Cubs

Madison Bumgarner shuts down Cubs in what could be an October preview

Madison Bumgarner shuts down Cubs in what could be an October preview

SAN FRANCISCO – The Cubs couldn’t solve Madison Bumgarner and the even-year equation that won World Series titles for the San Francisco Giants in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

Another sellout crowd at AT&T Park and a national TV audience saw the blueprint for October on Sunday night, Bumgarner walking off the mound to a standing ovation with two outs in the eighth inning of a 1-0 victory over a Cubs team that so far has only won the offseason.    

The first-place Giants (27-19) won this three-game series with lights-out pitching, strong defense all over the field and enough big hits – and without starting Johnny Cueto or Jeff Samardzija, the frontline pitchers imported at a cost of $220 million for the next championship window.

“I know they feel they can beat us – and we feel like we can beat them,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We match up well. We can play against these guys. It’s always going to be a closely contested game. No side has a clear-cut advantage.”

The Cubs believe they are better built to handle power pitching in the playoffs and manufacture offense in October after a boom-or-bust lineup got swept by the New York Mets in last year’s National League Championship Series.          

The Cubs made Bumgarner work, forcing him to throw 28 pitches in the first inning and loading the bases with two outs. But with that deceptive windup, funky angle and left-handed crossfire motion, Bumgarner won an eight-pitch at-bat against Addison Russell, striking him out looking at a 92-mph knee-high fastball.

“Throughout the season, you’re going to see (adversity),” said Russell, who went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. “Whenever you’re riding high, just ride that wave out. This is something that we’re going to be faced with the whole season.

“The best thing we can do is just keep our confidence high and go get them next time.” 

Bumgarner (6-2, 2.17 ERA) allowed only three singles across 7.2 innings, finishing with six strikeouts, two walks and an RBI double off Kyle Hendricks (2-4, 3.30 ERA) in the fifth, which means the Cubs have now lost three of their last four series.

At 29-13, is this the best team in baseball?

“If you went based off record right now, everybody would say that, I understand that,” Maddon said. “We have to be able to sustain that over the course. This is a snapshot. This is May 20-whatever. I want to be the best team in baseball after the last game’s been played.

“So for right now, mission accomplished getting off to a good start. (But) it doesn’t really matter if you are right now or not. It’s what you are at the end of the year that matters the most.”

The Giants are an edgy, experienced, confident team that won’t concede anything. The Cubs couldn’t generate any power against Bumgarner, with Dexter Fowler driving a ball that came back down to earth at the left-field warning track in the fifth inning.

Javier Baez tried to get creative leading off the eighth inning, bunting a ball toward first and getting called out for running outside the base path. Maddon erupted, going nose-to-nose with first-base umpire Dana DeMuth, but it didn’t change the call.

And when Ben Zobrist blasted a ball to deep center field off Giants closer Santiago Casilla to begin the ninth inning, Denard Span made a falling-backwards catch in front of the wall.

But the Cubs aren’t going to hit the panic button with a sub-.700 winning percentage (.690), passing the season’s quarter pole in San Francisco and heading into Busch Stadium on Monday night with a six-game lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates and a seven-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the division.  

“Now it’s up to us to sustain it,” Maddon said. “Nobody’s in there taking anything for granted. We come to play every night.”

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: