We’re officially less than a week away from pitchers and catchers reporting, which means this will be the final installment in this series that has hopefully given readers some distractions in the malaise leading up to the start of the baseball season (you can look back at weeks one, two, and three). We’ll finish off the countdown with four final, excellent pieces of the baseball pie.

 

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8

The Chicago Cubs and curse-breaking

In a sports world that has seemingly been custom-designed to keep fans on the edgiest-edge of their seats over the last 12 months, no comeback and no story was better than the Chicago Cubs. The franchise had gone well over a century without a championship, and was among the doldrums of the league just a half-decade ago, but they broke their curse in the most cathartic way imaginable in 2016. The team dominated the regular season, faced challenges on their way to a pennant, and then stormed back from down 3-1 in the World Series to send their fans into absolute delirium. Kris Bryant’s smile as he made the final out said it all.

And now they get to defend their World Series win with a team that looks as ready to become a multiple-championship dynasty as we have seen this millennium. The lineup is absolutely stacked top-to-bottom. Kris Bryant is projected (PROJECTED) for 6.9 WAR via Fangraphs ZiPS Projections. His top comp is Ron Santo! The lineup has five other hitters in the lineup projected for 3.0+ WAR. Anthony Rizzo is projected for .280/.382/.529 with 33 home runs and over 200 RuBIns (runs+RBI) – and, again, he’s not their best projected player.

On the flip side of that coin, the team is returning their top four starters from a historic run prevention squad that had two of the top three NL Cy Young Award finishers and three who drew votes. The one of those four who didn’t draw a Cy Young vote? John Lackey, who has made 62 starts over the past two seasons with a 3.03 ERA.

Backing all that up, the organization has one of the smartest front offices in all of baseball that won’t be afraid to make some deals midway through the season should the team need a jolt. It shouldn’t be hard to make a trade either, since the franchise still has one of the better farm systems in baseball, with five of the MLB.com Top 100 prospects, despite all the young talent on the major league roster already.

 

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9

MLB.TV (and the Ben Lindbergh-promoted MLB.TV Game Changer)

What better way to watch all those fun Cubbies than with MLB.TV? As someone who is also a big-time basketball (NBA League Pass) and soccer (NBC Sports App) fan, trust me when I say that baseball has the best means to watch its games outside of the NFL. There’s nothing better than flipping around on a random Wednesday night, watching Clayton Kershaw pitch an inning here, then checking out the Bryant-Rizzo-Contreras portion of the Cubs lineup, and finally checking out the unintentional humor of Jeurys Familia trying to close out a Mets game.

Well, maybe there is one thing better than that – having a plug-in do all that work for you. As Mr. Lindbergh wrote for The Ringer late last season, Dan Hirsch’s MLB.TV Game Changer is appropriately named. Simply rank the players you never want to miss either at bat or on the mound, and the the code will flip around the league for you. A “Baseball Redzone” as it has been called. It doesn’t just have to be players, though, as you can customize it for late in close games, or set it to focus on games that have the biggest impact on the pennant race. It’s a glorious tool, and one that makes watching the sport of baseball even greater, and it should only get better this season as the few glitches are worked out.

 

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10

Barry Lamar Bonds.

Barry Bonds is such a legend that his Baseball-Reference page deserves its own plaque in the Hall of Fame even if you don’t believe Bonds himself belongs to be enshrined (which is a pretty dumb sentiment, but OK). Let’s tackle Bonds’ Baseball-Reference page section-by-section. Here’s the best stat from each section:

Standard Batting: .609 OBP in 2004

There are so, so many options here, but I’m going with the fact that Bonds reached base at a better than 6-in-10 clip in 2004. Outside of another Bonds season (2002), that is more than 10 percent better than any other big leaguer has reached base in the entire history of the sport. I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but reaching base is a pretty important part of the game of baseball.

Player Value: 12.3 oWAR in 2001

This stat is similar to when the Cespedes BBQ guys came on the Effectively Wild podcast and Sam noted that, really, the most impressive Barry Bonds fun fact is “no one in baseball history has more home runs.” No one in baseball history has ever tallied more than 12.3 oWAR in a season.

Postseason Batting: 1.994 OPS in 2002 World Series

Yes, it is definitely the fault of Bonds that he never won a World Series in his career. That is a totally reasonable take…

Standard Fielding: 1998 Gold Glove winner

This is for all the folks that forget that Bonds was basically Ken Griffey Jr. in the field before he saw all the attention guys like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were getting for hitting home runs and decided to bulk up and change the style of his game.

Appearances on Leaderboards, Awards, and Honors: 98 percent of the MVP vote in 2001

I’d like a word with the voter who went against Bonds as the MVP in his 73-home run, 11.9 WAR season.

 

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11

Fantasy baseball

It is early February, which means we are all now in full-on “check the ESPN fantasy baseball page to see if mock drafts are available yet” mode. I know that I personally make the pilgrimage over to ESPN at least three times a day to see if mock drafts are available yet, and I can’t be alone in that tradition.

These are the days we all start crafting our own top 300 rankings and get a little tingle when we spot someone who we have ranked in the top 100 sitting outside the top 200 in the ESPN rankings.

These are the days we all fall in love with young talent (I see you, Hunter Renfroe) and post-hype sleepers (I see you, Marcell Ozuna), while irrationally writing off players who could undoubtedly continue to help us in 2017 (I see you, Kendrys Morales).

These are the days of downloading four or five brand new fantasy baseball podcasts to absorb as much preseason prep work as is humanly possible. These are the days we truly put the vows of our significant others to the test.

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Baseball is so close I can taste it.

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