Cubs

Cardinals-Cubs: 'Boring' vs. fun?

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Cardinals-Cubs: 'Boring' vs. fun?

The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry isn't quite new school vs. old school, but it is "fun" vs. "boring," in a sense.

The Cubs are a bunch of kids who hold dance parties in the clubhouse after each win and are all about having fun (which can be easy to do with Joe Maddon as a manager).

The Cardinals are in the postseason almost every year as one of baseball's consistently elite franchises. They handle the playoffs in a professional - almost boring - manner and they don't plan on changing that in advance of Game 3 of the National League Division Series against Jake Arrieta and the Cubs Monday evening for the first playoff game at Wrigley Field in seven years.

[RELATED - Turning point for The Plan: Cubs get October close-up at Wrigley]

"[We'll approach this] the same boring way we've been doing it all year," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said before his team's workout Sunday afternoon. "Guys who have been here before and been able to play in different settings - maybe not necessarily at Wrigley - but they've been in a lot of other cities where it's a lot of excitement.

"Part of it is the experience of understanding as much as it's built up that we go play the game. We don't deny this stuff is special. We don't deny that not everybody gets to play on this stage, so don't be afraid to look around and take advantage of the atmosphere and take advantage of how unique this is.

"But when it comes down to it, it's baseball and our best chance to be successful isn't to try and be superhuman. It's to go out and do exactly what we've been doing all season long. We have enough voices that are kind of repeating that same story to how they've been successful in the postseason that I think the younger players buy in."

The Cardinals understand the culture of winning. Apart from a few curtain calls in front of their home fans at Busch Stadium after big home runs during the first two games of the NLDS, this team isn't very flashy and doesn't spend a lot of time celebrating on the field.

"Obviously, boring meaning we're professional about it," Cardinals reliever Carlos Villanueva said. "We do what we do. A lot of people might not like it. Other people might want to see it more exciting, more showmanship.

"But we just don't operate that way. We're confident in our abilities. There are guys out there that are fiery and yell and roar every time they get somebody out or get a hit. I was told, 'just act like you've done it before.' Or, 'don't act surprised when you get a big out.'

"Get your guy out, do your job, high five and cheer on the next guy. I think this is a philosophy that's instilled in these guys from the time they sign until the time they get here [in the big leagues]. And you can't argue. It works."

[MORE: Cubs counting on Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant to start producing in playoffs]

Villanueva spent the last two seasons on fifth-place Cubs teams before signing with the Cardinals as a free agent over the winter.

You probably won't see him fist-pumping or beating his chest out on the mound.

"I can't act surprised when I get the job done on what I'm needed to do," Villanueva said. "That's just the approach we take. Your job is to go out and stop the game right there and after you're done, you can celebrate at home.

"On the field, we're business. The difference for us is taking care of what we need to do to win a ring. Anything else falls short of our goal."

The Cubs go about things in almost the opposite way. Whether it's Pedro Strop letting out a roar and pounding his chest after a big out or Anthony Rizzo rubbing his helmet after a big hit or the entire team clapping along to Starlin Castro's uber-catchy walk-up song, the young Cubs enjoy having fun on the field as much as they do in the clubhouse after victories.

[MORE: Jake Arrieta emerges as October star and gets locked in for Cubs-Cardinals]

A lot of that is on Joe Maddon, a manager who marches to the beat of his own drum, lets players just be themselves and drops Michael Scott quotes from "The Office" or describes his Steak 'n Shake order in press conferences.

"Joe has been a huge part of [the loose, fun-loving persona of the team]," Jake Arrieta said. "We've bought in to the way he likes to structure his coaching style, how he likes to manage the season and he lets the players dictate kind of how things run.

"He allows us to hold each other accountable, and I think we've thrived in this environment."

Maddon is as quirky as big-league managers come, his big personality creating the perfect distraction for the Chicago media away from the young players who have enough pressure as an inexperienced group getting used to life in the majors.

After back-to-back bold calls on squeeze bunts to help jumpstart the Cubs offense in Game 2 of the National League Division Series, Maddon talked a lot about how he's been keeping things light since spring training, where he made the team work on fundamentals over and over and over again.

While the Cardinals spent almost two hours on the field working out and taking batting practice Sunday, Maddon kept the Cubs' workout to less than an hour and instead devoted time for his team to get breakfast on Wrigley Field and watch NFL action on the big video board in left field.

[NBC SHOP: Buy Cubs playoff gear]

"Part of it is the camaraderie component, the bringing the group together and having them relax and just being normal human beings," Maddon said. "I just think that sometimes, we overreact to our game and our status in the world. It's just a baseball game. It's a game.

"We're trying to win the World Series. We're trying to be the best. But at the end of the day, it is a game, and I want our guys to come out here and be themselves, be normal.

"I think if we do that, they're going to play the better game of baseball. That's where I'm coming from."

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: