***Looking for People to Help With This Section***
In addition to my weekly “feature” blog I’m looking to make “This Week In Chicago Sports” a weekly thing, function basically as collection of weekly Chicago sports team beats. If you are interested in contributing about any of the teams below, please let me know. This week, Logan Springgate (who has contributed before) wrote up a section for the Cubs, who I’m woefully under-qualified to write about. If you would like to do something similar on a weekly basis for any of the teams below please feel free to message/email/text me about it. It’s also possible that rather than a post like this with every team in it I may switch to having each time get an individual “This Week In…” post but we’ll see how it goes. Anyway with that, we’ll start with Logan’s Cubs section:
This is the most wonderful time of year. March Madness is about to take over everyone’s lives and small baseball sample sizes are about to take over everyone’s hot takes. It’s a time when 29 fanbases and Derek Jeter can be excited about the future. I’m working on a full review of the Cubs’ offseason, but for now here’s 16 games’ worth of stats to get you overly excited about this season.
Ian Happ: Well there’s no way to start this blog without talking about the Happ-ening. He’s slashing .429/.500/1.190 in 8 games played so far. Oh, did I mention that includes 2 doubles, a triple and 4 HRs in 21 ABs so far? Here’s a couple seconds to take that in…
His K% is back down to where it was in the minors too (~25% in the minors vs. ~33% last season). If this is what Happ can do, then you can count on Javy or Almora losing playing time real quick. You can’t let plus fielding keep that kind of bat out of the lineup.
Kyle Schwarber: After a widely publicized (body transformation, expectations are pretty high for the 3rd year slugger. With that said, he hasn’t exactly blown people away in spring training yet. So far, Schwarber has 5 walks to 8 strikeouts. Maddon thought he could leadoff last year and that kind of plate discipline just isn’t going to cut it. He’s 3 for 4 on steals so far, so if he really tries to steal more bases, then that would be pretty interesting. I’m saying it’s way too soon to tell on this one.
Pitching: I was really hoping to have some early hot takes here. But it’s really early. Tyler Chatwood had an uninspiring start against the Padres (3 IP, 1 ER, 2 K). Jon Lester went 5 scoreless against the Angels today, but they only had two of their starters playing. The spring training box scores make me think they’re stretching out Butler to be another long relief guy/spot starter. He’s obviously behind Montgomery for a rotation spot in the case of an injury, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see more bullpen games this season where Joe gives Montgomery and Butler each 3 innings to give the rotation a rest. Dillon Maples has not been particularly effective so far, but look for him to make an impact in the bullpen at some point this season.
- Rizzo, Bryant, and Willy are all hitting well to start spring training (not that anyone was worried).
- Zobrist debuted on Tuesday after dealing with a back issue. I love Zobrist, but Happ and Baez are just better than him right now.
- Leadoff watch: Happ and Almora have gotten the majority of leadoff ABs so far. Might be a platoon situation between those two to start the year. Heyward has also gotten a couple, but it doesn’t seem like yet another swing change has done much.
While I did just recently check in on the White Sox in Spring Training, thought for the blog this week I’d survey what’s been going on lately to see what else of note has happened.
Eloy Jimenez continues to sit out of games with tendonitis in his left knee, with manager Rick Renteria saying he’s hopeful he could be back on the field early next week. No need to rush here, as Jimenez won’t be seeing the big leagues any earlier than the second half of this season.
Speaking of slugger prospects, Luis Robert hit a grand slam this week in a moment that made me want to immediately fast-forward this team three years into the future. Having seen him in person a couple weeks ago I can attest that Robert is huge (tall) and with 15 pounds more of muscle on him could become a hell of an athlete. Robert only has 10 at-bats this spring, with three hits including the grand slam.
Outfielder Willy Garcia was cut by the White Sox Friday morning. This is disappointing not for any actual baseball reason, but because it means that we won’t be able to see three guys with the same last name play in the outfield for the Sox again this year. Oh well.
There were articles about Yoan Moncada in both the New York Times and USA Today today, so that’s pretty cool. It’s not often national media acknowledges this team exists so we’ll take what we can get (no word on if the journalists who wrote these pieces remember that the White Sox won the World Series in 2005).
The White Sox are 7-7 so far in Spring Training, which doesn’t really mean anything. Nothing’s really jumping of the page stat wise, either. This is a good opportunity to give young guys a chance to play against MLB quality opposition and see how they do and that’s about it:
The Blackhawks have continued their mediocrity of late, and with 14 games to go sit 13 points out of a playoff spot. The team signaled that they were conceding defeat when they traded Ryan Hartman and Tommy Wingels at the deadline. The Hartman trade in particular hurts, and I can’t help feeling that in a few years he’ll be scoring big goals against the Hawks much like Tuevo Teravainen did for the Hurricanes last night.
