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Kyle Schwarber: 'There's a pit in the stomach' after Cubs eliminated

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Kyle Schwarber: 'There's a pit in the stomach' after Cubs eliminated

As unexpected as it was, Kyle Schwarber wasn’t ready for the Cubs’ fantastic season to come to an end.

Not 30 minutes after a Game 4 loss to the New York Mets at Wrigley Field on Wednesday night, one that sealed his team’s fate, the rookie outfielder and club’s unofficial postseason MVP was focused on all the tiny details and how close the Cubs came to returning to the World Series for the first time in 70 years.

Even though the Cubs were swept in four games by the Mets, including an 8-3 loss in Game 4, Schwarber could think of several plays that could have shifted the series in the Cubs’ direction. But in the end of what he called a “great season overall,” all Schwarber was left with is an empty feeling he hopes will drive him as he prepares for the 2016 season.

[MORE: A season comes crashing down for Cubs in NLCS]

“It’s tough,” Schwarber said. “There’s a big pit in my stomach right now saying ‘What if? What if we won four games and go to the World Series? And what if we won the World Series?’ But that’s what if? This is reality. We lost and now we know what it takes to get here, to get one step away from the World Series. There’s going to be a lot of thinking, a lot of getting into shape and when we are working out we’ve got to remember this feeling of what it is like to have this feeling and how we don’t want to have this feeling.”

Schwarber doesn’t yet know his role with the Cubs in 2016, whether he’s expected to move behind the plate or if he’ll stay in the outfield.

His powerful bat helped him make a meteoric rise through the minors this season and forced the Cubs to find any way they could to get him in the lineup. That meant 51 appearances in the outfield between the regular season and the playoffs. While Schwarber didn’t hurt the team during the regular season -- he finished with a minus-0.3 Ultimate Zone Rating -- he misplayed three fly balls in the final two losses of the series. Twice on Wednesday, Schwarber dove to make plays and missed, though neither play led to a run scored.

“I’m going to be aggressive,” Schwarber said. “I’m not going to make a passive error. I’m always going to be aggressive at any time. I look at those plays as being aggressive. They didn’t go in my favor obviously. Full responsibility is on me about that but I’m always going to be an aggressive player. So if I feel like I can make an out, I’m going to try to make an out.”

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Schwarber said he doesn’t have a preference for either position and would play wherever the Cubs ask.

He suggested he learned much from his rookie campaign -- one in which he blasted 21 combined home runs in 304 plate appearances between the regular season and the playoffs -- discussing the takeaways from his interactions with veteran teammates and how they pushed him to improve. He’s excited about the core group the Cubs have moving forward and is optimistic. Schwarber expects the lessons learned from this run to immediately pay dividends.

But he also couldn’t get over the sting and how close the Cubs actually came to achieving a goal nobody thought possible when they assembled in Mesa, Arizona in February.

“We know what it takes to get here,” Schwarber said. “We know we have a good core group of guys here and we know what we can do as a team. Obviously there’s a pit in the stomach. But trust us, we’ll all be looking forward to next year.

“It’s funny. A lot of things didn’t go our way. A lot of tough plays, just a lot of things that could go the other way. But its baseball, man. What can we 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: