Cubs closing out the regular season with a spring training approach


Cubs closing out the regular season with a spring training approach

Hector Rondon chopped Amir Garrett's offering about 15 feet in front of home plate and booked it down the line.

He was initially called out, but was so insistent he beat the play, he stayed on first base and went through the usual Cubs routine after a basehit — waving to the dugout with a bright smile on his face, cracking up his teammates.

Welcome to spring training in September.

Rondon's first career MLB hit was confirmed by a replay, altering the original call on the field by first base umpire Mike Winters.

Rondon's baserunning excursion lasted just one pitch as Rene Rivera — hitting leadoff — into an inning-ending double play. Rondon was then lifted from the game in favor of Brian Duensing for the eighth inning. Cubs manager Joe Maddon didn't want to use any other position players in the game if he didn't have to, so he gave Rondon and fellow reliever Felix Pena an opportunity to hit for themselves Friday.

It was a fun, ridiculous moment in a game that featured a Cubs starting lineup consisting of three catchers (Kyle Schwarber, Alex Avila, Willson Contreras) to start, plus the insertion of Rivera (again, in the leadoff spot) and Taylor Davis (at third base). The starting lineup also featured three second basemen (Ben Zobrist, Tommy La Stella, Ian Happ) playing all over the place.

Happ started at third base for the first time in his professional career (he only had one inning at the hot corner prior to Friday) and moved to center field before giving the Cubs their 91st victory of the season with a three-run homer in the eighth.

Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Addison Russell and Jason Heyward never made it into Friday's game. Those five regulars will likely be in Saturday's lineup however, after taking back-to-back days off Thursday and Friday.

Maddon talked to Bryant and Co. about playing Friday, but the players opted for a second consecutive day off, while Zobrist and Contreras wanted to get back into action after taking Thursday off.

The Cubs have nothing to play for, as seeding in the NL is already guaranteed and they locked up the division Wednesday night in St. Louis.

"Treat it more like spring training," Maddon said of the regulars playing Saturday, "maybe three at-bats. It doesn't have to be a full game. My plan is to talk to them during the course of the game — how ya feelin'? Do you need another at-bat? You good? Just like you do in spring training. No different than that."

Maddon also continued to treat his pitching staff with the caution and predetermined planning of Cactus League play.

Jose Quintana was perfect through the first 11 hitters of the game, but fell into trouble in the fifth and wound up exiting after only 4.2 innings and 81 pitches. Pena bridged the gap to Rondon in the seventh, who dialed his fastball up to the upper 90s and threw his fourth staright scoreless apperance since returning from a minor elbow injury.

Prior to Friday's game, Maddon telegraphed his managing style for the weekend, saying he hoped to get the main relievers out for an inning or two, but not wanting any guy to approach even 30 pitches.

Jon Lester also doesn't figure to work deep into Saturday's game while Jake Arrieta won't make Sunday's start, resting his ailing hamstring and turning the 2017 regular season finale into a bullpen day for the Cubs.

It's all in an effort to promote rest and limit wear and tear in a series of games that means nothing beyond ensuring the Cubs players are locked in and ready for their NLDS date with the Washington Nationals.

Willson Contreras' bat-flip game is already in midseason form

Willson Contreras' bat-flip game is already in midseason form

The MLB regular season is still 13 days away, but Willson Contreras is ready for the swings to count.

The Cubs catcher hit an absolute bomb of a homer Friday afternoon off White Sox pitcher Reynaldo Lopez, but it wasn't just a homer.

Contreras put an exclamation mark on the dinger (his third of the spring and the second this week) with an A+ bat flip:

I'm not sure what's more majestic: The 450-foot shot or the 45-foot bat-flip.

Either way, Contreras is ready for those 2018 NL MVP votes.

Cubs opposition research: It's an even year, so count on a Giants comeback


Cubs opposition research: It's an even year, so count on a Giants comeback

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

San Francisco Giants

2017 record: 64-98, last place in NL West

Offseason additions: Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria, Austin Jackson, Gregor Blanco, Tony Watson, Julian Fernandez

Offseason departures: Michael Morse, Matt Cain, Matt Moore, Denard Span, Kyle Crick, Christian Arroyo

X-factor: Brandon Belt

The trades for Longoria and McCutchen are going to get all the attention, but the Giants are sort of acquiring Belt, too. 

Their sweet-swining lefty first baseman only appeared in 104 games in 2017, missing the last few weeks of the season with a bad concussion. When he was on the field, he led the team in both homers (18) and walks (66) despite just 451 plate appearances. 

Belt has turned into one of the most patient hitters in the game and if he is able to stay healthy for a full season, would slot in perfectly in the 2-hole ahead of McCutchen, Longoria and Buster Posey. 

Projected lineup

1. Joe Panik - 2B
2. Brandon Belt - 1B
3. Andrew McCutchen - RF
4. Buster Posey - C
5. Evan Longoria - 3B
6. Hunter Pence - LF
7. Brandon Crawford - SS
8. Austin Jackson - CF

Projected rotation

1. Madison Bumgarner
2. Johnny Cueto
3. Jeff Samardzija
4. Ty Blach
5. Chris Stratton


The Giants tied for the worst record in Major League Baseball in 2017, surprising many around the league. Absolutely nothing went right for the team, from a lack of power on the field (Belt missed a third of the season and still led the team in homers), injuries (Bumgarner only made 17 starts) and general ineffectiveness (Mark Melancon).

But the Giants are a team that excels in even years, though the Cubs may have broken that juju by knocking San Fran out of the NLDS in 2016.

Still, between the return to health of key players and some big moves that improved the lineup, this team is primed for a return to form.

Watson is a nice piece at the back end of the bullpen and bet on a rebound from Melancon, who was one of the best late-inning relievers in the game from 2013-16 (1.80 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 147 saves).

Expect more out of the rotation with Bumgarner and Cueto a dynamic 1-2 punch. Cubs fans are familiar with what Samardzija can do if he gets on a role, too.

It seems crazy to pick the Giants to finish higher than the Diamondbacks, but they still have the same core of players from the championship years and have a much-improved roster.

Prediction: Second place in NL West, wild-card team

Complete opposition research

San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Franciso Giants