When we first looked at the schedule before the season, this week’s trip to Arizona and Seattle wasn’t supposed to look tough – outside of the natural challenge that comes with any “West Coast trip” – but it sure does now, doesn’t it? Yes, the Cubs beat the Diamondbacks in two of their three games this week, but that was a hard-fought series victory against one of the few “rebuilding” NL clubs … and they actually look pretty good.
And when the Cubs head out to Seattle for a quick two-gamer starting tomorrow, they won’t be facing the “trade everybody good” Mariners we saw in the offseason. They’ll be facing the 18-13 Mariners, who are tied for the most wins in the American League and second most wins in baseball. Let’s hope the Cubs can help them find their regression, eh?
- It feels almost weird to move on from the last free agent class, which we’d been discussing for YEARS, to the next one, but I suppose it’s time to let it go. The Cubs are probably not getting Bryce Harper. I guess I have to come to terms with that. But there are plenty of players they CAN get … just not Chris Sale, Paul Goldschmidt, Xander Bogaerts, Justin Verlander, Matt Carpenter, Khris Davis, Ryan Pressly, Sonny Gray, Miles Mikolas, Aaron Hicks, or Nolan Arenado … who otherwise would have been free agents, but who’ve all since signed extensions with their teams to avoid free agency altogether. So who’s left?
- Well, MLB Trade Rumors has an early set of 2019-2020 power rankings for you to peruse, and while there is some talent there, it’s nothing close to the group we saw last season, or the previously-expected group. Gerrit Cole takes the top spot in the rankings, and although he’s young and has been very good, I just get nervous about plucking any pitcher out of the Astros’ system and hoping he’ll perform just as well. Anthony Rendon (#2) is both young and good (and possibly still underrated), but the Nationals may extend him yet. And if they don’t, he’ll probably cost a lot. He is an interesting target because of his age, but I just don’t think that’s the direction for the Cubs. And that’s about where the truly impactful players end, because Marcell Ozuna is the third best free agent according to MLBTR, and while he may be young and off to a really hot start this season, he fell off a cliff last year. He’ll have to maintain this high-level performance all season long for me to believe 2018 was the fluke and not 2017.
- The Mets have designated catcher Travis d’Arnaud for assignment. Now 30, d’Arnaud has never replicated his stellar 2015 campaign and has been injured in every season of his career, including last year when he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery, but he was once a stud. However, after slashing .087/.160/.087 through 10 games this season, the Mets decided to call it quits. With Victor Caratini on the IL and d’Arnaud’s superior defense and pitch-framing skills (well, assuming they all return to his normal, pre-TJS levels), you could imagine the Cubs taking a flyer on a no-risk deal. But they’ve also had chances at similar players in the past few months and have never taken a bite, as far as we know. Maybe they really are just happy with Caratini (he was killing it) and are comfortable rolling with Taylor Davis as the backup until Caratini returns.
- Josh Hader is still doing extreme things, but the signs of mortality are there, like his HUGE increase in hard-contact:
Josh Hader is still missing all of the bats, but he's getting crushed so hard when contact is made. No one has a higher K%. No one has a higher increase in hard-hit rate. So interesting. pic.twitter.com/k42UzeT9AE
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) April 29, 2019
- For what it’s worth, Hader’s FIP has increased from 2.23 last season to 2.63 this year, while his ERA has increased from 2.43 to 3.21. His K/BB ratio is still nuts, but he allows SO MANY fly balls and SO MUCH hard contact. Basically, just swing hard and hope for the best … which is probably what’s happening here, btw.
- (Relatedly, hard contact is way up around the league as a whole.)
- Speaking of the Brewers, starter Jimmy Nelson had to put his comeback from major shoulder surgery on hold, as his twin daughters were just born prematurely:
It’s been an up and down journey that has just begun but early this morning Riley James and Naomi Lynn were born; at 3lbs 10oz each and although they couldn’t wait another month they’ll keep fighting just like their momma @melly_nelly52 pic.twitter.com/YlUDajxE1V
— Jimmy Nelson (@Jimmy_J_Nelson) April 28, 2019
- His rehab assignment is on hold “until further notice.” And we’re obviously wishing him and those adorable little babies all the best in the world.
- Real smart of me to draft Shohei Ohtani this year:
Brad Ausmus said Shohei Ohtani will not play during the upcoming home series against Toronto. After that the #Angels have 11 straight road games.
— Jeff Fletcher (@JeffFletcherOCR) April 28, 2019
- Ohtani (elbow) is working his way back from Tommy John surgery, and, although he won’t pitch this season, he is expected to hit. Moreover, the general expectation is that the Angels want to re-debut him at home, which is why the 11 road games matter.
- MLB has agreed to make the independent Atlantic League a testing ground for some new rules, including banning the shift. And almost immediately, there were problems. Despite a chalk line drawn in the middle of the field – aside of which must be two infielders at all times – the issue of the second baseman playing back on the outfield grass popped up and created some confusion. Obviously, working through that confusion is the entire point of this project, but this doesn’t seem like it should be this hard. If an infielder playing too deep makes him an “outfielder” then just make the grass the line of demarcation. OR, just let them do that as a sort of middle-ground between banning the shift a little versus a lot. There still needs to be two people on either side of the chalk line, so it’s not that big of an advantage.
- Connor Byrne has taken a look at the updated 2019 stats of last year’s least valuable hitters, including Dexter Fowler, who’s quietly killing it for the Cardinals: .316/.419/.430. There’s not a ton of power there, but that average and OBP is always going to play.
- And finally, MLB.com takes a fun trip down memory lane with a look at baseball’s best throwback jerseys for each team. For the Cubs, I can’t say I disagree with the Ryne Sandberg pullover: “It’s forever a summer day game with Harry Caray on the mic when you see this jersey.”