Addison Russell hopes to be ready if Cubs survive and advance to World Series


Addison Russell hopes to be ready if Cubs survive and advance to World Series

Addison Russell hopes to be ready if the Cubs can somehow survive and advance to the World Series.

That looks doubtful with the New York Mets up 2-0 in this best-of-seven National League Championship Series, Russell making no guarantees about his strained left hamstring and the Cubs knowing their shortstop’s game is built around speed bursts and lateral movement.   

But Russell keeps feeling better and better and will push his rehab this week, trying to be prepared in case the Cubs make it to the Fall Classic for the first time in 70 years.

[MORE: Power outage: So far, Mets pitching too much for Cubs hitters in NLCS]

“I don’t see why not,” Russell said Monday at Wrigley Field. “But we’re still trying to (be) precautionary, even though the way that I feel is going better than planned. We’re still going to try and take it slow, because you still have those days. There’s no rush.”

The Cubs left Russell off their NLCS roster after he felt something while hustling for a triple during a Game 3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in the divisional round.

The Cubs are in good hands with Javier Baez, another first-round pick with a top-prospect pedigree and potentially elite defensive skills.

[NBC SHOP: Buy Cubs playoff gear]

But the Cubs also viewed making Russell their everyday shortstop in early August as one of the turning points in this magical season. The rookie put up 13 homers, 29 doubles and 54 RBI during his age-21 season.  

“It’s definitely frustrating,” Russell said. “You grind it out all year with these guys and then finally when it comes to crunch time you got to sit on the bench. But I’ll cheer on my teammates and I’m happy I’ve been a part to help the team get this far. I know the type of players that we put out on the field every day. I know that they’re going to get the job done.”

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”