Cubs

Everyone will have something to prove in Cubs camp

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Everyone will have something to prove in Cubs camp

Finally, the focus will be back on the field.

This offseason revolved around executive compensation and stadium club news conferences and Albert PujolsPrince Fielder rumors that went nowhere.

Whatever the foundation for sustained success is going to look like, were about to get our first glimpse in Arizona. By the time pitchers and catchers officially report next weekend, everyone will have something to prove.

It starts at the top with chairman Tom Ricketts, who restructured the Cubs organization for a game-changing hire and now has to figure out a way to renovate Wrigley Field.

Theo Epstein has become the face of the franchise, even though that seems to be the last thing that he wants. You know the national media will descend upon Fitch Park, curious to see if the president of baseball operations will live up to the hype.

The new executives led by Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod are trying to mesh with the personnel leftover from the Jim Hendry administration (who must produce for the new boss).

First-year manager Dale Sveum is taking over a team with almost no expectations. The roster is filled with players who are coming off down years andor havent lived up to their potential.

One player laughed when asked if Cubs fans will have the patience for a total rebuilding effort. Another simply said: They have no choice.

In baseball, anything can happen, Epstein said. We might not have the most talent in the division, but I know were going to play hard, and we have young players with upside, (several) entering their prime or pre-prime years. When you have that, you can surprise a little bit.

If we stay healthy and one or two or three or four of the players we have actually takes a big developmental step forward I think you might look up and be surprised in the middle of the summer. Especially with the depth of the starting pitching we have now.

We have one advantage over some of the opponents we might face, in that we can withstand an injury or two and still throw a very reputable starting pitcher out there every day, five days around the rotation. And if our opponents in the division cant because of injuries or attrition or poor performance then we might surprise some people.

Still, the Cubs might not know exactly what theyll get from one start to the next. Paul Maholm, Chris Volstad and Travis Wood were all once first-round picks. The Cubs decided to buy low this winter.

Maholm has a 53-73 career record that can be partially explained by pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Volstad is 6-foot-8 and only 25 years old, though he went 5-13 with a 4.89 ERA last season. Wood has never put it all together for a full year in the big leagues.

This is a team with far more question than answers.

Is Ian Stewart, another former first-round pick, the third baseman who hit 25 homers for the Colorado Rockies in 2009or the guy who had zero last year? Can Bryan LaHairs monster Pacific Coast League numbers translate to the next level?

Which Geovany Soto shows up this season? Will Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano make it to August in a Cubs uniform?

Everyone will be watching to see if Starlin Castro sharpens his focus. Carlos Marmol will have to show that he still has the right stuff to be a closer. Randy Wells will have to convince a new coaching staff that he belongs in the rotation. Darwin Barney will fight to hang onto the second-base job.

No one should get too comfortable.

The Cubs have laid out a well-reasoned plan that takes the long view. The Epstein hire changed the perception of the organization and, for the moment at least, insulated everyone from the pressure to win RIGHT NOW.

It is a high-stress job and city, Sveum said. The bottom line is were trying to win every single (time) we go out there. But more importantly, were building this organization to win consistently every single year to where you have the ability to win World Series because youre consistently winning 90-plus games every year.

The Cubs talk a good game. If this really is going to an inflection point, were all about to find out.

Even the Indians can't deny the lasting impact Cubs have on Progressive Field

Even the Indians can't deny the lasting impact Cubs have on Progressive Field

CLEVELAND — Even the Indians can't deny the lasting impact Cubs have on Progressive Field.

Namely, the impact the Cubs left on the floor of the visiting locker room.

With 18 months in between visits, one of the first things the Cubs noticed about their clubhouse at Progressive Field was the new carpet.

"It's probably necessary," Joe Maddon said with a smile. "So some good things have come from all that stuff, too, for the visitors. You get new interior decorating."

After the Indians blew a 3-1 lead in the 2016 World Series, the Cubs — and Bill Murray — dumped an awful lot of champagne and Budwesier on the old carpets.

Like, A LOT. 

"Oh yeah," Addison Russell said, "I think we messed it up pretty good."

It'd be hard to fault the Cubs for an epic celebration to honor the end of a 108-year championship drought, especially the way in which they accomplished the feat with maybe the most incredible baseball game ever played.

As the Cubs returned to the emotional, nostalgic-riddled scene of that historic fall, the parallels were striking.

Exactly 18 months before Tuesday, the Cubs walked into Progressive Field for the start of the World Series in 54 degree Cleveland weather with overcast skies and a pestering little drizzle.

Tuesday, the Cubs walked back into Progressive Field in 54 degree Cleveland weather with overcast skies and a pestering little drizzle.

A bunch of Cubs also found their lockers in the same place in that visiting locker room.

Russell, Ben Zobrist, Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo and Jon Lester all have their lockers in the same spots this week as they had for the 2016 Fall Classic.

Some clubhouses go in numerical order, some go based on position groups. The Indians don't really seem to fall under either camp, considering Lester was surrounded by all position players in the corner of the locker room, where — before Tuesday —was last seen giving a heartfelt "thank you" to the media for "putting up with him" all season.

"Just walking back into the stadium from the bus into the clubhouse, you get the sense of nostalgia," Russell said. "I see that they replaced the carpet, which is nice. But yeah, the weight room, the food room, I just remember walking around here having that World Series Champs shirt on.

"It's a great memory. I think this is the same locker I had as well. Everything's just fitting like a puzzle piece right now and it's pretty awesome."

Kyle Schwarber is basically Superman in Cleveland

Kyle Schwarber is basically Superman in Cleveland

CLEVELAND — Kyle Schwarber LOVES hitting in Cleveland.

It's like he morphs into a superhero just by stepping foot into the left-handed batter's box at Progressive Field.

Playing in Cleveland for the first time since his legendary return to the field in the 2016 World Series, Schwarber went absolutely bonkers on a Josh Tomlin pitch in the second inning Tuesday night:

That wasn't just any homer, however. 

The 117.1 mph dinger was the hardest-hit ball by any Cubs hitter in the era of exit velocity, aka since Statcast was invented in 2015:

Schwarber followed that up with another solo blast into the right-field bleachers in the fourth inning off Tomlin.

Schwarber — an Ohio native — collected his first MLB hit at Progressive Field back on June 17, 2015 in his second career game. He went 6-for-9 in that series with a triple, homer and 4 RBI.

Couple that with his World Series totals and the first two times up Tuesday and Schwarber has hit .500 with a .545 on-base percentage and .900 slugging percentage in his first 33 trips to the plate in Cleveland.