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On to the next one: Schwarber, Cubs dismantle Pirates in wild-card game

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On to the next one: Schwarber, Cubs dismantle Pirates in wild-card game

PITTSBURGH — Kyle Schwarber certainly didn't permit the pressure to exceed the pleasure.

The rookie masher did what he does best, driving in the first three runs as the Cubs dismantled the Pirates, 4-0, in the National League wild-card game in front of 40,889 fans at PNC Park.

Schwarber got the start in Joe Maddon's unconventional lineup, playing right field, a position he's only been at a handful of times in his professional career.

But the move paid off as Schwarber fought off a two-strike pitch from Gerrit Cole to put the Cubs on top, 1-0, in the first inning and then dropped the hammer with a two-run blast that nearly splashed into the Allegheny River beyond right field in the third inning.

"Oh man, that was magestic," Cubs catcher David Ross said. "He hit that ball and I couldn't even celebrate because I wanted to see how far it went. He's a beast."

It was all Jake Arrieta and the Cubs needed as the ace continued his masterful season with a complete game shutout, striking out 11 Pirates hitters and allowing just four singles.

[MORE CUBS: Jake Arrieta keeps on dominating with wild-card shutout of Pirates]

On offense, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo combined to go 0-for-7 with a walk, but the top of the order did all the damage.

Beyond Schwarber, Dexter Fowler became the first Cubs player to hit a homer, steal a base, collect three hits and score three runs in a postseason game.

As Maddon says to Fowler all the time — "you go, we go." The 29-year-old leadoff hitter proved that again Wednesday, leading the game off with a base hit and coming around to score on Schwarber's base hit a few pitches later.

Schwarber had actually been struggling the last month-plus of the season, hitting just .177 with a .655 OPS in 33 games dating back to Aug. 20. That followed his ridiculous start to his big-league career (1.021 OPS through 36 games).

Schwarber actually closed out the regular season without an extra-base hit in his last nine games (26 at-bats).

But that all changed once the postseason rolled in.

"I know the struggles are going to happen," Schwarber said. "It's baseball. It's a crazy game that goes up and down. You've just got to try to find a way to be even keel throughout it all.

"The atmosphere today, it was live. It's a playoff game and you're going to be locked in."

Schwarber might have been even-keeled on the field, but he actually admitted that he was nervous leading up to the game.

[SHOP CUBS: Get the latest Cubs gear here]

"The nerve really hit (Tuesday) night when I was watching the American League wild-card game because I realized that was going to be us and in less than 24 hours," he said. "Then coming out to the ballpark, there are butterflies and listening to the national anthem and listening to the crowd roar, there is going to be butterflies.

"But once that first pitch happens, it's game time. It's time to go. Everything starts to slow down from then. You feel so sped up when you're spectating and then once you step onto the field, you slow it down."

How, exactly, does one do that?

It's not just one rookie like Schwarber. It's every young player on the Cubs team rising above the moment — Addison Russell shrugging off an error to turn a double play on the next batter; Bryant playing flawless defense at two different positions.

"We have a great group here," Bryant said. "We just have a lot of fun. That's what it's about — have fun, don't let the pressure affect you.

"Joe says it best — never let the pressure exceed the pleasure. I think that's the best saying. That should be the title of our book."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here:

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”