It might be early, but it’s never really too early to jump to conclusions about our favorite teams.
The Chicago Cubs and White Sox continue to confound the experts in the early going, with the Cubs among the major-league leaders Sunday in runs per game (third) and batting average (second) and the Sox near the bottom in ERA (29th) and walks allowed (29th).
Every Monday throughout the season, Tribune baseball writers will provide an update on what happened — and what’s ahead for the Cubs and Sox.
A walk — or 6 — to remember
Andrew Vaughn walked on four pitches leading off the third inning Friday against Tampa Bay Rays reliever Jalen Beeks.
It began an inning the likes the Sox hadn’t seen since 1959.
Yasmani Grandal drew a one-out walk and Oscar Colás walked with two outs. Beeks walked Elvis Andrus and Lenyn Sosa with the bases loaded.
Cooper Criswell replaced Beeks, but the erratic pitching continued with a wild pitch that brought home a run with Andrew Benintendi at the plate. Benintendi later walked, the sixth for the team in the inning.
“As a hitter when a guy is throwing a bunch of balls you think you’re going to get a cookie at some point, but that’s sometimes when you get in trouble and chase a little bit at something you wouldn’t swing at because you’re wanting to swing so much,” Benintendi told the Tribune on Saturday. “You’ve got to be patient and wait him out.”
The Sox did just that in the third. The six walks were their most in one inning since April 22, 1959, at Kansas City, when they drew 10 in the seventh inning.
“When you have a guy that’s struggling to find the zone, you want to make him earn it,” Benintendi said. “You’re looking for something over the plate and not be afraid to hit with a strike or two. It was definitely good to see.”
Sox manager Pedro Grifol loved the team’s approach at the plate and looked at it in a broader context for a team looking to break loose.
“I love the fact that we shrunk the strike zone and made them throw strikes, left it for the next guy,” Grifol said Saturday. “We have the ability to do those things. We’ve just got to relax and play some baseball, have fun and just enjoy this thing.”
‘Go, Cubs, Go’ to ‘Go-Go Cubs?’
The Cubs led the National League in stolen bases on Sunday with 24, while leadoff man Nico Hoerner ranked third in the majors with nine.
According to Cubs historian Ed Hartig, the last time they finished with the most steals in the NL was in 1939, when they swiped 61 bases, led by Stan Hack’s 17. The last Cubs player to lead the majors in steals was Kiki Cuyler from 1928-30, when he stole 37, 43 and 37, respectively.
Suffice to say the Cubs traditionally have been a slower, homer-happy team playing at Wrigley Field over the last century-plus. Is that narrative likely to change with the new pickoff rules and larger bases?
Probably not, but they at least have begun to show signs of athleticism.
The last Cub with at least 30 steals was Tony Campana, who had exactly that in 2012. Cubs fans loved Campana, much to the dismay of management, who knew he could not get on base enough to play every day.
Manager David Ross said stolen bases have been an emphasis. He cited the “growth that Nico has taken, specifically in the ability to steal bases, to pick his spots when to run, how to identify what those cues are.” He’s not Lou Brock, but he’s a smart baserunner.
“I truly believe he’s going to be a guy that is going to be able to take bags in big spots for us, somebody I really trust,” Ross said.
Hoerner and Dansby Swanson could become the Cubs’ new “Daily Double.” (Google it, kids).
“The way he’s played so far is the way he wants to be all the time,” team President Jed Hoyer said of Hoerner.
Asked if Hoerner had an amber light to run as opposed to a green light, Ross replied: “Is that like yellow? I think it’s like a light switch. We switch it on and off.”
The Cubs have had two of the all-time greatest base-stealers. But Brock was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964 before his prime, and Juan Pierre played only one season with the Cubs in 2006, when he swiped 58 bases.
Number of the week
32: Rays starter Shane McClanahan got 32 swings and misses from White Sox hitters on 88 pitches over six innings Saturday. It was the most by a pitcher in an outing of 90 or fewer pitches in the pitch-tracking era (2008-present).
Week ahead: Cubs
The Cubs couldn’t build momentum off their 5-1 West Coast trip, losing three of four to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field. With an off day Monday and Jameson Taillon on the 15-day injured list with a left groin strain, the Cubs will go with a four-man rotation this week.
Justin Steele (1.44 ERA), Drew Smyly and Hayden Wesneski are scheduled to face the San Diego Padres from Tuesday-Thursday at Wrigley Field, and Marcus Stroman will start the opener of a seven-game trip that begins Friday in Miami, followed by Steele and Smyly. The Padres welcomed back Fernando Tatis this week following his PED suspension but have yet to live up to their preseason hype.
The Marlins have improved thanks to the acquisition of Luis Arraez, who led the American League in hitting in Minnesota last season and was leading the majors Sunday with a sizzling .444 average. The Marlins had six wins in eight games before losing Sunday’s series finale in Cleveland. NL Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara is expected to start over the weekend.
- Monday: Off
- Tuesday: vs. Padres, 6:40 p.m., Marquee
- Wednesday: vs. Padres, 6:40 p.m., Marquee
- Thursday: vs. Padres, 1:20 p.m., Marquee
- Friday: at Marlins, 5:40 p.m., Marquee
- Saturday: at Marlins, 3:05 p.m., Fox-32
- Sunday: at Marlins, 11:05 a.m., Peacock
Week ahead: White Sox
The Sox could have gone to the bullpen after Michael Kopech surrendered a single and walk in the fifth inning Friday against the Rays at Tropicana Field.
The stayed with the right-hander, and he induced Isaac Paredes to pop out to Vaughn, who made a nice catch in foul territory. Kopech appreciated having the opportunity.
“I didn’t know how many pitches I was at but I knew it was going to be a grind to get through five and that was really my goal after that first inning, to make sure I could go deep enough to save the bullpen somewhat,” Kopech said. “To get through five, very thankful to Pedro for that.”
Grifol said it wasn’t anything specific in the fifth that led to sticking with Kopech, but a bounce-back second in which he retired the side in order and had two strikeouts after a bumpy first stood out.
“It wasn’t the fifth that I saw,” Grifol said Saturday. “It was the guy that went in the first, gave up four runs and then went out in the second and gave me the confidence to leave him in the fifth no matter what. When he toed that rubber in the second inning, it was the best I’ve ever seen him. It was just straight competitiveness, straight me-against-you type of mentality.”
Kopech will look to build on the finish Wednesday in the series finale against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. It will be his second career start (fourth outing) against the Jays. He allowed five runs in three innings in the first start in June.
- Monday: at Blue Jays, 6:07 p.m., NBCSCH
- Tuesday: at Blue Jays, 6:07 p.m., NBCSCH
- Wednesday: at Blue Jays, 12:07 p.m., NBCSCH
- Thursday: vs. Rays, 6:10 p.m., NBCSCH
- Friday: vs. Rays, 6:10 p.m., NBCSCH
- Saturday: vs. Rays, 6:10 p.m., NBCSCH
- Sunday: vs. Rays, 1:10 p.m., NBCSCH
What we’re reading this morning
This week in Chicago baseball
April 25, 1876: Chicago White Stockings — later to become the Cubs — make NL debut
A 4-0 win in Louisville, Ky., that drew a front-page headline in the next day’s Tribune of ”A Handsome Victory Over the Louisville Nine—Score 4 to 0.″
Of the White Stockings’ first run in the second inning, the article read: “Hines hit hard at the first one and sent it to (first baseman) Carbine so briskly that he couldn’t hold it, giving Hines a life. Spalding put a corker to centre-field, Hines going to third. After Spalding had been run out and Addy had retired at first, White drove a fierce one to (third baseman) Gerhardt, who gathered it well but threw it wildly to Carbine, letting in Hines with the first tally.”
The team went on to win the inaugural National League championship. On April 24, 1901, the White Stockings played in their first American League game.
