Today is Opening Day. It should be a national holiday, with baseball on every available screen from the first pitch on the East Coast to the final out on the West Coast. But while I wish I could celebrate the season’s opening with nothing but day drinking, I cant. I have these stupid things called responsibilities. I have to keep working. Someone has to pay for these Tinder floozie’s drinks. I already used some PTO for March Madness (no regrets) so I can’t take off – but trust me – I’ve already done plenty of drunken thinking about the Cubs.
And I can’t get away from one simple fact: They look damn good. In fact, they look fine as hell.
Let me reconcile with that for a second. I’m not about to sit here and tell you the Cubs are a lock to win the World Series in 2019. Even several beers in, I could never overlook the fact that the team with the best odds going into the playoffs won’t get more than a 30 percent chance to win it all.
Just ask the 2016 Cubs. On September 30, 2016, the Chicago Cubs were the indisputable crème de la crème, the world-beaters, sure to dominate and make a deep postseason run. They ended up with 103 wins – eight more than the next closest teams. Advanced metrics even thought they underperformed.
But on September 30, 2016, their odds to win the World Series? 19.1 percent, or just shy of a one-in-five shot – barely more than the Red Sox and the Dodgers. (‘Course, we all know what happened with that whole 2016 business.)
Because baseball is stupid. Sports, really, are pretty stupid when it comes to rewarding the best teams on paper – and the MLB playoffs are damn near random. It’s how you get champions like the 2011 Cardinals – baseball is stupid, and dumb, and nonsensical – and I love it.
So no, I’m not about to sit here and tell you the Cubs are guaranteed another trophy – but I’m as optimistic as anyone could possibly be when the “real” baseball games have all been completely meaningless.
And that’s where the drunkenness really comes in – there’s no reason to think anything that happens in Spring Training means anything at all. You have major league hitters facing minor league pitchers that just need reps. You have major league pitchers just ironing out the kinks – and if they need to work on their fastball, by god, that’s all they’re gonna throw to hitters who can definitely smack a fastball a mile and a half.Nothing means anything in Spring Training. And yet…
The Cubs went 19-13, good for a .594 winning percentage, and had the best run differential of any team in Spring Training (+48). Spring Training doesn’t matter. But with so much doom and gloom seeming to surround this team, it’s easy to take any sign of success and rub that in the naysayers’ faces.
I’ve already talked about the Cubs using their lousy projections and the general uncertainty surrounding the team as motivation. I’ve also looked at the players most integral to the Cubs’ success in 2019, whereas in previous seasons there never seemed to be any doubt they’d win.
Well, those PECOTA projections? They didn’t get any better. But that’s fuel for the fire, and ammo for the bulletin board. And those important players I wrote about? Look how many ended up being top performers in spring: Schwarber and Contreras absolutely raked. Bryant’s had some struggles, but he looks plenty healthy and ready to smack baseballs off the video board again. And Yu Darvish looks ready to live up to his full potential.
It goes beyond those guys, too. Albert Almora hit .377 on the spring and is likely to see some time as a leadoff hitter. Rizzo got off to a slow spring start but ended up OPSing over 1.000, and David Bote was even better. And the next exciting young position player – Nice Hoerner – hit almost .500 against pitching generally above his level.
It might seem weird to be this optimistic over a team that bowed out after last year’s Wild Card Game – but it seems weirder to me that so many are now laughing at a team that limped through the final month of the season and managed to win 95 games anyway.
It’s like people have forgotten that this team was expected to be a dynasty, and the only thing that’s really “gone wrong” for them is that they haven’t made it through the finnicky gauntlet that is the MLB playoffs again.
The rotation has supreme upside and depth. The bullpen will be uncertain to start off, but has some huge bullets – Pedro Strop, Brandon Morrow, workhorse Steve Cishek – who can expect to contribute. And the lineup looks more stacked than ever, at least if some of these hitters can carry their spring success into April.
The year after they won the World Series, the 2017 Cubs adopted “embrace the target” as their motto, symbolizing the high expectations for the team.
But these Cubs? I think they’re – somehow – being overlooked. They’ve got something to show the whole league – and that’s not just the beer talking.
The first pitch will be at 3:05 p.m., as the Cubs head out to Arlington to play the Texas Rangers. Same as last year, the Cubs want #EverybodyIn.