The Cubs had a happy flight back to Phoenix after completing the two-game sweep over the Angels with a 6-1 win on Tuesday night. The Cubs hit three home runs that accounted for five of the six runs and Jon Lester recorded the win. And the Cubs are 2-0 to start a season for the first time since 1995.
Jon Lester picked up Tuesday night in his first start of the season where he left off in Spring Training. Lester held the Angels to one run on four hits (bloop double, three singles) and did not walk a batter while striking out four over seven innings.
After the game, Lester admitted being in a “better place” than he was last season. Tuesday was one year to the day that Lester made his Cubs’ debut at Wrigley Field against the Cardinals.
“Physically, mentally, I’m light years ahead of where I was last year at this point.”
Joe Maddon believes Lester is “more comfortable not having the weight of the world on his shoulders.” Anthony Rizzo and others have noticed how much more relaxed Lester was in Spring Training compared to a year ago. And ESPN Chicago reported “to a man, Lester’s teammates see a different player.”
The Cubs have a good shot at having the best 1-2 combination at the top of the rotation in the National League if Jon Lester can pitch the way he did Tuesday night for a majority of the season.
- Report from ESPN Chicago
- Report from Comcast SportsNet
- Report from the Tribune
- Report from the Sun-Times
As it turns out, Joe Maddon did not start Matt Szczur in left field on Tuesday night because there was a lefty on the mound or he wanted a better defender in the outfield. Maddon decided to start Szczur, a Villanova grad and the only one currently in Major League Baseball, because Nova won the NCAA tournament on Monday night. And Maddon thought “it was a good bet” for Tuesday night.
Matt Szczur has made the most of his playing time he returned from an oblique injury that cost him a majority of Spring Training. Szczur was 9-for-24 in 10 spring games that included a double and two home runs. Szczur is 3-for-5 with a double, a home run, two runs scored and four RBI over the first two games.
It’s been assumed since the Cubs set the Opening Day Roster that when Javier Baez came off the disabled list, Szczur would be the one sent out. That might not be the case now with the way Szczur has played.
Javier Baez is reportedly on track to be activated by Monday’s home opener.
Maddon told ESPN Chicago the Cubs need to “give him an opportunity to get out there and play a little bit.” Jesse Rogers took that to mean the Cubs “are contemplating what to do with Szczur when Baez is ready.” Matt Szczur is out of minor league options and it’s not believed the Cubs would be able to keep him in the organization if they try to send him through waivers.
ESPN reported the Cubs could send down a reliever “but that would be a tough call as well” because Neil Ramirez, like Szczur, is out of options.
Matt Szczur is forcing the Cubs to have difficult conversations.
ESPN Chicago confirmed Tuesday that Manny Ramirez is back with the Cubs in the same role that he had last season. Ramirez is the Cubs’ hitting consultant.
Ramirez was in uniform prior to Tuesday’s game and told ESPN Chicago he “sees the Cubs as dangerous” as any lineup he’s been around.
According to Comcast SportsNet and the Tribune, Ramirez had family commitments during Spring Training that kept him away from camp.
Manny Ramirez helped ‘Georgie’ last year. Maddon and the Cubs are looking for Jorge Soler to benefit from his time with Ramirez again.
Tom Usiak and the South Bend Cubs
Just wanted to pass this on to our readers because I think it’s pretty cool.
Our very own Tom Usiak was tapped by the South Bend Cubs to provide an article for their April game program.
Those that read the site in the off-season know Tom had a series of segments in January and February talking Cubs prospects with Darin Pritchett and Rick Carter on South Bend Cubs Radio. Those radio appearances led to Chris Hagstrom-Jones, South Bend’s Director of Creative Services and Promotions, reaching out to Tom about writing for the program.
Tom’s article focuses on the players that will begin the season with South Bend.
And not to brag on Tom, but I’ve read the article … and well, it’s pretty darn good. Those attending South Bend Cubs games at beautiful Four Winds Field should check it out.
