Cubs

Cubs-Sox, Ricketts-Obama, Sveum-Ventura: Will there be buzz?

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Cubs-Sox, Ricketts-Obama, Sveum-Ventura: Will there be buzz?

The Cubs were in damage-control mode on Thursday, with Tom Ricketts releasing a statement distancing his franchise from racially divisive issues.

The Cubs had woken up to a New York Times report linking the chairmans father, Joe, to potential attack ads against President Obama funded by a super PAC. The head of the Ricketts family issued a statement rejecting those plans.

The Ending Spending campaign message comes at a politically sensitive time, as the Cubs try to lobby government officials for help with renovating Wrigley Field.

Against that backdrop, Chicago will be hosting the always unpredictable series between the Cubs and White Sox, as well as the NATO summit that will bring an increased security presence around the city this weekend.

The bomb-sniffing dogs were out at Wrigley Field earlier this week (though thats been seen at the stadium before).

Whether its Carlos Zambrano being restrained from Derrek Lee in the dugout, or Michael Barrett punching A.J. Pierzynski at home plate, or Ozzie Guillen and Lou Piniella talking trash, or fans going after each other in the stands, this usually reaches a boiling point.

Whenever youre involved in these kind of series, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said, theres way more tension than in any other series. Thats just a part of it. Am I going to sit here and say: Is anything gonna happen? No, but theres completely different emotions that go on (here) that you dont have in regular series.

So whether its emotions from the fans, emotions from playersits just a whole nother level of baseball.

Sveum and Robin Ventura his former teammate and current counterpart on the South Side are low-key, first-year managers that try to project a sense of calm and dont provide bulletin-board material.

Guillen loved the attention and loved this environment, ripping Wrigley Field and the rats he claimed were running around inside.

If Guillen hadnt taken his talents to South Beach, you could have asked him about the renovations plans or the White Sox fan in the White House.

Thats supposed to be off-limits now for Guillen. Last month in Little Havana the day after the Miami Marlins manager returned from his suspension for making comments about Fidel Castro he was asked how different the crosstown series will be without him.

It will be a big media event still, Guillen said. I tell a lot of people: Besides playing in the World Series or playoffs, thats the closest youre going to get, when you play White Sox-Cubs in town.

A lot of people talk about New York, St. Louis. No, I think (about) that series in Chicago. People take it very seriously and thats a big event in town.

The Cubs and White Sox reportedly might not be guaranteed the same six-game split between Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field next year, when the Houston Astros move to the American League and interleague play rolls on throughout the season.

As a player, its 162 games, every ones important, Cubs utility man Jeff Baker said. Theres not too many outside of Opening Day (and) the playoffs where you really get overexcited. If you lose to the White Sox, its the same as losing to the Reds. (But) its not stale by any means.

On the flip side of that, for the fans, its awesome. Its water-cooler discussion. You see people at gas stations yelling at each other when youre filling up (the car). I know the city likes it and the city appreciates it, so I dont want to say as players its stale to us. We still get up for it. Its still fun. But I think it means a lot more to the fans.

Really, youve seen fans yelling at each other at the gas station?

I have, Baker said. I was picking up family out at Midway (in 2010). There were some Cubs fans out there. (Obviously, that areas) predominantly White Sox fans. They were yelling at each other. It was kind of funny. I kind of pumped my gas quickly and got (away) in my car.

The Bulls and Blackhawks have already been eliminated from the playoffs, and the Bears are weeks away from training camp. This city is going to start focusing on their two sub-.500 baseball teams.

You got to root for someone now, said Jeff Samardzija, who gets the start for the Cubs on Friday. I guess you got to pick the North or the South.

Dusty Baker takes the fall for Nationals meltdown against Cubs

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USA TODAY

Dusty Baker takes the fall for Nationals meltdown against Cubs

The Washington Nationals must have been sitting at home, watching the National League Championship Series and wondering: How did we lose to this team?

The Cubs poured so much physical effort, mental focus and emotional energy into those five playoff games against the Nationals that they didn’t have much left in the tank for the bigger, better Los Angeles Dodgers team that dominated the defending World Series champs in every phase and captured the NL pennant on Thursday night at Wrigley Field.

