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Cubs 5, Royals 3: On to Florida

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The Cubs’ Cactus League season ended with a victory.

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — Around midday Sunday, most of the Cubs regulars, as well as manager Joe Maddon, were on a flight to Florida for the team’s exhibition games against the Boston Red Sox, thus skipping Sunday’s game at Surprise against the Royals.

I decided to skip this one, too, figuring ahead of time that few regulars would be playing, and that turned out to be correct, with only Ben Zobrist, Willson Contreras and Kyle Hendricks among expected 25-man roster players appearing in the Cubs’ 5-3 win over the Royals.

Thus it was up to some of the minor leaguers to win this one. Ian Rice hit a two-run homer in the ninth inning to give the Cubs the victory, and then Trey Martin also went deep with a runner on base to extend the lead.

Hendricks sure looks like he’s ready to go. He allowed just one hit in four innings, although after this tweet appeared Saturday:

... of course, that was the signal for Kyle to issue his first two walks of the spring. He struck out two, so that’s 23 Ks and two walks in 19 spring innings, a very efficient line. Kyle’s next start will be Friday night in Miami against the Marlins in the second game of the regular season.

Zobrist likely played in this game for a couple of reasons. First, because he got a delayed start to play this spring due to a minor leg issue, and second, because Joe Maddon wanted him working at first base as a potential backup to Anthony Rizzo. Zobrist’s 2-for-2 day with a walk raised his spring numbers to .226/.333/.387 (7-for-31 with five walks and a home run). Not great, but Ben looked good in this one, especially after Len & JD pointed out that he got stuck in traffic heading out to the park in Surprise. Having had that happen to me on a number of occasions, I certainly sympathize.

Zobrist scored the Cubs’ only run after his leadoff double; he advanced to third on a fly ball and scored on a single by Stephen Bruno.

Among Cubs hurlers Sunday were Anthony Bass, still in contention for a bullpen slot, and Randy Rosario, who’s already been optioned to Triple-A Iowa. Bass threw a scoreless inning and Rosario threw two innings, allowing the Royals’ only run.

Pretty much everyone played this game as if they had a plane to catch, because they do. The rest of the Cubs will head to Florida Monday, and the Royals are off to Omaha to face their Triple-A team.

Another player who was in Cubs camp this spring also headed elsewhere. Peter Bourjos, who was granted his release from the Cubs Friday, has a new team, and he should wind up on their 25-man roster:

Good for Bourjos. He had a really good spring (.326/.362/.372, 14-for-43 with two doubles) and seemed like a good guy. He’ll get playing time in Atlanta.

Meanwhile, the Cubs have played well this spring. The 19 wins is their most since 1987 (19-14 that year), not that spring wins and losses mean anything at all. What mattered more was the sense that this team has pulled together in a way we didn’t really see last year, for whatever reason. They seem to be a team on a mission, and beyond that there’s been quite a bit of fun had. All of that has me really optimistic for the 2018 season.

Personally, I enjoyed the spring games as I always do, despite the weather not being ideal for a good portion of the month. It hasn’t hit 90 degrees in the Phoenix area yet this year, which is pretty unusual, and there were some dates early on when the temperature didn’t get out of the 50s. We’d take 50s for Opening Day at Wrigley, though.

The Cubs’ two games against the Red Sox will be Monday evening and Tuesday afternoon. Monday, Jose Quintana will face Boston’s Rick Porcello. Game time is 5:05 p.m. CT. Audio coverage is on cubs.com and the Red Sox TV crew will provide the pictures via NESN, available via MLB.tv.