Not to drag new Cubs starting pitcher Zach Davies into this, but his assessment of the team’s rotation the other day probably won’t keep many opposing hitters up at night.
“People talk about how it’s not a great group of starters, or whatnot, just because of velocity and strikeouts and whatever,” he said in a video conference with reporters. “I’ll take five guys that are going to work their ass off in the rotation and compete every single game, compared to guys with just pure stuff.”
Well, sure, hard work and competitiveness are good things. But is there really any selling a Cubs rotation without any oohs-and-aahs arms — without a Yu Darvish — as good enough or well-rounded enough? Isn’t having both the willingness and the whiplash-inducing stuff the key to the whole operation?
But this column is off to a terrible start because it’s Opening Day at Wrigley Field and we’re supposed to be happy and hopeful. Kyle Hendricks will be on the mound against the Pirates, and he is the very embodiment of what Davies described. There’s nothing lacking in Hendricks. OK, maybe 8-10 mph, but who’s counting?
This Cubs season could be all about believing in what you don’t see. You don’t see any pitchers who look like typical aces. You don’t see a third baseman in Kris Bryant who resembles his MVP self anymore. You don’t see Bryant and fellow infield stars Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo knowing where their futures stand with the organization in this, the mother of all walk years.
You don’t see the new left fielder, Joc Pederson, looking especially different in any way from the old left fielder, Kyle Schwarber. You don’t see Pederson’s new team, the Cubs, looking anywhere near as potent as his old team, the world champion Dodgers.
You don’t see 90-plus-win expectations surrounding the Cubs.
“We don’t care about that, honestly,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “That’s it, really. … It’s irrelevant.”
It’s as irrelevant as you want it to be. You can believe whatever you want to believe. Or not believe whatever you don’t want to believe. That’s the beauty of Opening Day.
And speaking of the weather, is it true what the hardy folks say about it being merely a state of mind? I have my doubts. I’m expecting to scan an 80% empty ballpark on a day with temperatures in the 30s and see several thousand freezing, miserable fans asking one another, “Did we really miss live baseball this much? What the hell were we thinking?”
But what do I know? Those same fans might gaze at the green grass through the icicles in their eyelashes and be stirred deep in their souls by how gorgeous and wonderful it is. They might even look at all the things that aren’t there with these Cubs and nevertheless, powered by positive thinking, see another World Series on the horizon. Talk about Opening Day magic.
Soon, the weather will be more suitable for baseball by anyone’s definition. A smart, crafty Cubs rotation could flourish. Bryant could bounce all the way back. Bryant, Baez and Rizzo could sign extensions. Maybe at least one of the three? Pederson could homer nonstop like he did during spring training. The Cubs could rise as the Dodgers fall.
Possible? It depends how you see things. Are the stands 80% empty or are they 20% full?
Pass the hot chocolate. Even if it’s already cold.
It’s time to play ball.