Spiegel: What Chicago baseball fans should remember from 2014
While we head to an empty local postseason, after living daily with two of the worst 10 teams in baseball, there was plenty to notice this season, including the following.
35th and Shields:
• The smartest "rookie" hitter you've ever seen: Watching Jose Abreu make adjustments within a series, a game, or an at bat made for appointment viewing. He is so much more than a slugger. While there have only been 4 home runs by Abreu since July 30, he's put up a .342/.432/.463 in that time. Legit, transformative, middle-of-the-order stud.
• The routine worth remembering: I'll miss sitting on the first base side, looking across to the Sox dugout as Paul Konerko readied himself for an at-bat. It has been a pleasure to watch his preparation, relentless routine, and thoughtful approach to the game. Goodbye to a pro's pro.
• The rarest thing in the game; a bona fide ace: Chris Sale mixed in that devastating change-up more than ever, and proved he's as dominant as anyone not named Kershaw.
• Best windup toy leadoff man wall-crasher with a furry friend: Adam Eaton played like a cornerstone, when he played. If he can stay healthy, he's an easy name to write in every day. Somehow, though, he struggled to care well for the clubhouse mascot, a giant stuffed chimp.
• Surprisingly valid roster piece for years to come: Conor Gillaspie has gone from a first-round bust to an extremely useful lefty line drive hitter. He was second among AL third basemen in batting, third in doubles, and struck out fewer than 80 times. Not a bad find from the Giants in exchange for Jeff Soptic. Eaton-Conor-Abreu would be a better 1-2-3 than many.
• The demise and departure of a great baseball face: Hawk Harrelson loved him, and we all expected so much more. But when Gordon Beckham finally left, it was clear the Sox had waited too long. And why he failed.
• Best food item change: DiGiorno replaced by Beggars' at the Cell. Ballpark sources report a rise in pizza sales by 70 percent, with good reason. At the very least, Chicagoans deserve an unfrozen and Chicago-style pizza.
Clark and Addison:
• Best and most important development on the major-league level: Jake Arietta perfected the repetition of his mechanics, slightly changed his release point, found masterful control, and often was a threat to throw a no-hitter. The Cubs have found a very cheap No. 2 starter. Or better.
• Second-best and the most important development on the major-league level: Anthony Rizzo learned to hit lefties, and stopped worrying about it. By WAR, he was the best first baseman in the NL.
• Comparison you've tired of but must accept: Kyle Hendricks reminds people of Greg Maddux. Broadcasters said it, I wrote it, and when an opposing manager/former pitching coach such as the Reds' Bryan Price says it too, just deal with it. Hendricks is a smart pitcher with a real future.
• Intriguing arm who must be considered for a larger role: Neal Ramirez is valuable as a dominant setup man, but he should be given a chance to stretch out and vie for a rotation spot.
• Pitcher none of us wants to watch again but certainly will: Edwin Jackson and his salary aren't going anywhere. Maybe he can swap roles with Ramirez.
• A kid who creates concern: Javier Baez looks overmatched, with an incredibly long swing and an early load-up. I know this has happened at every level, but the Cubs must make sure they know if he's inferior before other teams do, and not be afraid to deal him with his value still high.
• A kid who does not create concern: Jorge Soler looks like he belongs, seems very comfortable at the plate, and flashes jaw-dropping athleticism.
• Bluest eyes, most anticipated bat: Kris Bryant. He looms. And he's dreamy. Gonna sell a lot of Shirseys.
• Mental snapshot I hope you took: The uninterrupted sweep of the bleachers, from the inside looking out. The rooftops era was full of charm, commerce, acrimony, frustration, and parasitic relationships. The future comes now, as it should have years ago.
Here's to an October in 2015 that includes us.
• Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The Spiegel & Mannelly Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670.