Why Anthony Rizzo has so much confidence in the 2017 Cubs


Why Anthony Rizzo has so much confidence in the 2017 Cubs

PITTSBURGH – Late last September, almost two full weeks after clinching the division, Cubs manager Joe Maddon made PNC Park feel like spring training, writing out Cactus League lineups and following bullpen scripts.

Unprompted, a defensive and agitated Jake Arrieta wondered why the Cubs were substituting catchers in the middle of his start against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Miguel Montero, of course, took the bait, saying it would be up to the players to trick themselves and maintain their edge. Even clubhouse diplomat Ben Zobrist acknowledged the simmering frustrations with disrupted routines.

Cubs fans and the Chicago media questioned whether a 103-win team that had a double-digit lead in the National League Central since the first week of August could just flip a switch in the playoffs.

The counterargument became the 2015 Cubs storming into the wild-card game, beating the Pirates and silencing the blackout crowd here – and then running out of gas during an NL Championship Series sweep where they never led the New York Mets at any point.

Anthony Rizzo has the perspective of someone who lived through the highs and lows of the rebuilding years – and as a cancer survivor and a Roberto Clemente Award nominee who’s making sure his family gets to Chicago before Hurricane Irma roars through South Florida.

The inner confidence and competitive attitude that made Rizzo a 30-homer, 100-RBI force three years running applies here now: Forget about the last at-bat and focus on the next pitch. It doesn’t matter that the Cubs were a .500 team for three-plus months and still haven’t shaken the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals yet.

“We learned from 2015 how to control winning,” said Rizzo, who drew the ninth-inning walk that set up Alex Avila’s two-out, broken-bat RBI triple, the Cubs outlasting Gerrit Cole in Wednesday’s 1-0 victory. “Because by then, by the finish line, the emotion of the wild-card game, that (whole) emotional rollercoaster, it just wore us all out and we all hit a wall.

“In ’16, we were way more prepared. We boat-raced. Everyone was like: ‘Are they going to be able to do it? Are they going to be able to do it?’ And a few balls fell our way, and we did.

“Everyone has the experience now to know that, OK, we’ve had the outside noise of everything thrown at us. So I don’t think in here you’re going to find much panic. We know we’re in first place coming after a championship season, which is unheard of the last 10 years.”

Rizzo has a point in that the Cubs were the first defending World Series champions to be in first place on Labor Day since the 2010 New York Yankees. And built the largest Labor Day division lead for a defending World Series champion since the 2009 Philadelphia Phillies.

“We’re in a winning position,” Rizzo said. “We’re in position to do it. And we all want it.”

The young, inexperienced Brewers – who just got swept by the last-place Cincinnati Reds – are 4.5 games back now and in unchartered territory. The Cubs also believe they have grown from the adversity and will weather injuries that have hit the top of their rotation (Arrieta and Jon Lester) and the middle of their defense (Willson Contreras and Addison Russell).

“Two years ago, we didn’t know,” Maddon said. “We didn’t know anything until we got right outside the All-Star break and then all of a sudden found our traction. And then last year was a different narrative entirely. We took it from wire to wire, which is unusual, too.

“This year, again, everybody’s got a different opinion of you and everybody’s shooting for you. And then we’re playing with a different kind of a group, also, and still trying to maintain that level of excellence.

“So there’s three different roads that we’ve had over the last three years – ’15, ’16 and now ’17 – and it’s good to experience some different methods and understand that it’s not always going to be the same. You’re going to meet with different resistance and you just have to fight through it.

“I’m happy that the guys have responded the way they have, because nobody is out there making excuses at all.”

Rizzo also isn’t making guarantees anymore, because the Cubs already made history and understand what it takes to win in October.

“We’re in first place with a few weeks to go,” Rizzo said. “You got to get to that postseason and anything can happen.”

Ozzie Guillen compared Sammy Sosa to Michael Jordan...and Michael Jackson

Ozzie Guillen compared Sammy Sosa to Michael Jordan...and Michael Jackson

Ozzie Guillen is no stranger to saying outlandish things.

So it's not surprising that Guillen would agree with Sosa when the former Cubs outfielder said he made the city of Chicago what it is today.

Thirteen months ago, Sosa gave a candid interview to Chuck Wasserstrom and compared himself to Jesus before saying: "When nobody knew who Chicago was, I put Chicago on the map."

Guillen echoed that sentiment on the latest White Sox Talk Podcast.

Maybe from where they sit, that's exactly what has occurred. Sosa and Michael Jordan certainly helped make the Cubs, Bulls and Chicago sports in general on the map internationally.

"People know who the Cubs were because Sammy put them back on the map," Guillen said. "... For the city of Chicago, when Sammy was Sammy — that race with [Mark] McGwire, then people noticed what Chicago was."

Ozzie said — from his perspective — when people hear about Chicago, they ask, "Oh, you know Sammy?" or "You know Michael?" referencing Michael Jordan.

Guillen also weighed in on Sosa's ever-changing appearance that has sparked A LOT of attention lately.

"But the color, I'm tired. I think he uses the same product Michael Jackson did," Guillen said. "It's funny because I work with him — we talked to him a lot for ESPN Deportes. When you're lying, that's when people don't get it.

"Listen, if you want to change your color, why not? You got the money, you got the time if that's what you want to be. But if you say, 'Well, I got too much color because of the sun when I was playing.' OK...You live in Miami, you grew up in the Dominican. To me, I just laugh."

Scouting the Cubs' competition: Will the Nationals finally win it all before Bryce Harper leaves?


Scouting the Cubs' competition: Will the Nationals finally win it all before Bryce Harper leaves?

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

Washington Nationals

2017 record: 97-65, 1st place in NL East

Offseason additions: Miguel Montero, Matt Adams, Joaquin Benoit, Matt Reynolds, Jeremy Hellickson, Tommy Milone

Offseason departures: Adam Lind, Stephen Drew, Jose Lobaton, Jayson Werth, Matt Albers, Oliver Perez, Joe Blanton

X-factor: The health of their stars

Health is an X-factor for any team, but it carries more weight in D.C. than anywhere else in baseball.

Bryce Harper, Trea Turner and Stephen Strasburg are three of the Nationals' best players and yet three guys that can't seem to stay healthy for a full season. Couple that group with leadoff hitter Adam Eaton and Daniel Murphy coming off knee injuries, the health questions are running rampant in Washington.

Those are the Nationals' projected Top 4 hitters and No. 2 starter. If they all stay healthy, they'll put up some whopping numbers. But if history repeats, it will make the road quite a bit tougher despite a weak NL East.

Projected lineup

1. Adam Eaton - LF
2. Trea Turner - SS
3. Bryce Harper - RF
4. Anthony Rendon - 3B
5. Ryan Zimmerman - 1B
6. Howie Kendrick - 2B
7. Matt Wieters - C
8. Michael Taylor - CF

Projected rotation

1. Max Scherzer
2. Stephen Strasburg
3. Gio Gonzalez
4. Tanner Roark
5. A.J. Cole


When healthy, this may be the most talented roster in the NL. Harper, Rendon, Murphy and Turner could all wind up as serious contenders in the 2018 MVP race while Scherzer and Strasburg figure to garner some Cy Young votes once again.

The Nationals also have the advantage of a pretty rough division, at least on paper. Three teams are rebuilding and the Mets haven't made the playoffs in a couple years now. Getting to play 18+ games against all four of those teams is a godsend.

Which is good news for a Nationals fanbase that is absolutely starving for some actual postseason success. Wade Davis and the Cubs knocked Washington out last fall and 2018 represents what figures to be the final chance to win it all (or even win A playoff series) with Harper before he gets a $400 million deal elsewhere (like Chicago??).

The 2018 Nationals have no holes. If any of their starters falter, they have Hellickson available. If any of their position players struggle, they have depth in the form of Kendrick (once Murphy is healthy), Montero, Adams, Wilmer Difo and Brian Goodwin.

And the bullpen is very, very good thanks to a bunch of moves before the 2017 Trade Deadline and also have Benoit and Koda Glover expected to start the season on the DL.

The Nationals will be playing in October this year. But what they do in the postseason is a question that won't be answered for 6 months. 

Prediction: 1st in NL East, playoffs