Cubs

Cubs see World Series window opening now: ‘Why not us?’

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Cubs see World Series window opening now: ‘Why not us?’

It felt like no one wanted to leave Wrigley Field on Tuesday night, “Go Cubs Go” and “Sweet Home Chicago” playing on a loop after this rising team planted a “W” flag in October.

Fans could look up at the huge video board in left field and watch the players in goggles spray each other with champagne — Hey, was that Eddie Vedder? — a cool look behind the curtain at the clubhouse dance party/light show after eliminating the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Friendly Confines are under construction and will get tricked out with more and more modern amenities. But when the Cubs posed for team pictures on the mound, they got the old-school center-field scoreboard as the iconic backdrop.

This could become Major League Baseball’s biggest playoff stage for years to come. Or at least this franchise shouldn’t have to wait another century for the next playoff-series-clinching-win on home turf.

[MORE: Knock on wood: Trevor Cahill has resurrected his career with Cubs]

The Cubs have all these young power hitters, big arms at the front of their rotation, the star manager people want to play for and stability in the front office and the owners’ suite.

Wrigley Field is guaranteed only two more games in the National League championship series next week, but understand the Cubs aren’t just happy to be here, knowing they are eight wins away from a parade down Michigan Avenue.  

“I feel like we’re the team this year,” chairman Tom Ricketts said. “We’re young. We’re playing well. Everybody’s loose. Joe (Maddon) has got everyone believing. That’s all you need. Every year, there’s that one team that has the momentum.

“This year, why not us?”

The Cubs know two wild-card teams made it to last year’s World Series, with the San Francisco Giants beating the Kansas City Royals in a dramatic Game 7, earning their third title in five seasons.

The Cubs are getting hot at the right time, winning 12 of their last 13 games and taking out the Pittsburgh Pirates and rival Cardinals, the two teams with the best regular-season records in baseball (198 wins combined).

That’s why Jake Arrieta said no one wants to play this team right now. The Cubs won’t be intimidated by the idea of going on the road to face either the Los Angeles Dodgers or New York Mets, whoever wins Thursday’s Game 5 at Chavez Ravine.

“It’s just getting started,” said Arrieta, who might have won a Cy Young Award with his breakthrough season. “We’ve come a long way. We weren’t expected to get this far. So to be where we are right now, it’s such a rewarding thing for everybody involved — the city of Chicago, the fans, the players.

“It’s hard to completely put into words how far we’ve come. But we’ve got a couple stages to go. And we’re ready for it.”

Jon Lester grew up on the arms race between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees and wanted to be a transitional figure for baseball’s next potential superpower.

[NBC SHOP: Buy Cubs playoff gear]

The $155 million lefty signed that six-year megadeal last winter knowing the Cubs would have Anthony Rizzo (26), Kris Bryant (23), Jorge Soler (23), Kyle Schwarber (22) and Addison Russell (21) in place as building blocks.

“That’s the big thing,” Lester said. “You look at a lot of the great teams that were good for a long time — the Yankees (recently) and the Red Sox for a little while. They had a core group of guys that came up through the system and believed in what the system believes in.

“You see the Cardinals have done it for (so) long with their guys. It’s a big building point. You have a group of guys (who) figure out how to win together, then that just trickles down to the next guys that come up. They want to do the same thing. And then when the free agents come in, they don’t want to let those guys down.”

Talking World Series in 2015 would have sounded crazy while the Cubs were losing 286 games and writing off three major-league seasons. But any sense of dread has been overwhelmed by the feeling that anything seems possible. 

“Obviously, times weren’t easy the last few years,” Rizzo said. “But with all the talent we had – and all the talent we were building – everyone knew that the Cubs were coming.

“We’re here. And hopefully we can keep this thing going.”

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.”