Cubs

Definitive proof that Willson Contreras is the best catcher on the planet right now

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USA TODAY

Definitive proof that Willson Contreras is the best catcher on the planet right now

Every Cubs player had a leather vest hanging in their locker Saturday evening, a new addition in advance of the "Easy Rider" themed road trip to the West Coast beginning Monday.

On those vests contained the nickname for each player as the nameplate on the left breast, things like "Schwarbs" for Kyle Schwarber or "Q" for Jose Quintana.

On Willson Contreras' vest, the word "Killer" spread across the left side.

Killer?

Yep, that's Contreras' nickname within the Cubs clubhouse, apparently. It came from Jon Lester and Cubs strength coach Tim Buss (who engineered all the leather vests). 

But why "Killer"? 

"Because of the way I play and the way I look at people on the field," Contreras said, almost bashfully. 

Opposing pitchers would have to agree.

Contreras is on an absolutely surreal run right now, leading baseball with 27 RBI since the All-Star Break (tied with Colorado's Nolan Arenado) after three more runs knocked in during Saturday's 7-4 win over the Nationals.

But Contreras' epic summer actually began earlier than the midseason break, dating back to June 18.

The 25-year-old catcher woke up that mid-June morning hitting .244 with a .708 OPS, five homers and 28 RBI.

Fast forward seven weeks and those numbers now sit at .279, .861, 19 and 68, respectively. He's raised his average 35 points, his OPS 153 points and has driven in 40 runs in 39 games (35 starts) while crushing 14 homers.

"I've been locked in throughout my career in the minor leagues, but not at this level," Contreras said. "Just simplifying things, doing simple things. I think that's the key."

Case in point:

What's even more impressive is Contreras has done this while playing the most demanding position on a daily basis during the hottest time of the year.

"He understands himself; he knows his swing," said veteran backstop Alex Avila, who also homered Saturday. "It doesn't seem like he gets tired. That's nice being that age. 

"He's got tremendous ability and has an idea how to use it. ... As he gets older, he's gonna notice some things about himself and about the league and his baseball IQ will only go up from here."

Even on what is supposed to be an off-day, Cubs manager Joe Maddon couldn't possibly rationalize taking Contreras' bat out of the lineup, so he bumped him from catcher to left field for one afternoon.

Saturday's monster showing now puts Contreras on pace for 28 homers and 101 RBI in only 480 at-bats.

Those numbers are simply staggering for a catcher. No backstop has driven in 100 runs since Victor Martinez in 2004 (101).

Buster Posey drove in 103 runs in 2012, but he also played 29 games at first base that year and only 111 behind the plate.

In fact, Contreras is off to a similar start to his career as Martinez and Miguel Cabrera among Venzuelan-born players:

And Contreras has also done it in a premium spot in the lineup, settling in as the No. 4 hitter now behind Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo:

He's been a one-man wrecking crew:

Take any stretch of games and his numbers just looks insane:

It's still only the first week of August and any talk of Contreras being the NL MVP is a little overblown right now. 

But with these last seven weeks, he's at least earned a spot in the conversation.

NBC Sports Chicago to deliver a Chicago baseball Thanksgiving Day marathon

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NBC Sports Chicago to deliver a Chicago baseball Thanksgiving Day marathon

15-straight hours of “Classic” Cubs and White Sox full game replays from the 2017 season gets underway at 9:00 AM CT

NBC Sports Chicago live stream available 24/7 on NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive  or via the NBC Sports app

Chicago, IL (November 21, 2017) -- NBC Sports Chicago, the multi-platform home for the most games and most comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs and White Sox, will provide its viewers with a special 15-hour Thanksgiving Day marathon featuring four, thrilling “Classic” games from this past Cubs & White Sox season beginning this Thursday, November 23 at 9:00 AM CT. 

NBC Sports Chicago will also live stream this Classic games marathon to authenticated NBC Sports Chicago subscribers on NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive or via the NBC Sports app.  NOTE: MLB game replays will only be made available to those viewers within NBC Sports Chicago’s regular MLB viewing territory.

Note NBC Sports Chicago’s Thanksgiving Day Cubs & White Sox “Classics” game marathon line-up below (all times Central Time):

THANKSGIVING DAY - THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 23

9:00 AM“White Sox Classics: White Sox vs. Houston (from August 10) – The future most certainly looked bright on the southside in this match-up as the White Sox defeated the eventual World Series champs, thanks in part to some 9th/extra-inning heroics from team’s highly-touted future cornerstone, Yoan Moncada.

12:30 PM“Cubs Classics: Cubs at Milwaukee (from September 21) – In one of their most exciting victories of the season, the Cubs were down 3-2 in the top of the ninth (not to mention being down to their last strike), but second baseman Javy Baez came through with a clutch RBI single to force extra innings, which was then followed by reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant crushing the Brew Crew’s hopes for division contention with a two-run blast in the 10th.

4:30 PM“White Sox Classics: White Sox at Detroit (from September 14) – The bats were indeed alive as the White Sox belted out 25 hits (a White Sox personal best total since 1981) featuring some impressive firepower courtesy of its top three stars: Avisail Garcia (5-5, HR, 7 RBI), Yoan Moncada (4-5, HR), and Jose Abreu (4-5, 2 RBI).

8:00 PM“Cubs Classics: Cubs at St. Louis (from September 27) – The Cubs clinched their second-straight NL Central Division title with all five of their runs coming in the 7th inning, which included shortstop Addison Russell’s GW three-run shot.  NOTE: Immediately following this “Cubs Classics” game (approx. 10:55 PM), fans can look forward to a replay of “Cubs Postgame Live” that featured the team’s NL Central Division-clinching locker room celebration.

REMINDER: NBC Sports Chicago/NBCSportsChicago.com/NBC Sports app will carry live coverage of all eight Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Football State Championship games this weekend (all in HD) beginning with the Class 1A title game Friday morning (Nov. 24) at 10:00 AM and all the way through to the Class 8A battle between area preps powerhouses Lincoln-Way East (13-0) vs. Loyola Academy (12-1) on Saturday night (Nov. 25) at 7:00 PM on NBC Sports Chicago+.  Fans are urged to visit NBCSportsChicago.com/preps for full coverage and precise channel location/live streaming details.    

Cubs officially hire Jim Hickey as pitching coach, fill other coaching vacancies

Cubs officially hire Jim Hickey as pitching coach, fill other coaching vacancies

Joe Maddon's 2018 coaching staff came into focus Tuesday, with the Cubs officially announcing three moves.

The Cubs made Jim Hickey the team's pitching coach, making official what has been assumed for a while, that Maddon's former pitching coach with the Tampa Bay Rays would take over for Chris Bosio on the North Side.

Additionally, Brandon Hyde was moved from his role as the team's first base coach to become Maddon's bench coach, taking over for Dave Martinez, who is the new manager of the Washington Nationals.

And the Cubs announced that Will Venable will be the new first base coach after he was recently named a special assistant to president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.

Hickey, a Chicago native, spent the past 11 seasons as the Rays' pitching coach, presiding over a litany of young arms during and after Maddon's tenure as the manager there, including James Shields, Matt Garza, David Price, Chris Archer and Alex Cobb. Hickey was the pitching coach for a pair of World Series teams: the 2005 Houston Astros and the 2008 Rays.

Hickey's relationship with Cobb could be of particular interest this offseason, as the free-agent pitcher could be a target for the Cubs' front office.

Hyde has served as the Cubs' bench coach before, filling the role on Rick Renteria's staff in 2014. He spent the past three seasons as Maddon's first base coach, part of a staff that appeared in three straight National League Championship Series and won the 2016 World Series.

Venable spent nine seasons in the major leagues, wrapping up his playing career in 2016 after playing for the San Diego Padres, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers.

In addition to these moves to lock in Maddon's coaching staff, the Cubs also announced the addition of Jim Benedict as a special assistant. Benedict was most recently the vice president of pitching development for the Miami Marlins and has also worked for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees.