The Rundown: Darvish Looks Like Ace, Bryant Goes Yard Again, Cubs Players Rooting for White Sox

The Cubs are swinging some big sticks this spring and Yu Darvish was a beast yesterday. And now that we’ve had a weekend to decompress from the Bryce Harper signing, it appears, finally, that baseball is the only topic of discussion in Chicago. It feels good, right? I know Cactus League games mean nothing, but when your offense is clicking so well that your starting pitcher has to work his final inning out of the bullpen it smacks of joyful optimism.

Kris Bryant is leading the charge and hit his second home run of the spring yesterday. The ball was hit so hard it may still be flying. Bryant got his three at-bats in before the end of the 3rd inning, which is the kind of offense fans should expect all season. If the starting rotation stays healthy, the Cubs could make a mockery of those pesky PECOTA projections.

Darvish looked the part of staff ace, striking out three White Sox batters in his two innings of work. “It’s the best stuff in my life,” Darvish said after he threw 27 pitches — 17 of them strikes — in the 13-4 victory. The right-hander threw 15 additional pitches off the bullpen mound while Cubs batters roughed up the White Sox for eight runs in the bottom of the 2nd. His fastball touched 97 mph and he showed better command of his breaking ball than he did in his outing last week.

It’s nice to see that the Cubs have found their groove right out of the gate. The fans were certainly impressed, as the two teams played before a sellout crowd of 16,069 fans on Sunday, a spring training record.

Cubs News & Notes

  • Darvish is all kinds of goodness when it comes to his pitching repertoire.
  • Joe Maddon said he sees a player who is far from satisfied when he looks at Willson Contreras. “The second half of last year was the anomaly moment,” Maddon said. “I don’t think you saw a great representation of him or anywhere near what he is. We [have] got to get beyond that, and I think we will.
  • Maddon won’t be dying his hair black this season. The manager had his head shaved for the team’s annual St. Baldrick’s “Respect Bald” charity event, and told reporters he’s going to go natural this season. “I’m going to let it fly,” Maddon said. “It’s been kind of fun.” Anthony RizzoIan HappKyle SchwarberSteve Cishek, and Taylor Davis were among the players who participated in the team shearing.
  • I’ll be shaving my head this afternoon, in case you were wondering. Of course God already stole half of my hair over the last 10-12 years.
  • Schwarber is going back to using the crouching batting stance ($) from his rookie season with the hope of becoming a more complete hitter.
  • When Maddon was asked if the Cubs can rediscover their mojo this season, he seemed bewildered by the phrasing. “I mean, to rediscover [our] mojo after a 95-win season is really difficult to jump on board with,” he said.
  • C’mon man. You don’t really believe the Cubs are a 79-win, fifth place team, do you?
  • New hitting coach Anthony Iapoce should help further the development of players like Albert Almora Jr. “I don’t know how to explain (his) mental side of the game,” Almora said. “It’s unique. It’s changed my life. During the minor leagues, he came to me. Without hitting a ball in a cage, he’s changed the way I thought about the game in my approach.”
  • Four players with Chicago roots are hoping to break camp with the Cubs this year, including reliever George Kontos.
  • Why haven’t the Cubs tried to sign a backup catcher? I can answer that for you. I believe they are happy with Victor Caratini, at least at his price point. Why is that such a bad thing? How many backup catchers did they try last year? And of those, how many finished the season with the team?
  • Believe it or not, the Cubs are actually rooting for the White Sox as the South Siders enter the next phase of their rebuild. “I’m not here to rub anyone the wrong way,” Schwarber said in a hushed tone. “But I think the White Sox have a lot of good things coming.”
  • The Cubs officially signed all 17 of their pre-arbitration players. The highest paid players are Contreras ($684,000), Almora Jr. ($615,500) and Happ ($603,500). How out of touch are those salaries? In 2016, Bryant won the NL MVP in his second season and the Cubs won the World Series. The third baseman made $1.05 million in ’16, but FanGraphs estimates he was worth $63.3 million.

Spring Training Notes

Harper spent a lot of time talking to Mike Trout before agreeing to his record-setting contract with the Phillies.

During Harper’s introductory press conference this weekend, he accidentally stated that he wanted to “bring a title back to D.C.” and Noah Syndergaard made sure he reminded him of his mistake.

Aaron Judge thinks this year’s Yankees team will crush the home run record that they set last season. The Bronx Bombers hit 267 taters in 2018.

Talks between the Nationals and free agent closer Craig Kimbrel seem to be at an advanced stage, per Keith Law. Nationals ownership is leery of passing the luxury tax threshold, however.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox are in no hurry to name a replacement for Kimbrel. Manager Alex Cora may decide to use a closer-by-committee approach to managing the back end of games.

The Twins traded Zack Granite to the Rangers for prospect Xavier Moore and cash.

Former “can’t miss” prospect Bubba Starling is on his eighth year in the Kansas City system, but he is turning heads in camp this spring. The first round pick is making a strong push to make the team. Starling is batting .583 with two home runs, five RBI, and seven runs scored through 12 Cactus League games.

Los Angeles pitcher Clayton Kershaw resumed throwing Sunday after resting Saturday. The Dodgers ace has been battling a shoulder ailment since the start of camp.

Extra Innings

Phillies fans are a little more than excited to have Harper for the next 13 years…for now anyway.

Monday Walk Up Song

Destination Anywhere by The Commitments. The female-led songs are the best of the movie in my opinion, and no wonder: Maria Doyle-Kennedy, who plays Natalie Murphy, is a wonderful singer . One of the best scenes from the movie is the band members singing on a public bus just after forming. Don’t forget you can catch all of this month’s walk up songs as a running playlist on Spotify.

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