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Cubs unveil wild-card lineup in advance of showdown with Pirates

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Cubs unveil wild-card lineup in advance of showdown with Pirates

PITTBURGH - In one baseball game, anything can happen.

Sure, Jake Arrieta and Gerrit Cole - two of the best pitchers in the game today - will be going head-to-head, but you can't just assume the Cubs-Pirates showdown in the National League wild-card game will be a low-scoring affair.

[RELATED - Cubs trying to be oblivious to playoff pressure: 'Dumb it down']

"What it comes down to is the beauty of the game and what can take place when men get out on the mound and teams take the field," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said before the team's workout Tuesday. "It very well could be a low-scoring game. That would seem to be the reach. And then some different things could happen."

Which means both Hurdle and Cubs manager Joe Maddon need to be prepared for anything.

There is no guarantee Jake Arrieta will keep dominating the world like he has the last few months. Especially in the first postseason game of his career.

The Cubs released Maddon's lineup Wednesday afternoon:

1. Dexter Fowler - CF
2. Kyle Schwarber - RF
3. Kris Bryant - LF
4. Anthony Rizzo - 1B
5. Tommy La Stella - 3B
6. Starlin Castro - 2B
7. Miguel Montero - C
8. Addison Russell - SS
9. Jake Arrieta - P

Here is the Cubs' complete 25-man roster for the wild-card game:

Catchers

Miguel Montero

2015 stats: .248 AVG, .754 OPS, 15 HR, 53 RBI

How he got here: The Cubs traded for Montero in the offseason, dealing a pair of young pitchers to the Arizona Diamondbacks to acquire the veteran catcher and add a valuable piece inside the clubhouse.

David Ross

2015 stats: .176 AVG, .518 OPS, 1 HR, 9 RBI

How he got here: The Cubs signed Ross in the offseason to serve as Jon Lester's personal catcher and a pseudo coach in the locker room. Oh, and he's pretty good at Taylor Swift karaoke.

Infielders

Anthony Rizzo

2015 stats: .278 AVG, .899 OPS, 31 HR, 101 RBI, 94 R, 17 SB

How he got here: Rizzo came to the Cubs in a franchise-altering move that sent Andrew Cashner to the San Diego Padres and handed the Cubs an MVP candidate and serious middle-of-the-order threat.

Starlin Castro

2015 stats: .265 AVG, .671 OPS, 11 HR, 69 RBI, 52 R

How he got here: Castro is the longest-tenured Cubs player, having spent only a few days on a winning team in Chicago before this season. The embattled shortstop was benched in early August, but has been baseball's best hitter since Sept. 1 and was tabbed as Montero's prediction for the team's postseason MVP.

Addison Russell

2015 stats: .242 AVG, .696 OPS, 13 HR, 54 RBI, 60 R

How he got here: The National League's youngest player was put on the fast track after coming to the Cubs in the Jeff Samardzija deal last July 4. The quiet rookie started out playing second base, but has now taken his smooth glove to shortstop and is one of the top defensive players in the game already.

Kris Bryant

2015 stats: .275 AVG, .858 OPS, 26 HR, 99 RBI, 87 R, 13 SB

How he got here: Yes, the Cubs made the right move in keeping Bryant down in Iowa for two weeks at the beginning of the season to retain an extra year of control on the budding superstar. Bryant is all but guaranteed the NL Rookie of the Year award and has emerged as one of the best all-around players in the game, proving he's way more than just a guy who hits home runs and strikes out.

[MORE CUBS: Kris Bryant wants to keep the surprises coming in playoffs]

Tommy La Stella

2015 stats: .269 AVG, .727 OPS, 1 HR, 11 RBI

How he got here: The Cubs acquired La Stella from the Atlanta Braves for Arodys Vizcaino in the offseason and the 26-year-old infielder spent most of the season on the disabled list with oblique injuries. But it didn't take him long to win over Maddon's confidence and La Stella figures to play a prominent role in the Cubs' playoff run.

Javier Baez

2015 stats: .289 AVG, .733 OPS, 1 HR, 4 RBI

How he got here: Baez was the most intriguing Cubs prospect last season during his two-month stint in the big leagues. This year, the death of his sister and a finger injury nearly derailed Baez's season, but the young slugger perservered and looks like a completely different player, giving the Cubs defense, speed and a more mature approach at the plate.

Outfielders

Dexter Fowler

2015 stats: .250 AVG, .757 OPS, 17 HR, 46 RBI, 102 R, 20 SB

How he got here: The Cubs traded Luis Valbuena for Fowler over the winter, anchoring their lineup and defense as a bonafide leadoff hitter and centerfielder. Fowler led the team in walks and runs scored, setting the table for Rizzo and Bryant.

Kyle Schwarber

2015 stats: .246 AVG, .842 OPS, 16 HR, 43 RBI, 52 R

How he got here: The Cubs' first-round pick in 2014 broke into the big leagues in a big way, mashing everything in sight. He's slowed down a bit since then, but still represents a potentially game-changing left-handed bat in the postseason

Chris Coghlan

2015 stats: .250 AVG, .784 OPS, 16 HR, 41 RBI, 64 R, 11 SB

How he got here: One of the more underrated players on any postseason team, Coghlan spent a large part of the season as the Cubs' No. 3 hitter, showing off his versatility by playing all over the diamond and crushing right-handed pitching.

