Cubs, White Sox Monday spring-training report

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Less than a week before Opening Day.

Still amazing to see those seven magical words.

As we inch closer to the official start of the 2017 season, more season previews come out each day, and each seems to be topping the last on lavishing praise on the Cubs. All of them have the Cubs winning the National League Central. Almost all of them have the Cubs returning to the World Series. And then there is the Washington Post.

The folks who gave us Woodward and Bernstein (Carl, not Dan) didn’t just stop at the World Series. They didn’t stop at having the Cubs repeating as World Series champs. They went ahead and used the D-word — dynasty.

In a story posted today and written by Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus, the Post says a dynasty for the Cubs is within reach. Sheehan points out that the Cubs’ age — and deep talent among that youthful group— remains a key factor in trotting out the D-word.

“Last year, the Cubs had the youngest set of position players of any World Series winner since the 1969 Mets, and the second-youngest of any champion in the divisional era,” Sheehan writes. “There are any number of ways to build a championship team. One championship team, anyway. Sustaining success, though, means bringing a clutch of young hitters together at once and letting them develop together. The Cubs have the youngest lineup core of any champion in nearly 50 years, and the track record of teams that win with a young core is exceptional. Look for the Cubs to be an October fixture for years to come.”

A key to that age issue is the fact that reigning MVP Kris Bryant turned 25 in January. He has just two years of major-league service. And just about everyone agrees we haven’t seen the best that Bryant can offer.

Check out Joe’s article for a series of numbers that puts all of this in perspective. As usual, he does a nice job backing up his case.

Then our pals at ESPN unveiled their initial power rankings for 2017. You’ll never guess which team resides at No. 1. ESPN’s baseball braintrust has the Cubs going 98-64 this season. That’s a drop from the 103 games they won in 2016.

ESPN predicts the Cubs could “win 100 games again even without a full season of good health from their rotation.” That’s in their “best case” scenario. That seems a tall order to win 100 games with a dinged-up rotation.

In their “worst case” scenario, ESPN points this out: “A low point, relatively speaking, comes early for the defending champs. ZiPS projects Chicago’s April schedule to be its toughest, as the Cubs face opponents with a projected winning percentage of .506. This is where the health of the rotation could be cause for concern.”

ZOBRIST ON THE MEND

Speaking of the World Series, Series MVP Ben Zobrist expects to return to the Cubs’ Cactus League lineup either tonight or Tuesday. Zobrist has missed a week of games because of a sore neck but still expects to be ready for the opener Sunday night in St. Louis.

‘‘At the beginning of [last] week, it was unmanageable,’’ Zobrist said Sunday. ‘‘But now I’m out on the field doing stuff [before the game]. So I’ll probably play in the game [Monday]. If not, Tuesday. And I’ll have at least three or four exhibition games before we start the season.’’

SZCZUR DRESSING

Manager Joe Maddon has been heaping so much praise on Matt Szczur, it would be seem a little suspicious. Szczur is fighting for the last spot on the Cubs’ roster and appears to be on the wrong side of that last roster cut. Out of minor-league options, Szczur is a prime target for a trade, with the Braves and Twins showing strong interest.

Is Maddon stumping for Szczur to campaign the front office for a roster spot or is he trying to drive up the trade value for the versatile outfielder?

He was doing a little bit of both,” Szczur told our Pat Finley. “I don’t think anything he said was false. I think that he’s honest, and I appreciate his honesty.

“I try to do everything for the team, and all I want to do is win, whether it’s coming off the bench or starting. For me, I’m trying to help this team that I’m on win.”

ON THE SOUTH SIDE

Jose Quintana is scheduled to be the White Sox’ Opening Day starter one week from today. That is, if he’s still with the White Sox.

Those trade rumors that have been strong since last fall haven’t subsided. The New York Post continues to beat that drum, suggesting again that top prospect Clint Frazier — acquired from the Indians in the Andrew Miller trade — could be the perfect trading chip for the Yankees to acquire Quintana.

The Yankees rumors won’t fade. With all that in mind, Quintana remains focused on facing the Tigers next Monday.

“Yes, I expect to be here for a long time, and that’s what I want,’’ Quintana said. “I don’t pay attention to trade [rumors], so I come to the complex every day to do my job, spend time with my teammates and talk about baseball. And that’s it. I don’t pay attention. I just want to do good things for the White Sox.’’

TODD BALL

If you haven’t noticed, White Sox third baseman Todd Frazier is having an awful spring training at the plate. An oblique strain hasn’t helped his situation.

Frazier, coming off a career-high 40 homers and 98 RBI, isn’t fretting.

“I always come into spring training wanting to work on something, and after the first swing it’s, ‘OK, let’s go back to the way I am,’ ” Frazier told our Daryl Van Schouwen. “This time I am really trying to hone in on seeing some pitches, swinging at strikes.

“My body feels good. Everything is good, where I want it to be. I’m working on some stuff, so the numbers might not be there. I’m pleased with the approach going to the opposite field.’’

SAME OLD ANDERSON

Will a long-term extension change Tim Anderson? The Sox’ young shortstop says no. Emphatically.

“You still have to approach the game the same way,” he said. “Nothing changes. You go out and play the game the right way. Hustle. Some people sign contracts and tend to relax, but you approach the game the same way. I’m still going to go 100 percent in everything I do.”

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