As we move into the midst of Spring Training, Joe Maddon is beginning to lead the Cubs to a little more normalcy. Starting pitchers are beginning to get into a more typical rotation, and lineups are beginning to solidify.
The Cubs split their four games from Friday to Monday, winning two tighter games against Colorado and San Diego and losing two high scoring affairs against Seattle and Oakland, as the Cubs bullpen depth arms allowed the respective AL West teams to rally late in both games.
But the big takeaway from the weekend was a particularly strong performance from Cubs #2 prospect Ian Happ, who continues to open eyes this spring and put himself on the radar for a big league call-up sooner rather than later.
Putting In Work:
In the high-scoring Friday affair against the Seattle Mariners, we got our second look at 2016 Cy Young finalist Kyle Hendricks, who threw a Hendricks-like three innings of scoreless baseball, striking out four M’s.
The Cubs’ prospect-laden Friday lineup punished Mariners pitching to the tune of 15 hits, 10 extra-base hits and 10 runs, punctuated by an RBI triple from Albert Almora and home runs from Chris Dominguez, Chesny Young, and Happ. While you can’t make too much out of one home run, it’s nice to see some power from the high-on base, low-power Young who needs his slugging numbers to pick up if he wants to be seen as a more legitimate prospect.
Nonetheless, despite trailing 10-2 at one point in the ballgame, the Mariners mounted a comeback off Cubs depth arms Seth Frankoff, Dylan Floro, Dave Berg, and Maikel Cleto, all of whom surrendered a minimum of two runs a piece. With 18 hits, the Mariners won 11-10.
The Saturday afternoon matchup against the Colorado Rockies turned out better for the Cubs. With a starting lineup evocative of one you may see come April, the Cubs’ bats were quiet early. Well, relatively quiet, as a certain Kyle Schwarber (ever heard of him?) launched his first home run of the spring (shout out to the good guys at Cubs Insider for catching this on video).
Working with Willson Contreras again, Jon Lester didn’t have a terrific start, allowing four hits, one walk and one run in three innings. But the stat line isn’t the point. The more acclimated Lester and Contreras can get to working with each other, the better. We also got looks at bullpen mainstays Pedro Strop (a scoreless fourth), Hector Rondon (allowed a homer in the fifth), Carl Edwards Jr. (one run allowed and one strikeout in the sixth) and lefty Carson Smith (scoreless seventh).
Trailing much of the day, a comeback spurred by homers from Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ gave the Cubs a late lead in the eighth. Former Rockie Eddie Butler pitched two scoreless innings against his former team and picked up the win, 4-3.
Sunday’s matchup against the A’s was marked by the type of outing from Jake Arrieta that Cub fans got uncomfortably acclimated with toward the end of the 2016 season: nasty, near unhittable stuff with prolonged spurts of wildness. Arrieta threw three innings, allowed no hits, struck out five, but walked three and had a laborious third. While too much shouldn’t be gleaned from this one spring outing, coupled with Arrieta’s rather pedestrian second half of 2016 and some eyebrow-raising quotes from the man himself after the Sunday game, it may be time to wonder precisely what to expect from the 2015 Cy Young winner come April.
Though the Cubs got some nice contributions including a Kris Bryant homer and a Kyle Schwarber monster triple, the bullpen again was not able to hold the lead as Williams Perez and Rob Zastryzny surrendered four runs a piece in the sixth and seventh innings, respectively. The A’s beat the Cubs 9-8.
John Lackey took the ball for the Monday game against the Padres and threw a solid three innings, allowing three hits and one run. Both Albert Almora and Willson Contreras knocked doubles in this one but the story of the day was, again, Ian Happ, who went 3-for-3 with a two-run home run.
Happ now leads the Spring Cubs in home runs with three and his big weekend brought his slash line up to .467/.484/.867 in 30 spring at bats (small sample size caveat, obviously). While it’s incredibly unlikely these numbers will earn Happ a roster spot come Opening Day, they won’t be forgotten once he hits AAA Iowa this year and may help expedite his ascension to the major leagues down the road. Personally, I’m taking his great spring as an indication l can finally start dreaming on punny Happ-related walk up songs for him once he hits Wrigley (Don’t Worry Be HAPPy? HAPPy by Pharrell? What Up, What’s HAPPnin’ by T.I.? The possibilities are endless!)
Camp Happenings (You mean…HAPPenings?):
The Cubs made their second round of spring cuts on Monday, optioning pitchers Aaron Brooks, Jose Rosario, and Jack Leathersich to AAA Iowa and Duane Underwood Jr. to AA Tennessee. Seth Frankoff, Casey Kelly, Jhondaniel Medina, Conor Mullee and Zac Rosscup were reassigned to minor league camp. Reliever Maikel Cleto was released. None of these pitchers were likely to crack the Opening Day roster but will all serve as pitching depth, with some providing more upside than others.
Meanwhile, lefty bullpen candidate Brian Duensing is dealing with some back discomfort that could explain his rough spring outings so far. Though it would be down the road, a potential DL stint for Duensing could open the door for fellow lefties Carson Smith or the well-travelled David Rollins, both of whom are still in big league camp.
Cubs manager and part-time model for Korked Baseball t-shirts, Joe Maddon, was seen sporting this new shirt just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. You, too, can be like Joe and grab one here since the proceeds go toward Respect 90 and Cubs Charities.
While Joe was putting clothes on, Strength and Conditioning Coordinator Tim Buss was doing the exact opposite, rolling into camp on Monday in a Lucha Libre mask and Speedo. As Joe Maddon says, “get comfortable being uncomfortable.”
Finally, Javy Baez is contributing to Team Puerto Rico’s WBC run, clobbering a three-run homer in Puerto Rico’s win against Mexico on Saturday and knocking in runs in PR’s other victories on Friday and Sunday.
March 10: Mariners 11, Cubs 10
March 11: Cubs 4, Rockies 3
March 12: Athletics 9, Cubs 8
March 13: Cubs 3, Padres 1
Lead photo courtesy Joe Camporeale—USA Today Sports