“And when you were thrown in a crowd could you believe yourself? Did you repeat yourself? ‘Cause no one would hear.” – Spoon, They Never Got You
Welcome to the greatest weekend of the sports year. With apologies to those who aren’t into basketball, today marks the first half of the first round of NCAA tournament games. Maybe your definition of March Madness is the current banking crisis. On the bright side, Opening Day is a mere 10 days away once we get to the other side of this weekend.
I’ve always loved the time from Super Sunday up until Opening Day because all the spring/summer sports are starting up. This year was especially nice because spring training started two days after the Super Bowl. We also have the added excitement of the World Baseball Classic, which has been nothing short of fantastic despite yesterday’s injury to Edwin Díaz. There’s so much going on that the Cubs almost seem like an afterthought.
Last night’s Cactus League tilt between the Cubs and Reds was canceled after four innings, but Caleb Kilian had another great outing. A lot of my blogger brethren called it “solid” or “pedestrian,” after the righty gave up a single run. I could point to three walks in three innings of work if I wanted to nitpick, but Kilian didn’t look particularly wild to me. He got some bad calls on two borderline 3-2 pitches that resulted in walks. If they were called strikes, he would have finished his stint with four strikeouts and one walk, and my peers would have said he dominated.
Kilian was something of an enigma last year, when he looked like the next big thing after a stint in the 2021 AFL championship game in which he was perfect for six innings. The Cubs called him up last June and he had three forgettable starts, allowing 12 walks in 11.1 innings while pitching to a 10.32 ERA. The young hurler experienced some growing pains at Iowa after he was sent down and may have stagnated a bit in terms of development. He seems to be past that now.
The Cubs have a nice young trio in Kilian, Javier Assad, and Hayden Wesneski, the latter two of whom are waging an epic battle for the fifth spot in Chicago’s rotation. They’ve been so good that I do not see a scenario where Marcus Stroman and Kyle Hendricks return next season. Ben Brown, Jordan Wicks, and Cade Horton are on the come, too. A 2024 rotation of Justin Steele, Jameson Taillon, Wesneski, Assad, and one of the kids, including Kilian, has me a little giddy.
Cubs News & Notes
- Manager David Ross said Kilian is as confident as ever, and that’s a big part of the pitcher’s success this spring.
- Steele had a rough outing against the Rockies the other night but he was working on utilizing his full arsenal of pitches for the first time this spring.
- Billy Williams wants to be a resource for current Cubs players, much like Buck O’Neill was for the left-handed slugger 60 years ago.
- Chicago’s bullpen is starting to work itself out.
- The Opening Day roster is pretty much set, too.
- The Cubs may not have roster spots for Christopher Morel and Nelson Velázquez. That indicates Mike Tauchman will head north for the start of the season.
- Zach McKinstry has a very good shot at making the final roster.
- Assad had a dominant WBC outing against the U.S. on Sunday night. He buzzed through a lineup that included Pete Alonso, Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Paul Goldschmidt, and Nolan Arenado. He struck Alonso out twice.
- One suggested trade over at Bleacher Report would send Ian Happ to the Astros for RHP Misael Tamarez, RHP Shawn Dubin, and OF Logan Cerny. Tamarez has a 65-grade fastball and an equally impressive slider.
Odds & Sods
Dansby Swanson apparently intends to turn the Cubs into a bunch of soccer hooligans this summer.
— Claire Watkins (@ScoutRipley) March 15, 2023
Climbing the Ladder
“The impossible is possible tonight.” – Smashing Pumpkins, Tonight, Tonight
I love all of the new additions to this year’s roster, but Trey Mancini and Tucker Barnhart are my favorites and this could be a special year for both. I expect Mancini to have a breakout season that will be his best since undergoing cancer treatment in 2020. Barnhart is going to be the poster boy for Chicago’s emphasis on up-the-middle defense. If the Cubs contend for the division or a Wild Card berth, both gentlemen will lead them there.
Sometimes it takes finding new digs to find your groove. Chicago has eaten up and spit out its fair share of free agents in the past and I worry about Cody Bellinger because of that. But I do think Mancini and Barnhart are going to thrive in front of the hometown fans.
How About That!
MLB is partnering with Zoom to provide fans with a more transparent replay review process. Only select games are eligible this season, but the league hopes to eventually expand it to all games.
Team USA is trying to manage playoff-level pressure in the WBC tournament.
The Yankees are the most valuable team in baseball, yet they do not provide in-flight Wi-Fi for their players on their charters.
An older article by Grant Bisbee of The Athletic chronicles the origins of team nicknames ($).
Is it just me or is Nico Hoerner turning on the ball a lot quicker this spring?
No doubter from Nico 💥 pic.twitter.com/Kaqm7CfaS7
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) March 15, 2023
Thursday Morning Six-Pack
- The 2023 NFL season has officially launched, and that means the return of First & Long over at Bears Insider.
- Aaron Rodgers is leaving one darkness retreat for another. The veteran quarterback is reportedly leaving the Packers to play for the Jets. I’m sure the Gotham tabloids will love his existential personality.
- The Packers have been through this kind of thing previously with Brett Favre.
- Speaking of New York, the new NASA spacesuits will be going for top dollar once they hit the Manhattan resale market. That’s just a joke, but the sleek new suits are pretty boss.
- Newark has always been Manhattan’s unwanted stepchild, and this error in judgment by the city’s council won’t help.
- Actor Ryan Reynolds and his co-investors made a cool $1.35 billion by selling Mint Mobile to T-Mobile.
They Said It
- “[Kilian’s] confidence has continued to build. I thought his command really looked good, . . . the way he’s manipulating the baseball. The changeup has really come to be a real weapon as a secondary pitch. And still working on a breaking ball that’s going to get a little bit more swing-and-miss. But the fastball location and the changeup have really stood out.” – Ross
- “I’m always trying to prove something. I’m not supposed to be here. If you look at the percentages, sixth-round guys don’t make it to the big leagues very often, so I’m still trying to prove things. I’m a little edgy. I take things a little personally — for probably no reason sometimes — but you kind of just have to use it. It’s a long year. You got to find some motivation somewhere.” – Wesneski
Thursday Walk-Up Song
Let the games begin! Single-elimination tournaments are the best.