Wrigley Field view from press box

Cubs Opening Day 2023 Preview

In Major League Baseball by Rice Cube18 Comments

Well, folks, after a month of generally entertaining (and brisk) Cactus League games, we have mere hours until first pitch on Opening Day at Wrigley Field. The Cubs will face off against the Milwaukee Brewers for a brief home opening series before they head on the road because schedules are wack, and while it is probably true that the Brewers still have a better team than *waves hands* whatever the Cubs have right now, a three-game set can go either way and I’ll be hoping for a Cubs sweep to give Kato Kaelin another aneurysm. There are a whole host of blogs in the archives I’m too lazy to backlink now but they’re there, and I’ll just rehash some of the previous talking points along with some new thoughts as we count down the hours until the defense takes the field. I suppose you could read the beat writer spot on the first matchup too, but I can’t tell you what to do.

Opening Day Feels

In the past, I’ve been critical of the Cubs for not going all-in like certain other teams (your mileage may vary as to whether that is the best course of action, but good players are expensive and some of us are a bit more impatient than others), but I understand the plan and we’ll talk about that later. This close to Opening Day, I just want it to get here and to enjoy whatever audio or video I can snag since I’m not in Chicago anymore and MLB doesn’t like making stuff free to watch anymore (at least, not live). I’ll probably be angry at everything later as most fans are wont to do, but on day one, with everyone at 0-0 and with a chance to go all the way, at least several months from mathematical elimination, hope is high and excitement abounds.

The Plan

As has been evident ever since the Cubs jettisoned Willson Contreras and acquired Tucker Barnhart, Cody Bellinger, and Dansby Swanson, the name of the game this year to to shore up pitching via a stronger battery and make sure there were defensive upgrades behind that pitching. All spring, I was impressed with how well Dansby and Nico Hoerner could get to balls, with how the defense looked not just competent, but exemplary, and how this seemed to translate to some confidence on the mound for the pitchers even if they were just getting their spring work in. I’ve been on record as saying that the offense is probably going to be meh at best, but if the vacuum cleaner middle infield and the upgraded outfield can gobble up baseballs and convert them into outs, we’re looking at a very strong chance for this team to steal a lot of one-run victories, though I don’t think the staff is good enough to get too many 1-0 shutouts. At the very least, the defense is more than viable and the offense has thump if they can run into a baseball instead of swinging over them.

The Rules

I know previously on the Dreamcast, we suggested that even with the shift restrictions, balls up the middle would still get gobbled up. But through an entire spring training across both leagues, what we’ve seen is that because the infielders can no longer camp in the grass, those balls, if hit hard enough, will still get through because there isn’t as much reaction time. This bodes well for the Cubs, actually, because there were plenty of balls that I thought would get through in the games I was fortunate enough to watch but were gobbled up at the last second by Swanson or Hoerner, so that middle infield would appear to be an advantage for the eternal Cubs optimist (and probably in reality too).

The bigger bases have been enticing more steals, and the Cubs were mostly running wild all spring, with a pretty decent success rate. I think despite the past success in holding and throwing out baserunners that Yan Gomes and Tucker Barnhart had, they didn’t seem to have as much success this spring. However, I did notice a lot of backpicks from the catcher (which does not count as a disengagement/attempt), far more than pitcher pickoff attempts, which seems to be by design, and anecdotally I noticed a lot of this from other teams as well. My guess is that the team didn’t show everything that they would use in a regular season game (because why would you?) and we’ll be pleasantly surprised with some new ways for the battery to hold and remove baserunners once the season begins. Or opposing baserunners could just take advantage of pitchers who don’t pay attention and catchers who can’t throw them out, I don’t know. It could go either way.

As for the big rule change, the pitch clock caused far fewer violations per game than I thought, and it seems the Cubs staff was well prepared for it, with only very rare instances of automatic balls or strikes. There were some clarifications late in spring training from MLB and also a reiteration of the new replay review rules, but with adjustments happening so quickly, this would seem not to be a problem. I often saw guys like Marcus Stroman start the motion with several seconds remaining on the clock, not to the extent of a Max Scherzer trying to super-game the system, but enough to be at least somewhat disruptive to batter timing. I guess the quick adjustment from Cubs players is a testament to the preparedness of Cubs coaching, whatever you might think of Grandpa Rossy.

I’d Like to Just Watch the Games, Please

There were reports that games on AppleTV+ this year would be available only to paid subscribers, and of course MLB.tv continues to have blackout restrictions, though that isn’t too big of a deal for me because I’m in the Bay Area so I’ll just get blacked out for when the Cubs come to visit the A’s and Giants this year. That said, I’m displeased that Marquee still doesn’t have a paid streaming-only service (I’d gladly pay at least $10/month for that) and MLB hasn’t just bought out all the failing RSNs already to provide zero-blackout service. It sucks being in a valley with no signal on the rabbit ears, and even if I could get signal, the Cubs aren’t broadcasting on over-the-air channels anymore anyways. As others have said, the problem with baseball isn’t with the timing (though that was a small part of it), but in the fact that many users can’t even access the product (not to mention a full third of the league is actively tanking, if not more).

