The Rundown: Mid-Camp Storylines, Williams Filthy, Kimbrel Struggles, Hoerner Hurting, Kershaw Gets Opening Day Nod
With the first half of spring training in the books, some of the Cubs’ storylines are starting to get a little repetitive. However, there are a few things to keep your eyes on because this penultimate week of camp is always an important one. The battle for pitching spots has been fun, hasn’t it?
High heat. pic.twitter.com/qWUnEdERwc
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) March 14, 2021
Here’s what to look for this week:
- Potential contract extensions for the team’s pending free agents. Those talks are typically tabled once the regular season starts, so prepare yourself for trade deadline rumors almost from day one if Jed Hoyer doesn’t reach an agreement with one or more of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Javier Báez. That speculation will really heat up if the Cubs start poorly. Rizzo seems confident that he will get an extension.
- Will Joc Pederson carry his very strong spring into the regular season? The left fielder is slashing .545/.600/1.318 with five home runs, nine RBI, and just four strikeouts in 25 trips to the plate.
- Bryant is still looking for his first Cactus League home run and is slugging just .278 with only three singles and a double in 22 PAs.
- The diminished velocity of closer Craig Kimbrel. Dirty Craig has looked much more sullied than filthy this month and this is an important week for him to right the ship. As Evan Altman noted over the weekend, even the outs Kimbrel does get are quite loud. I am assuming the backup plan is some type of closer-by-committee, depending on the health of the other relievers. As we’ve seen since Theo Epstein signed him in 2019, Good Kimbrel is very, very good, but Bad Kimbrel is putrid.
- Keep your eyes on Brandon Workman this week as a potential closer. The veteran reliever has yet to give up an earned run and has six strikeouts in four innings of work. I wouldn’t be shocked if David Ross gave Shelby Miller a few chances to close if Kimbrel is still struggling in April.
- The spring version of the Crosstown Rivalry kicks off this afternoon as the Cubs and White Sox meet for the first time in Cactus League play. This is the year the up-and-coming ChiSox are supposed to upstage the Cubs, and though exhibition games mean very little, I’m sure both teams will play with a little extra incentive today. Dylan Cease will get his first start of the spring in today’s tilt and he’ll be opposed by Alec Mills. In an odd anomaly, the Cubs and Sox combined for just two runs in their games yesterday, yet somehow managed to walk away with a win and a tie between them.
- Speaking of Mills, Ross has some decisions to make regarding his rotation and bullpen. Millsy is one of several pitchers who could be slated for some type of hybrid role, i.e., alternating bullpen appearances with spot starts now and then. Mills pitched that no-hitter last year but is still on the bubble with regard to the starting five. Now that Kohl Stewart has been optioned, the battle for the final two starters comes down to Trevor Williams, Adbert Alzolay, Miller, and Mills. Williams has been lights-out so far. Alzolay has not.
- Has Nico Hoerner earned a spot as the team’s everyday second baseman? The sample size is still small, but Hoerner is batting .500 with a 1.383 OPS through 20 plate appearances. For good measure, he’s also swiped two bags and has been flawless in the field. Meanwhile, David Bote is batting .200 with a .304 OBP, which is exactly where he finished the 2020 season. Ross will have to decide if he should give Hoerner the bulk of the playing time this week to see how he handles it, or get Bote more ABs to see if he can put that omnipresent Mendoza Line behind him.
- Is it possible that excellent Cactus League play by Ildemaro Vargas (.429/.455/1.121 through 22 PAs) or the addition of Eric Sogard might cost Bote a roster spot? He has some protection because he is Bryant’s backup at third base, though Báez or Hoerener could ably fill in for a game or two, as could Vargas. Regardless, Bote is going to have to start hitting. He was miserable the last month of 2019 as well, batting .218 with just one home run and one RBI in 19 games, including seven starts, and that meager OBP is worrisome.
Cubs News & Notes
- The Cubs sent Rule 5 pick Gray Fenter back to the Orioles. Chicago did not have a roster spot available for the hard-throwing righty but he was certainly intriguing.
