Cubs

Cubs-Cardinals rivalry will keep escalating in 2016

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Cubs-Cardinals rivalry will keep escalating in 2016

HAZLETON, Pa. – Joe Maddon told diehard Cubs fans exactly what they wanted to hear, blasting the Cardinals, sarcastically saying he never read Branch Rickey’s sacred book on how to play baseball and wondering if Tony Soprano had ordered the hit from the St. Louis dugout.

This rivalry needed some new attitude, missing big personalities like Tony La Russa, Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella. Maddon delivered with that rant inside Wrigley Field’s interview room/dungeon in September, calling out the eye-for-an-eye retaliation after the Cardinals drilled All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo with a purpose pitch.

It took 123 years before the Cubs finally got their shot at the Cardinals in the playoffs, and they went through almost 500 bottles of champagne after they eliminated a 100-win team in October, partying in Wrigleyville as if they had just won the World Series.

With Jason Heyward and John Lackey defecting from St. Louis, this rivalry will only escalate in 2016. You know the Cubs manager will be right in the middle of the action.

“You got to be a little bit tough to survive around here to be successful,” Maddon said this week while staging charity events for his Hazleton Integration Project. “So when it comes down to a fight, you’re not going to take that from anybody.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Maddon competed on the basketball playgrounds, baseball diamonds and football fields in this old Pennsylvania coal-mining town. He absorbed blue-collar values from his late father, Joe Sr., a plumber who never seemed to take a vacation, and his mother, Beanie, still working to this day at Third Base Luncheonette, which looks unchanged since its opening in 1949. He grew up in an Italian-Polish family in a neighborhood filled with shot-and-a-beer bars, learning how to talk fast and use his street smarts.

“I love it, man,” Maddon said. “I absolutely love it. I grew up a Cardinal fan – a fierce Cardinal fan – and now I get to work against that feeling that I had as a kid.

“They got us early. We eventually were able to catch up later in the season. I think it’s healthy for both organizations. It’s healthy for baseball for a significant, proper rivalry between those two teams.

“I know they’re not going to back down. I know we’re not going to back down. (We’ll) hopefully continue to nurture it in the future. It’s no different than the Red Sox versus the Yankees (because) Cardinals-Cubs – as two relevant teams – is very good for baseball. I’m jacked up about it.”

There should be fireworks with the Cubs and Cardinals playing each other at least 19 times in 2016. Heyward looked at the young Cubs and the aging core in St. Louis and reportedly turned down $200 million offers, taking eight years, $184 million and opt-out flexibility, signing the biggest contract in franchise history.

[MORE: What will Joe Maddon's lineup look like in 2016?]

The Cardinals will have to replace Heyward’s Gold Glove defense in right field and across-the-board offensive contributions (13 homers, 23 stolen bases, .797 OPS). After getting blown away by the Red Sox in the David Price negotiations, St. Louis will also have to account for Lackey’s 33 starts and 218 innings.

“The Cardinals are going to be a formidable opponent next year – and for years to come,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said. “They’re going to take the resources that they didn’t commit to Jason Heyward and John Lackey and reallocate them to other players. The approach I take with the Cardinals is the same I used to take with the Yankees when I was in Boston – I don’t pay too close attention to their moves in the offseason.

[ALSO: Maddon knows Cubs are the target after big offseason]

“I kind of forget them and focus on our own club and expect them to win 95 to 100 games every year. That’s the standard we’ve set for ourselves. We want to win the division. We know we’re going to have to win close to 100 games in order to give ourselves a chance to make that happen.”

Opening Day starter Adam Wainwright is 34 years old and Lance Lynn will miss the 2016 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Yadier Molina has caught more than 12,000 innings in the big leagues and will turn 34 this summer. This could also be the last year in St. Louis for seven-time All-Star outfielder Matt Holliday, who will turn 36 in January.

St. Louis also didn’t win 11 World Series titles by accident. The Cardinals know what it’s like to be the hunted team in the National League. After winning the offseason, the Cubs will now have to play with a target on their back.

“What’s gone on (with) the ascension of the Cubs – and where the Cardinals have been forever – we had to catch up to them,” Maddon said. “That was our responsibility. We did it for one year. We still have a lot to prove. And I understand that.

“But based on what happened this year – Johnny coming over, Jason coming over, (the fact) that we did catch them a little bit towards the end of last season – that should really stoke the fires. But we have to go out there and reprove ourselves.”

In another huge playoff moment, Wade Davis stays cool while everything else around Cubs goes crazy

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USA TODAY

In another huge playoff moment, Wade Davis stays cool while everything else around Cubs goes crazy

This became a three-ring circus on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, Cubs manager Joe Maddon screaming at the umpires, the video board showing the replay of Curtis Granderson’s swing and the crowd of 42,195 booing and chanting “BULLS#$!!”

The Los Angeles Dodgers are still in command of this National League Championship Series, but the Cubs won’t go quietly into the offseason, unleashing All-Star closer Wade Davis for the final two innings of a 3-2 thriller that kept them alive for at least another night.

The Cubs can worry about the daunting task of winning three more elimination games in the morning. Once Davis forced Cody Bellinger into the double-play groundball that left Justin Turner stranded in the on-deck circle and this one ended at 11:16 p.m., he pulled at his right sleeve and buttoned the top of his jersey while waiting for the Cubs to start the high-five line. “Go Cubs Go” blasted from the stadium’s sound  system and fireworks erupted beyond the center-field scoreboard and Davis acted as if nothing had happened.

To put the idea of beating the Dodgers three times in a row in perspective, the Cubs blasted three homers and got a classic big-game performance out of Jake Arrieta and still needed Davis for a heart-stopping, high-wire act.

Maddon already ruled out Davis for Thursday night’s Game 5 after the closer fired 48 pitches – or four more than he did during last week’s seven-out save that eliminated the Washington Nationals. But at least the Cubs will have those decisions to make instead of cleaning out their lockers.

“I don’t know,” Davis said. “We’ll definitely come in tomorrow and get some treatment and go out and play catch and see how I feel.”

It looks like Davis doesn’t feel anything on the mound. Davis didn’t react to Turner chucking his bat and yelling into the visiting dugout after crushing a 94-mph fastball for a home run to begin the eighth inning. Davis didn’t seem bothered by Yasiel Puig flipping his bat after drawing a walk. And Davis never lost his composure while Maddon got ejected for the second time in four NLCS games.

Maddon flipped out at home plate umpire Jim Wolf – and really the entire crew – when what was initially called a swinging strike three on Granderson got overturned and ruled a foul tip.

“Wade doesn’t care about any of that,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “That’s the right guy to have on the mound. With the mentality he has, he’s going to strike the guy out on the next pitch. Obviously with the replay, it’s not easy to keep your composure. But he’s just different. He’s a different animal.”

While the fans at Wrigley Field got loud and turned angry, Davis chatted with catcher Willson Contreras: “I was just trying to think of the next pitch I was going to throw if he ended up staying in the box.”

Davis got Granderson (0-for-4, four strikeouts) swinging at strike four, walked Yasmani Grandal and then blew away Chase Utley with a 95.1-mph fastball, needing 34 pitches to finish the eighth inning. Davis wasn’t finished, using a Kris Bryant bat to hit against Dodger lefty Tony Cingrani, fouling off five pitches before striking out looking at a 94.9-mph fastball.

“Yeah, I gave up there after a little bit,” Davis said with a look that sort of resembled a smile. “He was bringing it pretty good, and I hadn’t seen a baseball in a while coming in like that.”

If the Cubs are going to match the 2004 Boston Red Sox – the only other team to come back from an 0-3 deficit since the LCS format expanded to seven games in 1985 – they are going to need the offense to generate more runs, a great start from Jose Quintana on Thursday night and someone else to run out of the bullpen. Not that Davis is ruling himself out for Game 5.

“Go get some sleep and then come in tomorrow and start getting ready,” Davis said.

Jake Arrieta stars at Wrigley Field and doesn’t believe this is The End for Cubs: ‘Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye’

Jake Arrieta stars at Wrigley Field and doesn’t believe this is The End for Cubs: ‘Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye’

It’s not Jake Arrieta getting greedy and the Cubs being cheap when he holds up another jersey in a different city this winter, smiling for the cameras while super-agent Scott Boras watches the press conference unfold, marketing an ace to a new audience.

Even Arrieta admits that if he had Theo Epstein’s job, he would do the exact same thing, letting it play out until a 30-something pitcher hits the free-agent market. And Epstein wouldn’t have left the Boston Red Sox and taken over baseball operations at Clark and Addison if he didn’t believe in the need for change, to get outside the comfort zone and test yourself.

It’s just business, but this still felt very personal on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, Arrieta probably making his last start in a Cubs uniform while the defending World Series champs survived an elimination game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Three straight trips to the National League Championship Series might have spoiled Cubs fans to the point where standing-room-only Game 4 tickets were selling for $60 on StubHub less than an hour before the 8:01 p.m. first pitch.

By 10:13 p.m., the crowd of 42,195 started booing when manager Joe Maddon popped out of the dugout in the seventh inning to take the ball from Arrieta after 111 pitches. It turned into a standing ovation as Arrieta walked off the mound and tipped his cap, his shaved head set against a mountain-man beard.

“Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye,” Arrieta said after a dramatic 3-2 win, surrounded by reporters at his locker. “It’s a thank you, obviously. I still intend to have another start in this ballpark.

“If that’s where it ends, I did my best and I left it all out there. But we’ve won four in a row plenty of times this year. And there’s no reason we can’t do it again.”

So many times, Arrieta has been worth the price of admission, must-see TV through two no-hitters and those two World Series games he won on the road last year against the Cleveland Indians. None of this would have been possible without the Cubs finding a winning lottery ticket in that Scott Feldman flip deal with the Baltimore Orioles on July 2, 2013.

“I took a little bit of extra time in between pitches,” Arrieta said, “just to look around, foul pole to foul pole, behind home plate, just to relish it and take it in. You got the fans on their feet, pulling on the same side of the rope. It breeds some added energy.

“I had that mindset of I’m going to do everything in my power to get it to tomorrow.”

Arrieta’s pitches dart and dive in directions that even he can’t always control, but he has guts, swing-and-miss stuff (nine strikeouts) and the ability to work through traffic. He gave up five walks, hit Chase Utley with a pitch and watched as Cody Bellinger hammered a ball off the video-board ribbon in right field for a third-inning homer.

But lefty reliever Brian Duensing backed Arrieta up with two outs and two runners on in the seventh inning, forcing Bellinger to lift a flyball into shallow left field, keeping it a 3-1 game and setting the stage for a two-inning Wade Davis save.

“Jake was amazing,” Davis said. “He was throwing Wiffle balls, it looked like. Guys were just swinging at balls that started in on the zone and finished a foot off the plate. He’s just got some amazing stuff.”

For perspective on how far this franchise has come, just look at the lineup from Arrieta’s first spot start as a Cub, the second game of a July 30, 2013 doubleheader against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field:

David DeJesus, CF
Junior Lake, LF
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
Dioner Navarro, C
Luis Valbuena, 2B
Starlin Castro, SS
Cody Ransom, 3B
Cole Gillespie, RF

The Cubs actually sent Arrieta back to Triple-A Iowa for two more starts that summer, part of a mental/mechanical reset and the service-time calculus that would delay his free-agency clock by a year.

By 2015, Arrieta’s raw talent and natural confidence converged with a young, inexperienced team that caught fire in the second half, his Cy Young Award campaign fueling 97 wins and the momentum for chairman Tom Ricketts to authorize a spending spree on free agents that almost totaled $290 million.

"That was pretty special,” Maddon said. “I've never witnessed on the field that kind of consistent performance from a pitcher. It was other-worldly, right down to the wild-card game.

“My God, you pretty much knew if you scored one or two runs, you're going to win that night somehow. I don't know how this is going to look moving forward. But I know one thing, man, that one year of watching him play was different. It was a throwback to the ‘60s kind of pitching (I watched) as a kid.

“He's special – his work ethic and who he is and how he goes about his business. He's a very special young man.”

But Arrieta really isn’t in the mood to wonder if this is the end scene to this chapter of his life.

“There’s a little thought of that, yeah, because you never know,” Arrieta said. “But at the same time, now that the game’s over, it’s out of sight, out of mind. The thought process for me now is to be ready if I’m needed.”