What the National League will lose when MLB implements the universal DH

What the National League will lose when MLB implements the universal DH

Jeff Samardzija’s billowing locks bounced on his pinstriped shoulders as he trotted around the bases. The mid-May weather was not unlike Wednesday’s, but it was 2013, so there was baseball.

The sun peaked through the clouds to warm Cubs fans in short sleeves. They filled Wrigley Field with whistles and cheers. Samardzija had just hit his last home run in a Cubs uniform.

Of course, neither Samardzija nor the fans in attendance knew that the next time the right-handed pitcher would go yard, Samardzija would be a Giant. Samardzija has hit three home runs in his 12-year career, and the rarity of those lightning strikes made them all the more spectacular. If players approve the universal designated hitter for the 2020 season, as is expected, such moments will be all but eradicated.

Even before COVID-19 hit North American shores, the universal DH was gaining traction. Now, the coronavirus pandemic has blown a hole through the case for maintaining the difference in DH rules between the American and National Leagues.

Pending players association approval, MLB’s return-to-play proposal reportedly relies on geographical schedules to limit travel. For example, the Cubs would play their NL Central rivals, plus AL Central teams. Without consistent DH rules, a larger percentage of interleague games would put AL teams at a disadvantage.

It makes sense to adopt the universal DH this season. But that change could be a precursor to MLB permanently changing its rules. As is well documented, pitchers in general aren’t good hitters. Even those who are lauded for their hitting ability don’t get enough at-bats to make a consistent difference.

“It’s tough,” Samardzija said in 2016. “Hitting is not like playing golf. You’ve got to do it all the time and be comfortable with your swing.”

For a league focused on broadening its appeal, leaving unpracticed hitters in the lineup is a tough sell. Adding the DH to the national league also adds starting jobs.

Complaining about the impending change is futile. But now’s as good of a time as any to appreciate the gifts NL rules have given to baseball fans.

On the subtle end of the spectrum, there’s the managers’ chess match. When should he replace his pitcher? Is a late-game pinch hitter more valuable than giving the bullpen another inning off?

On the other side, there are the big boppers who have gone against the odds to thrill both on the mound and at the plate: From Babe Ruth (pre-DH) to Zack Greinke and Madison Bumgarner.

“For (Bumgarner) to hop in there every other day and do what he does is really impressive,” Samardzija said of his San Francisco teammate, as Bumgarner made his (unsuccessful) case to be included the 2016 Home Run Derby.

The unexpected clutch hits and the obscure stats were just as delightful. Whose jaw didn’t drop when Travis Wood hit a grand slam during the 2013 Crosstown Classic, becoming the first Cubs pitcher in over 40 years to send one over Wrigley’s ivy-covered walls with the bases loaded?

Who doesn’t have Bartolo Colon’s first career home run burned into their memory, from the swing to the bench-clearing celebration?

It’s time for traditionalists to accept that the days of pitchers batting may be over. But at least there are decades worth of underdog stories from the era before the universal DH.

Cubs' Adbert Alzolay complains about South Bend conditions but comments misleading


Cubs' Adbert Alzolay complains about South Bend conditions but comments misleading

Cubs right-hander Adbert Alzolay made waves on Thursday tweeting (now deleted) about the conditions for players at the club’s alternate training site, hosted at the South Bend Cubs facility.

Alzolay and the 10 other players in South Bend are eligible for this season but will remain inactive unless need arises on the big league roster. He tweeted the players make $18 a day — or $10, when accounting for “dues” the players owe, while possibly tipping clubhouse attendants.

Whether it was a miscommunication by someone with Alzolay, the actual amount the players get is $25 and no dues are deducted from that. The option to tip clubhouse attendants is up to players individually. Through Summer Camp, the 11 Cubs in South Bend will also receive two packaged meals a day at the complex.

Once the regular season starts (July 23, per MLB’s arrangement for the 60-game campaign), the alternate site Cubs will receive $50 a day in meal money, instead of what was originally proposed because the Cubs proposed higher daily meal money.

Players will receive full salaries beginning July 23, per MLB’s agreement, and minor leaguers are being paid in the meantime. Six of the 11 Cubs in South Bend are not on the 40-man roster, and they will continue receiving $400 a week. Those on the 40-man (including Alzolay) received advanced salaries, per MLB’s agreement with the MLBPA in March.

Alzolay received $30,000 from that agreement.

Additional important context is the South Bend facility is one of the best in minor league baseball — with housing for the players nearby. The players are residing at new apartments that opened in December right outside the ballpark. They aren’t being charged for those apartments through Summer Camp, and the Cubs will subsidize many of the players in South Bend once the regular season starts. 

MORE: Where Cubs could find position of strength in 2020: South Bend

Alzolay later tweeted an update on the matter.

In wake of José Quintana’s thumb injury, general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday the Cubs haven’t decided if Alzolay will join the Wrigley Field training group.


Why it matters that the Cubs bullpen is 'deeper' than David Ross expected

Why it matters that the Cubs bullpen is 'deeper' than David Ross expected

The Cubs pitching staff is staring at a block of 17 straight games to start the season. After just three weeks of Summer Camp.  

“There’s a reason why Spring Training’s so long,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “Because we want to stretch it out, make sure everybody’s healthy. So, outside of the virus factor, there’s a risk-factor of injury as well.”

Expecting starting pitchers to consistently throw seven innings at the beginning of the season isn’t realistic, so pitching coach Tommy Hottovy has built in a cushion. While most Cubs starters are upping their workloads to three-plus innings this week, some middle relievers are stretching to multiple innings as well.

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Late this week, Hottovy said he expects Rex Brothers, Dan Winkler, Casey Sadler, Duane Underwood Jr. and James Norwood to throw two innings in simulated games.

“As much as it is important to get these guys going multiple innings,” Hottovy said. “It’s also important to get them the volume they need, that you would see during a regular season. So throwing a two or three inning stint and having three or four days off, it may help us in one game, but over the course of the season … we’re going to need guys to be able to bounce back.”

Those who aren’t expected to throw multiple innings will, for the most part, still work up to a batter or two over one inning.

Kyle Ryan, who was delayed by what Ross called “protocol technicalities,” is in that category. He arrived in Chicago Wednesday night, according to Ross. Ryan was scheduled to be tested for COVID-19 along with the rest of the team Thursday. He will be quarantined until the Cubs receive his tests results, as long as they come back negative.

But Hottovy still believes there’s a chance Ryan could be ready to pitch in time for opening day in two weeks.

“We still have to get our eyes on him,” Hottovy said. “I feel like there is because of the work that he’s done and what he’s had access to back home.”

Either way, the Cubs hope to avoid having him pitch in back to back games early in the season.

“I don’t think anybody,” Hottovy said, “no matter what work you’ve done, is going to be ready to go back-to-backs at least consistently and definitely not those three days in a row.”

Not even closer Craig Kimbrel. Hottovy anticipates several of those pitchers will need to fill late-inning roles due to the compact 60-game schedule.

The Cubs starting rotation may be lacking in depth, even more than the Cubs originally expected after southpaw Jose Quintana lacerated his left thumb while washing dishes. But even with swingman Alec Mills expected to join the starting rotation, Ross has been pleasantly surprised with the overhauled Cubs bullpen.

“It’s definitely deeper than I had in my mind going into it,” Ross said. “These guys have really taken it upon themselves to be in tip-top shape.”