Four days into the Cubs’ training camp restart, we’ve only begun to get acquainted with the new normal of baseball rhythms and routines that we can only hope will result in a 2020 season of 60 games.
If the league can fix some of its early testing issues and keep enough players on enough teams healthy enough to start the season, what might come into play for the Cubs and the actual baseball.
Early observations after about a dozen Zoom sessions with team personnel and two intrasquad scrimmages:
NUTS: Home cooked?
The Cubs, who draw so reliably in one of the unique ballparks in the majors, might have more to lose than most teams without fans allowed to attend games when the season starts July 24.
Just how much of the Confines’ home-field advantage is lost will be a matter of “wait-and-see,” manager David Ross said.
“There’s always an advantage to playing in your own park,” he said Sunday. “You feel more comfortable you woke up in your own bed. You’re not staying in a hotel room, which especially now, where you feel like outside spaces just aren’t comfortable as they used to be, probably [gives] a slight advantage in your city.
“There’s no substitute for fans,” he added. “There’s probably a slight advantage, but I don’t know if it’s as great as it used to be.”
What Ross didn’t mention were the rooftops across Waveland and Sheffield, which are planning to operate at 25-percent capacity when games start, suggesting at least a few hundred fans within cheering and booing distance.
“You’re going to hear them loud and clear, too,” pitcher Tyler Chatwood said. “I promise you that.”
BOLTS: Taking the fifth
All you need to know about Alec Mills’ ability to adjust and immediately step into an important role is what he did in an emergency start against the first-place Cardinals at Wrigley last year with the Cubs a half-game out and barely a week left in the season.
He hadn’t started anywhere in a month – and that was in the minors. But the guy who pitched out of the bullpen just three times in the four intervening weeks, pitched two outs deep into the fifth inning that day and didn’t allow a run (the bullpen took care of that, in a loss).
No wonder when Ross talks about Mills replacing the injured Jose Quintana (thumb) in the rotation, he says, “I’ve got a ton of confidence.”
He’s not the only one. “I’ve always had the mindset of doing whatever I can to stay ready and help in any way,” said Mills after pitching a strong three innings in a simulated game Sunday. “Obviously, with an unfortunate injury like this, I think it’s just even more heightened.
“I’m ready to do whatever, whether it needs to be maybe a start here or there, a couple more starts, long guy out of the pen – just whatever I need to do I pride myself on being ready to do that.”
CHATTER: The mask at hand
“It’s a little different. You leave the house with a phone, your keys, your wallet and your mask.”
-Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo on his and his teammates’ new daily normal.
“Everybody is thinking about it, but we try to get here and understand this is our safe zone and we’re trying to create that [within] the things that we’re going to do on and off the field.”
-Ross on players weighing the risk of playing during the pandemic against the safety precautions and protocols the team has built in and around its Wrigley Field bubble.
Cubs camp observations: Wrigley’s home-field advantage without fans originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago