Why the Cubs may have to get creative to get Addison Russell ready

Why the Cubs may have to get creative to get Addison Russell ready

The Cubs got creative to get Kyle Schwarber back in the lineup for his legendary World Series last fall, sending him to Arizona and getting him a handful of live at-bats before bringing him onto baseball’s biggest stage. 

A similar level of creativity may be necessary to get Addison Russell back if he’s going to be a factor in October, so long as the Cubs can hold off the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals. With no minor league games available in which Russell could get rehab at-bats toward the end of September, the Cubs will have to find a way for the 23-year-old shortstop to see some live pitching before the end of the month — or, at least, before the playoffs begin. 

“It’s the actual seeing pitches, timing, reaction stuff that will be different,” manager Joe Maddon said. “There’s ways to get it done but it’s not the same as in actual games. But you get as close as you can.”

Russell, who’s slashing .241/.305/.417 with 10 home runsin 97 games, landed on the disabled list in early August with plantar fasciitis, and re-aggravated that injury during a rehab assignment in early September. He has about two weeks left in his prescribed three-week recovery process, and Saturday was his third day running. He hasn’t put cleats on yet but expects that to happen soon, though that he hasn’t is a reminder of how far off he is from re-joining the active roster. 

Russell isn’t trying to rush back into the lineup before he’s ready, though, especially if it’s in late September and the Cubs are making a final push for the playoffs (Javier Baez could help mitigate his absence, though). But that’s a discussion that won’t happen until Russell gets some at-bats, whether it’s in the instructional league in Arizona or against some minor leaguers in a simulated game at Wrigley Field or whenever the Cubs are playing. 

“The big thing is, I want to be confident whenever I go out there on the field,” Russell said. “Being 100 percent would be ideal. I don’t see me going out on the field and not being 100 percent at this point. 

“The last week of games are pretty crucial. It’s a pretty tough division. Just need to make sure I’m 100 percent and we’ll just go from there. I think the baseball and stuff is going to play out, even though I am in rehab, because this is only getting better, making sure my muscles are ready for in-game play, making sure my mind’s ready for in-game play, and just mentally being ready as well.”

If you can't wait for baseball to be back, take a look at the Cubs' spring training schedule


If you can't wait for baseball to be back, take a look at the Cubs' spring training schedule

Set your alarm, there are only three more months till baseball is back.

The Cubs announced their spring training schedule Monday, getting folks all amped up for the 34 exhibition games in February and March.

Spring game action gets started Feb. 23 out in Arizona, with the Cubs taking on the Milwaukee Brewers to kick off Cactus League play. The Cubs' first home spring game at Sloan Park in Mesa comes the next day, Feb. 24.

In addition to a 32-game Cactus League slate, the Cubs will take on the Cleveland Indians in a pair of exhibition games in Las Vegas. That 2016 World Series rematch comes March 17 and 18.

And of course, there will be three meetings with the White Sox, as both Chicago teams play their spring schedule out in Arizona. Those "Cactus Crosstown" games will be played Feb. 27 and March 10 in Mesa and March 16 in Glendale.

Here's the full schedule:

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

Jake Arrieta in a Brewers uniform?

That's not a sight Cubs fans would like to see, but the North Siders' I-94 rivals are apparently keen on trying to add Arrieta, the free-agent pitcher who's been one of the National League's top arms for the past several seasons.

The Cubs have their own decision to make on whether or not they're going to pursue re-signing Arrieta, a guy who over the past three seasons has posted a 2.71 ERA and struck out 589 batters, winning 54 games in 94 starts for a team that won the 2016 World Series and has advanced to three consecutive NL Championship Series.

The downside to losing Arrieta is obvious, as the Cubs would lose a huge part of their formidable starting rotation, but there would be an added downside if Arrieta were to remain in the NL Central and repeatedly haunt his former team.

Given Arrieta's track record, adding him would make sense for any team in the majors, but the Brewers in particular could use a front-of-the-line starting pitcher to boost their chances of besting the Cubs for the Central crown. The Brew Crew staged a surprising threat to do just that in 2017, perhaps proving that their rebuilding effort has yielded fruit ahead of schedule.

But there are questions in that rotation, with Jimmy Nelson expected to miss time next season after having shoulder surgery. Chase Anderson was great last season, and Zach Davies was solid, too. Brewers starters posted an ERA of 4.10 on the season, good for fifth in the NL. The four teams ahead of them, including the Cubs, all made the playoffs. Adding an arm as good as Arrieta's could make the difference in jumping past the Cubs in the Central and getting the Crew to the postseason for the first time since 2011.

And it'd be a plus for the Brewers to make it so Arrieta couldn't shut down their hitters anymore. In 15 career starts against the Crew, Arrieta is 8-4 with a 2.74 ERA. However, they'd surely love to have him call Miller Park home. He's never lost there in five starts, boasting a 2.03 ERA with 30 strikeouts.

There's an argument to be made that Arrieta would be able to seek revenge on the Cubs no matter what team he ends up pitching for, be it an NL team facing off against the Cubs in the playoffs or an American League squad meeting the Cubs in the World Series. After all, as Scott Boras put it, signing Arrieta is a ticket to "Playoffville."

But should Arrieta make the short drive to Wisconsin and set up shop in America's Dairyland, turning the Brewers into a legitimate playoff contender and challenger to the Cubs' grip on the NL Central crown? Well, consider the Cubs-Brewers rivalry cranked up to 11.