The Rundown: Good Starting Pitching, Impressive Bench Trending Upward, Ross Has Myriad Bullpen Options, MLB Cracking Down on Doctored Baseballs
I mentioned In yesterday’s Rundown that the Cubs may miss Zach Davies more than others next season if they are unable to extend or resign him, and his subsequent performance went a long way toward proving me correct. In 4.1 innings against the Mariners, the veteran right-hander punched out eight batters, allowing just a run and three hits. Not bad for a guy who normally pitches more to contact than chase.
The rotation has really been the surprise of the spring. Granted, none of this will count once the season starts, but I don’t think even the most optimistic sort could have predicted what we’ve seen from Davies, Jake Arrieta, Trevor Williams, and Shelby Miller in Cactus League action. How good have they been? Check out their combined line:
- 51 IP, 8 ER, 45 K, 38 H, 17 BB, 1.41 ERA
Though exhibition games played in Arizona are usually launching pads for hitters, the four veteran starters have allowed just one home run between them, which may be the most promising stat of all. Jed Hoyer, Tommy Hottovy, and David Ross wanted a staff that kept the ball in the park, and the results have been nearly pristine. Even the most pessimistic skeptics should be excited about the effort so far.
When it comes to the team’s rotation, keep an eye on Davies, whose strikeout and strikeout-to-walk rates really jumped last year, and Miller, who could supplant Alec Mills as a starter with another strong outing.
Jake Marisnick keeps hitting home runs! pic.twitter.com/LAtrs1fHh0
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) March 25, 2021
Hoyer also wanted to get more production from his bench and the role players he’s assembled have not disappointed. Outfielder Jake Marisnick launched his fourth home run of the spring in yesterday’s 6-2 win and by all rights should be challenging for the starting gig in center field. He won’t pass Ian Happ on the depth chart, but it certainly won’t be because he’s not talented enough.
Marisnick, David Bote, and Eric Sogard are among the team’s hottest hitters right now and will give Ross plenty of options once the games matter. I’ll add Nico Hoerner to that group because the skipper hasn’t decided on a starter at second base yet. Look at their combined production this spring:
- 106 AB, 25 R, 38 H, 9 HR, 25 RBI, .358 BA
We know those stats won’t translate to the regular season and it would be folly to think that the four could continue at a pace anywhere near that, but it does indicate that there is some serious talent there. If anything, the Cubs won’t be giving away at-bats if they make late inning defensive substitutions or occasionally rest their starters. It’s too bad there is no DH this season, because Sogard might make a fine leadoff hitter and allow the team to move guys all over the diamond.
In fact, the non-starters have been so good we’ve heard nary a word about Joc Pederson, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Javier Báez in the last week or so.
Opening Day is one week from today and the Cubs are trending upward thanks to great starting pitching and a strong bench. If some of that scorching production does carry over to the start of the regular season, Chicago could jump out to a quick start much like last year, when they won 13 of their first 16 games. A similar start would immediately vault the Cubs to favorite status in the NL Central.
Cubs News & Notes
- Craig Kimbrel pitched a clean inning last night and, despite a 14.27 Cactus League ERA, he’s still the anointed closer. With Rowan Wick likely to start the season on the injured list, Brandon Workman and Jason Adam will serve as primary setup men.
- With his added minor league option, Adbert Alzolay is a strong candidate to go to the alternate site in order to stay stretched out and keep working on his mechanics for when he’s needed in the rotation.
- Alzolay failing to make the team could open up a spot for Dillon Maples, who is currently out of options and would have to be waived if he doesn’t earn a roster spot. “Good stuff is great, but outs are what matter,” Ross said last week, adding Maples has a “real shot” to make the team.
- Rex Brothers has a chance to make the cut if Hoyer is willing to expose Maples.
- Pedro Strop is a bullpen candidate, too, though because of his late start due to COVID-19 protocols, he may be sent to the team’s alternate site to start the season.
