It wasn’t the desired result for the Cubs but there were plenty of things to like in the Cubs spring training opener today against the Brewers. Travis Wood, Kyle Hendricks, Clayton Richard, Rex Brothers, C.J. Riefenhauser, and Spencer Patton combined to four hit the Brewers while walking one, and striking out thirteen. The bats were slow to get going in this one as the Cubs group of hitters could only push across one run on seven hits. Javier Baez got the start in center today, and struggled in the early going. He played an out (maybe a double) into a triple right off the bat, then one hitter later he dropped a fly ball, it’ll get better.
Some of today’s standouts:
The 2016 spring season kicks off this afternoon as the Cubs take on a split squad Brewers team at 2:05 PM CST. Travis Wood gets the ball for the Cubs in his first audition to make the starting rotation out of camp. Here is how the Cubs will line up, MLB.com has audio for this game, but you might need a subscription.
- Schwarber – LF
- Bryant – 3B
- Rizzo – 1B
- Soler – RF
- Montero – C
- Baez – CF
- La Stella – 2B
- Vogelbach – DH
- Kawasaki – SS
SP – Travis Wood
Lots of things to see today, Schwarber leading off, and Baez starting in CF are two of the bigger ones. As Maddon said yesterday, don’t read anything into any of the lineups yet as it’s too early. Albert Almora is available off the bench today.
I’m running a contest today over on twitter, correctly guess the first player to hit a home run for the Cubs, and WIN!
The bullpen is a tricky thing, from year to year guys come and go, and every once in a while a team boasts a dominant bullpen relatively out of nowhere. Off-season acquisitions, and power arms marinating on the farm are usually catalysts for such success, but injuries, and unforeseen ineffectiveness can derail the pen quickly. Given the large number of variables that go into predicting the success of a bullpen it’s usually an exercise in futility, but here goes… The Cubs’ bullpen has a chance to be dominant (They all do! You’re screaming), well, let’s just look at the options, shall we?
The Cubs have a solid core group of guys coming back this year, which could point to a reasonable amount of success in 2016. I base this mostly on the fact that the Cubs had the 8th best bullpen ERA in the Majors last year, and names like Brian Schlitter, Rafael Soriano, Edwin Jackson (wasn’t too terrible in this role), Gonzalez Germen, and Phil Coke were members of said pen. To be fair, guys like Trevor Cahill, and Travis Wood exceeded expectations in rather unfamiliar bullpen roles last year, and it wouldn’t be crazy to think that they will come back down to Earth a bit. The fact remains though, the best arms out of that Cubs pen are back this year, and there really is no reason to expect a significant drop in performance. Let’s break down the possible bullpen roles, yes, despite the crazy competition that will be taking place this spring.
Closer – Hector Rondon
Set up – Pedro Strop
Set up – Justin Grimm
Middle Relief – Adam Warren (acquisition) (Rotation Chance)
Middle Relief – Rex Brothers (acquisition)
Middle Relief – Neil Ramirez
Long Relief – Travis Wood
Long Relief – Trevor Cahill (Rotation chance)
On paper… on paper, that looks pretty darn good, and obviously as I write this I’m using the most optimistic thoughts as possible. A big key here is the health of Neil Ramirez, he was outstanding in 2014, and parts of 2015 when he wasn’t battling back from injuries, a healthy Ramirez goes a long way towards a great 2016. Adam Warren proves to be an upgrade over guys that the Cubs had to turn to last year in tough spots, like Jason Motte (again, ignore the injuries for the sake of this conversation). There is also a chance that Warren will have an opportunity to win a rotation spot, but guys with flexibility are all the rage for Joe Maddon. Rex Brothers, who was dominate in 2013, and struggled mightily in 2014, looks to bounce back, and if he does proves to be another rather large upgrade. Young arms like Carl Edwards Jr., Duane Underwood Jr., and Pierce Johnson could also make an impact in the Cubs pen this year despite being starters while working their way through the organization, save for Edwards Jr. last year.
The talent pool is better than last year, and the depth is better as well, those two things put the Cubs in a good spot to start the spring. If injuries pop up, like they absolutely will, the Cubs are in a better position to handle them, and still might have a few new additions that could surprise during camp, and win a job.
Despite losing Adam Wainwright for the season, the Cardinals are off to their best start in basically forever. They are 18-6 on the season, and sit at the top of the NL Central with a 4.5 game lead on the second place Cubs. The Cardinals have won six straight games, and are 11-2 at home, which means they are bound to lose some games! The Cubs come into this series limping on the offensive side of things, not a whole lot is going right at the plate. Despite recent struggles, the Cubs are off to a pretty solid start of their own, and this series is probably the first “big” one of the year as the Cubs would love to split, and hold steady in second place.
