CHICAGO -- This was not the baseball season that anyone envisioned. It will be different and historic, but if everything proceeds safely and according to plan, there will be a World Series title up for grabs at the end with virtually any team capable of clutching the hardware.
"If they’re passing out a trophy, I want it," new Cubs manager David Ross said at the start of Summer Camp.
Put that on a T-shirt.
Come Friday, the Cubs will be hosting the rival Brewers on an Opening Day for the history books. In his first season at the helm, Ross heads a Chicago roster with much of the same core from the 2016 World Series champions. The Cubs will hope that familiarity and experience counts for something in a 60-game season unlike anything baseball has ever seen.
For the Cubs and Brewers alike, the schedule will consist of only Central opponents from both the National League and American League. Over the past two years, Milwaukee has presented a problem for Chicago, capturing the division in '18 and an NL Wild Card spot in '19, when St. Louis took the Central and the Cubs missed the playoffs.
"You know, Cubs-Brewers series are always fun and exciting," Brewers second baseman Keston Hiura said. "It's definitely very different with no crowd out there and having that whole atmosphere at Wrigley Field. But I think you know we're all looking forward to it. It's going to be a lot of fun.
"I think we're all just excited to get baseball back and playing again. We're really just looking forward to that day, and whether it's home or away, we're really going to make the most out of it. Like they say, every game counts, and from Game 1 to Game 60, everything matters."
Here are some FAQs about the Opening Day clash between NL Central rivals:
When is the game and how can I watch it?
Opening Day between the Brewers and Cubs at Wrigley Field is scheduled for 6:10 p.m. CT and will be broadcast on ESPN, Marquee Sports Network, FOX Sports Wisconsin and MLB.TV.
The starting lineups
Brewers: Everything revolves around Christian Yelich, the 2018 NL MVP who, from a statistical point of view, was even better in '19 when he missed the final three weeks of the regular season and still finished runner-up to the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger for the award. Yelich is healthy and also quite wealthy after signing a nine-year, $215 million contract less than a week before baseball paused for the coronavirus pandemic. But he had an uncharacteristically unproductive stint in Summer Camp, striking out in 13 of 23 at-bats during the Brewers’ seven-game “Blue-Gold Series.” What does it mean? Probably nothing, considering he homered against the White Sox on Wednesday night in the Brewers’ lone exhibition.
Yelich’s production is tied to Lorenzo Cain, who won his first Rawlings Gold Glove Award in '19 but was disappointed with his year at the plate, and to second-year second baseman Keston Hiura, who is coming off a partial season in which he hit 19 big league home runs. Ryan Braun gets the nod at DH after battling an oblique issue during Summer Camp.
Opening Day lineup
- Eric Sogard, 3B
- Christian Yelich, LF
- Keston Hiura, 2B
- Justin Smoak, 1B
- Ryan Braun, DH
- Avisaíl García, RF
- Omar Narváez, C
- Lorenzo Cain, CF
- Orlando Arcia, SS
Cubs: One of the first decisions that Ross made during Spring Training was announcing that Kris Bryant would be Chicago's new leadoff man. The Cubs have cycled through 17 players atop the order in the years since Dexter Fowler's departure, and inconsistency has followed. With Bryant at the top, Ross believes the North Siders will have an impact table-setter, and one that helps generate balance throughout the order. With Bryant (righty) in the No. 1 slot, Anthony Rizzo (lefty), Javier Báez (righty), Kyle Schwarber (lefty), Willson Contreras (righty) and Jason Heyward (lefty) fall in nicely in the Nos. 2-6 spots.
Ross will not have a full-time DH, but will rather rotate players through that slot based on matchups, rest and other factors. Schwarber looks like a prime DH candidate on the surface, but Ross does not view the slugger as a liability in left field. Other outfielders (Ian Happ and Steven Souza Jr., for example) could be used at DH. It could also allow Ross to put both catchers (Contreras and Victor Caratini) in the order at the same time. The Cubs believe the DH really lengthens their lineup and enhances their defense at the same time.
- Kris Bryant, 3B
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B
- Javier Báez, SS
- Kyle Schwarber, LF
- Willson Contreras, C
- Jason Heyward, RF
- Victor Caratini, DH
- Jason Kipnis, 2B
- Ian Happ, CF
Who are the starting pitchers?
Brewers: Brandon Woodruff. Brewers manager Craig Counsell doesn’t believe in curses. Woodruff is his pick to pitch on Opening Day. Woodruff, the 27-year-old right-hander, has risen from 11th-round Draft pick in 2014 to Brewers Minor League Pitcher of the Year in '16 to NL All-Star in '19, and will be the Brewers’ seventh Opening Day pitcher in as many years. That had been obvious for some time to anyone who has watched Woodruff pitch and/or can count days on a calendar, but the Brewers’ so-called Opening Day curse provided just a sliver of doubt. The last five men to take the ball for Milwaukee in a regular-season opener all endured seasons ranging from barely average to downright dismal, from Kyle Lohse to Wily Peralta to Junior Guerra to Chase Anderson to Jhoulys Chacin. In Spring Training, Counsell mentioned that maybe the Brewers would do something creative to shake things up. But, no, this was Woodruff’s assignment all along, coming off a 2019 in which he went 11-3 with a 3.62 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 22 starts, making his first All-Star team along the way.
"Brandon Woodruff has been the Opening Day starter since early October," Counsell said.
Cubs: Kyle Hendricks. Veteran Jon Lester took the ball on Opening Day in each of the past three years and in four of the last five for the Cubs, but Ross went a different direction for 2020. The decision was down to Yu Darvish or Hendricks and the manager opted for the latter. Hendricks relies mainly on a sinker-changeup mix, but his curveball has improved and the righty works in a four-seamer, too. Hendricks will not blow batters away, but his precision-based style keeps hitters guessing. The Professor is 32-18 with a 2.61 ERA in 81 career games at Wrigley Field, where he posted a 2.04 ERA in 14 outings in '19. He is 8-6 with a 3.08 ERA in 21 career appearances against Milwaukee.
"You talk about the poise," Ross said. "He's not afraid of the big moment. Same guy. It doesn't matter whether it's a scrimmage for us or Game 7, I've seen the same guy every time he's out there on the bump."
How will the bullpen line up after the starters?
Brewers: Arguably, no Major League manager has been better at managing an expanded roster than Counsell, who has led the Brewers to identical 20-7 records in each of the past two regular seasons from Sept. 1 on. This year, Counsell has the extra arms at his disposal from the start, beginning with an 11-man bullpen. The group is anchored once again by Josh Hader, owner of the best strikeout rate of all-time, not to mention back-to-back NL Reliever of the Year Awards. All of the Brewers’ game-planning leads to Hader, who often works multiple innings with days off in-between. The Brewers have other lefties they like in Brent Suter and Alex Claudio, but the key to success could be two “new” right-handers: Corey Knebel, who is back after missing all of 2019 following Tommy John surgery, and David Phelps, the former Cub who signed with Milwaukee as a free agent. Phelps is now multiple years removed from Tommy John surgery and said he feels stronger than ever. Another righty to watch is Devin Williams, a former second-round Draft pick who had a particularly impressive camp.
Cubs: Following a rough '19 showing, veteran closer Craig Kimbrel returns as the Cubs' ninth-inning arm and is aiming for a strong comeback campaign. There is not only a heap of uncertainty surrounding Kimbrel, but nearly all of Chicago's relief arms come with question marks. The primary setup options figure to be Jeremy Jeffress, Kyle Ryan and Rowan Wick. A few other key arms include Ryan Tepera, Brad Wieck and Dan Winkler. This could also be a big year for James Norwood, Duane Underwood Jr. or Dillon Maples to emerge as more reliable options. The list keeps going and searching for the right combination in such a short season will be a crucial component to this year for the Cubs.
Any injuries of note?
Brewers: The Brewers’ notable injuries begin with Braun, who is not believed to be seriously hurt, but was in danger during the week leading to Opening Day of missing those festivities for the first time in his career. The Brewers’ Opening Day injured list includes left-hander Brett Anderson, who was slated to start Saturday against the Cubs before a blister on his left index finger scuttled those plans. Corbin Burnes gets the ball in that spot instead. Reliever Ray Black is on the IL with a right rotator cuff injury, and infielder Luis Urías and pitchers Angel Perdomo and Eric Lauer are on the COVID-19 related IL to open the year, but Lauer won’t be sidelined for long.
Cubs: The only major setback for the North Siders involved José Quintana, who sustained a cut on his left thumb while washing dishes on the eve of flying to Chicago for Summer Camp. The cut required surgery to repair a sensory nerve and cost Quintana a spot in the rotation. He has since resumed throwing, but the left-hander is unlikely to be a factor until September, if at all. That was a tough loss for a rotation already lacking in the depth department. On the positive side, the three-month layoff allowed Wieck ample time to recover and build back up after dealing with a heart issue early in Spring Training.
Who is hot and who is not?
Brewers: The Brewers aren’t worried about Yelich, who has a knack for using adversity to his advantage. Among the hitters who shined in Summer Camp was new catcher Narváez, who hit three home runs in the first five games of Milwaukee’s recent intrasquad series, and backup outfielder Ben Gamel. But it was the pitchers who shined brightest in the condensed camp, particularly Woodruff and Burnes.
Cubs: It is hard to know how much to read into Summer Camp games, but Kipnis was impressive in the batter's box and on the basepaths. On the day he officially made the roster, Kipnis had three hits (including a bunt single and a triple) in an intrasquad game on July 17. On Sunday, he launched a homer in the first inning against the White Sox. Contreras and third-string catcher Josh Phegley each launched four intrasquad homers, and Contreras added two more blasts in Wednesday's exhibition game against the Twins. On the cold front, there were some mixed results scattered throughout the pitching staff. Lester came into camp behind the other arms in terms of pitch count, and had ups and downs results wise in camp. Kimbrel has racked up some strikeouts, but has given up hard contact (including one of Contreras' blasts) and issued a handful of walks.
Anything else fans might want to know?
• This marks Bob Uecker’s 50th season calling games for his hometown team, and while he only plans to call home games, he’ll make an exception for Opening Day. The Brewers’ radio and television broadcasters will call road games from the booths at Miller Park, with extra monitors installed to provide additional looks at the action.
• The Cubs plan on going with a kind of tandem at second base this year. While Kipnis is in the projected lineup, rookie Nico Hoerner will log plenty of time at the position. Hoerner is also the main backup at shortstop behind Báez.
• Friday's opener will begin a 2020 season with no Friday afternoon games for the Cubs. It marks the first time in franchise history that all of the Friday games at Wrigley Field will be night games.