Cubs have seen just about everything from Nationals and reacted like this: ‘So what? Now what?’


Cubs have seen just about everything from Nationals and reacted like this: ‘So what? Now what?’

Dusty Baker is a former Marine, a Renaissance man and a borderline Hall of Famer, but at Wrigley Field he will always be identified on some level for how the 2003 Cubs completely collapsed, five outs away from the World Series.

Less than three months after Steve Bartman got a championship ring, this is the how the Cubs have reacted to everything the Washington Nationals have done in this National League Division Series: “So what? Now what?”

It didn’t matter that Stephen Strasburg took a no-hitter into the sixth inning of Game 1, and the bullpen imploded in a Game 2 loss, and the defense committed four errors in Game 3 while Max Scherzer pitched a no-hitter into the seventh inning on a bad right hamstring.

After a 2-1 loss on Monday night, Baker still had to explain why he pulled Scherzer after 98 pitches and led his team into an elimination game without using top setup guy Ryan Madson or closer Sean Doolittle. This team is just wired differently – physically, mentally and emotionally – than the ones that tortured Cubs fans for generations.

“There was no panic in the dugout,” said Ben Zobrist, who ended Scherzer’s no-hitter with a double into the left-center field gap and knocked out the two-time Cy Young Award winner. “There was no thought that it wasn’t going to happen. It was just: When is it going to happen?

“When we make mistakes, as a team, the mantra is: So what? Now what?”

Like when the Cubs sacrifice left-field defense for middle-of-the-order offense and hope Kyle Schwarber can change the game with one thunderous left-handed swing against Scherzer. Only to watch Schwarber misjudge Daniel Murphy’s flyball in left field and then knock it away as he tried to pick it up, that double error leading to Washington’s first run in the sixth inning.

“That’s just the way we’re built,” said Albert Almora Jr., standing at his locker after delivering the pinch-hit single that scored Zobrist and tied the game in the seventh inning. “It starts before the game. When we’re in here, we’re family. And then once the game starts, we’re never out of it until the last out’s recorded.

“‘We never quit.’ It was on our World Series ring last year. That motto doesn't change.”

The Cubs listen to Jason Heyward, the Gold Glove outfielder with the $184 million contract who became a part-time player during last year’s postseason and still had enough juice to give the Game 7 Rain Delay Speech.

Heyward and center fielder Jon Jay spoke with Schwarber during the Jose Quintana/Pedro Strop pitching change that blew up on Maddon in the sixth inning.

“Just keep going,” Heyward said. “(Schwarber) was trying to make the play. That’s that. Just got to go onto the next thing. Just relax and (remember) the game is not over. Just give him some love there. It’s a tough spot and you know he wants to come through. We all do.”

Heyward had already wiped away errors by Quintana and Zobrist when he stared into the sun and made a running catch on the warning track to rob No. 3 hitter Anthony Rendon, ending the third inning.

[MORE CUBS-NATS: How Jose Quintana overcame early nerves and exceeded expectations in Game 3]

Heyward needed to follow his own advice after killing that seventh-inning rally, making a rare miscalculation on the ball Addison Russell drove into center field, committing to trying to score from first base and thinking it would fade away from Michael A. Taylor. Wrong.

After that 8-4-3 double play, Heyward said, “Guys were telling me: ‘Hey, so what? Now what?’ Tie game, got some baseball left to play. That’s the only mindset that we have.”

Here’s how Kris Bryant summed up the mood in the dugout while Scherzer stomped on and off the mound: “He’ll break. ‘Q’ was doing his thing, too. I didn’t think there was a sense of urgency or anything. I think we were all pretty fine.”

Whether it’s homegrown players like Bryant and Almora who only know winning in Chicago – or big-ticket free agents like Heyward and Zobrist who were signed to change the culture in Wrigleyville – the Cubs don’t really care how good the Nationals are or worry about what might go wrong. That’s what makes the defending champs so dangerous this October.

“So what? Now what? What are we going to do?” Zobrist said. “That’s the thing around here: Everybody’s going to make mistakes at times, but we got to pick each other up. And that’s what we do.

“We proved that we have that kind of mettle in our system last year. And there’s more to it.”

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?


Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant,'s Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers


Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

During the middle of Jake Arrieta’s 2015 Cy Young Award campaign, super-agent Scott Boras compared the emerging Cubs pitcher to another client – Max Scherzer – in the first season of a seven-year, $210 million megadeal with the Washington Nationals.

Now don’t focus as much on the money – though that obviously matters – as when Scherzer arrived for that Washington press conference to put on his new Nationals jersey: Jan. 21, 2015.

It might take Boras a while to find a new home for his “big squirrel with a lot of nuts in his trees.” Teams have been gearing up for next winter’s monster Bryce Harper/Manny Machado free-agent class for years. Mystery surrounds Shohei Ohtani, Japan’s Babe Ruth, and the posting system with Nippon Professional Baseball. Major League Baseball’s competitive balance tax may also have a chilling effect this offseason.

As expected, Arrieta, All-Star closer Wade Davis and pitcher Alex Cobb were among the group of free agents who went 9-for-9 in declining the one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer before Thursday’s deadline.

With that formality out of the way, if Arrieta and Davis sign elsewhere, the Cubs will receive two third-round picks in the 2018 draft.

By staying under the $195 million luxury-tax threshold this year, the Cubs would have to give up a second-round draft pick and $500,000 from their international bonus pool to sign Cobb, an obvious target given their connections to the Tampa Bay Rays, or Lance Lynn, another starter on their radar who turned down a qualifying offer from the St. Louis Cardinals.

That collectively bargained luxury-tax system became a central part of the Boras media show on Wednesday outside the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, where he introduced “Playoffville” as his new go-to analogy at the end of the general manager meetings.

“The team cutting payroll is treating their family where they’re staying in a neighborhood that has less protection for winning,” Boras said. “They’re not living in the gated community of Playoffville. Certainly, they’re saving a de minimis property tax, but the reality of it is there’s less firemen in the bullpen. There’s less financial analysts sitting in the press boxes.

“The rooms in the house are less, so obviously you’re going to have less franchise players. When you move to that 12-room home in Playoffville, they generally are filled with the people that allow you to really achieve what your family – your regional family – wants to achieve. And that is winning.”

Boras also represents four other players who rejected qualifying offers – J.D Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Greg Holland – another reason why this could be a long winter of Arrieta rumors, slow-playing negotiations and LOL metaphors.