- Monday, May 4, 2015 – 7:10 PM CST – CSN Chicago / ESPN
- Tuesday, May 5, 2015 – 7:15 PM CST – WGN TV / MLB Network
- Wednesday, May 6, 2015 – 7:15 PM CST – CSN Chicago
- Thursday, May 7, 2015 – 12:45 PM CST – CSN Chicago
- Game One: Travis Wood (2-1, 3.04) vs. Carlos Martinez (3-0, 1.73)
- Game Two: Kyle Hendricks (0-1, 5.23) vs. Tyler Lyons (0-0, -.–)
- Game Three: Jon Lester (1-2, 4.71) vs. Lance Lynn (1-2, 3.07)
- Game Four: Jake Arrieta (3-2, 2.84) vs. John Lackey (1-1, 3.69)
Who is Hot:
- Cardinals: Of course Matt Carpenter is taking it to another level this year, he’s been fantastic. Over his last seven games he’s hitting .360 (9-for-25) with four doubles, a triple, a dinger, five RBI’s, and five walks. Go away.
- Cubs: After a slow start to the year, Miguel Montero is turning it on. Miggy is hitting .467 (7-for-15) over his last four starts with an RBI, and a walk. Would like to see some extra base hits, but he’s squaring it up.
Who is Not:
- Cardinals: Well, it’s only a matter of time before Yadier Molina starts coming up with big hits, it’s usually against the Cubs. Hopefully that doesn’t happen, the aging backstop is struggling, he’s hitting .111 (3-for-27) in his last seven with only two strikeouts, the BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is getting him.
- Cubs: It was probably a matter of time before Kris Bryant cooled down, he wasn’t going to hit .400 this year contrary to many reports from fans. Bryant is hitting .190 (4-for-21) over his last six with four walks, and ten strikeouts.
The Cubs have all of a sudden found some clutch hitting, and that is leading to some exciting baseball, and wins on the Northside. One night after scoring four times with two outs, the Cubs pushed six across after two outs for good measure. Going back to Sunday the Cubs have had thirteen two out RBI’s, THIRTEEN. So it really is not a surprise that the Cubs have won four straight games, clutch is good, clutch is productive. Travis Wood didn’t need much help in this one as he picked up his second win of the season, he was stellar over seven innings. The Cubs will go for the sweep tomorrow night against Pittsburgh’s ace, Gerrit Cole.
At the Plate:
- Dexter Fowler is scorching hot right now, he went 3-for-4 with two RBI’s, and a stolen base.
- Kris Bryant came up with another big hit tonight, he was 1-for-4 with a walk, a stolen base, and an RBI.
- Starlin Castro, have a night, he was 3-for-5 with an RBI, a stolen base, and two runs scored.
- Junior Lake made a splash (heh) in his return, he was 2-for-5 with a double, an RBI, and a run scored.
- Welington Castillo, Chris Coghlan, and Addison Russell all had one hit in the win. Russell added an RBI, a walk, and a run scored.
On the Mound:
- Travis Wood got the start, and picked up his second win of the year. Wood worked seven innings, giving up two runs on five hits while walking none, and striking out nine.
- Zac Rosscup and Jason Motte each worked a scoreless inning to secure the win.
Fun fact, the Cubs had five stolen bases on the night, they now have twenty-five on the year, that leads all of baseball.
Both the Cubs and Pirates head into a three game series on the Northside with some momentum. The Cubs are coming off an exciting, rain shortened series in Cincinnati where they took both games, one of which was another come back victory. After taking the last two games of the series against the Cubs, the Pirates swept the Diamondbacks this weekend and have won their last five games. It’s a battle for second place as the Cubs (10-7) and the Pirates (11–8) are both two games back of the Cardinals in the Central.
- Monday, April 27, 2015 – 7:05 PM CST – CSN Chicago
- Tuesday, April 28, 2015 – 7:05 PM CST – WPWR 50
- Wednesday, April 29, 2015 – 7:05 PM CST – CSN Chicago
- Game One: Jason Hammel (1-1, 5.19) vs. Vance Worley (2-1, 4.00)
- Game Two: Travis Wood (1-1, 3.24) vs. Jeff Locke (2-0, 3.32)
- Game Three: Kyle Hendricks (0-0, 5.74) vs. Gerrit Cole (3-0, 2.19)
Who is Hot:
- Pirates: Noted Cub killer Neil Walker is apparently not just killing the Cubs lately, he’s scorching hot. Over his last seven games, the Pirates second baseman is hitting .393 (11-for-28) with five doubles, and five RBI’s.
- Cubs: There are a lot of good first basemen in the National League, Anthony Rizzo might be the best. Over his last seven games, Rizzo is hitting .455 (10-for-22) with two doubles, a dinger, two RBI’s, four walks, and one strikeout.
Who is Not:
- Pirates: I’m not sure I want to mention this, because you know it won’t last. Andrew McCutchen is hitting .143 (3-for-21) over his last seven games with one double, and seven strikeouts.
- Cubs: It’s probably not easy to be a 21 year old in the Majors, Addison Russell is proving that. In his first five games he’s hitting .136 (3-for-22) with two doubles, four RBI’s, and twelve strikeouts.