By Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer
The 2022 Cubs sail into the unknown.
For the past half-decade, home fans have come to Opening Day at Wrigley Field with a clear understanding of the season ahead: The Cubs would, at the very least, be competitive.
Every member of the North Side faithful who traveled to the Friendly Confines the first week of April knew the players they were paying to see. But while those names – Báez, Bryant, Schwarber, Rizzo – still adorn the backs of shirts all around friendly boundaries, the players themselves now wear a different lye.
It’s a new era of Cubs baseball – that’s clear. The next good Cubs team could be the current one, or it could be six years from now. Nobody knows. It’s this uncertainty that feels so alien as, for the first time since 2014, Cubs fans enter a new campaign with relatively subdued expectations.
But none of that mattered Thursday afternoon at Wrigley Field. A buzz filled the bleachers with the irrational hope that resurfaces like a groundhog every spring. Perhaps the scorching summer days will wreak havoc on this inexperienced team before long, but that’s for the future to decide.
Because right now, the Chicago Cubs are 1-0 after a delightfully watchable 5-4 Opening Day win over the Milwaukee Brewers.
Despite all the turnover on Chicago’s roster — only four players from the 2022 Opening Day team were on the roster a year ago — it was two of the team’s most familiar faces who won the roster. day: Kyle Hendricks and Ian Happ.
Hendricks was phenomenal in his third career opening day start for the Cubs, striking out seven batters in 5 1/3 innings with just one earned run to his name. In fact, “The Professor” caused the third swing-and-miss of his career (17) and the most in a single start since August 2017. Hendricks’ switch was devastating all afternoon, and it seemed know that, as he threw the pitch 40% of the time, well above his 27% usage rate last season.
As is always the case with the Cubs’ longest-serving pitcher, it was all about command, not speed. In 2021, Hendricks had the slowest average fastball among qualified MLB starters, at 87.3 mph. Somehow that number was even lower on Thursday.
He backtracked and hit 88 once, but for the most part Hendricks was sitting around 86.5. Is it durable throughout the season? Probably not, and his abysmal 2021 numbers show it, but against Milwaukee the change was nasty enough to offset the not-so-hot heating.
The Brewers opened the scoring in the fourth on an RBI pitch from Lorenzo Cain to score the first run of the season, but the Cubs tied it in the fifth on a sack fly from Patrick Wisdom before nine-hole hitter Nico Hoerner did. lands a two-run homer. off defending NL Cy Young Corbin Burnes to give Chicago a 3-1 lead.
Milwaukee fought back to tie things three on a Willy Adames double and a Christian Yelich sack fly in the top of the seventh. But in the bottom half, Cubs left fielder and Opening Day world batter Ian Happ delivered a timely double, two outs and two runs into the right-center spread.
Happ was 3 for 4 that day with a pair of doubles. And while he feels like he’s been in Chicago forever, it’s important to remember that Happ wasn’t part of the 2016 team that won the World Series, broke the curse, cured the common cold, rebuilt the pyramids and changed Chicago forever.
This gentleman made his debut in 2017. His fingers don’t have rings.
Also Thursday, Seiya Suzuki, the team’s big-money acquisition this winter, collected his first career MLB hit in the bottom of the fifth, throwing a single into the left side hole. The buzz around Suzuki was palpable, with fans standing up and cheering every time he came to the plate.
Most likely, this isn’t a team equipped to win the 2022 World Series. There are no MVP candidates in sight, no Cy Young hopefuls lurking beneath the surface.
But Opening Day pointed out that there was something there. The Cubs have some guys worth watching and worthy of attention, even if October baseball is a pipe dream this season.
At least for one afternoon, the boundless potential of a new season was hot enough for the 35,112 who braved a chilly Chicago day to drink beers, bask in baseball’s throwback and sing “Go Cubs Go.” after a strong showing from their beloved club.
Jake Mintz is the loudest half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He is an Orioles fan living in New York and as a result leads a solitary existence most of October. If he doesn’t watch baseball, he almost certainly rides a bike. You can follow him on Twitter @Jake_Mintz.
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