Joe Maddon defends Jorge Soler’s hustle as Cubs try to get back to normal in World Series

Joe Maddon defends Jorge Soler’s hustle as Cubs try to get back to normal in World Series

Instead of simply crediting the Cleveland Indians for another high-wire victory in October, the blame game can also go in so many different directions after a 1-0 playoff loss: What if Jorge Soler sprinted out of the batter’s box?

That’s not a hypothetical question Cubs manager Joe Maddon spent a lot of time thinking about after Cleveland’s Lonnie Chisenhall jumped and misjudged the flyball Soler drove into right field on Friday night at Wrigley Field. Soler – a player with a history of leg injuries throughout his career – didn’t wind up with a fluky inside-the-park home run but still ran hard enough to get a triple.

“Honestly, I heard about that – I was kind of surprised by it,” Maddon said Saturday. “What happens sometimes – and I think this is what I saw – is you’ll see a guy hit a ball and their head’s down. They don’t even know where it is.

“I think when he saw it from our perspective, it was in the stands, and it kind of blew back. So I’m not trying to make excuses for him. I’m just saying the best he could have done was get to third base, anyway.

“Nothing else was going to happen beyond that. I’m glad he got to third. If he had gotten to second, that would have been a problem.”

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These issues are much bigger than just Soler, the Cubs going 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position in Game 3, getting shut out for the fourth time in eight playoff games and maybe feeling anxious during the franchise’s first World Series event in Wrigleyville in 71 years.

Soler accounted for two of the team’s five hits against a dynamic Cleveland pitching staff that already eliminated the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, two teams built around explosive offense. 

With John Lackey going up against Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber in Game 4, Maddon went with a defense-first lineup, putting Soler on the bench, starting Gold Glover Jason Heyward in right field and hoping the Cubs will slow down mentally and play their game again.  

“I thought that once we got here there would be no issues regarding how we would approach the day,” Maddon said. “(But) I’m not 24. So when a guy walks into the ballpark or drives to the ballpark and sees this increased whatever – just the magnitude of everything – it could have been a little bit unsettling. I didn’t read that among our guys. But I’m not naïve enough to say that it’s not possible.” 

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


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: