Cubs

They're back: Cubs lineup bludgeons Cardinals

They're back: Cubs lineup bludgeons Cardinals

ST. LOUIS — The Cubs didn’t need any mimes, magicians or mariachi bands in the clubhouse. Joe Maddon didn’t have to reach into his bag of tricks to deflect attention away from his team’s offensive struggles or deflate whatever pressure his young hitters might have been feeling.

The Cubs showed why they have the best record in baseball and status as World Series favorites, jumping Michael Wacha for six runs in the first inning of a 12-3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium.

The Cubs (30-14) finished with 15 hits, and if Maddon didn’t call this shot, the manager certainly alluded to it during his pregame media session when asked which hitter he thinks opponents focus on or worry about the most.

“It’s hard to name one guy,” Maddon said. “I’m sure they’re concerned about (Jorge) Soler hitting .190-something, just knowing that at any moment he could just break out. If I were to look at our lineup, I’d be uncomfortable all the way down (with) the way David Ross is hitting right now. There’s no comfortable break in our lineup.

“It’s a definite American League East lineup from back in the day.”

That’s the entire point for this franchise, how Theo Epstein’s front office kept betting on hitters in the draft, trades and free agency, trying to build a bigger, better version of those Boston Red Sox teams that bludgeoned opponents.

Within that first-inning ambush, Soler drew a bases-loaded walk that forced in a run and Ross drove a ball that soared over Randal Grichuk’s head and deflected off the center fielder’s outstretched glove for a two-out, two-run double. Even good-hitting pitcher Jason Hammel chipped in with another two-run double from the No. 9 spot.

“We don’t hit the panic button when we don’t score runs — or (when) we don’t pitch,” Hammel said. “It’s part of the whole ebb and flow of the season. We’re not robots. We can’t do it all the time.

“You’re going to run into some good teams, too. Overall, we never panic.”

Soler knocked out Wacha — a pitcher the Cubs beat in the playoffs last year — in the fifth inning with a two-run homer that had 100-mph exit velocity and sailed 406 feet over the center-field fence. The Cubs ended a three-game losing streak — the first one this season — and changed the subject with fans on Twitter and for the media wondering what happened to this team.

“It’s hard to keep us down for too long,” said Ross, who notched his 500th career hit in his 15th big-league season. “These guys are very talented, and they’ve continued to grind at-bats. Sometimes it’s just (that) hitting’s hard. Plain and simple, it’s not easy to hit.”

The Cardinals (24-22) will get that reminder on Wednesday afternoon facing Jake Arrieta, a reigning Cy Young Award winner who’s 24-1 with a 0.99 ERA in his last 29 regular-season starts. No one needs to tell the Cubs to R-E-L-A-X.

“We’ve gone through a tough time recently,” Maddon said. “Believe me, man, it happens to everybody. It doesn’t concern me. I’m not distraught over it. It’s just a part of our game. But I like our names. I like our lineup a lot. Our boys will put up some huge numbers by the end of the season.”

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

mikemontgomerycubs.png
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: