The Rundown: Opening Day Around Corner, Potential Career Milestones, Mowins Set to Make Cubs History
The reality that the MLB season is going to start on time and that fans are going to be able to attend games, is so close one can almost taste it. Opening Day for the Cubs is just two weeks from today, and early forecast models show sunny skies with a high temperature between 50 and 55 degrees when the North Siders take the field against the Pirates.
Anthony Rizzo – Chicago Cubs (3)* pic.twitter.com/7rPMYf4Zj0
— MLB HR Videos (@MLBHRVideos) March 18, 2021
It’s unlikely I’ll get to Wrigley Field this year but I’m still holding out hope. I’m more likely to attend games up here in Milwaukee when the Cubs and Brewers clash once American Family Park increases capacity and relaxes mask mandates. That said, I do have a series circled on my calendar that I’d like to attend in Chicago, and that’s May 17-20 when the Nationals come to town. In my wildest dreams one of those games will pit Jake Arrieta against Jon Lester.
Lester is just seven wins shy of 200 for his career and, though it’s unlikely he’ll be looking for that milestone win in May, it’s not impossible. The big lefty is also 103 strikeouts shy of 2,500 for his career. Benchmarks aside, seeing the two veterans going toe-to-toe would be a wonderful reminder of 2016, when both men led the Cubs to the team’s first championship in 108 years.
A number of other MLB players are within reach of some staggering and/or dubious distinctions this summer. Angels DH Albert Pujols is just 38 home runs shy of 700 career round trippers, something only Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds have accomplished. Pujols hasn’t come close to that total since he hit 40 taters in 2015, but that mark is within striking distance at some point in 2022 if he intends to play beyond this season. Considering his age and that mark, I’d say nobody fears a work stoppage after this season more than Pujols.
Speaking of the Angels, and though not really a benchmark, it would be nice to see Mike Trout in the postseason on a regular basis. They’ll have to contend with the overachieving A’s and an Astros team that has slowly lost a lot of its key players to injury or free agency. If ever there was a time to strike, this could be the year. If Trout has a typical year, 2022 could mark the 10th straight season he finishes in the top five of the AL MVP race, which is really unbelievable.
Miguel Cabrera, who played a big part in beating the Cubs in the NLCS back in 2003, is just 134 hits shy of 3,000 and also 13 home runs shy of 500. Barring injury, and based on his 2019 numbers, those marks could be must-see baseball TV in September. Pujols, Aaron, Álex Rodríguez, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray, and Rafael Palmeiro are the only players in league history to reach both totals.
Anthony Rizzo should be on September watch too, as the slugging first baseman is just 32 doubles shy of 300 for his career. Rizzo has averaged 33 doubles over his last four full seasons. Craig Kimbrel is nearing a milestone of his own as he is just two saves shy of 350 for his career. Former Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman needs 24 saves to reach 300 for his career.
One race that might fly under the radar this summer will be the race to 200 career errors, as Starlin Castro needs just five to reach that desultory mark. Right on his heels is Elvis Andrus, a single error behind Castro.
Finally, the Cubs are looking to extend their streak of six consecutive seasons of .500 baseball or better. They still have a long way to go to eclipse the best streak in team history, a 14-year run from 1926-1939 that included four NL pennants.
Cubs News & Notes
- Veteran broadcaster Beth Mowins is making Cubs history Saturday, as she’ll become the first woman ever to call television play-by-play for the team. She is scheduled to call a few regular-season games this season filling in for Jon Sciambi. If you are unfamiliar with Mowins, her style is similar to Giants broadcaster Jon Miller, who used to call Sunday Night baseball for ESPN.
- The Cubs broke out the bats yesterday and beat the Padres 8-2 in a night game at Sloan Park. Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered and the catcher had five RBI.
- Kyle Hendricks had a rough reintroduction to the batter’s box last night.
- Hendricks threw 50+ pitches in 3.1 innings last night and pronounced himself ready for the season. “I feel I’m in a good spot,” he said. “I’m ready to go.”
- Veteran reliever Brandon Workman gives the Cubs some insurance in case Kimbrel fails as the team’s closer.
- With the additions of Joc Pederson and Jake Marisnick, and a likely everyday role for Nico Hoerner, Jed Hoyer has strengthened a defense that won the inaugural team Gold Glove last season. The Cubs led the league with seven individual Gold Glove finalists last season.
- David Ross expects the team’s offense to fully rebound this season.
- Last night’s lineup is probably similar to the one Ross will use on Opening Day, including Contreras batting second.
- It looks like Austin Romine will start the season on the injured list, so the team is dipping into its vast reserves to find a backup to Contreras. Don’t expect to see Miguel Amaya however. P.J. Higgins and José Lobatón are two backup options for the start of the season.
- Hoyer said he expects Pedro Strop to address his teammates and apologize to them for violating COVID-19 protocols earlier this month.
Odds & Sods
The broadcasters say Cubs ace Kyle Hendricks is the first pitcher to hit for the team this spring, and it ended up giving Cubs fans a heart attack pic.twitter.com/ahWrTM87rh
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) March 18, 2021
Walk Off Grand Slam
In my overnight internet travels I came across what might be one of the more fantastic baseball sites on the net. If you love a combination of history and statistical analysis by all means check out cooperstowncred.com and be careful, the hours will disappear quickly once you start navigating. I found myself immersed in a series of articles by Chris Bodig entitled “The History of Relief Pitchers.”
Spring Training News & Notes
White Sox center fielder Luis Robert is looking to improve on his tremendous rookie season that saw him finish as a Rookie of the Year runner-up.
ChiSox starter Lucas Giolito envisions the team’s pitching staff as one of the best in baseball. “We’re just really, really good, and we know we are,” Giolito said. “I think we’re super nasty.”
The list of players who will be mentioned in trade talks all summer is long and significant.
Mets outfielder Albert Almora Jr. is happy to be under the tutelage of batting coach Chili Davis once again.
Starter José Quintana has had a very strong spring for the Angels.
At least three parties are working to supply teams with the next generation of batting-practice tools — ones that can replicate any pitch — either this season or next.
“What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That’s a pretty good idea. I’ll give you the moon.” – James Stewart, “It’s a Wonderful Life” and in remembrance of good friend Scott Crandall.
That sound 😍 pic.twitter.com/kCOt5K45my
— Baseball Quotes (@BaseballQuotes1) March 18, 2021
They Said It
- “We can’t overlook defense with our pitching staff, for sure. And really any pitching staff, but ours in particular. The ball’s going to be in play more, hopefully it’s on the ground, but the ball’s going to be in play more.” -Jed Hoyer
- “I think when this team’s rolling, it’s as good as anybody in the league, especially offensively. The back of the baseball cards, if you lined them up, that’s a pretty nice, deep lineup that we have. So I’m extremely confident in that, and I think that it’ll show in their production how good that we can be when they’re all rolling.” – David Ross
Thursday Walk Up Song
When We Was Fab by George Harrison – yesterday Kris Bryant made reference that he and the other members of the Cubs’ core will be forever immortalized. It would be nice to see them go to that championship well one more time.