The Rundown: Baseball Returns, Marquee-Comcast Deal Complete, Cubs Sign Dietrich, League Announces 16-Team Playoff
After five months of winter, an abbreviated Cactus League that was postponed after five weeks, four months of pandemic leave, three weeks of summer camp, and three exhibition tune ups, Cubs baseball is finally back. If you are keeping score at home, that means it has been almost 10 months and nearly 300 days since the North Siders played a meaningful game. Yes, babies have been conceived and born since the Cubs were thrashed 9-0 by the Cardinals on September 29.
More than a game. #WhereStoriesPlay pic.twitter.com/FtipnIgp70
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) July 23, 2020
As a multitude of medical experts call for a national COVID-19 shutdown, MLB will try to complete a 60-game season that also includes a 16-team postseason without further interruption. There may be more excitement in trying to see if the game can beat the clock than in watching games in empty stadiums.
By the way, do any of you remember the game show Beat the Clock hosted by Monte Hall in the late 1970s?
I don’t want to break up the excitement of Opening Day, but if the Cubs can’t make the postseason in a 16-team format, nobody should be upset if Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer start dismantling the core as August turns to September. The Cubs have underachieved since losing the 2017 NLCS to the Dodgers, and other than signing Yu Darvish, they have made few significant changes to the roster in that time.
David Ross is certainly entitled to some growing pains in his inaugural season as manager, but he is leading a loaded veteran team on a championship run. Any failure to make the playoffs will fall strictly on ownership and the front office. There have been some questionable moves and non-moves as the organization continues to stick with its core stars and its vaunted process. With a farm system that is ready to make a leap into the top 10, anything that reeks of mediocrity should therefore be exchanged for more building blocks.
Let’s save the negativity for a time when it’s warranted. We are less than 12 hours from Opening Day at Wrigley Field. And though it couldn’t be a more bizarre start to a season, we should all be excited and hopeful that the Cubs can win their second championship of the Epstein-Hoyer era. It’s cliché, but play ball!
Cubs News & Notes
- Good news! A carriage agreement has finally been reached between Marquee and Comcast. The provider will broadcast the team’s proprietary network on Channel 202 in the Chicago market and 1254 in other areas.
- After a few unsettling months, Ross is finally set to manage his first professional game.
- Ross and the front office finalized the team’s 30-man roster for Opening Day. Daniel Descalso made the cut, but was immediately placed on the 45-day injury list. I would imagine he has played his last game as a Cub.
- The Cubs bolstered their roster by signing former Reds utilityman Derek Dietrich, who will likely become an instant fan favorite. The colorful slugger missed most of Summer Camp after testing positive for the coronavirus and comes to Chicago on a minor-league deal, though he should get a roster spot quickly.
- Dietrich had actually requested to be released by the Reds and will be a nice replacement for Descalso.
- Nico Hoerner said he is ready to be a key contributor.
- Though Mookie Betts signed a contract extension that will keep him with the Dodgers for the rest of his career, the Cubs will remain tied to a wait-and-see approach on potential extensions for Kris Bryant, Javier Báez, Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo, and Willson Contreras.
- Quality assurance coach Mike Napoli tested positive for COVID-19 prior to joining the team in Chicago and should be ready to return soon.
- Starting today, there are no clean innings after the 9th. How Ross manages his bullpen in extra innings will go a long way toward determining if his team is a contender or not. Don’t forget, pitchers are required to face a minimum of three batters or at least end an inning.
- Duane Underwood Jr. might be someone that Ross relies on to get big outs in high leverage situations. The young righty has a potentially elite fastball/changeup combination.
- Kyle Hendricks gets the Opening Day assignment against the Brewers this evening, and he will be opposed by Brandon Woodruff.
- Most of the organization is aware that the league can pull the plug on the season at any time. 11 teams play in cities that have been recently named C-19 hotspots.
Shameless Plug to Ensure I Remain Employed Here
Happy #OpeningDay everybody!
Be sure to check out The Rant Live with me, @DEvanAltman, and @SonRanto today at 4 Central for our special opening day coverage.
— Jon Strong (@JonStrong_) July 24, 2020
Odds & Sods
“I’m sorry Jim. I’m a doctor, not a pitcher.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci threw out the first pitch before the Nationals-Yankees game. pic.twitter.com/04Tbkh7Voa
— ESPN (@espn) July 23, 2020
How About That!
New Yankees starter Gerrit Cole pitched as advertised in New York’s season opener. He grabbed the win in a rain-shortened 4-1 victory over the Nationals.
Despite giving up four earned runs and taking the loss, Max Scherzer recorded 11 punchouts in 5.1 innings for Washington.
Outfielder Juan Soto has tested positive for the coronavirus and missed the game.
Dustin May got the Opening Day start for the Dodgers, who pasted the Giants 8-1, though he didn’t stick around long enough to earn the win. Clayton Kershaw was a late scratch.
The Reds are considered by many to be the NL Central favorites.
Trade deadline enthusiasts and baseball purists probably hate the idea of 16-team postseason. I’m a fan, and hope MLB continues it after this season
Thursday’s Three Stars
- MLBPA – Baseball is officially back, and the players deserve all the credit.
- Enrique “Kiké” Hernández – Cubs fans will never forget this guy, and last night he was all the offense the Dodgers needed in their victory. The second baseman, who beat out heralded rookie Gavin Lux, was 4-for-5 with a tater and five RBI last night.
- Giancarlo Stanton – The slugging Yankees outfielder hit the league’s first home run of the season, and finished the evening with two hits and three RBI.
Sliding Into Home
Despite the fact that I remain baffled by the decision to play a 2020 season, I feel a little more normal this morning writing about games that matter. Since last season ended, I have been dealing with so many health issues that at times I just felt like throwing in the towel. But now, as hope always springs eternal, I have a new sense of belonging and a reason to feel optimistic.
I’ve always loved baseball, particularly Cubs baseball, but until this morning, maybe I didn’t realize just how much. I am not kidding when I tell you that I feel like I am finally able to exhale. It’s been a long ten months, but today, The Rundown feels like home again.
Apropos of Nothing
When the pandemic first started there was a run on toilet paper, sanitizers and disinfectants. It looks like Cheeze-Its and Oreos may soon be in short supply, too.
Out of Left Field
Mike Tyson has decided to fight again. If you refused to believe that 2020 marks the beginning of some sort of biblical apocalypse, believe it now.
Dietrich owns the Pirates and sure knows how to pimp a dinger.
They Said It
- “The virus is still obviously in control, and the national trends still are not good. We have a lot of work ahead of us. It’s not a time to spike the ball or say ‘mission accomplished’ or anything like that because we’re really just starting, and there’s so much uncertainty ahead. ” – Theo Epstein
- “We’re going to distance ourselves as much as we can, on the field, in the dugout, in the clubhouse, things like that — wearing a mask around the clubhouse — trying to keep each other safe.” – Kyle Schwarber
Friday Walk Up Song
Lovely Day by Bill Withers – Baseball is back, at least for now. Embrace the madness, it’s going to be one heck of a ride.