Cubs

Addison Russell made his presence felt during rookie year with Cubs

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Addison Russell made his presence felt during rookie year with Cubs

The Cubs essentially viewed Addison Russell as untouchable heading into this season, and winning two playoff rounds with him as their shortstop only reinforced that idea. 

Russell didn’t generate the same Rookie of the Year buzz as Kris Bryant — and couldn’t match Kyle Schwarber taking aim at the Allegheny River and a Wrigley Field video board — but he showed he’s just as much a core player as those two power hitters.

Just ask manager Joe Maddon if the Cubs missed Russell’s presence during the National League Championship Series. 

To be clear, the New York Mets never trailed during that four-game sweep and outplayed the Cubs in every phase of the game from start to finish. It’s not like Russell’s presence would have meant facing the Kansas City Royals in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium.

[MORE: Cubs still don't have all the answers for Kyle Schwarber's future]

Russell — who had been sidelined with a strained left hamstring — couldn’t have stopped Daniel Murphy from turning the biggest games of his life into batting practice. Russell wouldn’t have intimidated that rotation — Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom — or lights-out closer Jeurys Familia.

But Javier Baez committing an error on a defensive shift on the second pitch set the tone for a sloppy Game 3 loss. And it underlined why the Cubs see the low-key Russell as their franchise shortstop and a stabilizing force for low-scoring games in October.  

“Of course, we miss Addison,” Maddon said. “You look at the record that we had with him playing at shortstop. And this is by no means a negative towards Javy. But (with) Addison (it’s) the combination of what he does for us defensively and offensively. This guy could drive in a critical run and (it’s) just (his) understanding of what’s going on in the field. He really grew quickly this year.”

The Cubs had been a 59-48 team on Aug. 7 — when they benched Starlin Castro and moved Russell from second base — and held only a half-game lead over the San Francisco Giants for the second wild card. The Cubs swept the defending World Series champs that weekend at Wrigley Field, finding another gear and finishing with 97 wins and the third-best record in baseball.   

“In order to get our defense at the level we wanted to, we needed to move Addie over to shortstop,” Maddon said. “With that, Starlin was outstanding regarding how he accepted the new assignment, how he embraced the new role and how he’s made the adjustment to second base and (really) picked up his offense.

“That one particular move right there probably more than anything we did this year set us up for this moment — the fact that Addie has played it as well as he has, the way Starlin has embraced the other side of the infield (and) then the offense coming back. 

“Maybe Schwarber showing up and combining with Dexter (Fowler) in the second half — that really did a lot to boost our offense. But I love the pitching/defense component, and I think that we tightened it up when we went and got Addie at short and Starlin eventually at second base. It kind of tightened things up — and I think we’ve played a better brand of baseball since then.”

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Russell graded out well at second base/shortstop in terms of Defensive Runs Saved (nine/10) and Ultimate Zone Rating (7.3/6.1), finishing seventh in the majors in defensive WAR (2.6). 

During his age-21 season, Russell also finished with 13 homers, 29 doubles and 54 RBI in 142 games after his fast-track promotion from Triple-A Iowa in late April.

“For my standards, it’s not the best season,” Russell said. “But I did a lot of good things this season. I believe I had a decent season to look back on, just looking at how I struggled and then overcame that adversity.

“I know I got better this year. I know the things I need to work on to get better.”

For a team built on a shaky defensive foundation, Russell looks like the Opening Day shortstop in 2016 and beyond.

Who knew? Statistical oddities from Ian Happ, Daniel Palka and others from the past week in Chicago baseball

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USA TODAY

Who knew? Statistical oddities from Ian Happ, Daniel Palka and others from the past week in Chicago baseball

This past weekend Ian Happ rocked Cincinnati harder than anyone since Dr. Johnny Fever, and the White Sox from last Sunday to yesterday posted a winning 4-3 record.

It’s Monday, so let’s examine the box scores from the previous seven days for another edition of Who Knew?

Leading off

Tim Anderson started this season 5-for-5 in plate appearances leading off games: double, single, single, home run, single.

He finally made a leadoff out on Sunday.

Déjà Vu

On Monday, Ozzie Albies hit a leadoff home run off José Quintana for the second time this season. 

It was rare enough that a batter had multiple leadoff home runs against the Cubs in the same season. The last batter to do that was Hall of Famer Craig Biggio in 2006 (one each off Greg Maddux and then-starter Carlos Marmol).

But multiple leadoff home runs against the same Cubs PITCHER in the same season? Quite rare. At first, I believed it to be the first such occurrence since at least the 1880’s, but there was one other time since that I initially missed.

Prior to Ozzie Albies (off Quintana), the last batter with multiple leadoff home runs against a single Cubs pitcher in a season was Heinie Sand of the Phillies, who led off two games in 1924 with home runs off Cubs right-hander Vic Keen.

