Cubs

Cubs still believe after not living up to Wrigley/World Series hype: ‘We’re going back to Cleveland’

Cubs still believe after not living up to Wrigley/World Series hype: ‘We’re going back to Cleveland’

The sound of silence took over Wrigley Field for a moment late Friday night as Javier Baez swung through Cody Allen’s 94.3-mph chest-high fastball. The Cleveland Indians closer struck out Baez, who has delivered so many times for Cubs fans this October that the crowd of 41,703 anticipated another highlight-reel moment.

The organ music began once this ancient ballpark’s first World Series game in 71 years ended, Baez leaving two runners stranded as the Indians lined up to shake hands after a 1-0 win. The Cubs now have to figure out how to get out of this 2-1 hole in a best-of-seven series, starting with trying to solve Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber on Saturday night.

“We (or) I – cause I was one of ‘em – tried to speed up things today too much,” Baez said afterward at his locker. “We were kind of trying to do things before we did it. And we got to stop doing that and play our game.”

That’s how the Cubs spun the Indians ruining the Wrigleyville block party and changing the narrative for an event that saw Major League Baseball issue 2,100 credentials to media covering the biggest story in sports.

“I have a biased opinion, but we’re the best team in baseball,” reliever Justin Grimm said. “We’re going to bounce back tomorrow. Obviously, we’re going back to Cleveland, for sure. We’re going to be all right. And we’re going to get it done.”

[MORE: Cubs offense gets back on the roller coaster again in World Series]

Grimm stood in the clubhouse shirtless after inducing his first double play this year in the fifth inning, getting a groundball from Francisco Lindor and bailing the Cubs out of the bases-loaded jam Kyle Hendricks created with an uncharacteristic walk and hit-by-pitch. 

It’s too simple to say the Cubs were distracted – and too insulting to a Cleveland team that features its own pitching/scouting infrastructure, a well-rounded core of position players, Andrew Miller creating all these possibilities for the bullpen and future Hall of Fame manager Terry Francona pushing all the buttons.

It’s also impossible to ignore the helicopters buzzing above the North Side for hours, the mounted police lined up outside the iconic marquee, the mobile command centers near the old McDonald’s lot and all these people spilling out of the Wrigleyville bars.

“It’s like Times Square on New Year’s Eve out there,” team president Theo Epstein said.

“Driving down Clark today was quite an adventure,” manager Joe Maddon said. “You could make a video game out of that.”

Five years ago this week, Epstein took over baseball operations, promising October nights like this before systematically tearing it down to build up the best team in the game. Cubs fans sat through a 101-loss season in 2012 and two more fifth-place finishes before last year’s surprise breakthrough into the National League Championship Series.

Walking a few blocks from his Lakeview home to work on Friday, Epstein stopped for about 150 selfies.

“It’s just unbelievable,” Epstein said. “Everyone was in a great mood. You see them with their dads and granddads, extended family. Everyone’s sharing it. It just seems like well-earned joy for people.”

Before the game, the Cubs paraded about 170 scouts and player-development staffers around the field, recognizing their efforts in shaping a team stocked with homegrown players like Baez, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras and young building blocks like Hendricks and Addison Russell.

Hall of Famer Billy Williams threw out the first pitch to bench coach Dave Martinez. The place filled up with former Cubs (Ryne Sandberg, Derrek Lee, Kerry Wood, Mark Prior), rock stars (Billy Corgan, Jack White), a “Mad Man” (Jon Hamm trolled Cubs fans by wearing a St. Louis Cardinals hat) and the A-list celebrity for the seventh-inning stretch (Bill Murray).

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

Even Schwarber walking up to the plate as an eighth-inning pinch-hitter with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” blasting from the sound system couldn’t stop the Cubs from getting shut out for the fourth time in their last eight playoff games. Instead of driving another ball onto the video board, Schwarber’s broken-bat pop-up against Indians reliever Bryan Shaw landed safely in Lindor’s glove.

“We were so anxious to win this game,” Contreras said. “We were trying to do too much.”

That could be part of the explanation, but the Indians clearly aren’t just happy to be here. If it hasn’t already, all this euphoria will wear off as soon as Cleveland hands Kluber a lead on Saturday night and Miller starts warming up in the bullpen.

“This seems like a holiday,” Epstein said, “but we have three hard-fought wins ahead of us.”

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

mikemontgomerycubs.png
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: