Discover more from Pointless Exercise
Are the Cubs fun? Is Ross actually good at this?
It's Tweetbag time!
The GOP can screw over the Postal Service, they can slow down the mail, but they can’t stop the Tweetbag!
Does it sound like a lazy way for me to come up with a column idea once a week or two? Well, sure, but I like to think it’s me being interactive, or something.
Carlos used the firstname.lastname@example.org e-mail to request that I ponder:
This is the first time since the 2016 playoffs that I'm actually enjoying Cubs baseball. Is this more of a knock on me, or are the Cubs again… (gasp!) watchable?
* despite Marquee
Are the Cubs fun because they’re 12-3? Are they fun because we’re super starved for something resembling sports? Are they fun now because ever since John Lackey did this:
things had been less than fun most of the time?
It’s probably all three. Because the Cubs are winning due mainly to the guys who’ve been here all along. It’s not like they did…anything, really, in the offseason. Who have they brought in who is really anything important? Jeremy Jeffress? Jason Kipnis? Josh Phegley?
We know that this might be the swan song for the bulk of our favorite Cubs’ team of all-time. A year from now we’ll be staring down the barrel at the potential free agency of Javy Baez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. But for now they’re all still here, and really, none of them is off to a hot start, and yet the team just keeps winning.
They have somehow stabilized a terrible bullpen—for now—though it helps that they’ve only had four save opportunities in 12 wins. But yes, it’s fun to watch a team that still has a lot of their World Championship team on the field as they get back to their winning ways.
But it is more than just winning. The Cubs have, since the start of this weird 60-game season, played like a team that really wants to be there. With no crowd to supply energy, they do it themselves. Some of it is little things, like when they clap along to Rizzo’s walk-up music (in the same way they did for Starlin Castro’s music in 2015), and when you hear their yelling echo around an empty stadium during a long at bat, or even when they did their socially distanced walk-off celebration a couple of weeks ago.
This whole attempt at playing baseball, without a bubble, in a pandemic can put fans in a weird spot. We want the normalcy that baseball can offer, but we all have some level of guilt as the players put themselves at risk. Yet, when you watch the Cubs and they so clearly are enjoying being together and making another run at it, you feel a little less guilty. They give you permission to not feel guilty for not feeling guilty.
But, they’re still the Cubs. While the players and coaches are making it easy to root for the team, it’s not all completely enjoyable.
And, I’m not even talking about Craig Kimbrel, even though, man, that’s a rough watch.
No, I’m of course talking about the other thing you mentioned. Marquee Sports Network.
This blatant cash grab disguised as a TV network inherited one very important thing. The kind of thing that any start up sports network would love to have. They have a very good, very much beloved announcing team with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. So, if your actual game broadcasts were assured to be good, how hard could the rest of it be?
Apparently, very, very hard. The first three-plus weeks of “real” game broadcasts have been rife with unnecessary shit. Ryan Dempster being shoehorned into the middle three innings of games to provide unwanted, non-insightful commentary, and basically just talk right over Len and JD (which, inexplicably increased to a full nine innings of him on Tuesday). Mark Grace wandering into his own kitchen to remotely be the third man in the booth, and add nothing, except awkward pauses. It took no time at all for the pre and postgame shows, which are filmed on a very blue dystopian set that looks like somebody accidentally turned the lights on at a strip club, to become must miss TV.
This shouldn’t be this hard. It’s a good team full of guys who will be Chicago sports heroes for the rest of time. Just get out of the way. Let Len and JD do their jobs. Fight the urge to fuck things up by adding anybody to that mix during the game broadcasts.
Try to find at least one competent pre and postgame analyst. We either get Dempster breaking out his wacky prop comic act that nobody’s ever asked for, or we get Sean Marshall trying not to fall asleep while he’s talking, or Ryan Sweeney?
Ryan Sweeney? What, you couldn’t afford Joe Mather?
Maybe the pre and postgame isn’t really all that important to the bottom line. You notice the Cubs pushed home game night start times from 7:05 to 7:15, because that allows them to add a commercial break where they can charge in-game rates instead of pregame rates.
Anyway, it’s easy enough to just drop in for the actual game coverage and then go running from the TV as soon as the final out has been made, and the Cubs 9-2 ninth inning lead has turned into a 9-7 win.
