Cubs

Cubs won’t look outside for leadoff hitter when they have Anthony Rizzo and pitching priorities

Cubs won’t look outside for leadoff hitter when they have Anthony Rizzo and pitching priorities

This conventional idea of a leadoff hitter is an endangered species, a rare commodity like the young, top-of-the-rotation starter the Cubs will prioritize at the July 31 trade deadline. 

“You never rule out anything,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “If it makes us better, then we’ll talk about doing it. But pitching’s the priority, now and this winter. We know that’s organizationally where we need to go.” 

Plus, the Cubs already have the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time. Just ask Anthony Rizzo, who’s clearly enjoying an experiment that manager Joe Maddon doesn’t plan to end anytime soon.

Rizzo’s leadoff streak of getting on base in seven straight games — home run, home run, walk, single, double, single, home run — ended Wednesday afternoon when he flied out to right field against Miguel Diaz during a 3-2 loss to the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field. No other Cub since 1946 had done that except for Richie Ashburn near the end of his Hall of Fame career in 1960. 

“Honestly, I’m just keeping an open mind,” Maddon said. “I did not have a set number of days to do it. Just watch it and let it play out. Just see where it goes eventually.

“A lot of it’s dependent upon other guys surfacing. If somebody all of a sudden gets hot – and you think you can do something differently – then I might. But otherwise, I’m just going to leave it alone for a bit.”

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In anointing Kyle Schwarber as his leadoff guy in spring training, Maddon pointed to the Geek Department projections and the intimidation factor in seeing a hitter who can do damage with the first pitch. Schwarber — who’s hitting .174 and doesn’t have the same presence that made him a World Series legend — didn’t last in that role.

But the game is trending away from batting average and stolen bases. There really aren’t many prototypical leadoff talents like Lou Brock and Tim Raines available. That’s why the St. Louis Cardinals gave Dexter Fowler a five-year, $82.5 million contract. 

Rizzo is a good leadoff hitter because he is a good hitter. This snapped a career-high 14-game hitting streak, and he had already been heating up long before Maddon’s desperation move, posting a .445 on-base percentage in his previous 39 games since May 7.

“I’ve always thought that there are certain guys that have the leadoff mentality,” Maddon said. “Some guys just don’t like to be the first guy up there. They want to see other guys hit first. They want that information coming back to the dugout.

“It’s just a mindset. It’s somebody that obviously has the tools, meaning they probably see some pitches. They get on base a lot. They’re willing to accept their walks. And it’s nice when they also have some power, too. But I think, more than anything, it’s mindset. And having said that, Anthony likes to do this.”

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred: 'We weren’t going to play more than 60 games'

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred: 'We weren’t going to play more than 60 games'

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred made an interesting revelation Wednesday about negotiations between MLB and the players union. In an interview with Dan Patrick, Manfred said the 2020 season was never going to be more than 60 games given the spread of the coronavirus — at least by the time they got to serious negotiations two weeks ago.

“The reality is we weren’t going to play more than 60 games, no matter how the negotiation with the players went, or any other factor," Manfred said on The Dan Patrick Show. "Sixty games is outside the envelope given the realities of the virus. I think this is the one thing that we come back to every single day: We’re trying to manage something that has proven to be unpredictable and unmanageable.

"I know it hasn’t looked particularly pretty in spots, but having said that, if we can pull off this 60-game season, I think it was the best we were gonna do for our fans given the course of the virus."

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Manfred unilaterally imposed a 60-game season after the two sides couldn't come to terms. The union rejected the owners' final proposal, retaining the right to file a grievance against the owners for not negotiating in good faith.

Whether Manfred's comments become a point of contention in any grievance the players might file is unclear. The league would likely argue Manfred was referring to negotiations after his face-to-face meeting with MLBPA executive director Tony Clark on June 16. Manfred's comments to Patrick's follow up question — if the league would have been willing to go to 80 games, had the players agreed to all their terms — also points to this.

"It’s the calendar, Dan. We’re playing 60 games in 63 days. I don’t see — given the reality of the health situation over the past few weeks — how we were gonna get going any faster than the calendar we’re on right now, no matter what the state of those negotiations were.

"Look, we did get a sub-optimal result from the negotiation in some ways. The fans aren’t gonna get an expanded postseason, which I think would have been good with the shortened season. The players left real money on the table. But that’s what happens when you have a negotiation that instead of being collaborative, gets into sort of a conflict situation.”

The players' final proposal called for a 70-game season. At this point in the calendar, 60 games in 69 days (Sept. 27 is the reported end date for the regular season) leaves room for a couple more games, not 70 (or more).

So, Manfred's right that 60 games on the current timetable was probably the most MLB can fit in amid the pandemic. But you have to wonder if the union will use those comments in a potential grievance. 

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Cubs fan base named second most loyal in MLB, only trailing Red Sox

Cubs fan base named second most loyal in MLB, only trailing Red Sox

When you wait more than 100 years for a championship, you must maintain a strong sense of loyalty to your favorite team. 

Cubs fans have done that, supporting the club through thick and thin, from the mediocre years to the curse-breaking 2016 World Series season. They pack the Wrigley Field stands, consistently ranking in the top 10 in attendance season after season.

That devotion led to Forbes naming Cubs fans the second most loyal fan base in Major League Baseball, second to only the Red Sox.

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Per Forbes, the rankings are based on "local television ratings (per Nielsen), stadium attendance based on capacity reached, secondary ticket demand (per StubHub), merchandise sales (per Fanatics), social media reach (Facebook and Twitter followers based on the team’s metro area population) and hometown crowd reach (defined by Nielsen as a percentage of the metropolitan area population that watched, attended and/or listened to a game in the last year)."

All that science aside, does the 108-year wait for a championship warrant the Cubs being first on this list? In fairness, the Red Sox waited 86 years before winning the 2004 World Series, their first since 1918. Plus, in terms of attendance, the Cubs have only out-drawn the Red Sox in six of the past 10 seasons, a near-equal split.

Two historic clubs. Two historic ballparks. Two historic championships. In a loyalty ranking, you can't go wrong with either franchise. Here's how the list's top 10 panned out:

10. Braves
9. Phillies
8. Indians
7. Giants
6. Brewers
5. Dodgers
4. Yankees
3. Cardinals
2. Cubs
1. Red Sox

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