The Rundown: Ross Right Man to Lead Cubs, Rotation Set Tone Against Brewers, Báez Bombs BoSox, Baines Gets Second Chance

“I’m a shooting star leaping through the sky, like a tiger defying the laws of gravity.” – Queen, Don’t Stop Me Now

When I was a kid my father wanted me to go to Notre Dame, a school he held in high reverence because he was an alumnus. As a teenager, I’d get to go to one football game each season that came attached to a mandatory tour of the campus and a history lesson on South Bend life. Without fail, there was a story about playing like a champion. That’s the university creed after all and, as my father would say, it was about succeeding in life as much as it was about winning on the gridiron.

I know that sounds very Rudy Ruettiger-esque, but my father, who was born in Mississippi, grew up in Indiana and had a fondness for his Hoosier brethren. The state carried a pure mystique in our household and winning, in sports and in life, was always homologous with Indiana. From Knute Rockne to Joe Montana, the Fighting Irish represented championship aspirations on an annual basis and the expectations (and demands) that followed.

I mention this because David Ross carries a similar mentality. When reporters talk about transition or rebuilds or whatever pet name Jed Hoyer uses to describe the current state of the Cubs, Ross will have none of it. In his mind, there is no delusion in believing his team can win the World Series. Playing like a champion is not something he hopes for, but something he presupposes.

“It doesn’t matter who you suit up against, every team has an opportunity to beat you and every team feels like they’re going into the season with a chance to win,” Ross said on the eve of Opening Day. “So I don’t want to undersell any one team or oversell one team. We have to go out and play our best brand of baseball. One thing I know about baseball is any team can win any day, and we want to go in and whether it’s in our division or outside of it, we’re going to try to win all of them.”

Most pundits project that this Cubs team is capable of winning 74-75 games, not bad for a roster that remains in flux, though far from the expectations of its manager. The difference between a third-place finish and winning the NL Central is about one extra win every two weeks. That would put Chicago in the range of 86-88 wins, and what do you know? The Braves finished 88-73 last season and won the World Series.

We make projections based on data and because of advanced metrics, few of us leave little room for intangibles just because they can’t be quantified. I don’t know anybody who predicted the way last season would play out. Who would have thought a 106-win Los Angeles team would be forced to play a single-elimination playoff game or that Atlanta would mow down the Brewers, Dodgers, and Astros on the way to their first championship in nearly 30 years? Intangibles play a big part in beating three teams that data points say are superior to yours.

I could never say with a straight face that Ross is one of baseball’s better tacticians and it’s often difficult to tell if he’s truly a player’s manager, though he certainly leans that way. He’s upbeat without being overly rah-rah, but he never strays far from the even-keeled demeanor that made him a father figure to the young Cubs in 2016. That team overachieved because Ross kept its young stars from believing the hype and getting too far ahead of themselves. Call it reserved swagger, for lack of a better phrase.

When Hoyer traded his core pieces last year, I was convinced Ross was not the man to lead a rebuild. The exuberance of this past weekend aside, I now believe he is a perfect choice. The third-year manager is in his element when leading raw but talented players. That’s the secret sauce of ’16, and I believe it’s the primary reason Hoyer expects the Cubs to be great again sooner rather than later.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

In the not too distant future when 25% of major league umpires lose their jobs so that they may be replaced by robotic facsimiles, one unemployment officiant will come looking for Angel Hernandez.

MLB News & Notes

With six singles, two doubles, one triple, and five walks since Opening Day, Steven Kwan has reached base 15 times in his first four MLB games — the most any player has logged in his first four career games since at least 1901.

Javier Báez hit a mammoth home run yesterday and Cubs fans just can’t let it go.

Báez is no stranger to coming up big in key moments.

The A’s and White Sox are reportedly very close on a deal involving starting pitcher Frankie Montas.

The Lerner family is going to look into the possibility of selling the Nationals.

The no-run first inning (NRFI) is becoming a very popular prop bet.

Rachel Balkovec took home a win in her first game as manager of the Tampa Tarpons.

Thanks to heart and kidney transplants, Harold Baines is excited and grateful to have been given a second chance.

Monday’s Three Stars

  1. Sean Murphy – You won’t get this unless you were paying attention to Twitter yesterday, but we’ve unlocked a real-life version of the stupid, sexy Ned Flanders meme.
  2. Maikel Franco – The Nationals’ third baseman shook off a 1-for-13 start with a 4-for-5 night that included a home run and five RBI.
  3. Sheldon Neuse – The 27-year-old sophomore infielder had a career night, leading the A’s to a 13-2 win over the Rays with three hits in five at-bats, including a 9th-inning grand slam.

Extra Innings

Stupid, sexy Murphy!

They Said It

  • “I don’t like that narrative. But everybody is different. I don’t know that I’m going to be pounding the table [saying] ‘We’re underdogs.’ I like to think the expectations here — and they have been for a long time — of a championship-type mindset. We’re here to win. Not just a championship, but multiple. And we’re working toward that every day.” – Ross

Tuesday Walk-Up Song

Touch of Grey by the Grateful Dead – For some reason, this song pops in my head whenever the Cubs make their first visit to Pittsburgh each year, which I can only assume is a flashback to some wonderful 1987 memories that are probably *ahem* medicinally suppressed.

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