Addison Russell arrives ahead of schedule for red-hot Cubs


Addison Russell arrives ahead of schedule for red-hot Cubs

Addison Russell could be the poster child if the 2015 Cubs are ahead of schedule.

Deep down, Russell probably would have considered this a good year if he stayed healthy and productive at Triple-A Iowa, got a September call-up and put himself in position to make the 2016 Opening Day lineup.

“No, I didn’t see any of this stuff,” Russell said. “I really wasn’t even expecting to be up in the league this year. It just kind of goes back to my work ethic. I just try to get better. The Cubs gave me this opportunity. I’m just trying to take full advantage of it.

“It’s been a hard year, (but) things are looking up.”

No doubt, the Cubs have felt the growing pains and understand they aren’t a lock for the playoffs yet. But after Saturday’s 6-3 victory over the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, it would only take a 23-24 finish for the Cubs to reach 90 wins.

[MORE: Arrieta leads the charge as Cubs keep right on winning]

White Sox fans will have to get used to the idea of seeing Russell, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler for years to come. That group of rookies doesn’t even include Anthony Rizzo, a National League MVP candidate who just turned 26 and could remain under club control through the 2021 season.

This is the baseball nightmare on the South Side: The Cubs morphing into a perennial contender at a renovated Wrigley Field and becoming the game’s biggest story.

It’s misleading to say the Cubs are now a season ahead of schedule in Year 4 of the Theo Epstein administration. There have been so many recalibrations between the franchise’s financial situation, three different managers in three seasons and the unpredictable nature of scouting and player development.

“I don’t think it’s quite that simple,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “I do feel like this year was always a little bit of a land of uncertainty. You don’t know what to expect when you have effectively four rookies that are playing every day. You don’t know how well these guys are going to come along.

“It doesn’t surprise me what these guys are doing. But I think us expecting them to do it would have been probably a little bit unfair. So I don’t believe in the year-too-early (idea).

“We’re playing good baseball right now. But expecting these guys to produce at this level – at this age – would have (been) unfair to them.”

[MORE: Cubs-White Sox could use more Pedro Strop vs. Alexei Ramirez]

Russell is still just 21 and has only 14 Triple-A games on his resume. He was playing at Double-A Tennessee at this time last year after that blockbuster Jeff Samardzija trade with the Oakland A’s.

Russell is now the everyday shortstop for a legitimate contender that has won nine games in a row and 15 of its last 16.

In front of a sellout crowd on Saturday night, Russell sparked the Cubs with a two-out double in the third inning, driving a ball into the left-field corner and scoring on Dexter Fowler’s double down the right-field line to make it a 1-1 game.

Russell drove a two-out, ground-rule double over the left-field fence in the fifth inning, scoring the go-ahead run from second base when Schwarber singled into right field (after the White Sox decided to intentionally walk Fowler). As Russell slid into home plate, his left foot just beat the tag from White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers.

“You can just kind of see the fire in (our) eyes,” Russell said. “We all want to compete. We all want to win. We’re trying our best to make a big impact on this team. We’re just trying to do the small things, make the routine plays and just help the team win.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Russell basically learned how to play second base on the fly this season and handled what could have been a difficult situation with Starlin Castro moving off shortstop.

“You just have to dust off the cobwebs,” Russell said. “I think that’s my natural position. I believe that I can be even better there.”

Remember when the narrative became the Cubs eventually hitting the rookie wall?

“We definitely have to step it up,” Russell said. “We’re competing right now. That’s all we need to try to do – give 110 percent. Some days you’re not going to feel good. But you just have to push through it and do what’s best for the team.”

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Cubs first-round pick Nico Hoerner made his debut with the Class-A South Bend Cubs, and he did not disappoint.

The 23-year old shortstop showed off impressive hops during an acrobatic grab in the topf of the second inning in his first game with the South Bend Cubs. Hoerner will surely be an exciting defensive prospect with ability like this.

As far as offense goes, through four at-bats at South Bend, Hoerner is batting .500, and this comes after he hit .318 with a home run and two RBI through seven games with the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs Class A short-season affiliate.

Here is to hoping we continue to see big-time plays from Hoerner.

Jose Quintana can't wait to face Eloy Jimenez someday

Jose Quintana can't wait to face Eloy Jimenez someday

One year after arguably the biggest trade ever between the Cubs and White Sox, both sides are feeling pretty happy with their returns.

Jose Quintana has had a bit of a disappointing 2018 campaign overall, but he's been really solid lately, posting a 3.00 ERA and 1.27 WHIP since April 22 — a span of 14 starts.

He struggled in two starts against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series last fall, but shut the Nationals down in two games (one start, one relief appearance) in the NLDS, allowing only 3 hits and a pair of walks in 6.1 innings.

All told, Quintana is 15-9 with a 3.86 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 185 strikeouts in 182 innings a Cubs uniform.

Meanwhile, the White Sox boast one of the strongest farm systems in the game thanks to Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease, the main pieces from the Cubs for Quintana last summer.

Jimenez has a .313 average, .912 OPS, 12 homers and 46 RBI in 65 games this season between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. The 21-year-old outfielder was ranked the No. 4 prospect in the game by Baseball America prior to the 2018 campaign.

Cease is a bit further away from Chicago, but the 22-year-old is also having a strong season. He's 10-2 with a 2.95 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 10.7 K/9 in 16 starts this year, with his last 3 outings coming for Double-A Birmingham.

Some Cubs fans may be expecting an ace out of Quintana, but there's enormous value in a guy that's under team control through the 2020 season and due just over $30 million for the 3.5 seasons' worth of contributions.

Still, Quintana understands it was a hefty cost the Cubs paid for his services and he embraces the challenge.

"These guys are gonna be All-Stars,"  Quintana said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "I've heard good things. I want to continue to do the best I can, but I know it was a huge trade. I know [the Cubs] paid a lot for me. That's a good feeling, you know? 

"It helps that [Jimenez and Cease] are doing good. I know they're younger, but it's amazing to be in that trade. I'm more happy right now to be here. Best of luck to them. 

"One time I'm going to face Jimenez, too, so I'm going to enjoy that."

We may not have to wait long to find out: The Cubs head to the South Side Sept. 21-23 for a 3-game set, when Jimenez could be getting his first taste of MLB life as a September call-up for the White Sox.