Young Cubs Have Big Shoes To Fill

Chicago Cubs

Going into the regular season, the Cubs’ key concerns are Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler. They played inconsistently last season and in a stacked lineup like the Cubs have, their situation isn’t exactly a big concern to have.

“My biggest thing with him is that he understands how to get ready to play every day,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I’m not looking for great plays, I’m not looking for 30 homers, I’m not looking for him hitting .310. It’s just a matter of getting a young player who will understand the Major Leagues on a daily basis, that his prep work is good, that’s he’s ready to play when asked to play. Those are the biggest things about ‘Georgie’ moving forward.”

He’s got a rocket of an arm in the outfield and at any given moment he can launch a ball into the stratosphere. Jorge Soler struggled in April of last year and eventually ended up on the hurt list. This is a different team this season and with guys like Jason Heyward  pushing him in camp, expectations are going to be higher.

As for Kyle Schwarber, there’s no questioning his plate thunder. Affectionally labeled as, the “Sultan of Schwarb” by yours truly after his striking resemblance to Babe Ruth, it’s his defence that needs work this season. I’m expecting Kyle Schwarber to end up in an American League uniform before too long. Maybe not this year, but he’ll be a DH before his career winds down.

“We need to get that playoff performance out of him on a more consistent basis,” Maddon said. “For me, what I’m talking about, that’s all prep work. It’s a matter of teaching him how to get ready on a daily basis and we will. When we do that, you’ll see more of that kind of performance on a consistent basis.”

Now, imagine a few years ago when the main concern for the Cubs was not finishing dead last in the League? I’ll definitely take a few dropped balls from Schwarber and Soler any day.

Another area in need of addressing is the play of Kyle Hendricks. The Professor struggled last season going 8-7 and an ERA of 3.95. He’s got a bigger cushion with the addition of John Lackey and that veteran presence should help Hendricks a lot. I think Hendricks is a great pitcher and we haven’t yet seen his best stuff. He’s unorthodox and lanky but there’s a certain looseness to his approach that can fool the most seasoned batter. He’s going to rebound this year.

“I had some struggles,” Hendricks admitted. “My mechanics weren’t really working but at least at the end of the year I kind of found it. I started getting it back. Now I have these cues to my mechanics that are different than before, so hopefully I can run with it.”

We hope so too.

Believe it.

Could Victorino mean Victorious For Cubs?

Shane Victorino

In addition to the signing of Dexter Fowler, the Cubs went out and picked up Shane Victorino to a minor league deal. Although he’s unlikely to see much playing time, if any at all, he’s like Kawasaki that he’ll be the go to guy in case of a sudden call up.

“I’m just ready for an opportunity and hope to be part of something special,” Victorino said. “I’ve been blessed in my career to be part of a couple special championships in special cities. I tell myself, being a fan of the game, when there’s a 100-plus-year drought in championships, you always want to be the first. That’s the goal.”

Whether it’s the cool thing to be a Cubs fan this year or just enjoy the winning spirit, players are focused I think more than ever for their eye on the prize. A little refresher.

The Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908.

They’ve got all the players to do it and man, I wished I lived in Chicago this season. I would have made it my second home. The excitement and electricity around Wrigley Field will be contagious.

“The memory that sticks out to me is that beer being poured on my head back in the day at Wrigley as a visiting player,” Victorino said. “You think about those kind of moments, and respectfully so. I understand the passion of Cubs fans. My brother was a childhood Cubs fan, and [Ryne] Sandberg was his favorite player, Andre Dawson. I’m used to seeing a Cubs logo since I was a child. To be able to put it on now, even with the situation the way it is, I’m excited for the opportunity in Spring Training.”

Joe Maddon will keep the positive vibes in the locker room and although nothing is guaranteed, it’s going to be awesome.

It could also be bittersweet.

What will Cubs fans do should they win the World Series? What’s the next step? All the monikers and tags associated with the franchise like Lovable Losers will be no more. There will be nothing to criticize anymore. No more “Would have, could have, should have beens.”

If the Cubs win the World Series, then they’ll be just as respected as any other team. What would a world be like with ,”The Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 2016″

It sounds weird. Unnatural.

Perhaps the strangest part of all is that maybe, just maybe it’s the most natural thing in the world?

“Long faces are not permitted here,” Joe Maddon said. “The guy who attempts to be that guy who complains will get met rather quickly by some people telling him that we don’t do that here. I’ve had conversations with the group and individuals who I thought needed to be spoken to about potential adjustments and what may occur.”

Keeping it loose and positive because let’s face it, there’s going to be some ups and downs this summer. That’s going to be the key. I think the team is finished with the additions and with one week to go until the team plays their first Cactus League game, Addison Russell loves playing with Ben Zobrist.

“It’s a match made in heaven.” Russell said.

Believe it.

 

Welcome Home Dexter

Dexter Fowler, Chicago Cubs

How did the explosive Chicago Cubs become that much better?

Why, they signed free agent Dexter Fowler. In a surprising deal yesterday, arguably the best lead-off hitter in the game re signed with the Chicago Cubs after a rumoured deal with the Baltimore Orioles never came to fruition.

The details of the deal was a one year $8 million deal.

“When I read it the other day, and heard about it the other day, I was ready to text him and congratulate him,” Joe Maddon said of the rumored deal. “And then I was told not to do that. So I didn’t.”

Fowler will join Jason Heyward and Jorge Soler/ Kyle Schwarber in the intimidating outfield but it’s his leadoff ability where the Chicago Cubs are expected to shine.

Knowing the way Joe Maddon works, Fowler is more than likely expected to juggle duties with Ben Zobrist in the lead off position.

“I actually congratulated him because he didn’t have to file for unemployment,” Anthony Rizzo said. “I’m super excited to have him back. He’s one of my favorite guys last year on this team. It’s a great addition for us.”

In other Cubs news; Chris Coghlin was sent to the Oakland A’s for Starting Pitcher Aaron Brooks.

Coghlan was upset, and he’ll be the first one to tell you that,” Maddon said. “He enjoyed last year a lot. Being involved in a winning situation for the first time meant a lot to him personally.”

which was probably the main reason the Cubs were able to sign Fowler. I was a huge fan of Coghlan and being traded from the Cubs to the A’s would be a hard pill to swallow. I feel really bad for Chris.

Actually, the outfield is going to be very crowded and I’m going to bet that it’ll be Kyle Schwarber being the odd man out. He’ll probable see more time behind the plate than now that Fowler is back. It’s a tough problem to have but last year both Kyle and Jorge Soler struggled in the outfield but Soler’s got that rocket of an arm so I don’t really see Soler giving up much of his playing time to Schwarber.

Man, it’s going to be rough for Maddon every day.

According to Fowler, he has some unfinished business with the Cubs and it’ll be excitingly awkward the first time the Mets play the Cubs this season.

“We took those losses hard,” Fowler said. “Looking back, you see the Royals win a World Series and you’re like, that should’ve been us. Hopefully, we can do that this year.”

Money aside, nobody was more thrilled to see Dexter Fowler back in the pinstripes than me. He’s a good guy to have on the team and it’s always great to hear ballplayers talk more about the excitement of being on a team than dollars. He’s a team player and will bring that On Base perfection to the Cubs.

“My heart’s here,” said Fowler “I feel like the Cubs, they treated me with the utmost respect. With the offseason moves they made, you’ve got to go with what’s comfortable.”

That Pinstripe Cub blue is a pretty comfortable fit.

Believe it.

 

Summer Dreaming, and Donald Trump a Cubs Fan?

Chicago Cubs, Kris Bryant, Chicago Tribune

I’m always a little hesitant when expectations run high for a team heading into a season. I just think that it takes the fun out of it or perhaps, I’m still getting used to the Cubs being a really good team.

One thing I really hate about sports is contract talks. Take Jose Bautista’s situation in Toronto. The rumour is a 5 year/ $150 million dollar deal. I wouldn’t say that nobody is worth that kind of money. He’s a great player but contract talks before a season begins is dangerous because if he has a bad season then then that’s not going to bode well for him. On the other hand, he could have a monster of a year and all the better for him.

However, the way the Canadian dollar is moving, the Toronto Blue Jays had better prepare for a Joey Bats farewell tour.

Now, let’s talk about the Cubs.

This is the final year of Theo Epstein’s contract with the Cubs. Will he get an extension  or will he bring his magic to another team?

“Your payroll, more so than any other time in history, doesn’t determine how many wins you’ll have,” Owner Tom Ricketts said. “It’s not about how much you spend, but how much talent you put on the field and how they perform.

“Whether the payroll is [$150 million] or [$105 million], what happens on the field is what matters. The players on the field determine if you’re going to win.”

Which is corporate speak for, “Wait and see.”

Now, I’m not going to get involved in the American political landscape because well, I’m Canadian and that’s really not my place but Donald Trump sent out a Tweet the other day

“I hear the Rickets family, who own the Chicago Cubs, are secretly spending $’s against me. They better be careful, they have a lot to hide!” Trump said.

I don’t pretend to know what that means but Tom Ricketts responded with,

“It’s a little surreal when Donald Trump threatens your mom, whether it’s my mom or my dad on his ending spending stuff, or my sister on marriage equality, or my brothers and what they do, or what we do with the team, we’re pretty much an open book. We stand up for what we believe in, we support the causes we think are important, and that’s what America should be. That’s who we are.”

Baseball and politics shall never meet.

Next week we begin again. MLB.TV has updated their schedule and I’m excited if you’ve never subscribed to it, I highly recommend it. I don’t know where I’d be without it.

“I look at Spring Training as a continuation of last year and smelling the grass and all that — it’s going to be fun,” Kris Bryant said. “We’re not putting any pressure on ourselves. It’s just another year where we have some new guys in the clubhouse, and we’re all looking forward to the season and having some fun with it.”

Believe it.

 

Jason Heyward Brings Claws To Cubs’ Outfield

Jason Heyward, Chicago Cubs

One of the many reasons to get excited about Spring Training is of course, the return of baseball. Sure, it’s not quite as exciting as the regular season but the thrill of seeing palm trees in March when you look outside and see a frozen planet Hoth is awesome.

With the Cubs positioned as favourites to win the big prize, you can take that with a grain of salt. It doesn’t mean anything once the season starts.

People will talk about the  Curse.  Get over it. There’s none. It’s fun to think about a curse but that’s all it is, a scape goat for things going wrong.

“I’ve never really dealt with the word ‘curse’ — I don’t believe in those kind of things,” Joe Maddon said “but I understand why people would talk in those terms. What it’s about is how we handle the day properly.”

The thing to really get excited about is the new guys. Let’s focus on Jason Heyward. Plucked (sorry about that) from the St. Louis Cardinals during the offseason, Heyward will plug a big hole in the outfield. He’ll provide the speed that’ll take pressure off Jorge Soler and wherever Kyle Schwarber will fit in. In fact, coupled with Soler’s powerful arm this could be one of the most intriguing outfields in the game.

“He sees everything,” Anthony Rizzo said. “He’s five steps ahead of the game. We were talking, and I’m like, ‘Wow, you think like that, too?’ He anticipates moves off the bench, why would you throw this guy that pitch in this situation. It’s little things that an outsider would never think about.”

That’s what the Cubs were missing from last season. Guys like Addison Russell who was just freakin’ incredible (So incredible, it caused my wife to pay attention to all those highlight reel catches. “Hey Beautiful, you have to come check out this catch!”)Russell will learn from Hayward who is still a kid himself at 25.

“I was fortunate enough to be taught the game and where everyone needs to be on the field,” Heyward said. “You need to understand the game in the sense of where your shortstop needs to be, where the second baseman needs to be, where the catcher is looking to be. Before the pitch is made, where are you going to go with the ball if this happens, if that happens. Those are things I was fortunate to be taught at 7, 8 years old. That’s helped me grow into myself and some of the ability I have.”

Which is funny because I was watching Field of Dreams with my son on the weekend and told him the same thing about the position of the feet. Look at the pitcher and look at the batter and you’ll see where the ball will be which he said, “Daddy, how come Shoeless Joe is playing with both his shoes on?”

The Cactus League starts next week with the Cubs first game on March 4th.

Believe it.

Cubs Getting Ready For Something Special

Chicago Cubs

The excitement and anticipation of the 2016 season gets even better now that pitchers and catchers have officially reported for duty.

Are there any questions or concerns about this season? Will Javier Baez rebound this season and finally mature with the departure of Starlin Castro?

I’ve often said that the mark of a truly great pitcher is how deep he can go into games. Jake Arrieta went deep four times last season and the Cubs made it to the NLCS.

“Going deep in games looks good on paper, but a ring looks a little better at the end of November.” said Arrieta.

Yes it does, but the Cubs are a little different this season with the acquisition of veteran John Lackey which should take the pressure off of Jon Lester and Arrieta. My God, it’s hard to keep up with the J’s on the team.

One guy I’m excited to see in a Cubs uniform is Munenori Kawasaki. Although it’s a minor league deal, he’s the kind of player that’s good in the clubhouse. He gives 110% when he’s called upon and adds just that little bit more in depth to the club even if he might get just a little chance this season in the very deep Cubs lineup.

Is there any pressure on the Cubs to win the World Series?

Naw.

“We have not won a World Series in a century, so there’s nothing to get complacent or cocky about,” Joe Maddon said. “Bring that all on the table, talk about it, say it up front. That’s why I believe it’s important to embrace the target.”

There’s going to be a lot of winning this year and it’s going to be fun. Could Anthony Rizzo finally win that MVP award and become that team leader in Cubs history that does it all?

Perhaps.

This is going to be David Ross’s last season and there’s a great chance he could finish his career with another championship ring. He brought the maturity to the club along with Miguel Montero that is unmeasurable. This will be a fun year for him.

“I didn’t come into this going, ‘This is my last year and I want to do all this,'” Ross said. “It’s about that time for me to do whatever it is I need to do the rest of my life and start a new chapter. I really just want to get myself ready to play and help this team win and take in some more things, knowing it’s the last one. I want to take in the moments a little more and enjoy the highlights of the season and the guys.”

Opening Day can’t get here soon enough. Spring Training starts March 3 and in many ways it’s going to be just as sweet as the regular season. I truly feel that without jinxing anything, this year is going to be a great ride. It’s going to be special. In year’s past the Cubs have been household names for the wrong reasons but now, people are talking about them.

Believe it.