April, 25 1976: Cubs’ Rick Monday rescues the American flag from two trespassers who tried to set it on fire in the outfield of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles
The incident happened in the fourth inning of a 5-4, 10-inning loss to the Dodgers. The center fielder recalled it years later.
“I saw the clowns come on the field,” Monday said. “One of them had a bundle under his arm. I thought they were just out there to prance around. But then they opened the bundle (in left-center field) and began spreading out a flag like it was a picnic blanket.
“The man had a can of fluid and was trying to burn the flag. He lit a match but the wind blew it out. He had just struck the second match when I got there. I just kept running, picked up the flag and took it away.
‘’Right after it happened, everyone went into a kind of frenzy. It moved the entire crowd. The people started singing ‘God Bless America.’ I don’t remember if we won or lost the game, but I’ll never forget the people singing.”
April 26, 1941: Cubs become the first MLB team to install an organ at their ballpark
Ray Nelson took to the keyboard and played a pregame program to the 18,678 fans who arrived before 2:30 p.m. Nelson was obliged to still his bellows at 2:30 p.m. because his repertoire included many restricted ASCAP arias, which would have been picked up by the radio microphones hooked up a half-hour before game time.
April 27, 2014: White Sox’s José Abreu sets a record for most RBIs by a rookie in April
Abreu drove in four runs in a 9-2 win over the Rays, giving him 31 RBIs for the month.
Later that season, the first baseman was won American League Rookie of the Year award. Abreu finished third in the AL in home runs (36), fourth in RBIs (107) and fifth in batting average (.317).
April 29, 1983: Manager Lee Elia’s rant against Cubs fans
“I’ll tell you one (bleeping) thing,” Elia said. “I hope we get (bleeping) hotter than (bleep) just to stuff it up them 3,000 (bleeping) people that show up every (bleeping) day. Because if they’re the real Chicago (bleeping) fans, they can kiss my (bleeping bleep) right downtown … and PRINT IT!”
Elia lobbied the four media members standing in front of him to “rip the (bleeping bleeps),” referring to those who allegedly came out to games for the sole purpose of harassing his players. Other teams refer to people in attendance as “fans” or “paying customers.” Elia knew otherwise.
These fans, the Cubs manager said, needed to “get a job” and find out what it was like to work for a living.
“Eighty-five percent of the (bleeping) world is working,” he said. “The other 15% come out here.”
Wrigley Field, Elia added, was a “playground for the (bleepers).”
April 29, 2015: White Sox play in empty stadium
The White Sox and Orioles met on a pleasant sunny day for what is believed to be the first major-league game closed to the public, a result of security concerns after unrest in Baltimore surrounding the death of Freddie Gray, who was injured while in police custody and later died.
Every noise from inside the ballpark was distinct — media members’ computer keyboards clicked, foul balls rattled around the vacant stands, outfielders’ calls wafted in toward home plate.
The attendance will go in the record book as zero, but the ballpark wasn’t completely empty for the Orioles’ 8-2 victory over the Sox. Scouts occupied three seats behind the plate, photographers weaved their way through empty rows and 92 assigned seats in the press box were filled, approximately three times more than for the scheduled series opener.
April 30, 1922: Pitcher Charles Robertson throws the first perfect game for the White Sox
It was a 2-0 win over the Tigers. Here’s how it appeared in the Tribune: “The name of Charles Robertson will live in baseball lore alongside those of Cy Young and Addie Joss. … The young Texas lad today turned back the Tigers without a hit, without a run, and without a hostile reaching first base. … As a sample of his effectiveness, it might be mentioned that only seven balls were hit on the ground. Fourteen were slammed into the air, and six of the twenty-seven batters took their medicine in the form of strikeouts. Only six balls were driven into the outfield.”
”It’s an interesting theory. I don’t know. I try not to make too much of that stuff when you’re winning. People are generally happy.” — Hoyer on whether the lack of Cubs playing in the WBC helped during their hot start