Home News Chicago Cubs face Texas Rangers in 2024 season opener

Chicago Cubs face Texas Rangers in 2024 season opener

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ARLINGTON, Texas — The last four weeks served as a dress rehearsal of sorts for Chicago Cubs manager Craig Counsell.

After nine seasons in Milwaukee, he donned his new Cubs uniform each spring game and began appreciating “Go, Cubs, Go” after their exhibition wins at Sloan Park. But Thursday at Globe Life Field marked the official start of the Counsell era in Chicago, though there was no moment pregame when it all hit him.

“That’s just not me, that’s not how I’m wired,” Counsell said. “I love the game. I love trying to put it together. I love trying to help a group of guys win. This is our group of guys, man, and I’m fired up to go into a season with them and a journey with them.

“Sentimental feelings, I’m not good at them.”

The Cubs get a front-row seat to the Rangers’ World Series title hoopla before the first two games of the series. Texas unfurled their championship title banner in right field before Thursday’s opener and will receive their rings during a ceremony before Saturday’s game.

Although the Cubs return most of their key contributors from a year ago, it feels like the organization is entering the next phase, one that should include more wins and more playoff appearances, even if external projections aren’t forecasting strong odds to win the division or reach the postseason this year. The Cubs aren’t worrying about outside perceptions.

“I don’t really care what the consensus is or what the prognosticators say we’re going to try to win the (National League) Central — we’re going to try to get to October,” Counsell said. “However we can do that, winning the Central is certainly a good way to do that.”

Counsell added with a laugh: “The division, I’ve felt this way for years, I don’t think anybody’s been right for years.”

President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer remembers going out to dinner with Theo Epstein the night before the 2018 season opener and talking about how that year was an inflection point for their core group. The Cubs went on to win 95 games but lost 2-1 in 13 innings in the NL wild-card game against the Colorado Rockies.

Cubs President Jed Hoyer speaks with the media before the season opener against the Rangers on March 28, 2024, in Arlington, Texas. (Gareth Patterson/AP)
Cubs President Jed Hoyer speaks with the media before the season opener against the Rangers on March 28, 2024, in Arlington, Texas. (Gareth Patterson/AP)

“I don’t think that snuck up on us,” Hoyer said Thursday. “I think we realized it at the time. And I feel that way now, I feel like we’re at the front edge of something. I feel really good about where we are as an organization, but now it’s time to go play.”

There is a lot to like about how the Cubs have built this roster, which features a good mix of veterans, homegrown talent and upside in unproven players. Left-hander Justin Steele, the opening-day starter, is coming off a career-best season but noted during spring training that the best big-leaguers replicate those performances annually. The confidence that comes with an All-Star season can go a long way.

“Confidence is one of the most important things when you’re facing the best in the world every day,” Ian Happ said Thursday. “And so for him, where his confidence is at, his belief in himself, his understanding of his pitch mix and how it plays, that’s something I’ve watched him learn over the last year and a half and really dive into it and have an appreciation for what he does really well.”

Steele left the game Thursday with an injury with two outs in the bottom of the fifth after falling down and grabbing the back of his left leg in the hamstring area. He ran to field Leody Taveras’ soft bunt and backhanded it to first base for the out before immediately going down in foul territory.

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Justin Steele lies on the ground after injuring his left leg during the fifth inning of the team's baseball game against the Texas Rangers, Thursday, March 28, 2024 in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)
Cubs starting pitcher Justin Steele yells into his glove after injuring his left leg during the fifth inning against the Rangers on March 28, 2024, in Arlington, Texas. Steele left the game. (Gareth Patterson/AP)
Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Justin Steele, center, leaves after injuring his left leg during the fifth inning of the team's baseball game against the Texas Rangers, Thursday, March 28, 2024 in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)
Cubs starting pitcher Justin Steele, center, leaves the game after injuring his left leg during the fifth inning against the Rangers on March 28, 2024, in Arlington, Texas. (Gareth Patterson/AP)

Steele gingerly walked off the field with Counsell and the help of a trainer. He had been pitching well before the injury, totaling six strikeouts with one walk and three hits allowed. The Rangers’ lone run off Steele came on a sacrifice fly in the fourth.

Counsell opted for defense at third base Thursday night by starting Nick Madrigal and using Christopher Morel as the designated hitter. He cited how Steele pitches and where balls in play against the lefty are hit to explain the decision. While matchups can influence the lineup, Counsell reiterated that Morel will play “a ton” at third base.

Madrigal cleanly handled the Rangers’ first ball in play, an Adolis García grounder to end the first inning, though couldn’t handle a 106-mph rocket off García’s bat in the fourth that advanced Josh Jung to third. It was ruled a single and helped the Rangers tie the game when Wyatt Langford in his MLB debut hit the sac fly.

Cubs designated hitter Christopher Morel is congratulated in the dugout after scoring in the second inning against the Rangers on March 28, 2024, in Arlington, Texas. Morel had tripled to lead off the inning, and the run was the Cubs' first of the season. (Gareth Patterson/AP)
Cubs designated hitter Christopher Morel is congratulated in the dugout after scoring in the second inning against the Rangers on March 28, 2024, in Arlington, Texas. Morel had tripled to lead off the inning, and the run was the Cubs’ first of the season. (Gareth Patterson/AP)

Morel quickly showed why he will regularly be in the lineup even when he’s not playing third. He smoked a hanging curveball from Rangers starter Nathan Eovaldi off the left-field wall for a leadoff triple in the second, a ball that would have been a homer in 17 ballparks according to Statcast, including Wrigley Field. Dansby Swanson drove in Morel on a deep flyout to center field to give the Cubs an early lead.

“That’s just trying to take advantage of that on specific days and we’re always going to try to do that,” Counsell said.



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