Cubs’ velocity issues have them headed into spring training with a lot of catching up to do

They’ll have a little more than a month in the desert to figure it out. Here comes the heat.

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Chicago Cubs v Pittsburgh Pirates

Too often last season, Cubs hitters just couldn’t handle the heat.

Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Let’s sum it up, shall we?

The Cubs can’t throw it fast. They can’t hit it fast. They’d better figure something out fast.

If there’s a key word for the Cubs’ 2021 season, it’s definitely ‘‘velocity.’’ How key is it? So much so that job No. 1 for all involved is essentially to pretend the word doesn’t exist. ‘‘Velocity’’ just might be the worst thing that ever happened to these Cubs in that, well, they don’t have any. Their starting pitchers can’t find it in their arms. Judging by 2020, anyway, their hitters can’t handle it at the plate.

This team is just going to have to try to find a way to win anyway.

‘‘We’re not going to be lighting up radar guns,’’ president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said Tuesday as pitchers and catchers converged on the team’s spring-training complex in Mesa, Arizona. ‘‘There’s no doubt we’re running a little bit counter to some of the trends in Major League Baseball.’’

If there’s one thing we know about a rotation that might look like this — Kyle Hendricks, Zach Davies, Jake Arrieta, Trevor Williams and Adbert Alzolay and/or Alec Mills — it’s that opponents won’t have the sizzle of a prime-time fastball ringing in their ears when they leave the batter’s box.

Cubs hitters know all about that sizzle. In the abbreviated 60-game regular season in 2020, they hit an abysmal .202 against power pitchers and had a swing-and-miss rate we probably shouldn’t talk about. They were plenty bad against finesse pitchers, too, and all those in between, but the gas, the smoke, the cheese? Oh, the horror.

Never did this play out so vividly as it did during the two-game playoff debacle against the Marlins. Young flamethrowers Sandy Alcantara and Sixto Sanchez twisted Cubs hitters into pretzels with upper-90s hard stuff and flummoxed them with sliders and changeups that must’ve looked like eephus pitches, even though they came in at 88 and

89 mph — about as hard, by the way, as Hendricks and Davies can throw it.

‘‘Hitting velocity was something we got away from last year,’’ Hoyer said, ‘‘and it was certainly exposed against the Marlins.’’

Hoyer says improvement in this area can — must — be made. Statistically, though, the Cubs weren’t really any better against power pitching in 2019. They weren’t so hot at it before that, either. And it’s not as though the names in their lineup have changed much.

They’ll have a little more than a month in the desert to figure it out. Here comes the heat.

Just sayin’

A story published a few days ago on the NCAA’s website touted the just-released, 30-player ‘‘midseason team’’ of candidates for the Naismith Trophy, which is presented each year to the best player in college basketball. The story pointed out that four schools — Baylor, Gonzaga, Villanova and Iowa — had more than one player on the list.

Anyway, the whole thing stuck in my craw for a couple of reasons. One, ‘‘midseason’’? These teams began playing right around Thanksgiving, folks. We’re a month from the start of the NCAA Tournament. If this is midseason, your Uncle Earl — who swears he once had a chance to be the fifth member of The Mamas & the Papas — is still middle-aged.

What else? A simple review of the list reveals that Iowa’s candidates are (1) Luka Garza and (2) nobody. In fact, it’s Illinois that has two candidates — Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn — not the Hawkeyes. The NCAA and details don’t often get along, do they?

• As long as we’re handing out midseason honors like old bread . . .

Top player: One supposes it’s still Garza, though several others — including Dosunmu — have narrowed the gap. Garza leads the nation in three key categories: points per game (24.5), old-school moves and Fred Sanford-like agility.

Top freshman: Most observers will tell you it’s Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham, but I’m stuck on Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs. Watch his highlights from the Iowa game back in December and dare to disagree with me.

Top coach: Give it to the next guy who goes 13 seconds without pulling his mask down to his chin or removing it altogether. He also will be the first guy.

Top duo: Maybe Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert and Suggs. Maybe Baylor’s Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell. Maybe Dosunmu and Cockburn. Definitely not Garza and his imaginary friend.

• Does it help even the slightest bit if I keep saying the NCAA Tournament selection committee has to take both Loyola and Drake into the field from the Missouri Valley?

Because — wait for it — the NCAA Tournament selection committee has to take both Loyola and Drake into the field from the Missouri Valley.

Seriously, do it.

Dominik Kubalik rolls out of bed shooting the puck. Brandon Hagel beats everybody and their brother to every puck (and has a heck of a right hook, too). Kevin Lankinen acts as though he has been there before. Alex DeBrincat has gotten his groove back. Is Patrick Kane reverse-aging again?

Admit it, people: The Blackhawks are getting kind of fun.

• Approximately a blink of the eye after White Sox ace Lucas Giolito opened a video conference call Tuesday from Glendale, Arizona, he went for the jugular.

‘‘We want to win a ring,’’ he said. ‘‘We want to win a World Series.’’

In case anyone was wondering.

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