Thursday, November 30 2023

Riding a wave that has yet to crest, the Chicago Cubs swept the San Francisco Giants to solidify their spot in the wild-card chase while moving up on the Milwaukee Brewers.

Every game matters, and every moment is magnified from here on out.

Here are four observations from the Cubs scene.

Talk-show debate

“This is good,” Cody Bellinger said. “This is a lot going on. A lot going on.”

Bellinger was mic’d up by Marquee Sports Network in the top of the third inning of Tuesday’s 11-8 Cubs win over the Giants. The wind was blowing out and Bellinger was playing center field and talking to Boog Sciambi and Joe Girardi on the broadcast.

Then came a technology malfunction during a question from Taylor McGregor on his friendship with Joc Pederson. Bellinger said he couldn’t hear anything, just as Pederson launched a line shot toward him in center.

“Right at ya,” Sciambi told Bellinger, who fielded the ball after it bounced near the base of the wall and threw it in. “Better throw would’ve got him (at second),” Bellinger said. Girardi assured him it wasn’t his fault.

That normally would be the end of the story. But a sizable segment of Cubs fans thought the conversation with Sciambi during the play caused Bellinger to get a late jump and take a bad route. It was a tough play, but Bellinger has had a Gold Glove-caliber season in center.

So I had to ask: Should Marquee be interviewing players during a game in a pennant race?

“We didn’t break any ground with that, ESPN does it all the time,” Marquee general manager Mike McCarthy said Wednesday. “We are always trying to bring the best kind of broadcast to the viewers, and I think we’ll pass on pursuing another usage of live mics during the games until next season.”

Because of the time of the season?

“We weren’t going to do it again either way,” he said. “But yeah, it was an experiment. We’re trying to understand some of the implications of it and we won’t be pursuing it again.”

I don’t think Bellinger could’ve caught the ball, but he shouldn’t have to entertain fans with his recollections of playing alongside Joc Pederson while he’s trying to focus on the job at hand. Whether ESPN does it is irrelevant. ESPN doesn’t own the teams it televises. The Cubs are co-owners of Marquee Sports.

When he was general manager in Boston in 2005, Theo Epstein fought with the department heads outside of baseball operations whom he believed were putting the marketing of the team ahead of winning. Cubs President Jed Hoyer should make sure the 2023 team doesn’t fall into the same trap during the pennant race.

Big Z’s tears

Players’ careers go by so fast they sometimes lose sight of how good they had it when they played. Former Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano returned to Wrigley Field on Tuesday and received several long ovations, including his performance during the seventh-inning stretch.

It would take several pages to chronicle all of Big Z’s epic moments in Chicago, but suffice it to say he pitched with an intensity and anger not often seen these days. He admits to “making a lot of mistakes,” many of which I criticized over the years. We laughed about a few of those incidents, but Zambrano turned serious when asked about the reception he received from Cubs fans.

“I had goose bumps, and I was nervous for the first time in my career,” he said. “Like I said, the greatest fans in all baseball are Chicago Cubs fans. It was special. I cried when I got back to my hotel room and thanked God for letting me play for this team in this town before these fans.”

Morel conundrum

Manager David Ross made a declaration of sorts Tuesday when asked about sticking with the same lineups.

“Look, we’re in a really good position to win,” Ross said. “The guys that got us here are going to play, and the guys that are on the bench, they’ve got roles.”

Christopher Morel was not in the starting lineup and had been slumping the last month. But he most certainly was one of the guys who got the Cubs where they are, and sitting him is a risk. Morel pinch hit in the third inning and hit a monstrous home run in the six-run seventh. On Wednesday, Morel was in the leadoff spot and went 1-for-4 with a run batted in.

Hopefully Ross can find a happy medium, and Morel also understands he needs to do more than hit home runs and perform bat flips to earn at-bats during the stretch run.

Sign of the times

Crowds of under 30,000 in September at Wrigley Field aren’t unexpected when the Cubs are out of contention. But nice weather, a surging team and an important series against another wild-card contender had some scratching their heads over the attendance figures of 28,684 on Tuesday and 27,433 on Wednesday.

Obviously kids are back at school and the tourist season is over. But the smaller-than-usual crowds for big games suggest the Cubs have overpriced tickets for September games and many fans are still feeling the pinch from inflation.

Naturally, the Cubs are increasing prices by an average of 3% in 2024 based on this year’s on-field success. Someone has to pay for Bellinger’s yet-to-materialize new contract.

Source: Yahoo Sports


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