Cubs

Cubs ready to start a new chapter in rivalry with Cardinals

Cubs ready to start a new chapter in rivalry with Cardinals

When the first pitch is thrown Monday night at Busch Stadium, all the predicitions get thrown out the window.

All the shots fired in media interviews and public appearances will become an afterthought.

A new chapter is ready to begin in the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry.

Joe Maddon attacking "The Cardinal Way" in the Wrigley Field dungeon is so last year. As are the 19 regular season matchups and four-game National League Division Series.

The fallout from the Jason Heyward signing is last winter's story. 

All that remains are the memories, but it's now time to forge a new path. 

The Cubs are no longer the little brother just trying to hang in there with one of the elite franchises in baseball. 

Now the Cubs are the favorites and the Cardinals are trying to chase them (on paper, at least).

When talking about the history between the two franchises, Heyward used air quotes around the word, "rivlary."

"People ask me about the rivalry this year, but I'm on this side and it feels like we have a lot of work to do as far as being established in the playoffs," Heyward said. "They've got World Series championships. They've got division titles. We want to be established as a group here in Chicago."

Heyward has a point. The Cubs didn't win a game after dispatching the Cardinals in the NLDS, so it's not like they drew any closer to the Cardinals' 11 World Series championships in 2015.

Maddon got his first taste of the rivalry's passion last season, lighting up the Cardinals after they threw at Anthony Rizzo in retaliation.

The Cubs manager admitted part of that rant was about changing the perception of his team, letting his young group of players know they have to go out and earn their place among baseball's best.

"We went through the same thing in Tampa Bay with the Red Sox and Yankees," Maddon said. "Nobody's going to give you anything, man. I don't expect anything to be given to us, either.

"If you want to ascend, you gotta take it. It's not gonna be given to you. What I felt last year was that we didn't necessarily understand that, so I wanted our guys to understand that."

Maddon grew up a Cardinals fan and reiterated his respect for the organization Sunday at Wrigley Field.

"But I'm a Cub," he said. "They're good and they've been good for a long time. They're not gonna relinquish anything easily. 

"That was my point. Not to denigrate anybody or say anything poorly or badly about it. It was about us and our ascension. That's how you do it."

The young Cubs needed to learn they belonged with the big dogs, but when it comes down to actual rivalry, many of the parties involved on both sides insist that kind of stuff is more for the fans.

Even if it is mostly a fan-driven rivalry, Monday should be an interesting series opener.

John Lackey - the Cardinals' best pitcher last season - will make his first start in a Cubs uniform in Busch Stadium while Heyward will do the same. 

When the 26-year-old outfielder spurned the Cardinals in the offseason, some fans took to burning their Heyward jerseys in an emotional response.

Heyward has shrugged all that off - "As far as burning the jerseys, they paid for it, so they can do whatever they want."

But Maddon took a different stance.

"It's not good for your children to see stuff like that," Maddon said. "I mean, why would you do something like that? I don't get that.

"I'm sure the real Cardinal fans weren't proud of that moment, either. They have one of the best fanbases in all of professional sports, just like we do. There's probably certain things that we wouldn't be proud of people doing in [Wrigley Field]."

As for playing against his former teammates, Heyward admitted he'd be happy to see a lot of familiar faces - "It's like playing against your brothers."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”