- Third base coach Willie Harris oozes positivity, provides lots of energy, and has quickly become a clubhouse favorite.
- The team announced a positive COVID-19 test on its minor-league side. Ross said the organization conducted contact tracing and everything is “clean.”
Odds & Sods
What you didn’t see on camera was that Harris broke into “the worm” dance once Horner was called safe.
Cubs 3B coach Willie Harris at it again, dropping to the grass to let Hoerner know to slide into third.
Ross pregame, on first time he saw Harris do that: “It made me start laughing pretty good. That’s Willie in a nutshell. He’s got that energy.” pic.twitter.com/TfLxRTAxEq
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) March 25, 2021
Spring Training News & Notes
White Sox outfielder Eloy Jiménez injured his left shoulder reaching over the left-field fence chasing a fly ball in the top of the 2nd inning Wednesday. He exited the game with shoulder discomfort and will be re-evaluated today.
Cardinals outfielder Harrison Bader is dealing with a forearm strain and will miss the first four weeks of the regular season, at minimum.
Starlin Castro is being given reps at third base by the Nationals because Carter Kieboom has had an awful spring.
Jesse Rogers of ESPN offers a primer on what the league is doing to crack down on pitchers using illegal substances or otherwise tampering with the baseball. Per Rogers: “If a pitcher’s “normal” spin rate increases significantly, the league may investigate whether the player is doctoring balls. Baseballs taken out of play—both randomly and prioritized, if they exhibit signs of foreign substances—will be inspected by a third-party lab, according to the memo. Balls will be tracked back to whomever was pitching when they were taken out of play.”
The rules designed to monitor pitchers could backfire spectacularly.
Take Me Out to the Ball Game
- The Chicago Tribune posted a photo gallery so fans know what to expect when entering Wrigley Field next week. Numerous changes are in place to help prevent the potential spread of COVID-19. Fans have not been allowed inside the stadium since the 2019 season ended.
- The Brewers announced stadium restrictions that have been put in place to start the season, including cashless payments, mask requirements, and mobile concessioning.
- I saw this on local television last night: The Brewers, Reds, and Cardinals are anticipating full capacity crowds by the All-Star Break, which would be the second week of July. The Cubs and Pirates were not mentioned.
- The Dodgers announced that groups of fans could be seated in pods of 2-6 people, and no bags will be allowed inside the stadium except clear, one-gallon sized freezer bags. The Dodgers also signed a sponsorship deal with Dunkin’ Donuts that includes a signature coffee drink, described as a “blueberry crisp latte made with Dunkin’s smooth espresso and topped with whipped cream, caramel drizzle, and cinnamon sugar.” Not sure how that will taste with a hot dog.
Go crazy, folks! Am I trolling Cardinals fans who might stumble across this post? Maybe.
Late-night Cubs highlights:
• Davies 8 K in 4.1 IP. 0.68 ERA on spring.
• Marisnick homers for 4th time in 7 games. Adds walk, steal.
• Hoerner triples (again) as part of 2-hit night.
• Sogard: 2 hits, 1 walk, 1 steal.
• Maybin homers.
• Kimbrel, Workman 1 shutout IP each.
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) March 25, 2021
They Said It
- “[Jake Marisnick] has looked really good. He’s hit, really, some massive home runs. And he’s had great at-bats, I thought, every time out. He’s hit the ball hard a lot. It’s been impressive.” – David Ross
- “[Adbert Alzolay] hasn’t had a lot of innings. I think that’s the main thing for us, is continue to monitor his innings and keep him healthy and on the development path. And yeah, he is a guy that is really going to help us out [this year].” – Ross
- “I would say Jason [Adam] proved himself last year, and put a lot of work in this offseason to be a guy that is highly considered to have a spot in the bullpen, for sure.” – Ross
Thursday Walk Up Song
One Week by the Barenaked Ladies – Obvious, but I do enjoy this song and the video is first rate, too.