Inbox: Takeaways from Opening Day

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers questions from fans

March 29th, 2019

You never want to draw sweeping conclusions from a season opener. As an example, the dozen runs posted by the Cubs in Thursday's 12-4 win over the Rangers were their most in the first game of a season since 2006. Did that foretell good fortune? Hardly, considering Chicago finished with 96 losses that summer.

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein summed it up best before the first pitch of the team's 2019 season: "There's a long-standing tradition to overreacting to whatever happens Opening Day. It's just a lot better to overreact to a win than to a loss."

The overreaction would be to declare last season's broken offense fixed. Look out, National League! Here comes double-digits on a regular bassis! That's not realistic. Instead, the biggest takeaway for me was not the surplus of runs, but observing some of the little things that took place within each rally.

During Spring Training, manager Joe Maddon stressed the importance of reading each moment, knowing the score and the inning, and what approach best fits that situation. A great example arrived in the fifth, when  singled to center with  on first and none out. Bote looked at where Delino DeShields was playing and decided to push for third base. It was an educated risk.

"I saw how deep DeShields was back there and got a good jump off the bat," Bote said. "No outs there. Put the pressure on him to throw me out. It’s a close ballgame."

There were other things, too. Mark Zagunis pulled off a hustle double when he could've easily settled for a single. Chicago drew eight walks. There were groundouts, but some of them moved runners or brought them home. Players went from first to third, or moved up a base on flyouts. Yes, these are all things teams are supposed to do, but coming off a spring in which all of that was strongly emphasized, it was great to see right out of the chute.

"That’s what we want to be," Maddon said.

Maddon raved about Schwarber's work against lefties in the spring and the left fielder finished his camp with an opposite-field shot off David Price. But, Cubs fans know how Maddon operates by now. It's all about the matchups and starting Zagunis against lefty Mike Minor in the opener made that crystal clear. I wouldn't expect Schwarber to be in a strict platoon, but he did post an 85 wRC+ (15 percent below MLB average) against lefites in '18. It's all about maximizing production for Maddon.

For starters, Ian Happ is working on some offensive tweaks in Triple-A, so he doesn't factor into this equation at the moment. The next thing to keep in mind is that Zobrist is going to be used similar to last season, when he would get a built-in day off every few games. Daniel Descalso and Bote offer strong depth for those Zobrist-less days. I'd expect Bote to get in there against lefties, especially, whether that's at second or third. Descalso and Zobrist can both be in vs. righties, given Zobrist's ability to move to the outfield corners.

Could Bote play his way into an everyday role? Sure, but that'd be a better question for June, July or August. At the start of the season, expect Maddon to stick with the matchup-based rotation of players. Exploring trading Zobrist could make sense under the right circumstances, especially since he's in the final year of his contract, but there is plenty of time to see what kind of circumstances develop.

Nico Hoerner doesn't have a full season under his belt, so I'm not going to try to project what his MLB career will look like. What I can tell you is that he's a candidate to climb fast. The Cubs will start the 21-year-old at Double-A, but Epstein said he doesn't see the Majors in the 2019 future for the club's No. 2 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. But, Hoerner is polished -- both in personality and playing ability -- so I wouldn't rule out him pushing for the Majors in '20.

Willson Contreras led the Majors in innings caught in 2018 and I see no reason he won't once again shoulder one of the heavier workloads at that position. Victor Caratini will likely be used like a traditional backup, getting starts to get Contreras off his feet (day games after night games, for example). You might also see Caratini partnered with Cole Hamels when the schedule fits. The Cubs really liked that pairing last year, when the veteran lefty had a 1.89 ERA in 52 1/3 innings with Caratini behind the plate.

The scoresheet I use is one I designed many years ago. Before Opening Day each season, I head to a print shop and have one made. If you'd like to build your own book from the sheet I made, all you have to do is click right here. I'm a man of the people. Have fun.