Miles: Cubs to open season with Wrigley, team under construction
The building materials are in place, and things are taking shape.
Wrigley Field? Yes, and the team that inhabits the place, too.
Both the ballpark, and the ball team known as the Cubs, continue to be works in progress but the final products look promising.
An unfinished Wrigley Field will play host to Major League Baseball's season opener Sunday night when the St. Louis Cardinals visit for a nationally televised Opening Night.
The outfield bleachers will not be filled with fans because of ongoing construction. And fans will have to pardon the Cubs' dust in other areas of the ballpark.
One of the key baseball building blocks the Cubs added in the off-season, left-hander Jon Lester, will take the mound against Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright.
Manager Joe Maddon was the other big addition, as he fell into the Cubs' laps last fall after optioning out of his deal in Tampa Bay.
The Cubs got off to a slow start in the Cactus League before coming on and playing better. Here are a few questions as we begin to find out if this team is ready for prime time:
When will Kris Bryant be up?
Third-base prospect Bryant was the talk of spring training from the get-go. He did not disappoint. Quite the contrary, he put up a line of .425/.477/1.175 with 9 home runs through Friday.
Bryant is not on the 40-man major-league roster, so the Cubs simply assigned him to minor league camp in the past week. (They did not "demote" him, as some reported, because he was not on the big-league roster to begin with.)
The Cubs, as you know, are trying to gain an extra year of service time from Bryant, delaying his free agency until 2021 instead of 2020.
With a player needing 172 days for a full year of service time and the season being 183 days, the earliest Bryant could make his Cubs debut is Friday, April 17 at home against the Padres.
That means he'd miss, at most, nine games, but rainouts could reduce that number.
When will Baez be back?
Second baseman Javier Baez had a rough spring, with a line of .173/.218/.231 with 1 home run and 20 strikeouts in 52 at-bats. For that, the Cubs optioned him to Class AAA Iowa. Baez rejoined the big club for Saturday's exhibition finale in Phoenix against the Diamondbacks.
When Baez comes back is up to him. He has tremendous power potential, but his strikeout rates last year in his major-league trial and again this spring were way too high.
Until then, the Cubs can go with a combination of Arismendy Alcantara and Tommy La Stella at second base.
Who were the surprises?
Let's start with outfielder Matt Szczur. The former two-sport star out of Villanova displayed some power during spring training with 5 home runs. He had a line of .354/.426/.792 through Friday night.
With Chris Denorfia likely to open the season on the disabled list, Szczur's chances of making the team have increased. The Cubs had not announced a final opening-night roster Saturday.
Third baseman Mike Olt had a solid spring even though he has contact issues of his own. He could make Bryant's absence less painful.
Is the OBP problem fixed?
Spring training in Arizona always favors the hitters, but it does appear the Cubs have done a better job at getting on base.
The additions of center fielder Dexter Fowler (. 441 OBP this spring) and La Stella (. 444 OBP) should go a long way toward helping the Cubs rise from the depths of the OBP table.
How did the rotation shake out?
Pretty much as expected. Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel will open against the Cardinals. Left-hander Travis Wood beat out Edwin Jackson for the fifth spot, but he'll start the fourth game, with right-hander Kyle Hendricks going in the fifth game. That enables Maddon to separate lefties Wood and Lester.
What about the bullpen?
The front office added a couple of veterans: left-hander Phil Coke and righty Jason Motte, who once was a closer for the Cardinals. Both should add some stability to a young bullpen.
Hector Rondon, a former Rule 5 pick, is coming off a 29-save season, and he's out to prove last year's breakthrough was for real.
Coke is the lone lefty among the relievers. Jackson will work in long relief, and he'll be joined by fellow right-handers Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez and Pedro Strop.
Cubs scouting reportCubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field
TV: ESPN2 Sunday; WGN Tuesday; ABC 7 Wednesday
Radio: WBBM 780-AM
Pitching matchups: The Cubs' Jon Lester (16-11 in 2014) vs. Adam Wainwright (20-9) Sunday at 7:05 p.m.; Jake Arrieta (10-5) vs. Lance Lynn (15-10) Tuesday at 7:05 p.m.; Jason Hammel (10-11) vs. TBD Wednesday at 1:20 p.m.
At a glance: Wrigley Field is not 100 percent ready, but the Cubs are set to begin their most anticipated season in years as they take on their Gateway Arch rivals and the defending NL Central champions. The Cardinals once again are favored to win the division. They acquired right fielder Jason Heyward from Atlanta in the off-season to add punch to a lineup that was lacking last year. The Cubs were 9-10 against the Cardinals last year, 5-4 at Wrigley. Lester battled a "dead arm" during spring training, but he proclaimed himself ready to go. He makes his Cubs debut after signing a six-year, $155 million contract in December. New Cubs manager Joe Maddon may bat his pitchers eighth instead of ninth in the lineup. The Cubs begin new radio and TV partnerships this year with WBBM and ABC7.
Next: Colorado Rockies at Coors Field, Friday-Sunday
-- Bruce Miles