Cubs

Addison Russell looking forward to All-Star Spotlight

Addison Russell looking forward to All-Star Spotlight

Addison Russell admitted he never thought he'd be staring an All-Star Game in his first full season in the big leagues.

Yet there he stood atop all National League shortstops in Wednesday's balloting update.

The Cubs continue to steamroll the rest of the Senior Circuit, leading the way in voting at first base (Anthony Rizzo, who also had the most votes among all NL players), second (Ben Zobrist), third (Kris Bryant), shortstop (Russell) and outfield (Dexter Fowler). 

Jason Heyward and Jorge Soler remain fourth and sixth, respectively, among NL outfielders. Bryce Harper is second behind Fowler and Yoenis Cespedes is third with Ryan Braun fifth.

"I'm happy for our guys, man," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I think it's great for the organization and for our players because it will elevate their game. I believe that. 

"So I think it's exciting for everybody. It's exciting for our group. It's exciting for our players, for Cubs fans, for the city. You'd have to believe the ratings will be up in Chicago on that particular night. I know I'll be watching."

Maddon has a point. If the Cubs are sending five, six or even seven players to San Diego, the night of July 12 would be must-see TV for Cubs fans.

Russell, 22, entered play Wednesday with numbers very similar to his solid rookie campaign (.706 OPS), but plays fantastic defense and it helps he plays in a major market on the best team in baseball. 

Offensively, Russell ranks 10th among qualified NL shortstops in OPS, behind guys like Colorado's Trevor Story (.874 OPS), Los Angeles' Corey Seager (.848) and Cincinnati's Zack Cozart (.838), all of whom rank well behind Russell in votes.

Fans do not vote for pitchers, but it's easy to assume at least one guy from the MLB-leading Cubs rotation will be headed to San Diego.

Jake Arrieta — going for his 12th win Wednesday against the Cardinals — entered play with a 1.74 ERA and is the reigning Cy Young winner despite not making last year's All-Star team.

Then there's Jon Lester pitching like an ace (9-3, 2.06 ERA, 0.993 WHIP) plus the rest of the rotation putting up numbers that would be All-Star worthy in any other year: John Lackey (7-3, 2.78, 0.979), Jason Hammel (7-3, 2.55, 1.082) and Kyle Hendricks (5-6, 2.94, 1.017).

And then of course, closer Hector Rondon and his 1.48 ERA and 0.658 WHIP, even if he only has 12 saves.

"Wow," Maddon said. "There's an argument for every one of them, obviously. ... All really worthy by the way they pitch. I'd say for sure two. 

"I think Rondon's definitely gotta be talked about. Even though there's not a lot of saves, the quality of work has been outstanding. 

"But if I had a guess just based on how this whole thing works, I'd say Jon and Jake, but I'd love to see [one of the other guys, too]. Kyle Hendricks has been outstanding and nobody even talks about that. But there's a lot of competition, too."

There are 17 qualified starting pitchers in the NL with ERAs at 3.00 or under.

Simply put: There just isn't enough room for all the Cubs' deserving arms and despite Arrieta's dominance, he might not get the start for the NL team with the ridiculous season Clayton Kershaw is putting together (1.57 ERA, 0.67 WHIP and 141 strikeouts to only 7 walks in 115 innings).

Maddon wouldn't hold back Arrieta if he did get the call to start, however.

"I had David Price a couple years ago start the game," Maddon said. "It's great for the player and it's great for the organization. I'm good with all that.

"I'm not worried about guys being overworked, overtaxed. It's one, maybe two innings. They're gonna get rest before, rest after. You can readjust your rotation coming out of the break."

Maddon also acknowledged there is still enough time for Fowler to get healthy before the Midsummer Classic arrives.

Before he went on the disabled list with a hamstring strain, Fowler made sure to tell his manager to let the fans know to keep voting for him.

"Everything's rolling properly," Maddon said. "I'm all for our guys being recognized."

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: