Buzz is back for Cubs-Mets as Jake Arrieta upstages Noah Syndergaard


Buzz is back for Cubs-Mets as Jake Arrieta upstages Noah Syndergaard

A buzz is back at Wrigley Field, with MLB Network and ESPN setting up here on back-to-back nights to showcase two of the National League’s X-factor teams.

By now, the Cubs have heard enough about the New York Mets and all their young power arms, but they better get used to the attention if Jake Arrieta keeps pitching like this.

Arrieta upstaged Noah Syndergaard’s big-league debut on Tuesday night, facing the minimum through seven innings and leading the Cubs to a 6-1 victory that underlined all their potential.

After collecting all these young power hitters, importing veterans with World Series rings and hiring a star manager, the Cubs are turning the corner in their multiyear rebuild.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs need Jon Lester, the perfectionist, operating at full strength]

“Once you taste it, once you get that blood in the water, man, you want some more,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Once you get to the playoffs, there’s nothing else that satisfies you going into a season. You got to get there the first time. You got to learn how to do it.

“And once you learn how to do it, nothing — nothing — satisfies you during that baseball season, unless you get back to the dance. It’s pretty simple, man. I use the term: ‘A mind once stretched has a very difficult time going back to its original form.’”

Syndergaard is 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds with a “Thor” nickname and bright blond hair flowing out from his cap. The Mets made Syndergaard the centerpiece in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays after R.A. Dickey’s 2012 Cy Young Award-winning season.

Almost seven months later, the Cubs flipped one-year rental Scott Feldman in a deal with the Baltimore Orioles that involved Arrieta, who had been stuck in neutral at the Triple-A level.

[MORE CUBS: Why haven’t Cubs made a deal with Mets yet?]

Arrieta never got quite as high as Syndergaard (No. 11 heading into this season) on the Baseball America lists, but he had been a well-regarded prospect who wound up needing a change of scenery.

At the age of 29, Arrieta (4-3, 3.00 ERA) continues to blossom into a frontline starter. He delivered eight strong innings, limiting the Mets to one run on three hits in a dominant 10-strikeout performance.

“We knew it was going to be a tight game,” Arrieta said. “(Syndergaard) was electric. We kind of knew what we were up against. He came out strong.

“That was a great team victory, from start to finish.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

The Cubs knocked out Syndergaard in the sixth inning after 103 pitches. Starlin Castro — the All-Star shortstop linked to the Mets in so much trade speculation — hammered a Syndergaard slider into the left-field corner for an RBI double that easily scored Jorge Soler from first base.

The next batter, Chris Coghlan, launched a 96 mph fastball into the under-construction bleachers in right field for a two-run homer as the Cubs (17-15) wore out the first-place Mets (20-13) and continued to imagine the possibilities.

“Once you’ve stretched the mind, man, it’s tough to not be in that playoff situation on an annual basis,” Maddon said. “Our guys got to taste it, feel it, understand it, and then you really crave it. That’s when good things happen.”

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


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: