Jed Hoyer

How does baseball fix weather issues? Cubs have ideas, but there probably is no solution

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USA TODAY

How does baseball fix weather issues? Cubs have ideas, but there probably is no solution

Give Anthony Rizzo a break.

In fact, give any player a break if they say they think Major League Baseball should play fewer games.

A 162-game season is absolutely bonkers as is. Who decided baseball should play twice as many games as every other American professional sport?

But this is how it is now and that will not change. Blame revenue, blame the statistical purity of the game, blame whatever. Baseball will not reduce their schedule from 162 games.

Rizzo hopped on ESPN 1000 radio with David Kaplan earlier in the day on Tuesday and said:

"I think we play too much baseball. Yes, guys are going to take pay cuts. But are we playing this game for the money or do we love this game? I know it's both, but in the long run it will make everything better."

So Rizzo is willing to make less money to play fewer games.

Spoken like a true millennial — less money is OK if there's less time at work.

But that's OK for him to think that way. These guys just had to sit through maybe the worst weather game in Wrigley Field history Saturday. It was certainly the worst weather Joe Maddon — who's been in this game for four decades — has had to endure, he said.

Tuesday night's 5-3 loss to the Cardinals was no picnic, either. Cubs players had to keep running into the third-base dugout to sit by the industrial-sized heaters to warm up during batting practice before the series opener with the St. Louis Cardinals.

"Tonight's not gonna be ideal, but we have to play games," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said Tuesday evening. "Backing these games up and having a bunch of doubleheaders doesn't help anybody."

Wednesday afternoon's scheduled game looks doubtful, so the teams left Wrigley Field late Tuesday night pretty much expecting another postponement and playing the short series finale on Thursday.

Addison Russell echoed his (unofficial) captain's sentiments and agreed a shorter season would be nice. Maddon prefers the 162-game schedule as is; it's all he's ever known.

Rizzo knows his comments could be blown out of proportion after everything he says on the radio, but nothing he said was wrong. 

But all this talk about a shorter season is really misguided.

A shorter season would only impact things if the year started around May 1. And is anybody really confident this wacky weather will be less wacky and more typical come May 1?

Nobody expected it to snow this much in April, let alone this deep into April.

All these postponements have absolutely nothing to do with the MLB season starting in late March, so please don't even start that argument. 

The season starting earlier is actually a part of the solution, as there are four more off-days built in. There are four more days to schedule all these make-up games without killing everybody with a bunch of doubleheaders or a 26-games-in-24-days type of situation.

This weather is so atypical, there's no plan in place right now to accomodate all these games when it's snowy or 29 degrees with windchill. Maddon acknowledged this was probably the worst he's ever seen the weather to begin a season.

"Day after day, this is unusual," Maddon said. "But more than likely, it's an anomoly. It's probably not going to be this way again next year. It provides a lot of wonderful conversation, but I think it also provides an opportunity to think things through in advance the next time it occurs.

"...It's one of those things I think you need to take advantage of in the sense that it's a negative situation weather-wise. What's the positive? The positive is that let's learn something and figure out how to work around a weather-related situation."

So what can baseball do?

Nothing, except ride it out.

"There's no solution to it," Hoyer said. "The season starting earlier has nothing to do with what the weather is on the 15th, 16th, 17th of April.

"This is the time everyone's been playing baseball. This is a bad stretch for the whole league. We'll get through it."

The value of a unicorn like Tommy La Stella

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AP

The value of a unicorn like Tommy La Stella

A Cubs player turned to his right, saw Tommy La Stella sitting in a chair in the Miller Park visiting locker room, smiled and said:

"Dude, you're the best pinch-hitter ever."

La Stella laughed it off and resumed watching The Masters. 

"Best Pinch-Hitter Ever" may not rival "Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All-Time" in terms of importance to a Cubs team with World Series expectations, but La Stella's role has always been under the radar.

The 29-year-old utility man has only tallied 353 at-bats over his four seasons in a Cubs uniform, but he's been a mercenary of sorts for manager Joe Maddon, who can deploy La Stella at the most opportune times in a game.

He appeared in all but one of the Cubs' first 10 contests in 2018, though had just one start. Still, he's gone 3-for-8 in a pinch-hitting capacity, smacking two doubles with a pair of RBI. 

Those numbers would be even higher if not for a Milwaukee official scorer who ruled La Stella's hard-hit grounder an error Sunday, though La Stella's aforementioned teammate clearly disagreed.

Last year, La Stella posted a ridiculous .290/.488/.419 slash line (.908 OPS) as a pinch-hitter, going 9-for-31 with four doubles, seven RBI and 10 walks against only five strikeouts.

"He knows what he's doing," Maddon said. "He knows how to do it. He doesn't try to force anything. He's not trying to appease me or anybody else with his preparation. He just prepares, which I love.

"He's a different cat. He's a very valuable commodity in today's game, in the National League, especially because of his pinch-hitting abilities. I anticipate and believe he will remain this way for several years to come."

Once upon a time, Maddon said La Stella may be the best pure hitter on the Cubs roster, using that as rationale for why the infielder was hitting fifth in the 2015 wild-card playoff in Pittsburgh.

Then there's the uber-popular "3 a.m." nickname that's taken on a life of its own after a comment Maddon made in spring training a few years ago, saying La Stella could wake up at 3 a.m. and hit line drives all over the field.

And there was the hilarious prank war between La Stella and Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer in spring training, showing there were absolutely no hard feelings after the August 2016 incident where La Stella left the organization and nearly quit baseball.

While the rest of baseball is focused on launch angles and strikeouts are coming in record numbers, La Stella has stayed true to who he is as a hitter, sticking with a throwback style that makes him something of a unicorn in today's game.

He struck out only 18 times in 73 games last year, ranking as the 17th-toughest hitter to strike out in the game.

Among players with at least 150 plate appearances in 2017, La Stella was one of just seven MLB hitters who had more walks than strikeouts, joining the ranks of NL MVP candidates Anthony Rizzo, Joey Votto and Anthony Rendon, among others.

"He has such an old-school swing," Maddon said. "He's tension-free, he's flat through the zone, he doesn't try to lift anything, he's got a good eye, he'll work a count.

"He's unique in a lot of ways, meaning that he's not into the launch angles, not trying to power the ball. He's into using the whole field. He's got a really great base and he doesn't overthink it, that's for sure.

"He doesn't swing too often. He's not out there taking extra BP. He doesn't overanalyze himself. For me, a lot of old school tenants about the way he hits and I think we all appreciate that."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Jed Hoyer breaks down Cubs renovated pitching staff

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Jed Hoyer breaks down Cubs renovated pitching staff

Between more power in the rotation and more strike-throwing in the bullpen, the Cubs were decisive in how they wanted to remake their pitching staff entering the 2018 season.

GM Jed Hoyer sits down with David Kaplan to explain the thought process of the front office over the winter.

Take a listen here or in the embedded player below.