SCHAUMBURG, Illinois — When the BCB staff got together for a preseason roundtable, Josh Timmers said:
I will NOT be doing an “alternate site wrap” every night.
Not that I would have expected this from Josh, because there aren’t any published boxscores or stats from the alternate site games.
Nevertheless, you are getting at least one “alternate site wrap,” from me, because Wednesday afternoon I attended a Cubs vs. White Sox alternate site game, hosted by the Sox, who are using the Frontier League’s Schaumburg Boomers park, Wintrust Field, as their alternate site.
The teams are taking somewhat of a different approach to these games, at least as indicated by the starting lineups. The Cubs lineup was mostly the guys you would have seen playing the last few innings of games this spring in Mesa. The Sox, meanwhile, had two players in their lineup who have had MLB time this year — Danny Mendick and Nick Williams. Mendick, in fact, had played fairly well (6-for-16, five walks) in limited duty before being sent to their alternate site.
The first thing that indicated this game was going to be different was that the Sox announced two designated hitters, batting ninth and... 10th, I guess, because indeed they had 10 hitters take at-bats.
The Cubs starter was lefthander Ben Holmes, who spent six years in the Marlins and Dodgers organizations. The Cubs signed him in February after a Driveline session:
Congrats @benwetzler28! pic.twitter.com/G4jmb0gARN— Driveline Baseball (@DrivelineBB) February 23, 2021
Holmes threw pretty well: Five innings, three hits, no runs, four strikeouts.
Meanwhile, the sub Cubs were hitting about the same as their big-league counterparts. Sox starter Mike Wright held them hitless for four innings. In the fifth, the Cubs took a 1-0 lead, and here’s where another wacky minor-league exhibition game rule was put into play. P.J. Higgins, who wasn’t in the lineup, led off the fifth with a single. After that, Nick Martini, who otherwise would have been the leadoff hitter in the inning, doubled him to third. The rest of the lineup batted in order, so Higgins is considered an “extra hitter” — I saw that in some spring boxscores this year. Jose Lobaton grounded out and Higgins scored.
The Sox tied it up off Jake Jewell in the sixth. An infield single and two walks loaded the bases, and Jewell wild-pitched in a run.
I had thought this game was going to go seven innings. In the top of the seventh the Boomers PA announcer reminded fans that “the game might not go nine innings” and for fans to collect their personal belongings. The Cubs didn’t score in the top of the seventh and then Jason Adam, just demoted to South Bend after his horrific outing at Wrigley on Sunday, entered to throw the bottom of the inning:
Adam was almost as bad in this game as he was on Sunday. In order: Walk, pop fly to second, single, stolen base, tag play at the plate. All right, now there are two out and runners on first and third... when both of them scored on a long triple by Matt Reynolds. Adam finished the inning with a foul pop to third, but was charged with two runs on the two hits and a walk. I suspect it’ll be a while before he returns to the big leagues. Interestingly, though almost every substitution was announced over the PA system, Adam wasn’t.
I thought that would be it, but the Sox had another pitcher they wanted to get some work, Danny Dopico, and he allowed a run to the Cubs in the top of the eighth on a walk by Abiatal Avelino, a single by Sergio Alcantara and an infield out.
The Cubs brought two pitchers who they wanted to get work, so the bottom of the eighth was played. Manuel Rodriguez struck out Mendick, but a wild pitch allowed him to reach first base. He stole second, advanced to third on a throwing error by Lobaton and scored on another wild pitch. Rodriguez retired the next two hitters and then Ryan Meisinger, who the Cubs signed to a minor-league deal in March (he has played briefly with the Orioles and Cardinals), was put in the game. Apparently they wanted him to face three batters as well, which he did, allowing a single and recording two outs. So four outs (plus the dropped third strike) were recorded in the inning. The eight innings took two hours, 45 minutes, about 30 minutes of which was the eighth.
That’s what these games are for, both for competition and development. The quality of play, I would judge, was somewhere between Double-A and Triple-A. None of the pitchers threw faster than about 92-93, per the ballpark pitch speed meter, and watching double plays set up (there were a couple), they just seemed slower than MLB players would produce.
Kudos to the Boomers for putting on a good show. They never did announce any attendance, but I’d say there were about 500 socially-distanced people there on what was a cloudy, chilly afternoon with temps in the low 50s. Staff was friendly and helpful; food could be ordered online and was delivered very quickly. They put Sox names and photos on their video board, and Cubs players just got names:
One of those names had an extra letter:
I’m glad I went to this game to see how the alternate-site competition has been run. Between the games in South Bend, one that was played in Guaranteed Rate Field and another that will happen in Schaumburg on Friday (tickets are available if you want to go!), the Cubs alternate site players will have had at least half a dozen, maybe more, competitive games this month. The minor-league season begins next week and most of the players who were in this game will be heading to Triple-A Iowa.
Here’s my scorecard from the game (note, with the “extra hitter” I had to do some creative “changes” to show where players were batting). Click here for a larger image.