Cubs

Jake Arrieta’s message for Cubs: ‘We can beat anybody’

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Jake Arrieta’s message for Cubs: ‘We can beat anybody’

NEW YORK – Either the Cubs are that much closer to building a pitching staff for October, or the New York Mets are that far away from putting together a playoff-caliber lineup.   

Whatever big-picture theories you attached to these two rebuilding teams made for MLB Trade Rumors, the Cubs left Citi Field after Thursday afternoon’s 6-1 victory feeling pretty, pretty good about themselves.

New York’s young guns get all the hype, but Cubs pitchers shut down the Mets during this three-game sweep, allowing only one run across 29 innings. With Jake Arrieta firing 97 mph fastballs – and breaking stuff that manager Joe Maddon said “almost looks like a Wiffle Ball” – the Cubs finished off a 7-0 season sweep of the now .500 Mets.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

“We can pitch with anybody,” said Arrieta, who gave up one run in eight innings, finishing with seven strikeouts and zero walks. “We can swing the bats. And our defense can play lights-out. We just have to bring that night in, night out.

“The only thing we needed to do is use this series for positive reinforcement, letting everybody in here know that we can beat anybody.”

The Cubs now return to Wrigley Field for what should be a rocking 10-game homestand that leads into the All-Star break, facing the Miami Marlins, St. Louis Cardinals and crosstown White Sox.

The Cubs (42-35) are a third-place team with major issues when it comes to the Cardinals, but they bounced back after getting swept last weekend at Busch Stadium (with some help from Simon the Magician).    

“I never doubt the resolve of our guys,” Maddon said. “We just had a tough time in St. Louis.”

[MORE: The power dynamic between Epstein and Maddon]

Maddon blasted Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” in his office after the game, a tribute to Jonathan Herrera. The utility guy filled in for third baseman Kris Bryant and drove in three runs with a sacrifice bunt and a homer off Jacob deGrom, the National League’s Rookie of the Year last season.

Arrieta (8-5, 2.80 ERA) had been a talented-but-inconsistent pitcher until that change-of-scenery trade with the Baltimore Orioles, which happened exactly two years ago (July 2, 2013), flipping rental starter Scott Feldman and also adding Pedro Strop to the bullpen mix.

The Cubs have transformed from definite sellers to potential buyers, while Arrieta has moved from the Triple-A bubble toward the top of this rotation. The differences are impossible to miss.

“It’s night and day,” Arrieta said, “both individually and as a team. We’ve grown. Our young players are taking that next step forward. We have added some young players who are extremely dynamic and can do a lot of great things on the field.

“It’s just my job to anchor things and be a guy every five days that our team knows can get us a ‘W.’ That’s what I plan to do.”    

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

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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: