Sloan Park is the new beautiful training facility of the Chicago Cubs. It is another shiny star in the Valley of the Sun galaxy of Spring Training parks.
Yesterday there was another sellout crowd of Arizona Diamondbacks and Cubs fans filling the stands at Sloan Park on a beautiful Thursday afternoon. The crowd was dressed in their St. Patrick’s Day green shirts as they enjoyed the perfect environment of an 80 plus degree day in the Arizona desert.
I might add that the Dbacks players were also dressed in green, as they wore green jerseys, green hats and their new dark grey pants for the occasion. I was really happy the media dining room served corned beef and cabbage. It was a great, great day.
On the field the Cubs were relentless. They pummeled Archie Bradley for five runs in the first inning and another run before his premature departure. The Cubs pounded four triples in the game-or maybe that’ just when I stopped counting. That’s really unique. We can go days without seeing a triple, and then the club smoked four in one game.
If you were a pitcher, how would you like to face Dexter Fowler, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler and Addison Russell in that order? Yikes! And of course, there are days when you will add Ben Zobrist to the list as the second baseman or outfielder. Or Javier Baez as a second baseman or outfielder.
Miguel Montero will be inserted in the lineup with Schwarber moving to left field.
And that’s the key with the Cubs. They have so much depth they can play Schwarber in left or behind the plate. They can play Soler as they wish. They can insert Zobrist at second or in the outfield. They can use Montero or David Ross behind the plate. They can spot the improving Baez in center or in the infield. The permutations seem to be endless. “Oh, this guy’s pitching today-well, let’s roll out lineup No. 22.” That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but they are deep, deep, deep. Everywhere., experienced
Are there any issues with this club? IMO the starting pitching could use one more seasoned arm. Just in the event of injury or failure. Having a “big three” of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and John Lackey provides a fantastic foundation and it probably is enough to thwart any lengthy losing streak. Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks at the back end are more than serviceable. They can pitch. But is there enough experienced organizational depth at the No. 6,7, and 8 starting pitchers? Every team needs that pitching depth.
The back-end of the bullpen is anchored by Hector Rondon as the closer and Pedro Strop as the primary set-up man. Maybe it’s enough. Maybe they will look to bolster the pen at the trade deadline. The bullpen jury remains out for me.
Yesterday I saw the Cubs pound the ball. They can deploy power and speed up and down the lineup. The return of Fowler was really important. He sets the tone with a good eye at the plate and ability to get on base. And I think we’ll see more power from newly acquired Jason Heyward than he’s shown in the past. As well as his outstanding defense in the outfield. But having Fowler and Heyward on base for the likes of Rizzo, Bryant, Schwarber and their other buddies is downright scary.
Rizzo and Paul Goldschmidt of the Dbacks have much in common. First, they are lethal offensive players. They can break up a game with one loud swing of the bat. They both will steal some bases. And both play tremendous defense at first base. They drive in runs and save runs. And they are both right in the center of their team’s offensive action. Each fan base is crazy about their own first baseman. Rightly so.
Addison Russell is a very, very smooth and reliable shortstop with range and a strong arm. He makes every play in his area code. And I think he’ll improve upon his .242 Cubs batting average of 2015. I see better plate discipline, a better knowledge of the strike zone and an improved overall approach at the plate. Frankly, any real offense from Russell will be gravy. He’ll save lots of runs and games with his defense.
javier Baez and Jorge Soler could be real sleepers. Both have the ability to knock the ball out of the park or drive in runs with loud line drives to the gaps. Both have been eager and aggressive at the plate. Both have shown a propensity to swing and miss. Soler struck out 121 times in a Cubs uniform. Baez 125. But. But they are both improving. They will make better contact this year, making quicker and more reasoned decisions at the plate. They have both grown and improved. So extend the line to Fowler, Heyward, Rizzo, Bryant, Soler, Baez, Schwarber and the rest of the cast. We’re talking a lethal compilation of offensive studs here. This lineup, along with those of teams like Houston, Toronto and Detroit just to name three will give every pitcher they face advanced heartburn. But of those teams I’ve mentioned, I think the Cubs are the scariest at the plate.
Yes, I’m bullish on the Cubs. But I think it is best if the fans just enjoy the season and refrain from ordering their World Series airline tickets and hotel accommodations just yet. There is a season to be played and very strong National League teams gunning for the Cubs.
But make no mistake. The Cubs are a very balanced, very solid and very, very good baseball team that has been built with a purpose and a plan over time. Is this the year?
I’ll have more on the Cubs in my season preview series of blogs.
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That’s it. I’m done. For now.