That said the Hawks got a decent return for Hartman in Nashville’s first and fourth round pick this coming season and a 22 year old Swedish prospect named Victor Ejdsell, a 6 foot 5 forward who if he reaches his potential could provide the kind of size the Hawks lack up front right now.
Hopefully the rest of this season can be used to develop the Hawks’ remaining young talent, particularly Alex DeBrincat and Vinnie Hinostroza. Matthew Highmore is also getting a chance on the NHL roster since Hartman’s departure, and we’ll have to see what kind of potential he shows at the NHL level over these next couple weeks.
The biggest Hawks news this week was that Erik Gustafsson has been signed to a two year contract extension. A lot of people cringed a bit at the $1.2 million cap hit given how much money the Hawks already have sunk into defensemen, but given how well Gustafsson has been playing might as well lock him down when you can.
There is also no sign that Corey Crawford will play again this season, and honestly there’s no point in him coming back right now. The Hawks focus this offseason will be getting healthy, in addition to figuring out a strategy to make the best of Kane and Toews’ next few years without getting suffocated by the salary cap.
Good news: after a stalemate that has occupied most of the offseason, the Fire today finally announced a local TV deal.
Bad news: It’s with ESPN+ (which doesn’t exist yet, games will be on MLS Live, the League’s streaming platform, until it does) and you’re going to have to sign up for ESPN+ ($5 per month) to watch them.
Unlike most sports leagues, TV deals don’t mean that much in MLS given how much financial control the league has over the teams, but coming off their most successful season in a decade it’s incredibly frustrating to see both the Fire and NBC Sports Chicago drop the ball on this.
The Fire built so much momentum last season with the fanbase, which showed in improved attendance. Hopefully this failure to get the games on TV won’t have a large negative impact but only time will tell.
As for the team, they’ve had a few notable offseason moves including resigning Bastian Schweinsteiger and selling David Accam to Phildadelphia. They’ve brought in youngsters Grant Lillard, Mo Adams and Jon Bakero as well as Serbian winger Aleksander Katai on loan from Spanish team Alaves as a replacement for Accam. Meanwhile, the Fire traded starting goalkeeper Matt Lampson to Minnesota and cut backup Jorge Bava, which leaves Richard Sanchez as the team’s starter. Next to the TV situation, this is the second most frustrating thing for me about the Fire right now. They were a playoff team last year and yet they’ve traded their starting keeper to perhaps the worst team in MLS and done nothing to replace him. I’m not sure if the Fire are playing some long game here in saving money, but for now it doesn’t make much sense.
Having not seen them play I don’t have anything to say yet on the new guys, I’ll give my thoughts each week as the season progresses.
The fire have one of the best fullback pairs in MLS in Matt Polster and Brandon Vincent, phenomenal defensive midfielders in Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty and one of the MLS’s best strikers in Nemanja Nikolic. My gut says that may not be enough for another trip back to the playoffs, but this is the MLS which means most predictions (definitely including mine) are pretty much worthless.
Here’s to hoping for the best.
COME ON YOU MEN IN RED
The Bulls are not very good at winning basketball games. They’re not all that great at losing them either. Despite the clear intention being to tank, the Bulls are currently the fourth-worst team in the Eastern Conference and the eighth-worst team in the NBA. The only silver lining there is that the Bulls were the ninth-worst team when they magically won the NBA Draft Lottery to get Derrick Rose
After watching Duke dominate Notre Dame last night I want nothing more for the Bulls than to somehow draft Martin Bagley (and then ND’s Bonzie Colson in the second round if at all possible).
On the bright side, the Bulls look to have some promising pieces for the future. Get a center who isn’t Robin Lopez and a point guard who can score and we might be onto something.
Basically every time I see a quality NFL player is a free agent I immediately want the Bears to sign him. Today that is Richard Sherman. Kyle Fuller looks like a solid option at corner going forward but improving on the other side of the defense would be helpful. Nothing against Prince Amukamara, but the Bears can do better. Meanwhile, the Bears will not be getting Jarvis Landry as he’s just been traded to Cleveland. Sammy Watkins is also a free agent having been let go by the Rams, and although he had a down year he would still be a massive upgrade for the Bears’ receiving corps.
Going back to my blog about the Bears from Super Bowl week, nothing has really changed in terms of draft focus: wide receivers, defense in general (linebacker especially), O-line. Assuming we don’t sign a #1 wide receiver in free agency (always set your expectations low with the Bears) I still think Calvin Ridley is the right choice there.
From now until the draft, this section will basically just be “Bears Free Agency Watch.”