Cubs

Why wasn't Cubs-Nationals Game 4 played earlier in the day?

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AP

Why wasn't Cubs-Nationals Game 4 played earlier in the day?

Of course this NLDS couldn't end without a controversy.

Controversy is never far off with such a high-profile team like the Cubs, especially when it comes to weather and start times in 2017. 

This time, it wasn't the Milwaukee Brewers complaining and dropping epic one-liners about getting sunburnt on a rainout.

But this game also has infinitely more at stake than a random late-May contest at Wrigley Field.

After nearly an hour-long delay, Major League Baseball called Tuesday's Cubs-Nationals Game 4 on account of rain, pushing it instead back to Wednesday afternoon and giving neither team a travel/buffer day if the series shifts back to Washington D.C. for a Game 5.

Tuesday's contest was scheduled for a 4:38 p.m. first pitch in Chicago, which was already an accomdation by MLB, TBS (airing the game) and both teams given the original call was for a 7 p.m. primetime spot with no other MLB games scheduled. But with the impending rain, all parties agreed to move it up to 4:38, though Mother Nature failed to cooperate with that, as well.

That left many fans in an uproar on social media, with the rumor floating around that both teams agreed to an earlier start time — like 1 p.m. — to try to beat the rain and get the game in.

Now, a 1 p.m. game would've been just fine, as the rain did not start in earnest in Wrigleyville until the 5 p.m. hour.

Joe Torre — the chief baseball officer for MLB — said he had no knowledge of any discussion to move the game up to 1 p.m.

"That's not my department," Torre said after the game was called. "You know, I don't know if there was a conversation along those lines. It's easy to look back and say that at this point in time, but I can't tell you if there was that conversation."

While TBS reportedly insisted they weren't at fault for nixing the 1 p.m. start time, the TV rights did come into play with the overall game time decision, as they do for all postseason games.

Why? Well, the millions and millions of dollars the TV stations provide to the league is definitely a factor, as Torre explained:

"They have to be part of the decision because they pay a significatn amount of money for the rights to televise our games," Torre said. "It's really naive to say they shouldn't have any input on when the games are played.

"It's something that, you know, has happened obviously over time. Our sport is pretty popular and the fact that there are a number of networks that are involved here; I think Major League Baseball certainly has to be aware of not only dealing with each team and trying to make them either understand what you want to do or have them help you decide what you want to do.

"But that we all have to understand, a lot of times, who pays the freight."

So yes, money was a factor. Of course it was.

But also worth noting: Any gametime decision would've had to have been made Monday night. MLB already made an early call to push the game up to 4:30.

A 1 p.m. time slot would certainly equal poorer TV ratings than a 4:30 or primetime spot, but it's also a time that is significantly more difficult for fans to attend on a Tuesday afternoon in mid-October, namely the 9-5 crowd. 

At the end of the day, both the Cubs and Nationals are happy because they didn't have to throw their starters for just a couple innings, watch a rain delay come about and then have the game postponed until the next day — a scenario that would force each manager to go to Plan B Wednesday without Jake Arrieta or Tanner Roark.

Both teams are sticking with the alloted pitchers — no, the Nationals are not starting Stephen Strasburg, even though he's on regular rest — so MLB made the right move in not trying to play a few innings starting at 4:30 before the rains hit.

Nationals manager Dusty Baker admitted it's inconvenient for his team because now they have to make new hotel arrangements and move from their current place to another spot in town, but ultimately the answer is both teams have to go out and execute.

The difference is, the Cubs have all the advantages at the moment, with the Nationals' backs against the wall, facing elimination. The Cubs need only win one of the next two games, and if they emerge victorious Wednesday, all this rain talk will be for nothing.

"Whatever it is, you've just got to get ready and go ahead and do it," Joe Maddon said. "There is no crying. You just go play."

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: