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The Cycle: Surprising rookies are a big hit

April 15, 2016

Every week of the baseball season is packed with hot topics, and on Fridays, we touch on a few of them (and touch all the bases) here in The Cycle. Four items (single, double, triple and home run), each with a little more magnitude than the last. Let's swing away.This

Every week of the baseball season is packed with hot topics, and on Fridays, we touch on a few of them (and touch all the bases) here in The Cycle. Four items (single, double, triple and home run), each with a little more magnitude than the last. Let's swing away.
This week's single goes to the Cubs' cushy confines ...
If the Cubs were seriously concerned about curses, they would have equipped their drastically refurbished clubhouse with a prayer room. Instead, they've got a party room, complete with a disco ball, strobe lights, a fog machine and, perhaps most important, a drainage system that will allow the champagne -- or in this case, perhaps the Old Style -- to flow freely.
There was a time when the Cubs' historic but archaic old ballpark was replete with rats in its nether regions. Now it's infested with party animals. The Cubs are young and good, and no matter what the purists might think of their new nightclub ... err ... clubhouse, they should be free to celebrate victories however they see fit.
Some will say that if you presumptuously install a celebration-specific room, you're putting the cart before the horse. But what the Cubs are really doing is putting their belief before the billy goat.

Our double is a real horror story ...
If you thought his novels were scary, you should read Stephen King's Boston Globe opinion piece about the new safety netting at Fenway Park, which followed MLB's recommendations for extended netting down the lines. King calls the nets "one more step toward taking the taste and texture out of the game I care for above all others." King's love of baseball is well-documented and very much appreciated. But anybody -- even a great and respected author -- who doesn't think the nets are necessary needs to make substantial edits to his or her thinking.
High-velocity foul balls and broken bats are dangerous enough even when the audience is 100-percent engaged and attentive. But our smartphone-enabled society is an increasingly distracted one, and those of us who are regulars at the yard are far too familiar with the sight of fans injured by flying objects. Ask the Holko family about what their little one went through when he was struck in the head at a Minor League game some years back. It's scarier than any fiction King has concocted.
The bottom line is that the eyes adjust to the nets far faster than the body recovers from a serious blow. King is a regular on the best-seller list, but this wasn't his best work.

Our triple goes to the teams who have dropped three straight series to open the season ...
Predicting a losing record this season for the Braves wouldn't have been all that, well, brave, considering they are in clear rebuilding mode. But an 0-9 start is a shocking extreme. And even more shocking is who has joined Atlanta in the early oh-fer department.
No one expected that putting the "wins" in Twins would be this arduous an endeavor.
Minnesota was one of the pleasant surprises of the 2015 season, but the surprise factor has swung the other way at the start of 2016. So far this season, Twins batters have had more strikeouts than hits in every single ballgame. It's got to be enough for Paul Molitor, who never had more than 93 strikeouts in a single season during a career in which he hit .306, to ponder putting himself in the lineup.
No team has started out 0-9 and wound up reaching October, and that's a huge historical hurdle for a team that entered the year with high hopes to overcome. We'll see if Minnesota can make a major surge. For now, though, it seems reasonably safe to assume that we won't be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the electric 1991 World Series with a rematch.

And our home run goes to two rousing -- and surprising -- rooks ...
Tyler White was a 33rd-round Draft pick less than three years ago. Jeremy Hazelbaker was released from his Double-A team less than a year ago. To say either was an unlikely candidate to be among baseball's batting leaders in the early going is an understatement. Even Trevor Story, simply because he was a first-rounder, entered the year with more pedigree than this pair.
But you don't have to be a household name to bring down the house, and that's just what these two rookies have done so far.
White's body suggests bowler more than ballplayer, and that's one reason he was criminally overlooked. But he won the Astros' first-base job with a sterling spring, and his hit tool has continued to translate in the season proper. White has a .483/.529/.897 slash line, and though his power potential might be more limited than we traditionally like at this particular position, he's proving that if you can hit, you're a hit.
Then there's Hazelbaker, a fourth-rounder whose name loosely translates to "one who makes greenish-brown cakes and pastries." When the Dodgers cut him from Double-A Tulsa last May, he sat unclaimed for 12 days. The Cardinals eventually scooped him up, and he suddenly raked in Double-A. Then this spring, he capitalized on the opportunity presented by injuries to Ruben Tejada and Tommy Pham that cleared an Opening Day roster space and playing time. Hazelbaker won't keep up his .481 average, but at 28, he's a reminder that sometimes there's something to be said for slow-baking.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.