Kap: Boos for Soriano about more than just one line drive


Kap: Boos for Soriano about more than just one line drive

Saturday night the Cubs played host to the Boston Red Sox on national TV and looked for their second straight win over after Ryan Dempster's shutout on Friday afternoon. However, the big story that came out of Saturday's game was not the fact that the Cubs lost 4-3, but that Alfonso Soriano drew the ire of the 40,000 fans in attendance after he failed to run out a ball that he lined to Boston third baseman Will Middlebrooks.

First, full disclosure from me is necessary. I have been one of Soriano's harshest critics since he signed a ridiculous eight-year contract with the Cubs in November of 2006. He has often not run as hard as he should have out of the batter's box stopping several times to admire balls that he thought were sure home runs only to break into a full sprint when the ball hit the wall.

However, Saturday evening was not one of those situations. Soriano ripped a line drive right at Middlebrooks and it appeared he was going to make a play on the shot. Soriano never left the box and Middlebrooks muffed the catch, drawing attention to Soriano when he was still standing in the batter's box as Middlebrooks recovered and threw across the diamond to retire the Cubs' left fielder. Fans went wild and consistently booed Soriano for the remainder of the evening when he came to bat and when he took the field.

However, it is obvious that their anger was much more about their intense dislike of Soriano's contract and the reputation that he has made since arriving in the Windy City six seasons ago. No one says a word when other stars don't run balls out whether it is former Cubs star Derrek Lee or White Sox star Paul Konerko, who don't exactly bust their tail down the line when they hit a ball that appears to be a routine out.

Current Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair told me in a recent interview that Soriano is the best teammate that he has ever had at any level of baseball.

"Sori is a great teammate and a tremendous leader in our clubhouse," LaHair said. "The fans don't see what he goes through just to be able to play everyday. His knees are obviously bothering him and he shows up everyday and wants to be in the lineup. Everyone in our clubhouse loves Sori."

Outfielder Tony Campana said the same thing when we spoke last week: "Sori is a great teammate and I see what he goes through physically everyday to be able to play and I have all the respect in the world for him."

So after watching the play and hearing the fans I am not as outraged as they are. However, while Soriano shouldn't be ripped for what happened on Saturday night, he has to understand that perception usually becomes reality. For far too long he has had moments where he didn't play the game the right way and combined with his huge contract and his underwhelming performance over the life of the deal, it puts him in the crosshairs of the fans anger. Add in his less than stellar performances in the 2007 and 2008 playoffs when the Cubs had designs on their first World Series in over 100 years and the fans look at him as the poster boy for all that has gone wrong over the past several seasons.

Was he 100 percent out of line on Saturday night at Wrigley Field? I have come to learn that players today unfortunately do not play the game the way Pete Rose did. I don't like it but I have come to accept some of it. For Alfonso Soriano, Saturday night's continuing chorus of boos was not about that one play. It was about his contract, the Cubs failures since he arrived amid tremendous fanfare, and the perception that he helped to create.

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away


Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

It may be a good thing that the Fire’s originally scheduled season opener March 3 at Colorado got moved back.

The Fire’s preseason has been riddled with injuries to key players and the extra week may end up being needed to get the team ready for the season. Four players (not counting the already known long-term injuries to Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic) sat out Saturday’s game against Florida Gulf Coast University due to injury: Daniel Johnson (a right ankle injury suffered in a game against Philadelphia on Feb. 8), Grant Lillard (left knee), Matt Polster (left knee) and Luis Solignac (left hip).

Polster’s injury is especially notable because he has had recurring left knee problems since first suffering a sprain in the 2016 season finale at Toronto. Polster missed the first nine games of 2017 due to the injury and missed three more in August due to a related injury.

The 24-year-old, who is now the longest tenured player on the team and the only player remaining from before general manager Nelson Rodriguez’s tenure began at the end of the 2015 season, arrived with the Fire after playing with the U.S. national team in January. He played all 90 minutes on Jan. 28 against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bastian Schweinsteiger still hasn’t played in the preseason and the team hasn’t listed him as injured.

All the absences, combined with rest for some of the team’s regulars, resulted in a starting lineup against Florida Gulf Coast that featured two players who have appeared in an official match with the Fire. Three trialists and four draft picks started.

Four of the Fire’s seven scheduled preseason matches are in the books. The Fire lost 2-1 to Montreal on Feb. 14. One of the bright spots was a rare set piece goal after the Fire trailed the Impact 2-0. Dax McCarty headed in a free kick from Diego Campos. Campos has been dangerous on set pieces, hitting the post with a free kick and assisting a goal from a corner kick in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Florida Gulf Coast.

Next up is a match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Feb. 21. Next Saturday the Fire play at Orlando to finish up play in Florida.

The Fire close out the preseason March 3 against the team’s USL affiliate, Tulsa, at Toyota Park before the season opener on March 10.

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.”