Cubs

Wade Davis won't second-guess the decision that kept him on the sideline 

Wade Davis won't second-guess the decision that kept him on the sideline 

LOS ANGELES – The Cubs talked a good game on Sunday night, manager Joe Maddon explaining his ninth-inning strategy during a Dodger Stadium press conference and the defending World Series champs standing at their lockers answering positive-slant questions about how they’ve been through this before and already done the impossible.

But there was no avoiding it in the visiting clubhouse, how much better this Dodger team is now and how much this 4-1 walk-off loss stung, because the Cubs are now down 0-2 in the National League Championship Series without All-Star closer Wade Davis throwing a single pitch.

The year after Maddon took so much heat for how hard he pushed All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman – and three days removed from Davis getting the seven-out save that eliminated the Washington Nationals – all the focus shifted to how John Lackey wound up allowing the three-run homer Justin Turner launched over the center-field wall.

“We got confidence in everybody that goes out there, so there’s no disappointment in any of that,” Davis said. “Lackey’s track record in the playoffs has been amazing. I don’t think that’s something anybody should be second-guessing.”    

Davis is a professional who wouldn’t subtly criticize a teammate or passive-aggressively criticize his manager. That’s what Twitter is for while the Cubs fly home overnight, two losses away from vacation, and talk radio on Monday morning, more than 24 hours to fill before Game 3 at Wrigley Field.     

“You have to understand when you have a guy like that coming off the performance that he had, to warm him up and not use him is equally as bad,” Maddon said. “Warm him up, not put him in the game, and then ask him to pitch maybe two innings later, that's really not good for him.

“I really was waiting for that opportunity to grab a lead and then throw him out there. That's what it was all about. There was no way he was pitching more than one, and that was pretty much it.”

Here’s how Davis – who unleashed 44 pitches to finish off the epic Thursday night/Friday morning clincher at Nationals Park – understood his pregame availability: “Help win the game whatever way we can.”

“I knew it was only going to be like a one-inning-type stint.”

Maddon sent Brian Duensing back out to begin a second inning against the Dodgers and watched the lefty reliever walk Yasiel Puig to lead off the ninth. After a sacrifice bunt and a Duensing strikeout, Maddon bet on Lackey’s Big-Boy-Game experience.

Lackey threw 27 pitches the day before and is 38 years old and has made only two regular-season relief appearances in a big-league career that began in 2002. Lackey walked Chris Taylor and watched his second pitch to Turner – a 92-mph fastball – soar out to center field and into the glove of a Dodger fan.  

“You want to be in these games,” Lackey  said. “It’s not typical the way I’m usually in ‘em, but still got to try to get the job done.”

Look, the Cubs bullpen is already in disorder and has no margin for error when the offense scores only one run and the Dodger relievers throw an eight-inning combined no-hitter in Games 1 and 2. But everything is magnified in October, when relievers become stars and all the decisions are dissected in real time on social media.

Davis never makes excuses and wouldn’t say that he’s still feeling the aftereffects from Washington.   

“Everything’s pretty taxing in the playoffs,” Davis said. “It’s just part of it. You take the ball whenever they ask you to take the ball.”

Davis – who so rarely shows emotion – laughed when a reporter asked if he could go longer than three outs again.

“You guys love that question,” Davis said. “Like I said, we’re just trying to win games.”

After talking for 90-plus seconds about a game he didn’t play in, Davis nodded and said: “We’re good.”

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.