Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”

Scouting the Cubs' competition: Does Jake Arrieta transform Phillies' playoff hopes?


Scouting the Cubs' competition: Does Jake Arrieta transform Phillies' playoff hopes?

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:

Philadelphia Phillies

2017 record: 66-96, last place in NL East

Offseason additions: Jake Arrieta, Carlos Santana, Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek, Drew Hutchison, Will Middlebrooks

Offseason departures: Daniel Nava, Clay Buchholz, Hyun-Soo Kim, Freddy Galvis

X-factor: Odubel Herrera

Rhys Hoskins won't continue to hit homers at such a historic rate, but everything points to another very strong season for the young outfielder/first baseman.

Instead, it's Herrera who enters the season with the most questions surrounding his impact. He's penciled in as the Phillies' No. 3 hitter in his age-26 season and saw regression in 2017 in strike zone organization.

Herrera's walk rate was cut nearly in half and saw an increase in strikeouts. As a result, his on-base percentage dropped 36 points despite a batting average just 5 points lower than 2016. He did flash more power (59 extra base hits compared to 42 in '16), but he will need to correct the recent trends of patience at the plate if the Phillies are actually going to take a step forward this year.

Projected lineup

1. Cesar Hernandez - 2B
2. Carlos Santana - 1B
3. Odubel Herrera - CF
4. Rhys Hoskins - LF
5. Nick Williams - RF
6. Maikel Franco - 3B
7. Jorge Alfaro - C
8. J.P. Crawford - SS

Projected rotation

1. Aaron Nola
2. Jake Arrieta
3. Vince Velasquez
4. Nick Pivetta
5. Ben Lively


The Phillies are probably at least a year away from being legit contenders, but adding Arrieta was a huge step in that direction. This team needed more starting pitching and they got it with the second-best starter on the free agent market.

The Santana signing was curious given Philly already had Hoskins at first base, so they have to pray the kid won't miss a step adjusting to a full-time role in left field. Santana is a very good player and still only 31, so it's not a bad move at all.

The rest of the Phillies lineup features a bunch of young players beginning their post-prospect life, packed with a bunch of questions. Franco and Crawford were projected to be stars and Alfaro and Williams very well could be important pieces in the core. But 2018 will feature growing pains with a lineup featuring five players under the age of 26. 

Hernandez is one of the more underrated players in the game — a solid leadoff hitter who has turned into a very patient player. With a full season of at-bats, he and Santana could combine for over 200 walks.

The starting staff is still lacking depth, but if Velasquez can actually stay healthy for once, that would go a long way toward legitimizing this staff.

The bullpen is solid with Hector Neris set for the closer's role and veteran additions Hunter and Neshek helping bridge the gap.

Even if the Phillies don't make the postseason in 2018, their time is coming and they would be a scary team to face this summer when they're hot.

Prediction: 4th in NL East, no playoffs

Which Cubs and White Sox players are included in MLB The Show 18's player rankings?


Which Cubs and White Sox players are included in MLB The Show 18's player rankings?

MLB The Show 18 apparently is not high on too many Cubs and White Sox players entering the 2018 season.

Thursday, Playstation released the Top 10 players in MLB The Show 18 position-by-position. Of the 10 positional groups (including starting and relief pitchers), only five Chicago players are included in the Top 10 at their respecitve positions (three Cubs, two White Sox). 

Kris Bryant is highest ranked Cub and the third-best third baseman in the game with an 86 rating. Anthony Rizzo is ranked as the third-best first baseman with an overall rating of 85, while Willson Contreras is ranked as the fourth-best catcher with a rating of 83.

For the White Sox, Jose Abreu is ranked the eighth-best first baseman with an 82 rating, while Avisail Garcia (79 rating) is ranked the ninth-best right fielder. 

The Chicago player rankings are quite odd in comparison to other players ranked in the Top 10 at their various positions. For example, Jose Reyes (79 rating) is ranked as the 10th best shortstop in the game. Reyes is a .286 career hitter, but he is coming off of a season in which he hit .246 in 501 at-bats.

While Addison Russell had a down year in 2017 (.239/.304/.418), it seems safe to say that he is a better player than Reyes at this point. And even if Russell is not worthy of a Top 10 ranking, there is a case to be made for other shorstops (i.e. Zack Cozart, Brandon Crawford, Jean Segura) to be ranked above Reyes.

Similarly, Kris Bryant's 86 rating is quite low considering that he was rated 94 in MLB The Show 17. While his home run and RBI totals both decreased slightly from 2016, Bryant still put together an all-around great 2017 season. He led MLB third basemen in walks (95) and runs (111) while also producing a slash line of .295/.409/.537.

Ultimately, the ratings and overall rankings must be put into perspective. Mike Trout's rating (93) is the highest in the game, yet even he experienced a drop from his 99 rating in MLB The Show 17. 

The ratings for Bryant, Rizzo and Abreu seem low, but Nolan Arenado (90) leads all third basemen, while Joey Votto (87) is best among first basemen. Basically, the various Cubs and White Sox players are not rated too far behind the best.

Here are the complete position-by-position rankings for MLB The Show 2018: