The Rundown: Shōtime in Chicago, Cubs Win Home Opener, Bats About to Break Out, Red Sox Mourn Loss of Larry Lucchino

“It’s one for the dagger and another for the one you believe.” – The Fratellis, Chelsea Dagger

My first thought after watching the Cubs’ home opener is that the team’s pitching lab is much more advanced than its pyrotechnics team. I don’t know if that display was an April Fool’s thing or not, but it certainly made Tom Ricketts look as miserly as most fans believe him to be. I imagine he’ll have the players burn sparklers while we’re paying $21.50 for beers if the Cubs reach the World Series.

The real story of the game was Shōta Imanaga, but give an assist to Christopher Morel and Nolan Jones. Imanaga shut the Brewers down on two hits over six innings with nine strikeouts in yesterday’s 5-0 win, while Jones managed to turn a routine single by Morel into a bases-clearing trip around the diamond.

Imanaga’s performance was significant because Chicago’s starters struggled in Texas. He was on point all game but allowed a couple of fly balls that might have been home runs in warmer weather. That’s a tad concerning, but because Imanaga limits bases on balls, it’s not that worrisome. He’ll have some trash outings, though I believe the dynamic ones like yesterday will be much more common. Imanaga’s WHIP in NPB was a filthy 1.04, and he’ll win a lot of games if he can achieve similar effectiveness with the Cubs .

Imanaga threw 65 of his 92 pitches for strikes (70.65%), including an impressive 20 whiffs. He didn’t walk anybody and allowed just two hits. He reminded me of Burt Hooton against the Phillies in 1972 — similar weather, similar dominance, except Hooton threw a no-hitter. Imanaga throws a devastating splitter, while Hooton dazzled with a never-before-seen knuckle curve. Imanaga became the first Cubs pitcher with at least six scoreless innings and nine strikeouts in his MLB debut since 1901. He also tied Dutch Ruether (1917) and Jordan Wicks (2023) for the second-most strikeouts in a big-league debut in franchise history.

I would normally be opposed to such an obvious nickname, but we should all start calling Imanaga “Shōtime.” From his opening presser to warming up to “Chelsea Dagger” to his fiery mound presence, the nickname fits. I like it a lot better than “The Throwing Philosopher.”

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

“Well the South Side of Chicago is the baddest part of town.” – Jim Croce

Climbing the Ladder

“Baby, baby, baby, light my fire.” – Sly & The Family Stone, I Wanna Take You Higher

Morel is off to a sizzling start at the plate. He’s batting .417 and slugging .708 but has yet to take a walk. He also has 12 total bases in 17 plate appearances with just one strikeout. It’s no wonder Counsell wants Morel in his everyday lineup. The third baseman was replaced after his Little League home run by Nick Madrigal to give Counsell better defense.

Keep an eye on Michael Busch, who I believe is about to have a breakout game. He’s hitting the ball hard with little to show for it so far. Fielding metrics view Busch and Morel poorly, but both will remain in the lineup if each continues to stick.

Finally, Chicago’s strikeout rate continues to plummet. I know four games is a small sample size, but the Cubs are putting good wood on the ball. There are going to be a lot of high-scoring games in this team’s future and they may tee off on Freeland tonight.

  • Games Played: 4
  • Record: 2-2, 4th place in NL Central
  • Total Plate Appearances: 155
  • Total Strikeouts: 26
  • Strikeout Rate: 16.77%
  • Team Batting Average: .241
  • With Runners in Scoring Position: 7-for-29 (.241)
  • Runs Scored: 19
  • Runs Allowed: 20
  • Pythagorean Record: 2-2
  • Chances of Making the Playoffs: 75%, 4.6% chance to win World Series 

Central Intelligence

How About That!

The Red Sox are mourning the loss of former club president Larry Lucchino this morning. Lucchino presided over the club during a historic 14-year period (2002-15) in which the team won three World Series titles, saved and enhanced Fenway Park, established an MLB record for consecutive sellouts, and created innovations in fan services and hospitality. He hired Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer at a time when GM positions were normally reserved for former players or scouts. His vision, therefore, indirectly helped the Cubs break their 108-year-old curse in 2016.

A handful of MLB teams are debuting technology this season that allows fans to use their faces, instead of paper or digital tickets, to gain stadium access.

It’s early, but trends across baseball are already starting to develop.

The White Sox and Mike Clevinger have agreed to terms on a one-year deal to bring the starter back to Chicago’s South Side.

Bryce Harper never misses an opportunity to endear himself to Philadelphia sports fans.

Justin Verlander pitched a simulated game on Monday and could get a rehab assignment very soon.

Monday’s Three Stars

  1. Ronel Blanco – Houston’s 28-year-old former swingman used a devastating changeup to no-hit the Blue Jays last night. Blanco threw 105 pitches, including 73 for strikes, and only four balls were hit harder than 90 mph. The Astros have now thrown at least one no-no in each of the last three seasons, with Framber Valdez no-hitting the Guardians last August and Cristian Javier pitching the bulk of two separate combined no-hitters in 2022: against the Yankees in June and the Phillies in Game 4 of the World Series.
  2. Josh Jung – The slugging second-year third baseman led the Rangers to a 9-3 win over the Rays with a 3-for-4 night that included a home run, double, stolen base, and four RBI. Unfortunately, however, Jung broke his wrist on an HBP in his final at-bat. The Rangers have not announced a timetable for his return but called up prospect Justin Foscue to take Jung’s place.
  3. Imanaga – He was upstaged by Blanco, but not by much. The Japanese rookie had a no-hitter through five innings and better stuff.

Extra Innings

Those Little League home runs never get old.

Apropos of Nothing

I’m going to the Brewers-Twins game on Wednesday and have a seat right behind Front Row Amy. I have been told her seat is sponsored by the group I am attending the game with.

They Said It

  • “The strike zone there is much more east/west than north/south. I know that Shota’s been surprised [in spring training] by some strike calls he’s gotten at the top of the zone. Those were just not strikes in Japan. One of his biggest strengths is his four-seam fastball and the ride it has on it. So I think he’ll be able to hit the top of the zone in ways he couldn’t in Japan.” – Hoyer
  • “If any of my peers are sitting in this seat and they say they’re confident they have enough pitching, they’re lying. No one’s ready for three or four injuries. That’s just a fact. … I do feel like we have a lot more pitching depth than we’ve had almost at any time since I’ve been here, but does it keep me up at night? Absolutely.” – Hoyer
  • “I didn’t think [Brendon Rodgers] was going to miss that catch. Once I saw that he missed it, I just said, ‘Hey, whatever God’s plan is, I’m just going to keep going.'” – Morel
  • “I think that’s an overlooked part of that play, where [Morel] rounds third, has his eyes on the ball, sees that it’s far enough away [from Rodgers] that he can score. That’s a big run for us.”Ian Happ

Tuesday Walk-Up Song

This song is probably a little more befitting of the 1984 Cubs, but yesterday’s game reminded me a lot of that team. Chicago combined good pitching with timely hitting and caught a big break just when one was needed.

Back to top button