The Rundown: Frigid Opening Day Weather Looms, Ríos Ready to Bust Out, Rotation Battle Intensifies, USA Earns WBC Championship Berth
“So cold up north that the birds can hardly fly. I’m going back south and let this winter pass on by.” – Muddy Waters, Cold Weather Blues
It’s the first day of spring, winter still has an icy grip on the Midwest, and Opening Day is a week from Thursday. You’ve got to love March baseball. I’m not a proponent of starting the season in warmer climates, but I’m also no fan of checking the “feels like” temperature before heading to the ballpark. Chicago’s extended forecast calls for 40-degree temps with a 50% chance of rain on March 30.
There really isn’t much baseball can do with its already jam-packed schedule, with expanded playoffs and mandatory off days spreading the baseball calendar from March to November. The owners will never shorten the regular season and teams in colder climates shouldn’t have to start the season with two weeks of away games. In most cases, Chicago doesn’t see a 60-degree day until mid-April.
I don’t mind the weather that much but it does present a disadvantage for home teams forced to regularly play in less-than-ideal conditions. Batting averages are usually way down in sub-60-degree weather. Sometimes it’s so cold at Wrigley Field you feel chilled just watching the games on television. I remember watching Burt Hooton throw his no-hitter in 1972 and the batters looked miserable at the plate. It’s actually the first game I can remember watching on TV, probably because it was a historic effort.
Baseball stadiums are 95% concrete and steel, so sitting at an early April game is akin to climbing into a refrigerated cooler. It’s hard to feel anything but awful, even if the home team is kicking ass. I’ve only attended four home openers, two of which were absolutely frigid. I was at the homecoming game for Greg Maddux against the Pirates in 2004 and it snowed. Last year I got hurt in the bleachers before the first pitch and never saw the Cubs beat the Brewers 5-4. Both games were played in 40-degree weather with 15 mph northwest winds, though they were played in April.
We get March baseball this year, so there are going to be cancellations that will lead to inopportune doubleheaders and late-season scheduling nightmares. Additionally, the Cubs have early-April series with the Rangers and Mariners. With baseball’s new balanced schedule, any postponements of those games could be difficult to make up, but the league doesn’t worry about trivial matters like weather and player safety. As long as those turnstiles are rotating, everybody’s happy. Besides, we’ll barely have time to suffer frostbite because the pitch clock will shorten games a great deal.
Cubs News & Notes
- Seiya Suzuki is increasing his activity as he progresses in his recovery from an oblique injury.
- David Bote may have been the early choice for camp MVP, but Edwin Ríos is on a heckuva streak right now. He’s tied for the team lead with three home runs.
- A swing change by the slugging third baseman has the potential to unlock big power numbers. Ríos reminds me of Jose Bautista, though I do not expect him to produce at the same level.
- Caleb Kilian and Jeremiah Estrada are among the latest cuts as the Cubs work toward finalizing their Opening Day roster.
- Adrian Sampson had a nice outing over the weekend, intensifying the battle for the fifth spot in Chicago’s rotation. Hayden Wesneski and Javier Assad are also in the mix.
- Assad has had to stake his claim while absent from the team due to playing in the WBC.
- Justin Steele and Adbert Alzolay have been leading Assad’s cheering section. Assad has produced an uptick in his fastball velocity, sitting between 94-95 mph, and has hit 97 in WBC competition.
- Keegan Thompson may start the season with Iowa.
- Steele struggled with command in his last start and said he felt like he was “moving underwater.”
- Nelson Velázquez hit a walk-off home run to lead the Cactus Cubs to a 5-2 win over the Padres.
- Matt Mervis struggled while playing for Team Israel in the WBC. The slugger finished 1-for-13 and will start the season in Iowa.
- Mervis admitted that he still has a lot of work to do. Let’s hope the young man hasn’t lost any of his confidence.
- Ian Happ and Nico Hoerner are prime extension candidates but the Cubs have not yet been able to reach an agreement with either player and Opening Day is less than two weeks away,
Odds & Sods
Rest in peace, Óscar Mercado.
Tylor Megill vs. Óscar Mercado: Fatality. 💀⚰️🪦 pic.twitter.com/6YpRRXM6HV
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 19, 2023
Climbing the Ladder
“I was taught to fight, taught to win. I never thought I could fail.” – Peter Gabriel with Kate Bush, Don’t Give Up
Velázquez was a bit of a disappointment last season, but he may have been hyped a little too much coming off his 2021 AFL performance. Similar expectations hurt Kilian last year as well. Baby Boomstick batted .206 in 206 PAs last season and managed just 16 XBH, including six taters. There is no reason, however, to give up on either player. Kilian has already been sent to Iowa, and Mike Tauchman will squeeze Velázquez out of a roster spot. The two rookies should improve their games while toiling in Triple-A.
Christopher Morel will likely end up at Iowa, too. All three will help Chicago at some point this season.
- St. Louis: Rookie Jordan Walker is projected to be the Cardinals’ Opening Day designated hitter.
- Milwaukee: We have yet another reason to call Milwaukee “Chicago North.” The Brewers have announced Vienna Beef will be their stadium hot dog supplier in 2023.
- Cincinnati: The Reds have released catcher and former Cub Austin Romine.
- Pittsburgh: Mitch Keller has been tabbed as the Pirates’ Opening Day starter.
How About That!
The United States beat Cuba 14-2 last night and will go to the WBC Championship game on Tuesday. Team USA will play the winner of tonight’s tilt between Japan and Mexico.
Ken Griffey Jr. took batting practice before last night’s Team USA-Team Cuba contest and left everybody in awe. The Kid’s still got it.
The WBC is a great marketing tool for attracting a younger audience to the sport of baseball.
Trea Turner is having a fantastic tournament.
José Altuve broke his thumb on a pitch from Daniel Bard and will need surgery. There is no timetable for his return.
Bryce Harper wants to see baseball return to the Summer Olympics with professional ballplayers allowed to participate.
Jurickson Profar has joined the Rockies on a one-year deal. Colorado is doing that thing the Cubs used to do, i.e. signing journeyman players at the end of spring training.
Former MLB pitcher Byron McLaughlin is wanted for running a massive counterfeit scam and is reportedly on the run.
Future Cub Roki Sasaki will start for Team Japan in their semifinal tilt against Mexico this evening. Sasaki is going to be baseball’s next great ace.
2022 PitchingNinja Award for Performance of the Year 🏆
Winner: Rōki Sasaki
19 strikeout Perfect Game
Followed by a 14 Strikeout Game with 8 Perfect Innings
[An amazing 17 consecutive Perfect Innings over 2 games with 33 strikeouts] pic.twitter.com/YY17JAVbq9
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) November 18, 2022
Monday Morning Six-Pack
- Ryan Poles has had a great offseason, yet some Bears fans disagree. It may just be a matter of understanding the executive’s long-term plans.
- Teven Jenkins is moving back to right tackle and Cody Whitehair will get a chance to start at center. Those are subtle changes that should make Chicago’s offensive line much better.
- A massive blob of seaweed is heading for Florida. The loose raft of brown algae is about twice the width of the United States.
- Rolling Stone compiled another mentally empty album list for your perusal. This time they’ve named 50 genuinely horrible records by otherwise brilliant artists. To be honest, I didn’t even know that Van Halen III existed. Also, is Steven Stills actually brilliant? He works well in Crosby Stills, Nash & Young, and was a big part of Buffalo Springfield. But as a soloist? Hard pass.
- Wolfgang Van Halen admitted he liked the version of Van Halen with Sammy Hagar as the frontman more than the David Lee Roth years. Call me crazy, but I feel like a VH reunion is coming with Wolfgang replacing his father and Hagar taking residency as the lead.
- Adam Sandler finally got the recognition he earned long ago.
They Said It
- “I just felt like I was moving underwater for most of the day. I was constantly having to make adjustments out there, so that’s one of those outings I was dealing with today. But moving forward, just got to make sure I’m firing on all cylinders.” – Steele
- “[Rios] has big-time power. And we all know that. And he doesn’t need to try and hit the ball any harder than he already does. … Sometimes that leg kick, there’s a give and take. Some of the give is the power, but some of the take is the balance.” – Dustin Kelly
- “The main thing with Matt [Mervis] is, he got a really cool experience. Playing in the WBC, playing against some really good competition, some of the best in the world, in that environment is really important. It’s an experience that you wish everybody could go through. We’ll let him get back here, have his at-bats and see where things fall. It’s nice to have him back in camp, I know that.” – David Ross
Monday Walk-Up Song
I, too, am a fan of Van Hagar.