Anyway, the Roster

After a few reports and various updates to the previous post, I think we can confidently say this is the Cubs Opening Day roster, which will obviously change significantly by the time we get to even next week (probably the earliest we can realistically expect Seiya Suzuki back), but at least we can say we know which 26 guys earned a plane ride to Chicago, based on gut feeling and also on reports from Cubs dot com, Marquee, and the Athletic, with my notes thrown in…


  1. Marcus Stroman
  2. Jameson Taillon
  3. Justin Steele
  4. Drew Smyly
  5. Hayden Wesneski

I think at some point later on, Wesneski will supplant a couple of the guys above him, but this is how it shakes out for now. I think Smyly will generally be okay, but his margin of error is super slim and he seems to ping pong between “ooooh” starts and “OMG WHY” starts and that’s kind of scary.


  • Adbert Alzolay
  • Brad Boxberger
  • Javier Assad
  • Julian Merryweather (he exists despite berselius’ objections)
  • Michael Fulmer
  • Keegan Thompson
  • Michael Rucker
  • Mark Leiter, Jr

The consensus appears to be that even with no lefties, Leiter is better than the other lefty nonroster invitees and should be able to stick around until Brandon Hughes recovers from a knee ailment. Lots of multi-inning capable guys here which should alleviate some of the stress with the bullpen, and make this setup potentially advantageous in comparison to other teams that might not have as many long relievers.


  • Tucker Barnhart
  • Yan Gomes
  • Luis Torrens

Since these guys can’t hit (although Gomes has socked a good number of dingers this spring), their primary purpose will be to call a good game (since the Cubs are insisting that only the catcher has the PitchCom call buttons) and control the running game, so hopefully they prevent more runs than they forget to score on offense. Torrens can apparently play more than just catcher, and the Cubs wanted to keep him with the team so he’s on the roster now. Incidentally with all the outrights and trade of Zach McKinstry and what not, there is an extra spot to let Leiter on without having to dump someone else (yet).


  • Eric Hosmer (probably the first to dump if he sucks)
  • Nico Hoerner
  • Dansby Swanson
  • Patrick Wisdom (also OF)
  • Edwin Rios
  • Nick Madrigal
  • Miles Mastrobuoni (the utility guy, as it were)
  • Trey Mancini (can also be in corner outfield and DH)

Best news is that both Madrigal and Mastrobuoni have options so one of them is likely shipped to Iowa when Suzuki returns, although they could just as soon DFA Hosmer if he super sucks (but we’ll see). Edwin Rios and Patrick Wisdom also each have an option year remaining should they want to use that.


  • Ian Happ
  • Cody Bellinger
  • the other guys I said above who can stand in OF here or there

At least there are a couple Gold Glovers to pick up the slack. The versatility of this roster allows for some matchups even if the bats aren’t all that exciting, though I think they’ll make enough contact to keep the opposing defense on their toes. And if they do get on base, there’s enough speed to take the extra base on a hit or to swipe a bag now that the bags are a bit closer.

We are getting together soon to do a pre-Opening Day podcast episode, but for now, we just wait for baseball at beautiful Wrigley Field. In the immortal words of famous bard Tom Petty, waiting is the hardest part. And now, a haiku:

Offense impotent

Pitching and defense might help

Steal some extra wins


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  1. Author
    Rice Cube

    Guess we’ll get a repeat of last season, yuk

      Quote  Reply


  2. Author
    Rice Cube

    MiLB –> having more food choices than PB&J and better sleeping conditions than air mattresses now

      Quote  Reply


  3. Author
    Rice Cube

    At first glance this seems better than cutting another 40 MiLB teams, but it still sucks because that means 15ish dreams per org just came to an end as of 2024

      Quote  Reply


  4. Author
    Rice Cube

    I’m waiting for the wife to be done with work so we can go home and edit this new podcast but this is a pretty good breakdown of new minor league benefits that have never been seen before in the long history of the sport, obviously there’s a ways to go, but this is a gigantic step in the right direction even as dozens of guys are about to lose their jobs after this season, at least those who remain will be able to just play baseball the best they they can now


      Quote  Reply


  5. BVS

    Rice Cube,

    The players for the Charleston River Dogs are in a ridiculous housing market. I doubt you can find a room for less than a grand. The housing is worth almost as much as the salary. Hope it’s not a taxable benefit.

      Quote  Reply



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