Looking Forward to So Much Smoothness Up the Middle and Other Bullets

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Looking Forward to So Much Smoothness Up the Middle and Other Bullets

Chicago Cubs News

addison russell tagWelcome back to those of you who had a family-focused weekend. It was also the final weekend before regular season games begin! The Cubs don’t open until a week from today against the Angels in Anaheim, but there are a few games this Sunday. Woo baseball!

If you missed anything this weekend – there was quite a bit – catch yourself up here.

  • Ben Zobrist has a whole lot of praise for his middle infield-mate Addison Russell, whom he describes as have “this special ability to make extended plays that other guys can’t get to because of his range and athleticism” (Cubs.com). Zobrist says Russell’s range, quickness, work ethic, and focus are all “off the charts.” High praise, given the source. I’m reminded that we got only a taste of excellent up-the-middle defense last year, as Russell started to become excellent at second base just in time to be moved back to shortstop, and Starlin Castro showed his typical solid but uneven (flashing incredible plays, and mixing them with duds) defense at both positions. If Zobrist is healthy, he can be very solid, himself, at second base, and it’s fair to expect Russell to shine at shortstop. This could be incrementally more important in 2016, as the Cubs swapped out a fly ball pitcher spot in the rotation from 2015 (Travis Wood, Tsuyoshi Wada, and Dan Haren made the majority of the starts for the Cubs in the 5th starter spot, and are all fly ball guys) for a more average groundball pitcher (John Lackey is about league average in groundball rate).
  • Of his ugly outing yesterday, Jason Hammel said he wasn’t commanding well down in the zone, and was coming through too quickly (Cubs.com). Last year, when he was at his worst, that was the main problem: he was up, and, although he’s got decent velocity, he doesn’t have the kind of velocity or movement on his fastball where he can get away with being up too often. It sounds like Hammel is chalking that one up to being a poor outing, rather than any specific Spring Training stuff. Like I said yesterday, it’s tough to take more away from the bad outing than the four good ones that preceded it. He’s a veteran with a particular track record, and if he’s healthy and feeling good, I expect him to still be a solid middle-of-the-rotation type for the Cubs.
  • Although all four of Adam Warren, Travis Wood, Clayton Richard, and Trevor Cahill can be thought of as super utility pitchers, able to pitch effectively in a wide range of situations, it sounds like only Cahill will remain stretched out enough to be the team’s sixth starter (Tribune). He pitched three innings yesterday, and Joe Maddon said he’s the emergency guy. So, now we know: if there’s an injury or a need, Cahill will be the first guy in the rotation. I have some mixed feelings about that, given how dominant he looked out of the pen last year with the Cubs (and how that dominance appeared to be tied to an increase in velocity and a simplification of his mix, both of which would not necessarily be possible as a starter). But these kinds of decisions are made with a whole lot more information than we have as outsiders, and it’s not like Cahill hasn’t had success as a starter before. Hopefully, even as he stays semi-stretched out, the Cubs are still able to utilize Cahill effectively out of the pen.
  • Yesterday’s bee attack yielded more than 10 stings for Jason Heyward, who incredibly went on to homer in the bottom of the same inning that he was stung (injected with power, perhaps?). Even if you’re not allergic, which thankfully Heyward is not, bee stings hurt. Ever been stung? It’s awful. And ten or more of them at once? My day would be done, and I certainly wouldn’t be popping bombs just a few minutes later. The lesson here is that Jason Heyward is a MAN. I am also a man, but those letters will forever remain lowercased.
  • I already suspected it, but now that he’s released his latest excerpt, I’m sure of it: Jeff Passan’s new book “The Arm” is going to completely change the way outside observers – and probably many within the game, too – think about pitchers, probably not unlike the way “The Book” changed the way we think about sabermetrics. “The Arm” will finally be released in one week, though you can pre-order today. I get pretty giddy thinking about everything that’s going to be in there, and if you read that excerpt, you’ll see why.
  • The Cubs didn’t win yesterday, but they did go deep four times, which, in the Spring, is more fun anyway.
  • What are we coming to, baseball? Now a four-year-old is bat flipping and dancing at first base? Oh, wait. That’s awesome.
  • BN’er Vince sent me a little something on how Kris Bryant helped him out:

  • The Cubs warmed up in old school coaching shorts and socks yesterday, because why not:

Picture via @MBDChicago, who is awesome.


Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.