Morning News: Your first Schwarbomb and Happ being Happ
So it wasn’t the mammoth home run that he hit in Game 4 of the NLCS in 2015, but home runs aren’t awarded on style points.
Kyle Schwarber is hitting home runs again, his first in 347 days. This one squeaked over the fence in right-center field at Sloan Park, with a hang time that felt like 347 days as it climbed through the Arizona sky before finding the grass. His cumulus cloud that tied Saturday’s game with the Colorado Rockies at 1-1 off starter Tyler Chatwood was just another welcome sign that the gears to the Cubs offensive machine are defrosting.
In Saturday’s 4-3 win over the Rockies, Schwarber’s big fly wasn’t the only sign of things to come – manager Joe Maddon likely put together the most familiar lineup Cubs fans will see throughout the year with Schwarber at lead-off, followed by Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell, Jason Heyward, Wilson Contreras, Tommy La Stella at DH (likely pitcher spot) and John Jay.
I still think Albert Almora tops Jay for the lead in the centerfield platoon, but this is the lineup we’ve been waiting for since the fireworks last October.
Starting pitcher Jon Lester looks sharper as we get deeper into March – he still allowed four hits and one run, but struck out four in three innings. Hector Rondon gave up a solo blast to Trevor Story (hopefully that’s not a theme this year) but Eddie Butler closed the Cubs win out with two scoreless, which had to feel good against his former team.
Can We Talk Seriously about Happ?
Several prior posts have said it (including mine on Monday) but when is Ian Happ or Eloy Jimenez going to give us some serious conversation about playing time in the outfield this year? Happ is absolutely destroying the baseball, now hitting .400 with two home runs and 7 RBIs in the spring. He and Jimenez went yard in the eighth inning on Saturday and should excite an already electric fanbase about “what’s to come” regarding their potential.
I get it. Spring Training isn’t The Show, but at some point, all this raking has to raise some eyebrows at some point, right? When is the mention of Heyward’s 2-for-23 spring not going to result in a shoulder shrug and a “He’s working on his swing.”
I tip my hat to Heyward as an orator. Thank you, forever, for that. But if the patience does wear off, and his offense tanks as it did last year, are the Cubs willing to hang their hat on his defense and speaking skills rather than inserting another run producer into the lineup? I know the politics behind signing him to such a large contract. I know he’s a veteran and clubhouse leader. I know he’s a Gold Glover. What move gives the Cubs the best chance to be a better team? If Heyward gets 2 hits every 23 at bats, I think Happ or Jimenez in the outfield does.
Andiamo Italia! (Let’s go, Italy!)
Has anyone seen what Cubs prospect John Andreoli is doing in the World Baseball Classic for Italy? His two-run knock pushed the Italians past Mexico 10-9 (earlier in the game he homered), and then he threw out CarGo trying to stretch a single to a double today in Saturday’s action and singled another run home. He may not be a Top 100 prospect, but he’s hitting .300 with 4 RBIs in the WBC.
Former Cub o’ the Day
Former Cubs catcher Welington Castillo went 1-for-3 with an RBI for the Dominican Republic against Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. D.J. Lemahieu (LeMayo) also went 1-for-4 with an RBI in Cactus League action … but … we’re a little tired of hearing about our old second baseman.
We Got ‘Wood
Another good thing about Schwarber’s home run? It finally pushed a run across the plate against Chatwood, who dominated the Cubs last April in a 2-0 Rox win behind seven shutout, two-hit innings.
Hey, Don’t Look Now, Part I
But Andrew Miller is, in fact, hittable as the Cubs finally showed in Game 7 of the World Series. He yielded 4 runs in two-thirds of an inning for Team USA against the Dominican Republic on Saturday, including home runs to Nelson Cruz and Starling Marte. Still thinking the toughest longball that Miller coughed up in his last couple outings was to Grandpa Rossy, though.
Don’t Look Now, Part II
Miller’s implosion paved the way to the Dominican Republic’s 7-5 come-from-behind win over the Americans (1-1), who now face winless Canada today. The ace for the Canadians? That would be former Cub Ryan Dempster, who took the loss for Team Canada in their 9-2 defeat to the Dominican Republic on Thursday. They also have 41-year-old Eric Gagne in their bullpen. Game Over.