By midday Friday, the Nationals announced that manager Dusty Baker will not return for the 2018 season, while the contracts for the big-league coaching staff have also expired, leaving a franchise with chain-of-command issues in damage-control mode.

This is a bitter disappointment for Baker, who needs a World Series ring as a manager to put the final bullet point on a Hall of Fame resume and still grumbles about how things ended in 2006 after four up-and-down years managing the Cubs.

Baker, 68, a former Marine, All-Star player and all-around Renaissance man with a great feel for dealing with people and managing the clubhouse, apparently couldn’t overcome last week’s elimination-game meltdown at Nationals Park, where the Cubs hung on for a 9-8 victory and forced Washington into its fourth first-round playoff exit since 2012.

Baker’s in-game decision-making was already under the microscope and his teams have now lost 10 straight postseason close-out games, a major-league record, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

The Nationals also needlessly subjected Stephen Strasburg to withering criticism when Baker said the $175 million pitcher was feeling under the weather — maybe because of Chicago mold and hotel air-conditioning units — and being saved for Game 5. Only to flip-flop and watch Strasburg throw seven scoreless innings in a dominant Game 4 performance at Wrigley Field.

That unforced error and yet another manager search is not a good look for the Nationals, who made the announcement through the Lerner family ownership group after general manager Mike Rizzo repeatedly signaled that he expected to reach a new agreement with Baker after winning 192 games combined in two years and back-to-back division titles.

Since the franchise relocated from Montreal and abandoned the Expos logo in 2005, the Nationals have employed seven different managers and will be starting all over again in 2018, when Bryce Harper will be in his last season before becoming a free agent and probably wondering if Washington can finally get its act together.

What now for the Cubs?

What now for the Cubs?

OK, time to turn the page.

Nah, it doesn't have to be that sudden.

The 2017 Cubs season may not have resulted in a World Series, but it was absolutely a smashing success. There was a time not long ago that playing — and even losing — in the fifth game of the NLCS was a huge step.

But the Cubs now have a World-Series-or-bust mentality now and the 2017 season did not live up to those expectations.

"We're capable of more than we showed in the postseason," Ben Zobrist said.

So what now? What's next for these Cubs?

Well, quite literally: Rest. Rest is next.

"For those guys that are playing every day, they need to take the time that they need to take," Zobrist said. "Take the three weeks, month to let your body relax and heal up.

"I think from there, it's listening to your body for them. For me, I'm in a different place. I didn't play as many games as I normally play. I feel like my stamina, I have to work on my endurance and stamina to get back up to where it needs to get to where I'm capable of playing more games and not getting injuries and things like that like I had this year.

"...[Kris Bryant] and [Anthony] Rizzo, they were our horses and so they need to take more time than somebody like me does going into the offseason. They deserve to get some rest and relaxation. I think we're all very motivated going into the offseason to get back to where we're capable of playing as a team."

Other players have a different attitude as they approach the winter.

Albert Almora Jr., after his first full season in the big leagues, is anxious to get better. Immediately.

The young outfielder is planning on spending a lot of time hanging out with his wife and one-year-old son, but he isn't interested in all that much rest right now.

"[I plan] to get back to work," Almora said. "I think we have a big chip on our shoulder coming into next year."

Rizzo and Bryant, meanwhile, played 167 and 161 games, respectively, including the postseason. They combined for over 1,500 plate appearances from April 2 through Oct. 19.

Neither player has much interest in watching the Los Angeles Dodgers play either the Houston Astros or New York Yankees in the World Series.

So what will they do?

"It's always tough," Rizzo said after the Cubs were officially eliminated. "You start a journey with all these guys and at the end of the day, these last couple days, you don't take anything for granted at all.

"The stretch, the cage work. Yesterday could've been our last day. Today's obviously our last day. We gotta enjoy these moments because you don't know how long they last.

"But you make a lot of friendships along the way. This next week will be tough and kinda scratching your head on what to do."