Cubs

Remember when the Cubs had a shortstop controversy?

Remember when the Cubs had a shortstop controversy?

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Flashback Friday to that time Chicago was torn on who should be the Cubs' starting shortstop.

That was fun, wasn't it?

Now, there's no question.

While Javy Baez went hitless in the NLDS (in 14 at-bats), Addison Russell powered the Cubs to victory with four RBI in Game 5, including the big blow - a two-out, two-run double off Max Scherzer to give the Cubs the lead for good.

To be sure, the Cubs don't advance to the NLCS without contributions from both Russell and Baez, with the latter changing several NLDS games with his defense and incredible instincts.

But Russell has made the shortstop "controversy" completely obsolete and it seems laughable there ever was one. (In the mind of the Cubs coaching staff and front office, there never was.)

2017 was a trying season for Russell, both on the field off.

But he will once again get a chance to showcase his skills on the highest stage the National League has to offer, doing so at Dodger Stadium where he busted out of a woeful postseason slump last October and keyed the Cubs' charge to their first World Series in 71 years.

Following Thursday/Friday's big game, Russell is now tied with Anthony Rizzo for the all-time postseason RBI lead (18) in Cubs franchise history.

Russell's propensity for the clutch hit was already legendary after the drought-breaking 2016 season (remember that grand slam in World Series Game 6?) and he's found his groove again as summer turned to fall this year.

The young shortstop delivered a clutch three-run homer on the day the Cubs clinched the division in St. Louis in late September. He also had another big three-run double in that series and added to his resume with the fifth-inning double off Scherzer

In the sixth inning of Game 5, Russell came through again, lining a ball into the left-center field gap that Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth couldn't get a glove on, resulting in a key insurance run while the dishevled Cubs bullpen tried to keep Washington's relentless offense at bay.

"The swing feels fine; the mentality's fine," a champagne-and-beer-soaked Russell said in the visiting clubhouse at Nationals Park early Friday morning. "The body's feeling great. It's just staying with the process and mentally getting stronger each day."

Russell looks nothing like the player who struggled with routine throws from the shortstop position and expanded the zone far too often at the plate in the first few months of 2017.

Manager Joe Maddon has talked several times over the last month about how Russell's and swagger is back.

And just in case he needed any other confidence boost, Russell is now returning the scene where he helped the Cubs end a 21-inning postseason scoreless streak with a long home run to right-center off Julio Urias in Game 4 of the 2016 NLCS.

When asked if he is ready to head back to Dodger Stadium, Russell looked up, ignored the Budweiser still cascading off his head after a fresh dose from Kyle Schwarber, and smirked.

"Oh yeah."

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

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USA TODAY

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

Families gather and people talk about things they are thankful for on Thanksgiving, but what are Chicago sports fans happy for now?

Raised expectations on the North Side

Got to be thankful that a “disappointing” season is winning the division and losing in the NLCS. The expectations have skyrocketed, and that’s thanks to a ridiculous nucleus of bats and a steady front office. Not many clubs can say that. Also, though, it’s important to be appreciative of the Wrigley bar stretch. They may charge $8 for a Miller Lite, but it’s always a damn good party.

Javy tags, too. Don't forget Javy tags.

Rebuild sparking hope in White Sox fans

Where to begin? Obviously, be thankful for the plethora of young talent that will soon take over the South Side. Be thankful for Avi Time (while you still can). Be thankful that taking your friends or family to a game won’t cause you to take out a second mortgage. Be thankful for the 2020 World Series and, of course, 2020 MVP Eloy Jimenez. But most importantly, be thankful that Rick Hahn’s phone stays buzzing.

Eddie O back in the booth for the Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are having a rough start to the season, but at least Eddie Olczyk is back in the booth. The longtime Blackhawks broadcaster returned to the booth on Oct. 18 after missing time while undergoing chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer.

With some of the key names from the Blackhawks’ title runs either leaving or being unable to play this season (in the case of Marian Hossa), Blackhawks fans are probably thankful to see a familiar face and hear a familiar voice during games.

Lauri Markkanen leading the Bulls rebuild

OK, there’s not much to be thankful for about the current Bulls team. At 3-13, the Bulls are tied for the fewest wins in the NBA (maybe in the long-term that’s something to be thankful for as well). However, Zach LaVine’s pending debut after his eventual return from injury should help create some excitement.

The thing Bulls fans really should be thankful for this year is the play of rookie Lauri Markkanen. The 20-year-old leads the team in scoring (14.6 points per game) and rebounds (8.3 per game) while shooting at a high percentage (34.2 percent on threes and 50.6 percent on twos). It’s only the beginning of the Bulls’ rebuild, but Markkanen is a good start.

Mitchapalooza

If a few things broke the Bears’ way, Chicagoans could have been grateful that the team was finally out of the cellar. Instead, we’ll settle for the fact that there seems to be some building blocks already in place. Mitchell Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks seem to fit that category. Also, some may be thankful that this is likely John Fox’s last season at the helm.

Fire ending a playoff drought

After finishing dead last in MLS in 2015 and 2016, the Fire were one of the most improved teams in the league in 2017. After posting the third best record in the league, the Fire made a first playoff appearance since 2012.

The playoff run didn’t last long with the Fire losing a play-in game at home, but the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger and the league’s leading goal-scorer, Nemanja Nikolic, helped fill the stadium with six sellouts and gave Fire fans something to cheer for.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Where do Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis?

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Where do Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis?

In the latest CubsTalk Podcast, Kelly Crull and David Kaplan look ahead to Thanksgiving and discuss the official coaching hires for the Cubs.

They also talk about where the Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis, whether Alex Cobb could factor into the rotation plans and Kap goes off on the 11:30 a.m. Opening Day start time.

Check out the entire podcast here: