Mercifully, the games that count will start in just a matter of days, and while the official Cactus League season wrapped up on Wednesday at Sloan Park, there are still a pair of exhibition games in Las Vegas left before the Cubs start their season on Monday night in Anaheim. True to form, the last days of spring training have still offered a lot to keep an eye on, so let’s take a look:
Putting in Work:
We’re really probably past the point where there’s a question of who is putting in work, as by now most of the players are in the final stages of preparing to play when it counts. This means starters staying in games until the later innings for the most part, and lineups that very closely resemble what will be seen in the coming months.
This doesn’t mean though, the someone like Jon Lester can’t surprise us and drive one over the fence in the opposite field, like he did on Wednesday against the Rockies.
Or that David Ross can hit three doubles in the same game, and Munenori Kawasaki can get released, re-signed, and then hit a home run complete with an epic bat flip in the same day.
Baseball is a funny sport, and spring training often brings out the weirdest parts of it. Cubs fans are lucky that the team has provided some good entertainment during the dog days of late March.
The Cubs set their 25-man roster on Tuesday, and the most notable part of it might be the fact that Javier Baez is going to spend the start of 2016 on the disabled list, something he’s expressed that he’s not happy about. Not at the team, per se, but at the fact that a thumb contusion is forcing his debut to wait until at least the second week of the season.
This means that outfielder Matt Szczur was able to stay on the 25-man roster, and given that he’s out of options at this point, it allows some time before the Cubs have to try to sneak him through waivers, where he’ll likely be snatched up by another team. Tommy La Stella represents the only infield backup on the roster for now, but with the much-heralded defensive flexibility of Ben Zobrist, there should still be plenty of options.
Neil Ramirez also made the roster after a strong spring, which showed signs of hope after a rough 2015 that was largely clouded by injury.
Additionally, the Cubs released Mike O’Neill and Jesus Guzman on Wednesday, and then signed pitcher Jake Buchanan to a minor league deal after he had been released by the Astros on Thursday.
On Wednesday, Major League Baseball announced a partnership with Apple to provide an iPad Pro for each team to use in the dugouts during games, and while Joe Maddon has relied on a pad of paper for the last twenty years, he’s vowed to keep an open mind in this case.
Anthony Rizzo really can do it all, including serenading his teammates with Adele and Train on Tuesday before their game against Oakland. While I might question the musical choices (Train?…..really?), his leadership role with the team is more and more clear, and as Leigh Coridan wrote here on Thursday, he and teammate Jason Heyward show a level of leadership that goes well beyond their years.
3/29: Cubs 9, Athletics 5: My biggest regret of the season already is that I didn’t stay at this game long enough to see Kawasaki’s home run. After lounging in the left field grass seating for most of the game, I left just before this happened, sadly. I did get the witness the firepower of Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell, but the real draw was probably the pitching matchup of Jake Arrieta and Sonny Gray. Arrieta had a better day than Gray did, striking out five in his five innings of work and allowing just one run on two hits. Somewhat surprisingly, he was allowed to throw 102 pitches, which, at the very least, shows that he should be ready to go for Opening Day. Pedro Strop held the Cubs lead nicely during the eighth inning after Travis Wood allowed two runs to score in his two innings of relief, but Hector Rondon gave Cubs fans a bit of a scare, allowing two runs on three hits in the final inning. Thankfully, the Cubs’ offense had done sufficient damage for this not to matter.
3/30: Cubs 10, Rockies 0: It was an epic final day at Sloan Park. Lester and Schwarber hit back to back bombs (I’ll only type that sentence once in my life, I am confident in that), Russell, Ross, and Kris Bryant hit for extra bases, and Lester was dominant on the mound. He left the game after five innings, but absolutely owned the strike zone during that time with ten strikeouts to just one walk and one hit.
3/31: Cubs 5, Mets, 1: After leaving Mesa, the Cubs are in Las Vegas for a two-day NLCS rematch with the Mets. The Cubs took game one yesterday with some small ball led by Ben Zobrist. 2015’s organizational pitcher-of-the-year Ryan Williams had the start and stayed in the game even after taking a liner off of his leg, but he came out after just two innings.
Lead photo courtesy Mark J. Rebilas—USA Today Sports