Wrigley Field is taking shape as the home opener quickly approaches. Tom Ricketts told the assembled media prior to Monday’s game that Wrigley would be ready for the home opener on April 11.
The Cubs began the process of returning the statues to their homes outside of Wrigley. The statues honoring Harry Caray, Ron Santo and Billy Williams were re-installed Monday. Ernie Banks’ statue is scheduled to be back in its place on Friday.
Wrigley’s marquee is going back up Wednesday. The installation is scheduled to begin at 1:00pm CDT.
• The Tribune: Tom Ricketts assures Cubs fans Wrigley Field will be ready (includes photos)
News, Notes and Rumors
• Repeat performance nets Cubs a sweep of the Angels according to ESPN Chicago.
• Cubs’ pitching held Mike Trout and Albert Pujols hitless in the two-game series. The two sluggers were 0-for-15 with five strikeouts. According to the Sun-Times, the Cubs had more magic tricks and made Trout and Pujols bats disappear.
• The Sun-Times: How can Arrieta improve on ’15? What if he has a Cy Young start?
• Bruce Levine reported that Ben Zobrist’s consistency, winning pedigree will be a boon to the Cubs.
• Starlin Castro had a good debut for the Yankees Tuesday in what was Opening Day in the Bronx. Castro doubled in two runs off Dallas Keuchel in what was his first official at-bat in Yankee pinstripes. Castro was 1-for-3 with a double and two RBI on Tuesday afternoon hitting eighth in Joe Girardi’s lineup.
• Major League Baseball announced Monday that 4,025,874 fans attended Spring Training in Arizona and Florida this year, which is the second largest total all-time. Last year (2015) in 11 more dates, 4,034,708 attended Cactus League and Grapefruit League games. The average attendance was up 2.1 %, spring games drew an average of 8,566 up from 8,388 in 2015. And over the last 20 years, the average spring attendance per game has risen from 5,823 in 1996 to 8,566 in 2016 (+47.1 %).
• Major League Baseball announced that 2016 Opening Day rosters featured 238 foreign-born players, compromising 27.5 % of MLB rosters. The foreign-born players represent a record-tying 18 different countries and territories outside the United States. The Dominican Republic leads with 82 players, followed by Venezuela (63) and Cuba (23). The Mariners have the most foreign-born players with 13.
• The Tribune reported Cubs fans already missing torn-down McDonald’s near Wrigley.
• According to Jon Heyman, the Diamondbacks and Cardinals are among the teams that could be a fit for Michael Bourn.
• The Brewers acquired LHP Sam Freeman from the Rangers for cash considerations. RHP Ariel Pena was designated for assignment to make room for Freeman on the roster.
This Day in Cubstory
2013 – Justin and B.J. Upton became the first brothers to hit homers in the same inning in the history of the game. Justin led off the ninth with a game-tying homer off Carlos Marmol, B.J. hit the walk-off two batters later.
2011 – Cubs placed Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells on the disabled list on the same day. With two-fifths of the rotation on the DL, the Cubs called up Casey Coleman and inserted James Russell into the starting rotation.
1993 – Jose Guzman took a perfect game into the eighth inning against the Braves. Otis Nixon singled with two outs in the ninth for Atlanta’s only hit in a 1-0 Cubs win over the Braves.
1989 – Barret Loux, born
1987 – Cubs signed free agent Dickie Noles
1983 – Thomas Diamond, born
1975 – Oakland traded a PTBNL and cash to the Cubs for Jim Todd. The A’s sent Champ Summers to the Cubs on April 29, 1975 to complete the trade.
1973 – Mike Marshall walked Rick Monday with the bases loaded in the ninth in a 3-2 Cubs win over the Expos in the opener at Wrigley Field. Tony LaRussa ran for Ron Santo and scored the winning run.
1971 – Billy Williams homered in the ninth inning for a 2-1 Cubs victory over the Cardinals. Ferguson Jenkins outpitched Bob Gibson in the opener at Wrigley Field.
1937 – Phil Regan, born
1929 – Don Elston, born
1884 – Rudy Schwenck, born