For the first time ever, the Chicago Cubs are going to play at Wrigley Field as World Champions. It’s been 157 days since the fateful ground-out that ended it all, and tonight, the Cubbies finally come home.
This series against the Los Angeles Dodgers would be significant regardless of how 2016 ended; it’s the 2017 home opener. This series, however, is much more than the North Side’s first of the year. These three games begin a completely new era of Cubs baseball.
For generations, the entire Cubs organization has been defined by a consistent pattern of losing. I’m not talking about awful, blow-out kinds of losses (though there have been plenty of those) – I’m referring to the multiple gut-wrenching, choked-away losses that this team and its fans have endured for 108 years.
And yet, tonight, when the Cubs take to the historic diamond, they won’t be the lovable losers we’ve all gotten used to. They will be marked by an air of triumph; they’ll be hailed as the team that ACTUALLY DID IT.
I have absolutely no idea what will identify Wrigleyville’s next era, but I do know that it starts tonight.
The Cubs will raise a banner commemorating their 2016 season (take a guess what it says) in center field before the first pitch, and hand out World Series rings to the players on Wednesday as well. You do NOT want to miss these ceremonies. I’ll tell you how to watch and listen below.
Despite the prominent ceremonies, 2016 was last year. The new dawn of Cubs baseball is upon us, and they roll into this series at 4-2. Both of their first two series’ have gone the same way; they lost the openers and responded by winning the final two. They’re tied with the Reds for the National League Central lead, with the Pirates just a half game behind. Their success in the first week has also opened up an early two game lead over the team that is most likely to provide them with competition down the road, the St. Louis Cardinals.
This early success has been, in large part, a team effort. Leading the team in batting average is Albert Almora, hitting .571, and Jon Jay, hitting .364, but neither have seen many at-bats. Jason Heyward leads the everyday starters, hitting .333 to this point, but nobody else has an average above .300 (Willson Contreras and Addison Russell are the closest, batting .294 and .296 respectively). The pitchers’ batting averages are insane (JOHN LACKEY IS BATTING 1.000!!!!!!!!!!!!), but that (probably) won’t last (or matter that much, since they only start 20 percent of games). Only Kyle Schwarber and Ben Zobrist have hit multiple homers (two each), and the undisputed team leaders – Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo – remain homer-less.
In fact, Contreras is the only other person besides Schwarber and Zobrist that has even hit one. And yet, here they stand, above their division and off to a splendid start. Power isn’t as important to them as it was last year; before Sunday’s victory over the Brewers, the Cubs had scored the 13th most runs in baseball with (tied for) the 23rd most home runs.
The bullpen, while not perfect, has been off to a solid start as well. The only reliever sticking out in a bad way as of now is Mike Montgomery, who has looked absolutely horrible in two of his four innings pitched so far. Montgomery gave up a walk-off in both of those innings – this accounts for 100 percent of the Cubs’ losses so far. He was absolutely perfect in the other two innings, but just couldn’t control anything in the bad ones.
Montgomery will definitely see ample opportunities this week, as the Dodgers are known for being really, really bad against lefties, and he’s the only lefty in the bullpen. He’s definitely a player to watch this week. Also, look to see if Heyward can continue his hot streak. To this point it would appear as though the off-season project of restructuring his swing has proved successful, but there simply hasn’t been enough time to tell for sure.
Heading into 2017, computers loved the Dodgers. In fact, some statistical probability calculators picked them to win more games than the favored Cubs. They’re also commonly considered to be the Cubs’ biggest threat for the National League title, so this series may have more implications than you might think. Los Angeles comes into town with a 4-3 record, taking three of four from the San Diego Padres in L.A.’s home-opening series, and dropping two of three to the Colorado Rockies in Denver.
The Dodgers’ offense has exploded for double-digit runs in three of their wins, with young phenom and 2016 National League Rookie of the Year, Corey Seager at the helm. Yasiel Puig, former phenom who sorta fizzled out after an outstanding first year in Major League Baseball, is absolutely on fire to start the year. He hit three homers in the first series against San Diego, but slowed down a bit against Colorado, to the point that his OPS is now only 1.164 (just in case you couldn’t tell, that’s a whole lot of sarcasm). It will be very interesting to see how the Cubs navigate the ever-menacing Dodger lineup.
The most intriguing story-line for this L.A. offense, however, is their notorious struggle against left-handed pitching. They’re hitting a measly .192 off lefties this season, and Maddon switched Jon Lester (a lefty) and Jake Arrieta (a right-hander) in the rotation to specifically save Lester to face the Dodgers. Lester will be going on seven days’ rest. Both lefty Cub starters will be going this series (Brett Anderson being the other), but the Cubs only have one lefty reliever – the aforementioned Montgomery. Expect a lot of these three over the next few days.
The Dodgers’ starters, however, have always been their Achilles Heel. The Cubs are fortunate enough to not be facing baseball’s greatest pitcher in Clayton Kershaw during this series, but are instead facing the tail end of the rotation, including Alex Wood, who is only starting because of Rich Hill‘s recent injury.
Game times, and how to Watch and Listen
Monday, April 10
7:05 PM, TV – ESPN, Radio – AM 670 The Score
Wednesday, April 12
7:05 PM, TV – ABC 7, Radio – AM 670 The Score
Thursday, April 13
1:20 PM, TV – CSN-Chicago, Radio – AM 670 The Score
MY FUTILE PREDICTION
Lester throws a perfect game and the Cubs win game one 5-0, the Cubs are so excited they start slow and drop game two 6-4, but rebound to take the third game and the series 4-1 with a masterful start from Anderson against his former team.