Cubs

The Cubs and Theo Epstein hit reboot on Opening Day

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The Cubs and Theo Epstein hit reboot on Opening Day

Theo Epstein made up his mind months ago, knowing that it was time to leave the Boston Red Sox. So maybe some emotions hit him on Opening Day. But the Cubs hired him to take a sledgehammer to the organizations sentimentality.

I think the best time for reflection is the morning after sipping champagne when you win a World Series, Epstein said Thursday. Until then, you just keep plotting forward (and) try not to look back too much.

For better or worse, this franchise has been all about looking back, celebrity traditions like Bill Murray throwing out the first pitch and singing the seventh-inning stretch.

That Epstein can talk champagne with a straight face after taking over a team that hasnt won a championship in more than a century and has finished in fifth place the past two seasons shows how big everyones thinking.

The fans were in such a good mood that they didnt even boo Alfonso Soriano during player introductions. The president of baseball operations took the ivy turning green this early as a good omen.

That morning, the back page of the Sun-Times showed Epstein striding across Lake Michigan, with the Chicago skyline as the backdrop.

Well, there was the photo of him walking on water, chairman Tom Ricketts said. You could call that expectations, but I think hes up for it.

There are game-changers off in the distance that could transform the Cubs into the Evil Empire of the Midwest.

But the new televisions deals are a few years away, and Ricketts described the Wrigley Field renovation plans as just having conversations, not the final-stage negotiation floated the other day by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Epstein knows what the upgrades at Fenway Park did for the Red Sox, but hes not focused on fixing Wrigley Field, and will be glad when the spotlight hits those who actually win or lose the games every night.

(Fans) look at me symbolically as a new direction, but its not me, Epstein said. There are dozens and dozens and dozens of people the players first and foremost working extremely hard to try to push this organization forward. It starts with Tom and the whole Ricketts family, a very hard-working front office, a new manager and major-league coaching staff.

(Its) our scouts and player development people. So its hard to sit there and put all those people on the back page of the sports. But they really should, because Im one small person in a very big machine thats hopefully going to get this thing right over time.

Near the end of a media scrum that surrounded Epstein, someone asked what it would be like to raise a banner here on Opening Day. No one snickered or rolled their eyes. Whatever happens this year, the Cubs have bought some credibility.

Theres no better feeling than being able to raise a banner and seeing the effect it has on just millions of people, Epstein said, what it means to them and their families and how they share it generationally. (To) sit back and watch that happen and know that you played a really small part in it, its a very rewarding, special feeling.

It keeps you driving forward. (There) are hundreds of people in this organization working hard to get to that day.

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

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USA TODAY

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.”

Five top-25 matchups highlight loaded episode of High School Lites

Five top-25 matchups highlight loaded episode of High School Lites

High School Lites had five matchups between top-25 teams on Friday night as the Public League Playoff semifinals and big matchups in the CSL South, Catholic League Blue and SouthWest Suburban Blue took shape.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @NBCSPreps for the latest news and scores for IHSA basketball.

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Palatine's Eduardo Orozco

Saint Xavier Team of the Week: Maine West girls basketball

Highlights

No. 1 Simeon holds off No. 4 Whitney Young

No. 2 Orr gets revenge on No. 3 Curie

No. 9 New Trier takes down No. 6 Evanston

No. 8 Fenwick handles No. 10 Loyola Academy

No. 23 Homewood-Flossmoor rallies past No. 18 Bolingbrook

Oswego East upsets No. 20 Joliet Central

Andrew shuts down Thornridge

Sandburg tops Lockport in OT

Richards runs by Shepard

Maine West captures second straight girls basketball regional title