- Williams lowered his Cactus League ERA to 1.04 with 3.2 innings of scoreless pitching in yesterday’s match with the Angels.
- If the MLBPA wins its grievance regarding options allocations, Alzolay would be out of said options and have a clearer path to making the Cubs’ Opening Day roster despite a 15.75 Cactus League ERA.
- Hoerner was scratched yesterday due to lower back tightness.
- Jake Marisnick wants to be more than a role-playing defensive specialist and spot starter this season.
- Rizzo wants to bring the Cubs another championship. “It’s coming,” he said.
- Despite his early struggles, Ross continues to maintain that Kimbrel is the team’s closer and that there is currently no plan to replace him.
- It appears Rowan Wick and Workman will be the team’s primary setup tandem.
- We’ve now passed the one-year mark since baseball shut itself down in the wake of the pandemic.
- Look for outfielder Brennen Davis to be the face of Chicago’s next core.
- In fact, Davis is listed as the system’s No. 1 batting prospect in this year’s second annual Cubs Insider Top 20.
Odds & Sods
“Ban the shift.”
Joc smoked this. pic.twitter.com/bTHYsBBvih
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) March 12, 2021
Spring Training News & Notes
Royals rookie Bobby Witt Jr. has had a phenomenal spring. It will be interesting to see how Kansas City justifies sending him to the minors. It would be refreshing to hear “because of service time issues.”
Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw was named the team’s Opening Day starter, the ninth time he has earned that assignment.
Closer Jordan Hicks returned to the mound for the Cardinals for the first time since 2019, hit 101.4 MPH on the radar gun, and was lifted after facing just one batter in a 22-pitch, 15-minute sequence that resulted in a walk.
Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi also hit 100+ on the gun yesterday… 10 times.
Starter Dallas Keuchel is still ticked off that the White Sox lost last year’s Wild Card series to the Athletics.
Apparently, the Blue Jays scratched starter Steven Matz yesterday strictly to “hide” him from Yankees batters.
Sliding Into Home
I have more good news to report this morning. My biopsy and ultrasound came back clean, which is to say that there has been no progression of the liver scarring. The better news is that since I am a year older and 11 pounds lighter, that actually counts as regression. So, I have been rescheduled from weekly blood draws to quarterly and I don’t have to have any new tests until next March.
I don’t like being on meds and dietary restrictions, but I bought myself a full year, minimally. Last year my 12-month mortality rate was 6%, but now it’s dropped three points. My 3-5 year prognosis improved significantly, too, though I am still facing the same survival odds for five years or more.
The bad news is that I am officially off the liver transplant list. There is a procedure that could alleviate the underlying issue, but it is experimental, not covered by my insurance, and I have no desire to try to raise $350,000 to have it done, especially with a 50/50 chance of success.
I am a little mad that they’ve moved the goalposts with regards to diabetes. My HBA1C was 5.9%, which is now considered pre-diabetic. The level has historically been closer to 7% for that diagnosis.
I found this great excerpt from the silent film “The Cameraman” of old Yankee Stadium featuring Buster Keaton while doing research on Babe Ruth, so I thought I’d share. Keaton employed two cameras and the editing — considering this was filmed in 1928 — is sublime. Ruth will be the subject of tomorrow’s Rundown.
I will be in Chicago the weekend of March 27 in case anybody wants to get together. Let me know.
They Said It
- “The [Cubs] 2018 draft class was stacked. We have a bunch of guys who can get the job done and just moving forward with those guys, guys who know how to win, it’s what a winning organization needs – you need guys who can win.” – Brennen Davis
- “I think I’ve made it evident that Craig will be the closer. As long as he’s healthy we’ll go into the season with [Kimbrel] as the closer.” – David Ross
Monday Walk Up Song
Pleasant Valley Sunday by The Monkees – After getting my test results I had the most relaxing Sunday I’ve had in over a year. This song is wickedly underrated by the way.