Before Sand, you DO have to go back to the 1880s. Hall of Famer Buck Ewing hit two leadoff home runs off Fred Goldsmith (who claimed to have invented the curveball, but likely did not) in 1883.  It may have happened in 1884, but there are some missing details in the home run database and I can’t be certain. But it’s rare!

Saves without Strikeouts

Cubs closer Brandon Morrow has 10 saves this season. In half of them (including his latest save Tuesday), he did not record a strikeout.

Only Wade Davis, who closed out games for the Cubs last season, has more strikeout-less saves in 2018 (no punchouts in seven of his 16 saves). Davis, for the record, saved 32 games for the Cubs last season, but in only nine of those 32 did he not strike anyone out.

Meanwhile, up in the Pacific Northwest, Edwin Díaz of the Mariners has 15 saves this season and has at least one strikeout in all 15.

National Treasure

Leury García took Jameson Taillon deep Wednesday in Pittsburgh, giving him 13 career home runs, all in a White Sox uniform.

The thing is, seven of those 13 home runs have been against National League teams!  Check out his career splits with the Sox:

Versus NL 26 games .325/.373/.636 7 home runs
Versus AL 225 games .227/.267/.306 6 home runs

Uncanny!

Hit Bonanza

The Cubs started Friday’s game in Cincinnati like this:

Zobrist single, Bryant double, Rizzo single, Contreras single, Russell single.

It was the first time the Cubs started a game with five straight hits since Sept. 8, 2009 when they had EIGHT straight hits to start a game. They started that game as follows:

Ryan Theriot single, Milton Bradley single, Derrek Lee single, Aramis Ramírez single, Jeff Baker single, Geovany Soto double, Kosuke Fukudome double, Bobby Scales single. A Ryan Dempster sacrifice bunt snapped the streak, giving up an out in the first inning with a 6-0 lead.

Palka Dots

Sox slugger Daniel Palka has made an impact so far in the Majors. Half of his 16 hits have been of the extra-base variety.

In only 18 career games, Palka already has multiple doubles (three), triples (two) and home runs (three). Through 18 career games, Frank Thomas could check off two of those three boxes, although maybe not the two that you think.

The Big Hurt had six doubles and THREE TRIPLES in his initial dozen-and-a-half career games, but no home runs! The last White Sox player who had at least two of each type of extra-base hit through his first 18 career Major League contests?

Go back to Greg Walker, who collected two doubles, two triples and three home runs in an 11-game taste of the Majors in 1982 and his first seven games of 1983.

Ace of On-Base

Ian Happ returned to his old stomping grounds (kind of… he attended the University of Cincinnati) over the weekend and had quite a four-game series:

Friday 1 hit 3 walks
Saturday (Game 1) 3 hits 1 walk
Saturday (Game 2) 1 hit 2 walks
Sunday 0 hits 3 walks

Now granted, there aren’t as many four-game series as there used to be, but Happ was the first Cub to reach base at least three times in each game of a four-game series since Mark Grace during a four-game set versus Mets at Wrigley Field Aug. 9-12, 1991.Five hits and nine walks; Happ reached base at least three times in all four games!

Happ’s season slashline was boosted from .233/.301/.417 to .254/.361/.509 in those four games alone. His nine walks (five intentional, four unintentional) in the series is better than Javier Báez (six walks: four intentional, two unintentional) has for the entire season.

Happ on Friday became the first Cub to be walked three times intentionally in a game since Andre Dawson (FIVE times) on May 22, 1990. Back then, it actually required pitches to intentionally walk a batter.

Happ was also the first Cub to homer in both ends of a doubleheader since Chris Coghlan July 8, 2014 – also at Cincinnati. But Happ was able to do something Coghlan didn’t: in both games, Happ hit the lone Cubs home run! That’s something no Cub had done since Alfonso Soriano hit the lone Cubs' home run in each game of a doubleheader in St. Louis on Sept. 15, 2007.

Extra Extra!

José Abreu continues to produce. He doubled and homered Saturday night, making him the 23rd player in White Sox history to reach 300 career extra-base hits. He reached 300 extra-base hits in only 655 career Major League games, a number surpassed in White Sox history only by Frank Thomas (626). 

It was also Abreu’s 222nd career multi-hit game in a White Sox uniform, matching our “Beltin’” Bill Melton.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Reviewing a positive road trip for Jose Quintana, Yu Darvish and Ian Happ

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Reviewing a positive road trip for Jose Quintana, Yu Darvish and Ian Happ

Luke Stuckmeyer, David Kaplan, and Doug Glanville break down a solid 4-2 road trip for the Cubs. Plus, who would you rather have long-term: Bryce Harper or Manny Machado?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below. Apple Podcasts listeners can subscribe at the show page.