Jorge Soler

2015 stats: .262 AVG, .723 OPS, 10 HR, 47 RBI

How he got here: Soler was seen as a Rookie of the Year contender before the season, but struggled to get going out of the gate and dealt with a pair of injuries that forced him to miss more than 50 games. The 23-year-old hits the ball as hard as anybody in baseball and can change the game late even if he doesn't get a start.

Chris Denorfia

2015 stats: .269 AVG, .691 OPS, 3 HR, 18 RBI

How he got here: The veteran outfielder has become a "glue guy" in the clubhouse and figures to be utilized as a defensive replacement/pinch-hitter in any Cubs postseason games.

Austin Jackson

2015 stats: .236 AVG, .679 OPS, 1 HR, 10 RBI

How he got here: The Cubs dealt for Jackson right before the waiver deadline, adding another veteran who plays solid defense at all three outfield positions and provides a right-handed bat and some speed off the bench.

Quintin Berry

2015 stats: 2 SBs, 1 CS

How he got here: Berry is on the roster as a pinch-runner, hoping to change the game with his speed just like Dave Roberts did on the 2004 Boston Red Sox.

Pitchers

Jake Arrieta

2015 stats: 22-6, 1.77 ERA, 0.865 WHIP, 236 K

How he got here: If the Rizzo trade was a franchise-altering move, then what does the Cubs-Orioles trade from July 2013 qualify as? Theo Epstein's front office flipped Scott Feldman for Pedro Strop and Arrieta, who is currently the top pitcher in the universe. The Cubs haven't won a playoff game since before Steve Bartman reached for a foul ball and their postseason hopes now hinge on a former "bust."

[MORE CUBS: How Jake Arrieta transformed himself into the Cubs ace]

Jon Lester

2015 stats: 11-12, 3.34 ERA, 1.122 WHIP, 207 K

How he got here: The signing that made this all happen. Lester's megadeal was the official signal that the Cubs were going for it and his professional approach to the game and in the clubhouse changed the culture and set the franchise on the right path. Lester is on the wild-card roster to provide insurance for Arrieta.

Kyle Hendricks

2015 stats: 8-7, 3.95 ERA, 1.161 WHIP, 167 K

How he got here: Hendricks really turned it on at the end of the year, but the 25-year-old is an interesting name to see on the Cubs' wild-card roster. Maddon needs just one starter, with Lester as insurance while Travis Wood, Clayton Richard and Trevor Cahill can provide some length out of the bullpen, so Hendricks doesn't appear to have a fit at first glance. But maybe Maddon has a trick up his sleeve...

Clayton Richard

2015 stats: 4-2, 3.83 ERA, 1.276 WHIP

How he got here: The Pirates dealt Richard to the Cubs for cash this summer and the 31-year-old lefty carved out a nice role in Chicago as a left-handed specialist, long-relief guy and even a starter for three games. Maddon compared Richard to a utility infielder thanks to his versatility.

Travis Wood

2015 stats: 5-4, 3.84 ERA, 1.242 WHIP, 118 K, 4 SV

How he got here: Wood began the year in the rotation but after a bout of ineffectivness, the lefty was moved to the bullpen and transformed as a high-strikeout guy who could find success in a variety of different roles.

Pedro Strop

2015 stats: 2-6, 2.91 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, 81 K, 3 SV

How he got here: The Cubs' top setup man appeared in 76 games in 2015 and could be Maddon's choice to pitch the eighth inning against the Pirates (you know, if Arrieta doesn't throw a complete game).

Justin Grimm

2015 stats: 3-5, 1.99 ERA, 1.148 WHIP, 67 K, 3 SV

How he got here: Maddon tabbed Grimm as a "mid-innings closer" earlier in the season and the 26-year-old righty is one of the most important pieces of the bullpen, able to come in for just one batter or toss two innings in high-leverage situations.

Trevor Cahill

2015 stats: 1-0, 2.12 ERA, 0.765 WHIP, 22 K

How he got here: The Cubs picked Cahill up off the scrap heap and after failed stints as a starter over the last couple years, the 27-year-old righty has figured it out in the Cubs bullpen, striking out 11.6 batters per nine innings and showing he can handle any situation.

Hector Rondon

2015 stats: 6-4, 1.67 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, 69 K, 30 SV

How he got here: Rondon lost the closer's role earlier in the season because he was trying to strike everybody out, but Montero and Cubs coaches helped the former Rule 5 draft pick understand he can be successful pitching to contact, too, and now Rondon is one of the top stoppers in the game.

Fernando Rodney

2015 stats: 2-0, 0.75 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, 15 K

How he got here: The 38-year-old Rodney shot an arrow of life into the Cubs bullpen, allowing just one earned run in 12 innings since being picked up late in the season. Rodney is the most experienced member of the bullpen and may find himself in high-leverage situations this October.

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

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USA TODAY

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: