Opening Day 2014 Part 2–The Cubs

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Yesterday I touched on the hopes and dreams of the Cubs. It doesn’t look like any of the experts and critics are putting the Cubs on their top ten list this year. Maybe not even their top twenty list.

Rick Renteria will face the biggest adversity of his career this year. Can he become that legend in Cubs lore? Will he be the skipper leading his squad to the post season and the World Series? It won’t be this year unless the stars align and miracles happen.

“My biggest concern is the guys who are here,” Rick Renteria said. “I understand all the youngsters are developing and moving along, which is great, but they’ll be here when they get here. I think as a manager, I have a team. I have a team of guys who have been here, and I have to make sure they understand I’m pulling for them. The other aspects that fall into place will take care of themselves.”

I’m not going to be that guy who brings the optimism down a few notches but there’s going to be a lot of bobbled throws from third to first and somehow the sun’s going to find its way into the eyes of the outfield. There won’t be a 20K day for one of the hotshot pitchers and a still “Trying to find myself” Starlin Castro just might locate that wonder kid that we’ve seen flashes of in his young career. I still remember that day in 2010 when he got a home run at his first at bat, hearing Ron Santo almost peeing his pants with all the excitement. Santo, you’ll be watching over the kids this year from high above Wrigley in that Broadcaster’s Booth in the sky cheering the boys on. Miss ya, man.

“It’s completely positive,” Starlin Castro said of the attitude in Cubs camp. “Everything we talk about in here is positive, how we can win with this team, how we can prepare to compete in the season. The [NL] Central division is hard, but it doesn’t matter. If you play the game right, you have a chance.”

You heard it from the man. Play the game right, Cubs.

Opening Day is here.

Believe it!
—Mark

Opening Night 2014

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This is it. No more practicing and no more Arizona. The Cubs will face the Pittsburgh Pirates tomorrow at 1:05 Eastern time. The journey begins. Opening Night is upon us as the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers square off against the San Diego Padres tonight.

From this day on until the end of October, there will be days of, “I’ll come to bed after this inning.” or “I’m not feeling well today” with the receiver on speaker phone as the person double fists a pint and chips waiting for that afternoon game. Ah, baseball’s back and the Cubs are tied for first.

There will be some questions like, “Will the Boston Red Sox repeat?” or “How will Miggy Cabrera’s contract take the Detroit Tigers to the next level” of course Mike Trout’s contract extension puts some much needed confidence into an underperforming Los Angeles Angels.

Now, don’t hate me when I say this but I’m intrigued about the Pittsburgh Pirates and in particular Andrew McCutchen. They’re on the verge of doing something big.

Now that I’ve said that, onto the Cubs. Spring Training is about hope and dreams. Today, the Chicago Cubs are in first place. The only team they have to compete with is themselves and they have to prove to the fans that they’re the team that Theo, Jed and the Ricketts set out to be.

Believe it.

–Mark

The Cubs Hoping For The Best But…

MLB: Spring Training-Chicago White Sox at Chicago Cubs

We’re into the home stretch before Opening Day 2014 and the Cubs didn’t disappoint. Ryan Sweeney let loose and crushed the ball to get his first home run of the Cactus League season. Travis Wood looked good and Wellington Castillo, Justin Ruggiano and even Darwin Barney. Yes, old Golden Glove Barney managed to get a hit.

So, are the Cubs ready for the season? I think they’re as ready as they can be for this year. The Cubs made the announcement that Mike Olt and Ryan Kalish made the cut.

This is great news. Let’s see more of Mike Olt this season. More than likely he’ll be at third.

“Olt had a great spring with the bat, his at-bats were very good, patient, aggressive, his swings were aggressive and he did a lot of damage and drove in a lot of runs,” Jed Hoyer said. “It was pretty clear if he was able to play third and get enough innings in and get enough reps, it was clear we wanted his bat in Wrigley.”

I think Javier Baez wanted his bat at Wrigley. Don’t worry Javy, we’ll be seeing you soon enough.

After this weekend the fate of the Chicago Cubs rests in Rick Rentiera’s capable hands. He’s going to be a great manager for the team and unlike some in the past like Lou Pinella who was in the twilight of his career and Mike Quade who was given the unenviable task of taking over a team that was falling apart. Was he a good coach? Somebody give Mike a second chance. Then there was Dale Sveum who in hindsight maybe wasn’t the right coach for a team in transition. Notice I didn’t use the term, “rebuilding”?

This is Rick’s team. He’s personable, capable and likes to laugh a lot which is probably the most important skill to have this year. Will he lose his job if the Cubs don’t live up to expectations? They’ve got nowhere else to go. Please Theo and Jed, this is the guy.

“Every time we came into Chicago, I felt this would be the place I would want to be a part of,” Renteria said. “I feel very comfortable here. I feel I’ve been welcomed by everyone. It’s a tremendously joyous spring and a very productive spring, and I’m looking forward to being part of the Chicago Cubs organization.”

Believe it.

Mark

The Cubs Call Poison Control After Loss To Diamondbacks

Chicago Cubs v Arizona Diamondbacks

What’s to be said about a 14-4 dismantling at the hands of the Diamondbacks that Cubs fans all over haven’t all ready said to themselves, to their television screens and to anything that happens to be in the way?

That sucked.

The Cubs got into it early when Nate Schierholtz and Wellington Castillo hammered out a couple of RBI’s in the fourth inning to propel the Cubs in front of the Arizona Snakes 2-1, but it was all Arizona after that. It’s a good thing games like that don’t count because nobody would want that game back.

The Diamondbacks hit six effin’ homers. While I’m trying to remain positive this season, games like that are difficult to keep a straight face at.

Donnie Murphy was claimed off waivers by the Texas Rangers and George Kotteras was placed on waivers yesterday. These are good moves because Mike Olt is looking more and more as the candidate to take on third base while John Baker will provide Wellington Castillo the backup he needs.

“He’s a vocal guy and he’s a smart dude,” Jeff Samardzija said of Baker. “You definitely enjoy a cerebral catcher for sure. It’s nice even when he’s not catching that he’s paying attention to the game and is locked in. Even after the game, you can bounce ideas off him.

So we’re pretty close to seeing the team that will lead the 2014 edition of the Chicago Cubs onto the field next week.

Opening Day is Monday the 31st, but the Cubs home opener isn’t until next Friday. Does anyone have any special Opening Day traditions?

—Mark

Cubs Facing Decisions

MLB: Spring Training-Los Angeles Angels at Chicago Cubs

Rick Renteria has got his work cut out for him that’s for sure. Yesterday’s late inning collapse against the Angels wasn’t the thing he had planned for even though Junior Lake powered his fifth home run of the spring season. The Cubs had the Angels on the ropes up until the ninth and well, that’s when the inexperience kicked in and cost them the win.

The Cubs and the Padres came to a draw in the late game. Which really didn’t equate to much being the “prospect” game. A chance to see what will be in a couple of years or next, who knows?

The three players I believe will make the biggest impact this year are Mike Olt, Justin Ruggiano and Emilio Bonifacio. Third base is a wide open position with it coming down to Luis Valbuena and Olt. The Cubs would make a huge mistake not putting Olt at third. Nobody’s expecting much from the Cubs this season(except for me), so Olt needs to get into the frying pan. Valbuena could be the utility guy.

Emilio Bonifacio is going to be a Jose Reyes type of player. He’s got the speed and he’s going to get the Cubs the runs. if he’s hitting in front of Starlin Castro, this could be a very good one-two punch situation. I liked Starlin in the leadoff but Emilio would be well suited in the role. It’s highly unlikely that Starlin is going to have another year like he did last season.

Here’s the thing; it’s foolish to think that the Cubs will be as bad as they might look, but it’s also foolish to believe they’re going to finish at the top of the Central. It’s just a damn hard division. However, this is not just any ordinary season. This is 2014 and Wrigley Field is 100 years old. There’ll be plenty of off field celebrating but there very well could be some enthusiasm on the field too. Javier Baez will be playing sometime or another and players like Anthony Rizzo(who I did pick in my Fantasy League) are going to bring their bats this year because they have nothing to lose. The Cubs can’t afford to coast through the season and wait until next year, they have to prove that they’re the team of the future.

2015 is going to be huge for them. How huge? A lot of the young guys will be up and playing but for now, this season is all about teaching them how to win.

The Cubs won’t be as bad as the Brewers. Junior Lake is on a hot streak. Mike Olt has something to prove and so does Castro so how could the Cubs lose this year?

Believe me when I say that the Cubs could be a Wild Card team.

—Mark

Starlin Castro Getting It Together

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There was a taunting coming from outside. High up in a leafless tree in the backyard, there was a taunting.

All right, it was chirping and it came from a Cardinal. Those beautiful crimson avian things. Except this is spring and this bird wasn’t really taunting me. It was possibly doing what birds do in spring and that folks is a whole other blog.

Then again to a Cubs fan, the sign of a Cardinal in a tree? Quoth the Cardinal, Nevermore.

Hopefully Emilio Bonifacio can continue with the triples this season in a 7-1 loss against the Padres yesterday. I’ve got a good feeling about him this season.

Starlin Castro is on the mend and the regular season is getting closer. Will he be ready? Will he have a better year?

“Really close,” Castro said. “I don’t know the day now to play in a big league game, but I can say I’m really close. I got a base hit over there and was running hard and turned and felt pretty good, didn’t feel anything.”

There’s an advantage that the young players have over the veterans on the Cubs team and that is during the dog days of July and August, the guys might be able to withstand the heat where the more grizzled players will find it challenging. Not that the Cubs will be there in September competing for that Wild Card spot, but why not? It’s a possibility, but anything can happen this year.

There’s that damn Cardinal again.

—Mark

Junior Lake Powers Cubs Past Athletics

Chicago Cubs Photo Day

I have a confession to make. A long time ago, I used to be a fan of the Oakland Athletics. Going way back to the Bash Brothers, Jose Canseco and Mark McGuire and we all know how that turned out, don’t we?

A little part of me was sad that the Cubs put those baseball dancing elephants out of their misery yesterday, with a 10-6 drubbing. Then again, Junior Lake crushed three balls too.

If any of you were waiting for Junior to wake up and get going, yesterday was that day and as Spring Training winds down and fans everywhere kick that squirrel out of the BBQ and to the curb, the Cubs are carefully trimming their roster with releases to Neil Ramirez and Tsuyoshi Wada. Yup, the Cubs are getting it going.

There are certain questions that need answering. Will Starlin Castro be ready for Opening Day? Should Jeff Samardzija, Nate Schierholtz and Darwin Barney get served their walking papers and what will the rotation look like come that unofficial spring holiday, which by the way garnered enough signatures to be sent to the White House for consideration. There’s also the uncertainty of Mike Olt at third base.

Anyway you slice it, the Cubs are looking better than the rebuilding project that everyone claims they’re going through, but not quite the team that they want to be at.

Believe It.

—Mark Gauthier