Cubs

What's factored into Addison Russell's offensive funk with Cubs?

What's factored into Addison Russell's offensive funk with Cubs?

LOS ANGELES - Addison Russell made his big-league debut three months after his 21st birthday and has never really looked overwhelmed in the nearly two years since.

The All-Star shortstop doesn't believe the playoff pressure is getting to him right now, but he admitted fatigue may be playing a factor in his offensive woes.

"The speed of the game is pretty much the same," Russell said after the Cubs' workout at Dodger Stadium Monday. "The intensity has changed. Having played 168 games-plus is new to me. I'm doing what I need to do to make sure my body's prepared and then we'll go from there."

"...It's my first time playing this long for this many consistent games. It's different, for sure."

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Cubs manager Joe Maddon stressed the importance of rest all season, ensuring even young players like Russell and Kris Bryant got regular days off to stay fresh.

But this is still the latest Russell has ever played into a season, having missed the 2015 National League Championship Series due to a hamstring injury suffered at the end of the NLDS.

Monday, Maddon chatted with Russell at the batting cage and discussed staying through the ball and finishing his swing, something Russell called "an easy adjustment. It's something I can do the first time they tell me."

Russell is just 1-for-22 in the postseason, but only has three strikeouts in six games. He pointed to his low batting average as the result of some bad luck and - much like the rest of the Cubs offense - believes balls will eventually find some grass.

However, Russell did fade down the stretch in the regular season with only three hits in his last 31 at-bats and posted a .161 batting average in his final 18 games.

He still finished with 21 homers and 95 RBI, but those stats don't mean much when the Cubs are just three losses away from the end of their season.

"It's definitely something you don't want, for sure," Russell said. "It is a little frustrating, but you can't think about that. You gotta think about this pitch, this at-bat, this play.

"When it comes down to it, yeah it's a little disheartening, but you make the adjustments and hopefully the results will be there."

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Russell also said teams have started pitching him differently in October, working the outer half of the plate more. He's worked to adjust back while keeping the same mental approach.

Maddon admitted Monday he may be changing the Cubs lineup around to shake up the offense, but Russell wasn't focused on that, instead using the day off to reset mentally.

In his brief career, Russell can't recall a slump of this magnitude.

"I feel like I haven't been at a standstill. Now I'm facing this," Russell said. "This game's gonna throw some challenges at you. It's how you overcome it.

"I know that I deserve to be in the lineup playing for this club. I don't have to go out and prove anything. Just go out there and do my thing. Stay within my approach. Balls are gonna drop."

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: