The Rundown: Swanson Flexes Muscle, Suzuki Poised to Break Out in ’23, Bellinger Looking Good
“Tall building shake and voices escape singing sad, sad songs. Tuned to chords, strung down your cheeks, bitter melodies turning your orbit around.” – Wilco, Jesus, etc.
Welcome to The Show, Dansby Swanson. The Cubs’ marquee free agent signing went yard just as peoples’ fingernails were down to their nubs. In the 3rd inning of Sunday’s 5-0 Cactus League win over the Royals, Swanson launched his first home run in a Cubs uniform. You could hear fans of Chicago’s North Side baseballers cheering in unison from Chatanooga to Chanhassen.
First home run in a Cubs uniform for @LieutenantDans7! pic.twitter.com/9xe7laBkXW
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) March 26, 2023
The Cactus League comes to an end on Tuesday, so it’s nice to see Swanson get off the schneid. David Ross and his pals in the front office have repeatedly said they’re not worried about the team’s new shortstop, but I was. A perusal through the blogger and podcast community indicated I wasn’t alone in my fears, either. The Cubs have done relatively well in free agency, but some of us middle-aged veterans can’t let go of the Milton Bradley and Danny Jackson signings. As Cub fans, we fear the worst until… well, we just fear the worst.
Swanson’s breakout performance wasn’t even the highlight of Sunday’s game. Justin Steele, who felt like he was underwater last week, pitched a gem at Sloan Park. He was fast and efficient through six innings of shutout baseball, striking out six Kansas City batters. He also worked that four-seam like a magician, inducing a bucketful of worm burners because, you know, strikeouts are fascist. Steele is actually at his best when opposing batters can’t keep the ball off the grass.
Chicago’s pitching is rounding into form nicely. Hayden Wesneski has been fantastic and has been named the team’s fifth starter. Jameson Taillon has been terrific, and Marcus Stroman and Drew Smyly look like they’re in midseason form. Chicago finished the 2022 season by going 39-31, with their pitching spearheading that success. With a vastly improved defense, the Cubs could make some headway in the NL Central.
And look, I get that Swanson is a wizard at shortstop, but we want to see him pull his weight with the bat too. It took five weeks, and that’s okay because Swanson is notoriously streaky as a hitter. Hopefully, he can carry his newfound success into the season.
Cubs News & Notes
- Swanson was really flashing the leather in Sunday’s game.
- The shortstop said he’s been struggling with his timing all spring, but felt like he was right there when he smacked his tater.
- Wesneski said he was speechless when he was told he was going to be the Cubs’ fifth starter.
- The decision to option starter Adrian Sampson was a tough one for Ross and Tommy Hottovy.
- We’ve reached the end of spring training and there have been no extension announcements for Ian Happ or Nico Hoerner.
- Seiya Suzuki was hitting nothing but bombs in batting practice on Saturday.
- Suzuki was named one of 10 players expected to have a breakout season this year. I think Taillon and Wesneski will also.
- There is a path for the Cubs to ascend to the top of the NL Central this year, though a lot of things have to go right.
- Trey Mancini is projected as the Opening Day right fielder, with Patrick Wisdom at third base, Eric Hosmer playing first, and Tucker Barnhart behind the plate.
- Marcus Stroman will take the bump against the Brewers on Thursday.
Odds & Sods
I wonder if the computer-generated Happ will get an extension this spring.
Can we just talk about this Ian Happ catch against me today? 🤣 pic.twitter.com/5n9trJFzK5
— Scann (@TheScann) March 26, 2023
Climbing the Ladder
“Then as it was, then again it will be. And though the course may change sometimes, rivers always reach the sea.” – Led Zeppelin, Ten Years Gone
There are two roster decisions worth keeping an eye on this week. The first is Christopher Morel, who had a great game on Saturday. A numbers crunch might send him to Iowa, but I think the Cubs need his versatility. If I had to choose between Morel and Mike Tauchman, Morel wins that debate handily. The Cubs are keeping Suzuki on his original injury timetable, however, which means he’ll start the season on the IL. Ross would like to keep Morel, but he’s not really a right fielder.
Javier Assad is also on the proverbial bubble. He lost the rotation battle to Wesneski and Ross is considering him for a bullpen role. I never thought we’d see the day when the Cubs have to jettison one of their best young pitchers because of a lack of openings, but here we are. Assad had a strong September and has a bright future with the Cubs, as does Morel. Both will be needed this season no matter where they start and the Cubs are a better team with them rostered.
- St. Louis: Rookie outfielder Jordan Walker has made the Cardinals’ final roster.
- Milwaukee: Infielders Willy Adames and Luis Urías have formed a strong bond that goes beyond baseball.
- Cincinnati: The Reds sent LHP prospect Steven Hajjar to the Guardians to complete a trade for OF Will Benson.
- Pittsburgh: GM Ben Cherington wants the team and its fans to start raising their expectations.
How About That!
Which player will have a career renaissance the way that Albert Pujols did last year? Miguel Cabrera and Joey Votto have “out-of-nowhere career turnaround” written all over them.
The following retired players are still earning salaries this season because they chose deferred payments: Ken Griffey Jr., Chris Davis, Manny Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia, Todd Helton, Vinny Castilla, and, of course, Bobby Bonilla.
In fact, Griffey Jr. is Cincinnati’s fourth highest-paid “player” this season. There’s no tanking in baseball, though.
Austin Nola has been named the worst catcher in baseball.
Roger Clemens said that if he were pitching today he’d take a pitch clock violation on an 0-2 count instead of wasting a pitch.
Reliever Jeurys Familia has agreed to pitch for the A’s on a one-year contract.
Yankees top prospect Anthony Volpe has made the team’s Opening Day roster.
Cody Bellinger is starting to look a lot like the guy who won MVP in 2019.
Heatin' up! 🔥@Cody_Bellinger pic.twitter.com/3F8LNpflhz
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) March 26, 2023
Monday Morning Six-Pack
- I don’t know how you feel about Nick Cage, but I think he was born to play Dracula.
- If you’re here that means you survived Covid. Let’s hope your system is strong enough to handle powdered beer. If you’re into that sort of thing, that is.
- Michigan has repealed its right-to-work law, and that’s a big win for organized labor.
- Would you take a bullet for Ticketmaster? How about hundreds of them? If you’re interested, you can sell your soul to Satan and work for the ticketing behemoth. Ticketmaster is hiring a social media director, noting that the candidate should be “brave” and “resilient.”
- If you’d rather work in a safer environment, New Mexico is looking for “bear huggers.”
- Your boss probably doesn’t want you to be aware of “bare minimum Mondays.” Oops, not sorry.
They Said It
- “[Ross] gave me a hard time today, and t kind of got me going a little bit — I’ll say that. No, it felt great, obviously. Any time you can start to feel like you’re getting right on track for the start of the season is a big deal.” – Swanson
- “[Swanson] is an unbelievable defender. You love pitching when a guy like that’s at shortstop and you’ve got a guy like Nico right across from him.” – Steele
- “I’m working my butt off to become the best player I possibly can become.” – Bellinger
- “I think the great thing about Adrian is he’s done this for us before and being a guy that was off the roster and earned that, so this is just that much easier of a call for us to make, should something happen that is unpredictable. So, for him to be ready and stretched out and pitching well, all those things are really important.” – Ross
Monday Walk-Up Song
I liked the soul music vibe to Sunday’s Rundown. Let’s keep it going.