dodgers ace Walker Buehler hopes to pitch at least 200 innings this season. The 25-year old is often mentioned as a potential 2020 Cy Young candidate.
- Zack Wheeler made his Phillies debut yesterday and was generally pleased with his outing. Several pitchers had been asked by ex-manager Gabe Kapler to emphasize fastballs at the top of the strike zone last season and the results were not good. New manager Joe Girardi has emphasized that Philadelphia pitchers should pitch to their strengths.
Thankfully leap year comes but once every four years.
So Leap Day in college baseball got WEIRD yesterday.
Liberty threw a combined no-hitter yesterday.
Yet somehow it gave up four runs, and was even losing as late as the sixth inning.
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) March 1, 2020
Apropos of Nothing
Though Sinclair stock is down right now, having lost nearly two-thirds of its value in less than a year, it may bounce back once the Dow Jones freefall stops. Why? It’s an election year, and as one of America’s largest news outlets, they are going to sell a lot of political ads between now and November. Before you get your hopes up, that probably won’t mean any added revenue for the Cubs’ baseball budget next winter.
They Said It
- “My spin efficiency is getting better, so that’s why hitters swing and miss a lot. I feel very comfortable. I was throwing hard last year, but my spin efficiency wasn’t good enough. That’s why hitters didn’t swing and miss as often, especially lefties. But this year I feel different, so I can get more swing and misses against lefties.” – Yu Darvish
- “It’s going to be a pretty good war [with the Brewers]. They’ve got a pretty good team and they’ve got pretty good hitters. Same with Cincinnati. We’ve got to bust our butts to beat them. It’s all about competing and giving them everything we have. We’ll see how it goes with them.” – Javier Báez
Sunday Walk Up Song
In Sleep by Lissie. It’s March, spring is nearly here, and next week starts Daylight Savings Time. Hibernation mode has ended.
A big thank you to reader Scott W. and his wife for the wonderful gift box I received yesterday.
Fan-freaking-cactus (see what I did there?) Spring Training care package from @ScottWGoCubs and his wife – thank you so much. As a writer I especially love the engraved notepad. #blessed #savealife pic.twitter.com/bQ9BgM73zJ
— Michael Canter of Cubs Insider ✨ (@MEdwardCanter) February 29, 2020