Cubs

Clayton Kershaw can't believe how many pitches Cubs made him and Zack Greinke throw

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Clayton Kershaw can't believe how many pitches Cubs made him and Zack Greinke throw

The Cubs' young hitters haven't produced consistent results yet, but they've still made an impression on a couple of Cy Young winners.

When the Cubs faced Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in back-to-back games at Wrigley Field last month, they wound up beating both Dodgers aces.

But it wasn't just the losses that stuck with Kershaw. He was shocked at how many pitches he and Greinke had to throw.

[RELATED - Cubs taking a novel approach to Addison Russell's development]

Kershaw - who has won the ERA title in the National League for four straight seasons - had to throw 105 pitches in seven innings against the Cubs on June 22. Greinke - who hasn't given up a run since June 13 (a span of 43.2 innings) and currently leads the world with an absolutely absurd 1.30 ERA - shut the Cubs out on June 23, but only lasted six innings because he was forced to throw 100 pitches.

"Good lineup. You think a young lineup, you think a little reckless, swinging at balls in the dirt, but they worked pitch counts," Kershaw said before the MLB All-Star Game last week. "Zack and I both had over a hundred pitches by the time we came out of the game.

"They worked the counts. I feel like every count was 3-2, 2-2, fouling off stuff. Really good approaches. When you do that, you're gonna strike out some because you're working the count, but at the same time, you're gonna get starters out of the game early and you're gonna have a lot of RBI situations with walks and good at-bats.

"For having such a young team, they have a good approach."

The Cubs have three rookies (Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Addison Russell) in their everyday lineup, but all three are averaging more than 4 pitches per plate appearance (and fellow rookie Kyle Schwarber is averaging 3.86 pitches per plate appearance in his first nine big-league games).

But taking all those pitches hasn't led to results just yet, as the Cubs currently sit 11th in the NL in runs scored entering play Monday. They're also 10th in OPS (.687) as a team and 13th in the league with a .239 batting average.

[MORE: Cubs waiting to see if Schwarber is ready to catch Arrieta]

Like Kershaw said, that patient approach will lead to strikeouts, as Cubs hitters have whiffed 827 times, 50 times more than the next NL team (Padres - 777) and behind only the Houston Astros in Major League Baseball.

Still, it gives the Cubs opportunities to get into the bullpen and chase elite starters like Kershaw and Greinke out of the game earlier than normal.

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: