Cubs

With time running out at Wrigley, Jake Arrieta chases another World Series ring

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USA TODAY

With time running out at Wrigley, Jake Arrieta chases another World Series ring

The odds of Jake Arrieta coming back next season feel like the kind of lottery ticket the Cubs cashed in when they traded for a pitcher with a 5.46 career ERA and watched that Triple-A guy blossom into a Cy Young Award winner.

Arrieta puts his trust in super-agent Scott Boras to handle the negotiations, understands how team president Theo Epstein runs baseball operations and knows the end is probably near on the North Side.

This will be another draining October, from the physical demands in recovering from a Grade 1 hamstring strain, to the emotional stress in the dugout while watching what could be an instant classic playoff series against the Washington Nationals, to the mental checklist before he goes home to Austin, Texas, to weigh his options as a free agent and map out the rest of his life with his family.   

Splitting Games 1 and 2 at Nationals Park means Arrieta will get another chance to perform in front of 40,000 fans at Wrigley Field. That Game 4 start on Tuesday means Arrieta will be either trying to end this National League Division Series or extend the season for the defending champs by nine more innings.  

“If these are my last experiences in this uniform,” Arrieta said, “I’m just trying to take it all in and really look around a little bit more and kind of get those mental snapshots and those memories for down the road, things that I’ll be able to reflect on in a year, or five or 10 years, however long it is.

“The further you get away from the World Series, I feel like the more you actually think about it. So it’s just being at Wrigley, taking everything in, trying to hear everything the fans are saying, look around as much as I can, because Wrigley’s the best there is.”

Showing no signs of pressure or anxiety, the Cubs did a Sunday Funday at Wrigley Field, with brunch tables and an omelet station set up behind home plate and the Detroit Lions-Carolina Panthers game showing on the huge video board.

First base coach Brandon Hyde and World Series MVP Ben Zobrist played with their sons in the outfield, letting them take batting practice and try to hit balls into the bleachers. The Cubs wore gray T-shirts with No. 41 and John Lackey’s silhouette on the front, framed by the pitcher’s one-liners like “Didn’t come here for a haircut” and “I’m always one more out closer to a beer,” etc.

The Cubs have a unique vibe that Arrieta helped create with his enormous confidence, freethinking approach and fearless attitude. This environment will inevitably change once he is gone.

[MORE: Jose Quintana's plan to combat excitement in postseason debut] 

Arrieta joined a team that would finish with 96 losses in the middle of the 2013 season, way back when the Cubs didn’t really have any idea when they would be able to compete.

It never would have happened this quickly or dramatically without Arrieta. Since that flip deal with the Baltimore Orioles, the Cubs have won the franchise’s first World Series title since 1908 and two division titles while competing in seven playoff rounds.

During that time, Arrieta is 68-31 with a 2.73 ERA and two no-hitters in 128 starts for the Cubs, plus dominating the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2015 wild-card game and beating the Cleveland Indians twice on the road in last year’s World Series.

“If I have to play somewhere else,” Arrieta said, “I’m going to try and remember as much as I can about Wrigley and Chicago. It’s a huge part of my life.”

Arrieta pointed out how much time his 6-year-old son, Cooper, and 4-year-old daughter, Palmer, have spent growing up in Chicago, knowing what he did for this franchise, how much the Cubs meant to his career and that in the end this is still a business.  

Arrieta has also made it clear that he doesn’t want to leave without earning another World Series ring.

“Regardless of what happens, I’m always going to feel like a Cub,” Arrieta said. “At least a part of me is going to feel like a Cub, wherever I end up. It’s just a really special part of our lives."

Jason Heyward predicts he will be the MVP of 2018 Cubs

Jason Heyward predicts he will be the MVP of 2018 Cubs

“Who will be the Cubs’ 2018 team MVP?”

Jason Heyward: “Me!”

No hesitation, no pause. Just an honest answer from a confident 28-year old with a $184 million contract.

Nobody wants to succeed more at the plate than the Cubs’ two-time Gold Glove award winner, but the offense has been downright ugly (.243, 18 HR, 108 RBI in 268 games).

Despite not performing up to a megadeal, Heyward has no problem talking about his contract:

“It is what it is, I earned it," Heyward said. "I earned that part of it. For me, it’s awesome. To be where I want to be, that’s the most important thing.”

After spending time talking at Cubs Convention speaking with Heyward, his manager and six of his other teammates, it’s no surprise that it was Heyward who delivered the now-famous Game 7 “Rain Delay Speech.”

His teammates adore him.

Question to Ben Zobrist: “Who’s your favorite teammate of all-time at any level?”

After a 10-second pause: “Jason Heyward.”

That definitely says something coming from a 36-year-old, three-time All-Star and World Series MVP.

For the true blue Cubs fans that can’t stand Heyward and his untradeable contract, sorry, his teammates and manager have nothing but good things to say. 

By all accounts, Heyward is a quality human being despite his shortcomings in the batter’s box the last two seasons.

And his goals for an offensive renaissance in 2018 are simple and basic:

“Just being in the lineup every game.”

His teammates will be behind him 100 percent, even if the fans are not.

How Addison Russell plans to keep nagging arm/foot injuries at bay in 2018

How Addison Russell plans to keep nagging arm/foot injuries at bay in 2018

Addison Russell doesn't have time to think about whether or not Javy Baez is coming for the starting shortstop gig.

Russell is too busy making sure he's able to perform at his physical peak for as much of 2018 as possible after a rough few years in that regard.

The soon-to-be-24-year-old only played in 110 games last year as he missed more than a month with a foot injury. He also has a history of hamstring injuries (including the one that kept him out of the 2015 NLCS) and a sore throwing arm that has cropped up at times throughout the last few years (though whether the arm is an issue or not depends on who you ask).

Russell admits his arm has been an issue and he has a new plan of attack this winter that will carry into the spring.

"I've been doing a throwing program," Russell said. "I feel like in the past, with my arm, I started throwing a little bit too early in spring training.

"This year, in the offseason, just kinda ease into it a little bit. In the offseason last year, I feel like I threw a little bit too much. Once midseason hit, it was all the downward effect of me throwing too early in the offseason.

"Having that in mind, taking things easier in the offseason and then going into spring training and then once the season's here, maybe around a quarter of the way through the season, start revving it up and that way, I'll be able to last with both my foot and my arm."

Russell had a bad case of plantar fasciitis last summer that also affected his ability to throw the ball to first base.

He joked he feels like an old man because he is happy he can now wake up without any pain in the foot, but still makes sure he rolls his foot on a golf ball to keep things loose.

With regards to his offseason workouts, Russell is prioritizing quality over quantity and he's taken full advantage of the longer offseason that featured far less distractions than a year ago when the Cubs were coming off the first World Series championship in 108 years.

"I'm getting a little bit older and I think a little wiser when it comes to training and knowing my body," Russell said. "With that being said, it's just kinda being in tune to my body more than pounding out weights.

"Definitely running and cardio is something that has been beneficial to my career in the past. I'm keeping up with that."

Between the foot and arm modifications to his training regimen, Russell is hoping to cut down on some of his throwing errors that plagued him in 2017 and try to get back to the hitter he was when he clubbed 24 homers and drove in 108 runs in 168 games between the 2016 regular season and postseason.

"Definitely I want to be in the All-Star Game this next year," Russell said. "I feel like with the type of skillset that I have and the type of guys around me, I think that could be a goal that I could hit.

"Smaller goals as far as staying consistent with my workouts. Remaining flexible is a huge goal that I wanna hit this year. I see a lot of veteran guys after ballgames stretching and they've been playing for quite a while, so it definitely works out for them.

"Just taking something from veteran guys and kinda incorporating it into my game and picking their ear and listening to how they prepare and how to keep your body in shape is beneficial, for sure."

To make the All-Star Game, Russell would need to get out to a hot start, which is something the Cubs and their fans would love to see. His steady presence in the lineup and as a defensive anchor contributed to the inconsistencies of the 2017 Cubs.

Entering a pivotal season in his development, Russell has emerged as one of the biggest X-factors surrounding the Cubs entering 2018. 

The entire Addison Russell 1-on-1 interview will air Friday night on NBC Sports Chicago.