Cubs

Anthony Rizzo’s reality check for anyone doubting Cubs now

Anthony Rizzo’s reality check for anyone doubting Cubs now

Watch a team every day and the flaws come into sharper focus and obscure the strengths. Every fan base has issues with the lineup construction and the bullpen decisions and all beat writers get tired of listening to the manager’s talking points. But sometimes you have to take the 30,000-foot view.

Anthony Rizzo did that on Tuesday afternoon, sending a message through the reporters crowded around his locker inside the Wrigley Field clubhouse. The Cubs first baseman made the point that getting swept by the Milwaukee Brewers over the weekend didn’t really change the big picture for the defending World Series champs. 

“We’re in first place,” Rizzo said. “Every single person standing here right now is overlooking that. I think where we’re at right now is an unbelievable position that we can’t take for granted.”

Just ask the New York Mets, a broken-down team that no longer resembles the group of players who celebrated here after sweeping the Cubs out of the 2015 National League Championship Series. 

Just look at the injured Mets out for the season – Noah Syndergaard, Yoenis Cespedes, David Wright, Michael Conforto, Wilmer Flores, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler – and it became a good time to play this card before an 8-3 win that held off the St. Louis Cardinals (2 games out) and Brewers (2.5 games back) for another night.  

“I think everyone needs to start rallying around us even more now,” Rizzo said, “instead of maybe panicking a little bit, because this is the time where we’re going to get hot these next three weeks and raise that banner again next year, hopefully.”

Not sure if Rizzo had a specific tweet, headline or talk show in mind – or what someone from his entourage might have heard – but the Cubs have spent each of the last 48 days atop the NL Central and the overall theme of the coverage has been saying this franchise could become a dynasty and waiting for this team to finally take control of a weak division.  

Maybe Rizzo just senses the cynicism as someone who planted roots in Chicago and remains the only player left from the 97-loss team in 2012, or Year 1 for the Theo Epstein administration.

It’s also the middle of September and manager Joe Maddon is still tinkering with his lineup, waiting to see a more mature approach from certain hitters, giving daily medical updates and talking about the fatigue from playing into early November last year.  

“It’s there,” Maddon said. “To deny that would be disingenuous on my part. It is true and I think our guys have done a great job – not a good job – during the course of this season. Primarily because I’ve not heard anybody make excuses. I know they’ve been tired and I’ve tried to rest them (and) I can tell it’s mental fatigue as much as it is physical fatigue. 

“For the hardcore hardliners that don’t want to hear that, that’s fine. But it’s true. It is part of the human element. It’s part of what we do. (So) right now, you need to trust your guys more than anything. It’s not time to experiment or try new methods or whatever. Let your guys play and trust them. These are great athletes. It’s a tightly knit group. 

“It’s great to be in this position. Now we got to figure out how to do it.”

The Cubs can be a boom-or-bust offense and this lineup is far easier to navigate than last year’s version. Jake Arrieta will miss this weekend’s showdown against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field as he recovers from a strained right hamstring and the Cubs don’t really know when their Cy Young Award winner will be ready to rejoin the rotation. The bullpen is in flux – because bullpens are always in flux – but All-Star closer Wade Davis (29-for-29 in save chances) is as good as it gets.

In the end, it won’t matter how the Cubs got into the playoffs – as long as they get there.

“The guys in the clubhouse understand it,” Rizzo said. “We’ve dealt with the outside noise. It’s about being professional and handling it the right way. But I told them: Take the positives out of everything to this point – where we are coming from after the greatest championship in sports history – and in the position to win the division again.”

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

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USA TODAY

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

Families gather and people talk about things they are thankful for on Thanksgiving, but what are Chicago sports fans happy for now?

Raised expectations on the North Side

Got to be thankful that a “disappointing” season is winning the division and losing in the NLCS. The expectations have skyrocketed, and that’s thanks to a ridiculous nucleus of bats and a steady front office. Not many clubs can say that. Also, though, it’s important to be appreciative of the Wrigley bar stretch. They may charge $8 for a Miller Lite, but it’s always a damn good party.

Javy tags, too. Don't forget Javy tags.

Rebuild sparking hope in White Sox fans

Where to begin? Obviously, be thankful for the plethora of young talent that will soon take over the South Side. Be thankful for Avi Time (while you still can). Be thankful that taking your friends or family to a game won’t cause you to take out a second mortgage. Be thankful for the 2020 World Series and, of course, 2020 MVP Eloy Jimenez. But most importantly, be thankful that Rick Hahn’s phone stays buzzing.

Eddie O back in the booth for the Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are having a rough start to the season, but at least Eddie Olczyk is back in the booth. The longtime Blackhawks broadcaster returned to the booth on Oct. 18 after missing time while undergoing chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer.

With some of the key names from the Blackhawks’ title runs either leaving or being unable to play this season (in the case of Marian Hossa), Blackhawks fans are probably thankful to see a familiar face and hear a familiar voice during games.

Lauri Markkanen leading the Bulls rebuild

OK, there’s not much to be thankful for about the current Bulls team. At 3-13, the Bulls are tied for the fewest wins in the NBA (maybe in the long-term that’s something to be thankful for as well). However, Zach LaVine’s pending debut after his eventual return from injury should help create some excitement.

The thing Bulls fans really should be thankful for this year is the play of rookie Lauri Markkanen. The 20-year-old leads the team in scoring (14.6 points per game) and rebounds (8.3 per game) while shooting at a high percentage (34.2 percent on threes and 50.6 percent on twos). It’s only the beginning of the Bulls’ rebuild, but Markkanen is a good start.

Mitchapalooza

If a few things broke the Bears’ way, Chicagoans could have been grateful that the team was finally out of the cellar. Instead, we’ll settle for the fact that there seems to be some building blocks already in place. Mitchell Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks seem to fit that category. Also, some may be thankful that this is likely John Fox’s last season at the helm.

Fire ending a playoff drought

After finishing dead last in MLS in 2015 and 2016, the Fire were one of the most improved teams in the league in 2017. After posting the third best record in the league, the Fire made a first playoff appearance since 2012.

The playoff run didn’t last long with the Fire losing a play-in game at home, but the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger and the league’s leading goal-scorer, Nemanja Nikolic, helped fill the stadium with six sellouts and gave Fire fans something to cheer for.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Where do Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis?

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Where do Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis?

In the latest CubsTalk Podcast, Kelly Crull and David Kaplan look ahead to Thanksgiving and discuss the official coaching hires for the Cubs.

They also talk about where the Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis, whether Alex Cobb could factor into the rotation plans and Kap goes off on the 11:30 a.m. Opening Day start time.

Check out the entire podcast here: