Before the Cubs’ parade begins, a few questions for 2018
MESA, Ariz. — Now that the Cubs have won the 2018 World Series — wait, what? They haven’t?
I could have sworn I wrote that the other day. Maybe it was somebody else who did. Maybe it was 1,000 other somebody elses. That’s the effect the Yu Darvish signing has had on large numbers of people in Chicago. The championship parade hasn’t been scheduled, but the confetti machines are getting loose in the bullpen.
Before we get too busy describing these Cubs as a merger of the 1927 Yankees and Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz, perhaps everybody should take a step back. There are some actual questions about this Cubs team. I know that’s hard to believe after the last couple of days of Yu Mania, which is a condition, not a country, but it’s true. The Cubs, although they very well might be the team to beat in the majors this season, have some potential issues.
Now that the dust has settled on the Darvish news and with pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training Tuesday, let’s ask those questions. Think of this as a public service, not a buzz kill. Let’s face it, an army battalion and a botulism outbreak couldn’t kill your buzz.
Do the Cubs have a legitimate closer?
Nobody knows yet. Despite all the fanfare that accompanied the Cubs’ signing of Brandon Morrow as their closer, he has only 18 saves in his 11-year career. He had as many blown saves (two) as saves last season with the Dodgers. He has obvious talent but not much of a track record in the ninth inning. Closing is a different animal, a frothing, pressure-saddled carnivore.
Some of you might be asking your own question: ‘‘With a rotation of Darvish, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood, isn’t a closer about as important as an air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror of a Rolls Royce?’’ No. Having a lock-down closer brings peace of mind to a contending team. It’s a must.
When is Chili Davis eligible for sainthood?
I think you have to be retired for five years to be considered. Davis has been hyped as the healer of Cubs bats and the curer of bad swings, and he hasn’t even put on a uniform as the team’s new hitting coach yet. If all the gushing turns out to be warranted, Kyle Schwarber will hit .300 with 42 home runs and 120 RBI, and Jason Heyward will reacquaint himself with hitting for power. No pressure, Chili. While you’re waiting to perform miracles and cast out slump demons, can you bless the company expense form I soon will fill out?
Who’s going to bat leadoff?
You Cubs fans hate this question, I know. It brings you back to the beginning of last season, when manager Joe Maddon tried to shove a round Schwarber into a square hole. Worse, Maddon stubbornly stayed with the experiment for weeks after it was obvious the decision had been a massive mistake.
There’s no clear answer for the leadoff spot heading into camp. Ben Zobrist is coming off a very down year, and if you’re in the question mode now, it’s hard not to ask if age (he turns 37 in May) has caught up with him. If he can rebound, he’d make the most sense at leadoff. But please, Joe, don’t revisit the Schwarber debacle.
Can Javy Baez take the next step?
He’s a superstar second baseman and would be a superstar shortstop if everything in life were fair. If he becomes a more disciplined hitter, he’ll be a monster, and the Cubs’ lineup will be silly-good. Can he? It might be easier to lasso a deer. All he knows to do is swing hard and run hard. You wonder whether Baez truly understands how big a star he’d be if his hitting moved somewhere in the vicinity of his stellar fielding.
Who’s the player the Cubs can least afford to lose to injury?
You hate this question, too, don’t you? The Cubs have so much talent that they’ll be able to overcome most injuries, but the player who does the most for them is Anthony Rizzo. He hits home runs, drives in runs and plays a mean first base. I’m not sure how the Cubs could fill all those holes in the event of a disaster. Ask St. Chili.
Which will come first, a Maddon slogan for the 2018 season or a Maddon tactical decision that will make you tear out your hair, get hair plugs and then pull out the plugs, too?
This is a tough one, but I predict Maddon will unveil a slogan when he meets with media members Tuesday in Mesa, Arizona.
‘‘Embrace the Target’’ was his 2016 slogan. In 2017, it was ‘‘Don’t Forget the Heartbeat.’’ After the Darvish signing, it might be ‘‘We’re Not Going to Lie, We’re Better Than Everybody Else’’ this season.
Or maybe he will announce Schwarber as his 2018 leadoff hitter and drop the mic.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.