But it’s sad that the Cubs’ long-awaited 24 hour TV network is 21 hours of bad. Well hey, it could be three worse, I guess.
Why was Chargers’ defensive back Casey Hayward so nervous to get this COVID-19 test on Hard Knocks?
Because he realized he picked the wrong damned hat if he wanted to pass this test?
Because he’d had a test before, and that one had clearly been one of the “ram the Q-tip up your sinus until it tickles your medula oblongata” variety?
Because Ryan Braun told him they test for “all the viruses” and your nostril isn’t the only hole the nurse is going to swirl the swab in?
Hey, I have an .800 winning percentage as a manager, are you ready to admit that I’m good at this? - Tallahassee Dave
OK, Tallhassee Dave might not have actually sent in that question, but I’m going to answer it anyway.
I was not cool with the Cubs running Joe Maddon out after last season because he was the best manager the Cubs have had in my lifetime (and yes, I’m old enough that I was alive for such luminaries as Joey Amalfitano, Jim Lefevbre (the bar was so low, that despite him being awful fans thought he should stay because the Cubs had gone 162-162) and those 11 glorious days (over two years) of Jon Vukovich.
I’m also not cool with the fact that Ross (I will never, ever, non-ironically call him ‘Rossy’) doesn’t wear a real mask, but instead, one of these gaiter things:
Even though we now know, thanks to a Duke University study that showed that after testing 14 different versions of masks, not only was the gaiter the only one that didn’t help, was actually worse than not wearing a mask at all.
Meanwhile, a breathable neck gaiter, well-liked by runners for its lightweight fabric, ranked worse than the no-mask control group. The gaiter tested by the researchers was described in the study as a “neck fleece” made out of a polyester spandex material, Warren said.
“These neck gaiters are extremely common in a lot of places because they’re very convenient to wear,” he said. “But the exact reason why they’re so convenient, which is that they don’t restrict air, is the reason why they’re not doing much of a job helping people.”
But mask choice aside, there have been some pretty impressive things about Ross’ first 15 games on the job. And quite honestly, he’s done several things that I always wanted Maddon to do, but Joe, for whatever reason wouldn’t.
He bats his best hitters at the top of the order so they get the most at bats!
He finally found the perfect platoon for Albert Almora, one in which Ian Happ plays center against righties and lefties and Albert starts against everybody else.
His second base platoon with Jason Kipnis and Nico Hoerner uses Kipnis against certain styles of pitchers, without a concrete commitment to their handedness. It’s been so effective so far that Kipnis actually looks like he can play, even though we know he really can’t.
It really seems like Rowan Wick is the Cubs’ closer, at least of the moment, but Ross brought him in to pitch with two on and two out in the seventh last night because Francisco Lindor and Carlos Santana were due up with the game in the balance. In other words, Ross identified that as the likely biggest out the Cubs needed to get to win, and he brought in his end of the game guy to get that out. Wick made a terrible 3-2 pitch to Lindor (a meatball right down the middle) that was blistered to center to score a run to make it 5-2, but he got Santana to ground out to end the threat. And the Cubs went on to win, with Wick getting three more outs in the eighth and then Jeffress handling the ninth. It’s exactly the way managers ought to handle that situation.
When Willson Contreras got tossed from the game for slamming his bat down after a terrible check swing strike three call by home plate ump Tim Timmons (and yes, for the 47 millionth time I’m going to bitch that the home plate umpire is allowed to make that call at all—there’s no way he can see that from there), Ross had to choose between putting Victor Caratini or Phegley in to take over at catcher. Caratini was DHing (which I think he does way too much for a punchless slow dude) so if he went to catcher the Cubs would lose the DH for the rest of the game. Ross went to his third catcher, right? Nope. Despite his obvious affection for all third catchers, he clearly realizes that Phegley is terrible, so he put Victor in, and suddenly Kyle Hendricks was the Cubs new clean up hitter. Under the circumstances it was the correct move, and he made it, and you could have knocked me over with a feather.
Theo can gush about how Ross is “addressing things that have needed addressing for quite some time” all he wants, but I don’t give two shits about that. If Ross continues to embrace this kind of out of the box thinking, then the Cubs might really have something after all.