The Rundown: No Beer at Wrigley (okay, not really), Break up the Brewers, Hank the Dog as Paul McCartney

Top of the First

My dad used to have a go-to baseball joke when I was growing up. “Hey Mickey — did you hear the Cubs won’t be selling any beer this year?”

“What? How come?”

“They lost the opener.”

It never gets old. The Cubs took it on the chin yesterday. Apparently that means no cold, frothy Old Styles for anybody. No waxed paper cups, either.

Break Up The Brewers

The Brewers are the hottest team in the Cactus League right now. They smoked UW-Wisconsin on Wednesday 11-2, then followed that up by thrashing the Cubs 2-1 yesterday while their split-squad team destroyed the San Francisco Giants 8-7.

Okay, “thrashing” might be a tad histrionic, but hey, I thought this Cubs team was built to beat all comers. Certainly Milwaukee has no business beating up on our juggernaut in this manner. What’s going on here?

Last year the Cubs started Cactus League action by losing something like 8 straight Spring Training games (not sure if split squad wins and losses count) before they finally raised the W, so I don’t think we need to panic. On the other hand, all those Kris Bryant bombs took the sting out of all of those losses.

An aside: As I write this I am resplendent in my “Taking October” slim-fit road grey t-shirt — not that someone my age should be wearing anything slim-fit — and I have lost zero faith in this team. Come on. It’s practice and little more.

The highlights:

Evan offers a more detailed look at yesterday’s game so I’ll just touch on some of the things that stood out in my opinion.

Sure, Javy Baez looked bad in CF. But it was one game and it was one play and it was one bad read. Get a grip.

Kyle Hendricks picked up where he left off last season. As I mentioned in an earlier Rundown, I witnessed his last two starts of the 2015 regular season (vs. Kansas City and at Milwaukee) and Hendricks was downright filthy in both games. His game score against Kansas City was 75 and against Milwaukee it was 78 (he was pulled after the sixth inning in each contest because of the impending playoffs). That’s Jake Arrieta-like in a condensed sample, as he could have finished both games. Complete games would have put his scores into the top 5% of the year in all of baseball. Yesterday Hendricks struck out 4 batters in his two innings of work and he is my top pick to break out this year.

Scouting The Cubs Roster – Javier Baez

Here’s the scoop on the Cubs’ super-utility player:

Javier Baez quietly hit .289 last season with one home run and four RBIs in 76 AB’s after a September 1 call-up. Nothing spectacular, but the key takeaway was improved contact rate. A notorious free swinger with lightning-quick bat speed, Baez lowered his strikeout rate from 42% in 2014 to 24% before his call-up last season. His contact rate jumped from 60% to 70% but he should settle in somewhere at about 65%. There are still holes in his swing, and Baez is going to have to learn to work favorable counts to force pitchers into his wheelhouse.

However, the improved contact and altered approach may have cost Baez some power. It’s likely we’ll see moderate short-term results and a frustrating combination of extreme highs and lows at the plate this year. Temper your expectations. Baez is still very much a work in progress and is the unambiguous definition of a boom-or-bust player. Joe Maddon loves him, so he will get his share of chances. If he hits, he is a superstar in the making. If he hits.

Previous Scouting Report: Jake Arrieta

5 – 4 – 6 – 3

Redbird Rants looks at the best/worst case scenario for OF Matt Holliday. Throughout his career, Holliday has been the epitome of consistency, but age and injuries may be starting to take a toll on the 36-year-old outfielder. Holliday is in the last year of his contract but the Cardinals hold a $17M option for 2017 with a $1M buyout. That’s worth keeping an eye on.

Viva El Birdos looks at the long-term effect of the Kolten Wong contract extension on future St. Louis payroll.

Hank The Ballpark Pup was hotter news yesterday than the GOP debate. Brew Crew Ball has the complete story, which was picked up nationally by Deadspin, The Washington Post, and The Sporting News. I could have linked to stories about the Brewers’ success on the diamond yesterday, but I am trying to avoid overkill.

I did listen to the Brewers broadcast for a while and Bob Uecker is already in mid-season form. Uek’s best quote of the day came when he had trouble recognizing a number of the team’s new faces: “I think fans show up in full uniform and hop the fence in hopes of getting into a game.”

Is Austin Meadows the next Mike Trout? Pirates Breakdown analyzes both players and makes a strong case in Meadows’ favor.

Ryan Vogelsong and Jon Niese made their Pirates debuts yesterday and Bucs Raise It has all the details. The back end of the Pirates rotation looks a little light heading into the 2016 season. The Bucs do have a strong farm system though, so reinforcements could be coming.

Fact, Fiction, Truth, Or Rumor

Seriously, this Hank The Dog conspiracy has taken on a life of it’s own, much like the Paul Is Dead Beatles rumors of 1966.

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Brett Anderson is hurt again. The oft-injured southpaw has a bulging disc in his lower back that requires surgery, and he is likely to miss 3-5 months of the season. Tough break for Anderson.

It’s time for Jonah Keri’s 4th Annual MLB Trade Value Rankings. The former Grantland writer is now with SI and the column is truly long-form in scope and spectacle, but well worth your time investment. So what is the MLB Trade Value column, exactly? Put simply, Keri tries to answer the age old question that’s spurred so many barstool debates: Would you trade this guy for that guy?

Golfer Jordan Spieth could have been a D-1 college pitcher, sayeth Spieth’s mother. When you can sink 100 six-foot puts in a row, golf is probably a better choice.

Bottom of the Ninth

I grew up watching This Week in Baseball every Saturday morning and it is hard to believe it has now been 20 years since host Mel Allen (1913-1996) passed. His signature phrase, “How about that?” inevitably pops into my head every single time I see a remarkable play in a major league baseball game, followed by the TWIB opening theme song.

Allen was the voice behind many Yankees World Championships, called the 60th home run by Roger Maris in 1961, and at one time was arguably the biggest voice in the game unless you were a fan of Red Barber or Jack Brickhouse (incidentally, Brickhouse called “The Catch” by Willie Mays).

Allen started calling baseball games in 1938. It is incredibly humbling and so heartwarming  to me to know that the great Yankees announcer is a genuine conduit from players like Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio to those I watch today. I love the history of this game. I truly love baseball.

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