Jeff Samardzija

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

mccutchen_longoria_giants_scouting_report_slide.jpg
USA TODAY

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

Outlook

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

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres
Miami Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves
New York Mets

This CubsTalk Podcast is so jam-packed, we don’t even have a headline

cubstalk_podcast_david_ross_jam-packed_slide.jpg
AP

This CubsTalk Podcast is so jam-packed, we don’t even have a headline

What are the realistic chances David Ross or Ozzie Guillen becomes the Cubs’ next bench coach? What would it take to get Chris Archer pitching in a Cubs uniform? Can the Cubs actually trade Jason Heyward’s full contract this winter and get pitching in return? Is the door shut on Jake Arrieta returning to Chicago?

The NBC Sports Chicago crew tackles these questions, with David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Patrick Mooney, Jeff Nelson and Tony Andracki giving their take on what has already been a weird offseason and what figures to an absolutely nuts winter.

Listen to the entire podcast here: