Because my dad died when I was 11, there are necessarily some things I didn’t know about his background, or maybe I knew when I was younger, but have since forgotten. I did know that his side of the family, at some point a couple generations ago, at least, had lived in the Chicago area. But what I didn’t know until yesterday, when going through some old family documents, is that my dad was born and raised in Rockford, Illinois, just 85 miles west of Chicago. His family moved to Ohio after his childhood, which is when he met my mom, and which is where I’ve lived my whole life.
That was pretty cool to learn, given my obvious affection for the Cubs. My dad was a huge baseball guy, and, while I didn’t think he introduced me, specifically, to the Cubs, now I feel like there’s at least a little family background there. Plus, the fact that my brother, two years older, grew up a White Sox fan (something I never understood) now has me suspicious that there was some kind of Chicago baseball connection that bled into our fandom at a young age – before we were fully able to remember or articulate.
- The batting order is always a disproportionately discussed topic this time of year. The truth is, the difference between an ideal lineup and an imperfect one is relatively small. But, when every win counts – as it might this year for the Cubs – small, incremental differences can add a win here and there. So, lineup: we discuss it. And, in this Cubs’ lineup, the biggest question could be who lands in the “mysterious two-hole.” The latest possibility to fill what many believe is the most important spot in the lineup: Jorge Soler (or George Solar). Joe Maddon called Soler an “out of the box” candidate, but went on to explain why he actually makes as much sense as anyone – he’s got excellent plate discipline and the power isn’t wasted at two, especially if the pitcher bats 8th (Cubs.com). To me, Soler looks outside the box at two only to folks who are stuck in a relatively antiquated way of thinking about player roles and value – Soler looks like a slugger and quacks like a slugger, so he must bat in the middle of the order. Except, to me, outside of Anthony Rizzo, Soler could be the best overall hitter on the current roster. That’s the guy you want in the two-hole, regardless of traditional thinking. How do you think opposing pitchers are going to like having to face Fowler-Soler-Rizzo to start every game? Setting aside the damage they can do, they might require 10 to 15 pitches, minimum, every time you labor through their three-batter stretch.
- You should read the Cubs.com piece and this CSN piece for more love, generally, from Maddon to Soler. A that may as well have come from The Wife (or, well, me): “He’s a beautiful man. I really, really enjoy the way he is. He’s like Vladimir [Guerrero] with plate discipline.” So, The Wife might not have said that last part, but that’s a swoon-worthy quote right there.
- Back to the lineup for a moment: it sounds like Rizzo is bound for that number three spot, and, if Soler isn’t batting two, I bet he’s at four. And, if Soler is two (please), I’m guessing Starlin Castro winds up at four, in part because he likes it and feels comfortable there, and in part because it preserves the alternating L/R order. At five, you’ve probably got Chris Coghlan or Miguel Montero, and at six you’ve got Mike Olt, if he’s starting at third. Then you could have the other of Coghlan/Montero at seven, pitcher at eight, and Javier Baez at nine (or Arismendy Alcantara or Tommy La Stella, if they’re starting that day). We discussed Baez at nine a little yesterday, and, while it may seem an odd placement, it starts to make sense when you sort out the rest of the lineup, and think about the potential benefits (helping Baez developmentally with his mindset, putting a better batter in the slightly-more-important 9-hole over the 8-hole, and not having Baez too high in the batting order where he might hurt you as he develops). In the end, though, I think we’re going to see such a healthy amount of rotation with the personnel that the order might not be super stable on a daily basis beyond the top four or so.
- Buster Olney writes about how impressive Javier Baez has been this Spring Training, with everything except the bat. Luis just wrote yesterday about how important defense is at second base, and it remains likely that Baez will open the season as the Cubs’ starting second baseman, hoping that his “other” value (plus the benefit of developing in the big leagues) will outweigh any adjustment struggles with the bat.
- Tsuyoshi Wada (groin) threw 42 pitches in a simulated game yesterday, and it apparently went well (Carrie Muskat). If the Cubs plan to keep him in a starting capacity, it would likely take three or four more starts before you could realistically consider him ready, which means, unless he’s going to quickly transition to the bullpen (doesn’t seem like it’s in the plans right now), he’ll start the year on the disabled list. Given that Wada on the DL gives the Cubs a little flexibility – as it did with Jacob Turner – and allows the team to be conservative with his recovery/prep for the season, it seems like the best route. Then, if and when Wada is fully ready to return come mid to late April, you see what’s what with the rotation and the bullpen, and make a decision then.
- Oof: the Braves are releasing James Russell, not unlike the Cubs did yesterday with Felix Doubront, to save some cash (Russell gets about $600,000 in termination pay). The Cubs rode Russell very hard for a few years – he was among the league leaders in appearances – before sending him to the Braves last Summer with Emilio Bonifacio for catching prospect Victor Caratini. He’ll find another job, at least as a flyer, but it’s incredible how swiftly some guys can decline.
- Do yourself a favor while you’re waiting for basketball today: sign up for the Opening Day fantasy contest. You support BN by doing it, but, more importantly, you can win a share of $100,000 and a BN shirt, and/or you can win a signed Anthony Rizzo bat (I’m looking at it right now) just for signing up. Full contest details here.