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Don't say I didn't warn you
You thought I was exaggerating about Marquee, didn't you?
Real games have been played, the Marquee-Comcast hostage crisis is over and if the Cubs aren’t one of the 53% of teams who make the playoffs, well, we’re looking at you, bullpen.
Opening day dawned with a good news/bad news situation for Cubs fans. The good news was that Comcast had come to an agreement to carry the Cubs’ Marquee Sports Network (we really should take some time one of these days to discuss what a disaster that name is), meaning 60% of Chicago TV viewers would get to see the games after all.
The bad news? Well, by now, you’ve seen Marquee. You know that’s the bad news.
The aggressively punctuated Cubs Pregame Live! debuted with a two-hour edition before the opener, and it was pretty clear, pretty fast that they had about six minutes of actual content.
We’ve now seen the main set and it’s…well, it’s really blue.
It looks like they bought it off of Denis Villenueuve after he got done shooting Blade Runner 2049. I don’t know, maybe it was Hector Villanueva, but whoever they got it from, it’s weird.
If there was a theme to Marquee’s coverage of the Cubs over the weekend it was pretty clear. They either don’t know that few Cubs fans actually enjoy whatever it is that Ryan Dempster is incessantly doing, or they don’t care and they’re punishing us all with him.
He was everywhere. He was on Friday’s pregame for two hours, then he showed up for innings four through six inexplicably during the game, then he was back for an hour of postgame. The game was on big FOX on Saturday, but he was back on Sunday for an hour of pregame…sorry, I’m sure the Marquee style guide insists on pregame!, the middle three innings again and then an hour of postgame, of which I made an appearance. Sort of, we’ll get to that.
It’s like Crane Kenney held a Frank Luntz-esque focus group before the season.
“So, what did you think of the lively former player dressed like a carnival barker?”
”You mean the painfully unfunny Canadian? I didn’t care for him.”
”Hmm. On a scale of ‘he’s terrific’ to ‘can’t get get enough of him’ what score would you give him?”
”Honestly, by the second segment I was trying to figure out how painful it would be to stab out my eardrums with the pen you gave us.”
”Pen we lent you. So, you’re saying not enough of him, then?”
”No. I’m absolutely not saying that. He literally ruined everything he was on.”
”Gotcha. Thank you for your feedback.”
Crane whispers to an intern, “One, Ryan needs to be louder, angrier, and have access to a time machine. Two, whenever Ryan’s not on screen, all the other people on the broadcast should be asking 'Where's Ryan?’
Basically, Dempster is Poochie.
Just when you thought the bar couldn’t be lowered any further, Bruce Levine shuffled in, apparently from looking for coins in the parking lot with his metal detector. Freshly embalmed and wearing a pair of New Balance that you can 100% guarantee Ron Santo gave him twenty years ago, Bruce plopped into his usual spot on the couch and broke the news that Craig Kimbrel shaved his beard a week earlier or something.
By that point we just wanted it all to end. Four months of pent up content had evaporated in barely an hour and the show was only half over.
It was a fitting launch for the network that nobody asked for. And then it got “better.”
Everything is sponsored on the network, including the worst pun in the history of North American television. Just…just look:
This is what we’re up against, gang. This network actually thinks this is clever. It really explains the Dempster obsession, I guess.
OK, but 6 p.m. Central rolled around and the game was going to start, finally, but, no. If you were a DirecTV viewer outside of the city limits but elsewhere within the coverage area you got inadvertently blacked out.
For four innings.
The game, as we expected, was the least of our worries. Kyle Hendricks was making his first ever Opening Day start and he was at his efficient best. Ian Happ homered in the third, Anthony Rizzo homered in the eighth and Hendricks allowed just three singles to Orlando Arcia (of all people), throwing only 103 pitches in a complete game shutout.
Hendricks just missed a “Maddux,” which is when you complete a shutout with fewer than 100 pitches, but given the circumstances I think it’s clear he pitched a Pandemaddux, which hopefully will be much more rare.
Before the game one of the features was one Taylor McGregor did on Hendricks. Well, it wasn’t really on Hendricks. I’ve noted before that nearly all of her updates still have something to do with her old job, as the sideline reporter for the Rockies. Just when you think she’s exhausted that well, she goes even deeper.
She did a piece with a scouting report of Hendricks form his old college catcher at Dartmouth. Uh, Kyle’s been out of college for nine years. Well, the catcher just happens to be Chris O’Dowd, the son of former Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd. Well, of course he is. You might remember Chris O’Dowd for serving an 80 game suspension for flunking a steroid test when he was in the Barves organization.
But Taylor was just getting started. After the game she did an interview with the star of the game (even though Marquee gave out an “Xfinity defensive player of the game” award—and the pitcher who was throwing a shutout didn’t win it. Is the pitcher not on defense?), Kyle Hendricks.
This is how the interview started:
“After everything this country has been through…”
Here’s the thing about Jason Heyward. He’s a good baseball player. He’ll never be worth close to the absurd contract the Cubs gave him though, because he can’t hit. So, you can either continue to play him in ways that reflect what you wish he’d be, or you can accept him for what he is. He’s a platoon right fielder who shouldn’t ever bat against a lefty and should be batting eighth or ninth against righthanders. He gets paid the same no matter what, so instead of paying him that money to kill your rallies and hit grounders right at the second baseman, you can put him in spots where he’s less likely to hurt you.
It is true that he’s been far more productive batting sixth in his career (.828 OPS) than first through fifth (he’s sub .754 in every one of them…in plenty of ABs in each spot).
But batting sixth in the NL now isn’t the same. There was no DH in the lineup in the vast majority of those games. You have an extra hitter and unless you’ve done it tragically wrong, that hitter is better than Heyward. You know where he also hits well? Eighth and ninth! His OPS is .823 hitting eighth and .842 batting ninth. So do that. Either of those things.
I’ll keep harping on this. It’s a very short season. Batting your lesser hitters higher because they gave you their suite on the road in your final season as a player (as just one, random example) means more at bats for him over more productive players.
Heyward’s had five years to prove where he should be hitting, and he has. His .251/.326/.382 as a Cub doesn’t lie. He’s a bottom of the order hitter, and not an every day one.
As we all discussed on the Pointless Exercise Podcast (subscribe today) I was going to do my best to just not get mad because this isn’t a real season, and I appreciate just how unlikely (and maybe unwise) it is that they’re playing at all. So I was just going to enjoy it.
That lasted until Jason Kipnis couldn’t execute a simple rundown in the second inning of the second game.
This guy might think it’s somehow about Lorenzo Cain’s “baseball IQ” but just watch it and see if you can figure out what the hell Kipnis was doing? He ran at Cain and then swerved around him without tagging him, allowing Cain to jog back to the bag without a throw. There should have been no way for Cain to get back to second without either running into Kipnis or running out of the baseline.
A few innings later Brad Wieck walked Eric Sogard on four pitches with two outs in front of Christian Yelich and then gave up million foot homer to Yelich and for the first time in 301 days I was loudly MF’ing the Cubs in my basement. It’s how my wife knew it was a day game.
But, our beloved Large Adult Son, Kyle Schwarber said we shouldn’t “sleep on” the Cubs bullpen. Kyle, we can’t, because they’re already giving us nightmares.
But, incredibly, neither of those moments were the most infuriating parts of that game.
While he was pitching, Brewers starting pitcher Corbin Burnes got a bloody nose. Stuff was just pouring out of his face. The trainer came out and handed him a Gatorade towel to sop it all up and then they were shoving gauze in his nose.
In the middle of a pandemic that has crippled the world, when we are all busily trying to get idiots to wear masks when they go out in public, when you can’t turn around without seeing signs about washing your hands and not touching your face, in games where players aren’t allowed to throw the ball around the horn after outs to cut down on the number of people who touch the ball, the starting pitcher has blood and snot oozing out of his nose and David Ross just sits there in the dugout wearing that stupid cut-off t-shirt sleeve around his face.
I thought the reason every team was carrying that absurd number of pitchers (most teams have 16 on their roster) was for stuff like this! Burnes should have had to have left the game. He was literally a public health threat while standing on the mound and a baseball game ground to a halt waiting for his nose to stop running.
At the very least make the umpires decide what to do, don’t just sit there. The Cubs got more riled up about the continued lack of control by Brewers pitching (the Brewers just happen to hit Cubs batters…a lot and have been doing it for at least a couple of years) but Burnes biohazarding all over the pitcher’s mound was OK?
Tyler Chatwood had one of his good games on Sunday. He had control of all of his pitches, he worked fast and he was shockingly efficient, for him. It would be incredible if this happened more often. But we’ve seen it before. He’s had bouts of competence and you think, “hey, he’s got it” and the next game he’s thrown 47 pitches in the first inning and the catchers are exhausted from running to the backstop to pick up his pitches.
He only has to string together about a dozen starts this year. Crazier things have happended.
Not many crazier things, though.
Southern Ohio is a sketchy place at any time, but the Reds had Matt Davidson test positive for COVID, put Mike Moustakas on the IL for something and Nick Senzel stayed home because he felt sick yesterday. Welcome to the first Cubs road trip of any kind since summer camp started. All of their fake games were in town, and they’ve haven’t seen the inside of a plane or a hotel.
The Cubs have yet to have a player test positive and people can laud them all they want for that, but some of it is just dumb luck. Yes, taking precautions, the way they clearly have, is a great thing, but you can do everything right and still come into contact with somebody who has it. At some point this is going to affect every team, and when it does, it doesn’t mean it’s their fault.
Speaking of the Reds, former Cubs outfielder Nick Castellanos endeared himself to the club with his “every day is opening day” attitude during his very productive two months with the team last year. Hey, for once he was right on July 24!
Mike Ditka made news yesterday with his comments about…you know what? It’s been a long time since anybody had any reason to even pretend to care what Mike Ditka thinks about anything. So there’s just no need.
One of the challenges this 60 game baseball season presents is how will managers take what they normally do over six months and make it work in just two?
Well, give Dusty Baker a lot of credit for accelerating his process. Justin Verlander has the dreaded, “forearm tightness.” Good to see Dusty let him try to pitch through it.
Verlander insists he’s not out for the season and will be re-evaluated in two weeks. Yeah, never heard that before, dude.
And finally, (mock applause fills the interwebs) I was a major part of Cubs Postgame Live! on Sunday. OK, maybe not “major.”
If you didn’t see one of the 74 promos for it during the weekend’s games, Marquee had a special on Harry Caray on Sunday. The nadir of the promotion came on Friday when Dempster—best known for having the worst Harry Caray impression in the world—talked about Harry at length. THEY NEVER MET.
But anyway, the promo for the Harry special included clips from some very dubious luminaries who I guess had some connection to Harry. Maybe? Why would anybody want to watch any of that?
Anyway, some smart ass Tweeted this during Sunday’s game:
And Marquee showed this during the postgame:
The question mark was carrying a lot of the sarcasm heavy lifting, but it was doing it.
Maybe they’ll present me with the ‘Quee to the City some day?