After all my travel and activities since the final spring game at Sloan Park last week, I was ready to sit down, relax, and watch some Cubs baseball last night. I grabbed one of my lucky Cubs hats and decided that opening night was the perfect occasion to open the bottle of Cubs wine that my friends Peter and Britt from Sweden had given me earlier this spring. Prior to that, I didn’t even know that Cubs wine existed. I’ve become a red wine fan ever since I took my first trip to Italy five years ago. This Cubs wine is a 2012 Club Series Cabernet, vinted and bottled by Plata Wines of California. The 2012 vintage seemed just right, as some of Theo Epstein’s first Cubs draft class of 2012 should be arriving in Chicago later this summer. I’m no sommelier but this wine wasn’t bad. It’s also fairly possible that it’s flavor was enhanced by the outstanding Cubs game I was watching.
And what a game it was! A 9-0 thumping of the Angels, a great start to the 2016 season. Jake Arrieta looked like he did in the second half of last season, when he was pitching like nobody else has. The offense, top-to-bottom looks very explosive. I don’t want to get all jacked up about last night because it’s only one game in a very long season. However, this Cubs offensive lineup is going to be many opposing pitchers worst nightmare this season.
As mentioned yesterday, here are some of my observations on the Cubs pitchers on the 25 man roster after watching them this spring. Before the pitchers though, I’ll write about the injured Javier Baez.
Javier Baez – Possibly one of the most versatile defensive players for Joe Maddon. Baez came up as an infielder, but played in the outfield during winter ball, specifically Centerfield. Javy has a swing that makes him dangerous every trip to the plate, but was having a modest spring offensively before the injury. In 2013 and 2014 he tore it up in spring training, hitting 4 and 5 HR’s respectively, which really raised expectations. He’ll be coming back to the team somewhat under the radar this year, which may be a good thing. Baez’s walk-to-strikeout ratio was better this spring, albeit in very limited AB’s.
Jake Arrieta – After yesterday, there probably isn’t a whole lot to say, that wasn’t mentioned by the ESPN announcers last night on national TV. Karl Ravech, Dallas Braden, and Tim Kurkjian who announced the game on ESPN2, pushed fan boy speak to a new level when gushing about Arrieta, and the whole Cubs team for that matter. Arrieta was indeed lights out last night, so he (and the team) deserved the pump up. However, as the ESPN announcers alluded to, if the Cubs keep playing well as the season progresses, expect this bandwagon to reach epic levels. Arrieta’s blister situation from 12 days ago, appears to have been much ado about nothing, and it feels like it happened months ago. Jake is certainly the big key to the Cubs pitching staff in 2016. I like Maddon wanting to keep his innings under control, so he’s got the goods come playoff time.
Trevor Cahill – Cahill was good with the Cubs in 2015, and not so good with the Braves in 2015. Cahill is slimmer and in better shape this spring, although I don’t think he was doing Pilates with Arrieta. At any rate, he looked decent this spring and was bringing it in the mid-high 90’s with some sink, so that’s a good sign.
Justin Grimm - In his MLB career Grimm hasn’t had a spring ERA less than 7.94. That doesn’t bother Joe Maddon, because when the regular season gets going, so does Grimm. The hurler showed some nice moves this spring in the Cubs dance circle, although maybe not as smooth as Addison Russell. Grimm is in his prime at 27 years old, and only seems to be getting better.
Jason Hammel – Another Cubs player who came to spring training fitter than last year. Hammel hopes that being in better shape allows him to stay healthy and strong over the course of the whole season. He’s a big key on the back end of the pitching staff, if he can pitch the whole year like he did in the first half of 2015, the Cubs will be very happy.
Kyle Hendricks – Had a very good spring with nearly 30 innings logged and a 2.73 ERA – Nice stats in the hitter friendly Cactus League. The 26 years old logged 180 innings last year for the Cubs and appears to be a pitcher on the rise. If he cuts down on his on his HR’s allowed, and pitches within himself, he’ll really solidify the rotation.
John Lackey – Inning eater, who has an edge…which I really like. The Cubs needed another starter who can come in and log solid starts on a regular basis. Even though he’s 37, Lackey pitched very well last year. With the Cubs offense, he shouldn’t need to dominate every time out to be successful. Lackey’s addition to the roster will hopefully benefit his good friend Jon Lester as well. The fact that the Cubs took Lackey from St. Louis, makes it a win-win.
Jon Lester – After coming to the Cubs before the 2015 season with a lot of fanfare and $$$ involved, the lefty proved a solid investment. Having never been on a National League team, there seemed to be an adjustment period. Now that he’s got a N.L. year under his belt, and his buddy Lackey on board, I would expect Lester to be even more comfortable on the hill at Wrigley. He and Lackey bring experience and a World Series winning pedigree to a young team. In 7 World Series starts, the L&L Train (Lackey and Lester) have a 5-1 record.
Neil Ramirez – Wasn’t sure if Ramirez was going to make the squad. He had a rough start to his spring, but relaxed and stopped pitching to radar gun speeds. If he regains anything close to his 2014 form, it would be a big shot in the arm for the Cubs relievers. Sorry, that “shot in the arm” is probably a bad pun for pitchers.
Clayton Richard – Another big experienced lefty, who had good and bad moments this spring. Maddon wasn’t worried, and Richard looks on track to give the Cubs quality innings this season. He’s been both a starter and reliever in his career. The former Michigan Wolverine footballer gives Maddon what he loves – versatility.
Hector Rondon – Is 59 of 67 in save opportunities the past two seasons with the Cubs. Overall, he didn’t pitch well in games this spring, but that really doesn’t mean a much with an experienced closer like Rondon. I like his fire and attitude. He has the pitches and closing mind-set to be successful again in 2016. I fully expect him to do so.
Pedro Strop – Anther guy who gets fired up on the mound and gives the Cubs some pitching attitude. Strop has been a solid workhorse reliever for the Cubs over the past two and a half seasons. He didn’t allow a run this spring, and looks to be headed for a strong year. I also like how he wears his cap!
Adam Warren – Adds versatility, having started and relieved. He’s been solid since getting his first real MLB opportunity in 2013. Warren will have a bit more scrutiny on him as a Cub, having been the trade chip that sent Starlin Castro to the Yankees.
Travis Wood – Versatility, there’s that word again. The lefty can spot start, go long relief, or pitch situationally when called upon. Wood has been with this team in tough years of 101, 96, and 89 losses before last years break out season. There is probably nobody on this team that would feel the pride and elation of getting to a World Series, more than Travis Wood.
Hoping the Cubs to keep up the mojo tonight in Anaheim and come back to Phoenix undefeated at 2-0. They start a four game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday, before heading to Wrigley for the home opener on the 11th against the Reds. I’ll be at the Cubs vs DBacks! Go Cubs!
(Player photos by John Antonoff)