The Rundown: Youth Springs Eternal, Cubs Carrying Heavy Expectations, Baseball’s Traditions Make Opening Day Special

“Little darlin’, it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter. Little darlin’, it feels like years since it’s been here.” – The Beatles, Here Comes the Sun

Opening Day isn’t a national holiday but for scores of millions of baseball fans, it may as well be. The crack of the bat, the pop of the leather, the whoosh of players sliding into second base, and the roar of the crowd awaken each of us from a winter hibernation occasionally rustled by news of a trade or free agent signing. The trees are still bare and we’re greeted each late March morning by temperatures hovering around Mother Nature’s Mendoza line, but make no mistake, spring is in the air.

It won’t be long before the smell of hot dogs and sausages and the consumption of gallons of beer and soda replace those cups of coffee and hot chocolate that keep our hands as warm as our insides, with or without the addition of some Bailey’s Irish Cream. Likewise, players look forward to warmer times when their bats won’t feel like 31-ounce icicles and baseballs can be properly gripped. Shadows grow shorter during the early part of the schedule and hope springs eternal.

Each baseball season embodies a heterogeneity of feelings and emotions that can be encapsulated with four placeholders: Joy, pain, resurrection, and heartbreak. Those ups and downs swing a bit more violently for Cubs fans, a population of baseball lifers whose hearts never detach from their sleeves. We have but one championship to mask the wretchedness of post-World War II baseball which includes the crash of 1969, Steve Garvey and Will Clark, devastating postseason losses in 1984 and 2003, and the failure to win a single playoff game in 2007, 2008, 2018, and 2020.

As the inimitable late Lin Brehmer once said on his WXRT-93 morning show, “With all due respect to the science of psychology, there is not enough winning in the world to take those crucial moments away. They are a part of who we are. Those Cub plunges into the abyss are as permanent as the mark left by a branding iron. Cubs fans have passed through a narrowing chute where we have been marked for life.”

Today, however, we wake with wide-eyed optimism. The Cubs have a new manager in Craig Counsell, shiny new starter Shōta  Imanaga, a deeper bench and bullpen, and Cody Bellinger is back. You won’t find a juggernaut at the corners of Clark & Addison this summer, but competitive baseball shall ensue. Chicago is a year or two away from 90-win projections, with 85 victories standing as the 2024 benchmark. That should be enough to win a division rife with four ongoing rebuilds and a potential reset in St. Louis.

It’s Opening Day, and for Cubs fans, a burgeoning farm system means youth springs eternal. In the meantime, keep your cupboards stocked with snacks and your fridge filled with your favorite libations. A new champion will be crowned in about 32 weeks, but for now, let’s just enjoy the ride.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

I’ve got nothing, and neither does Patrick Wisdom.

Climbing the Ladder

“I feel so good I’m gonna break somebody’s heart tonight. I feel so good I’m gonna take someone apart tonight.”– Richard Thompson, I Feel So Good

Let’s take a look back at Chicago’s 2023 pitching leaders based on league minimum playing time requirements. I covered the offense in yesterday’s Rundown, in case you missed it.

Counsell tends to let his starters work a little longer than Ross did, so I’m predicting a 20-win, 200-strikeout season for Steele, and double-digit victory totals for Imanaga, Kyle Hendricks, and Jordan Wicks. Hendricks is seven wins shy of 100 in his career.

Central Intelligence

How About That!

Baseball is chock full of traditions, but there are some so meaningful that they make MLB Opening Day better than any other sport.

Great quote from TribLive broadcaster Mark Madden: “Gambling and sports are directly and massively intertwined now, probably too much so. It was better when sports betting had to be done through your local (illegal) bookmaker. It felt like separation of church and state.”

Most projection systems favor the Dodgers, but they have three of baseball’s riskiest contracts with over a billion dollars tied up in Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and Tyler Glasnow.

The league placed Wander Franco on administrative leave through June 1.

The Braves and Phillies have pushed their opener back to tomorrow due to inclement weather.

Death, taxes, Manfred: With every new season comes new rules changes.

Infield Single

Here are my 2024 predictions.

  • NL East: Braves
  • NL Central: Cubs
  • NL West: Dodgers
  • NL Wild Card: Phillies, Diamondbacks, Padres
  • AL East: Orioles
  • AL Central: Twins
  • AL West: Mariners
  • AL Wild Cards: Astros, Rays, Rangers
  • NL Champion: Braves
  • AL Champion: Mariners
  • World Series Winner: Mariners

Legging Out a Double

Chicago’s Pythagorean record last season was 90-72. I’m betting Counsell more than makes up for the eight losses the Cubs gave away in 2023.

Rounding Third

I’ll make one trade prediction, and it’s that the Cubs acquire Logan Gilbert from the Mariners before this year’s deadline.

Sliding Into Home

I turn 60 on Sunday, and I’m hoping to write for Cubs Insider for another five years. Consider yourself invited to my party if you plan on being in Milwaukee on April 20.

Extra Innings

Shōta shoves!

They Said It

  • “I got to manage a lot of games against Joe Maddon, and I learned a lot from him, for sure. I was always trying to understand. They’re winning, man. We’ve got to figure out how to win. I’m going to watch the team that’s winning a lot.” – Counsell
  • “There are teams that can have the 30th percentile outcome of their projections and still make the playoffs and we’re not one of those teams. We need to perform probably at or a little bit better than our projections in order to have a really successful season. The Braves and the Dodgers, they have built a cushion where things can happen and they can undershoot their projections and win. We can’t do that. So we need to eke everything out of this group.” – Jed Hoyer

Opening Day Walk-Up Song

The Cubs open on the road this evening against the defending champs. The Rangers were +4500 to win the World Series at this time last year and Chicago’s North Side Baseballers are +3500 this morning. Anything can happen.

Back to top button