Cubs

After getting swept by Cardinals, Cubs know they can't take anything for granted

After getting swept by Cardinals, Cubs know they can't take anything for granted

"There's still a lot of baseball left."

That's the standard line from Major League Baseball managers and players whenever media members get a little too caught up in the ups and downs of a 162-game season.

The Cubs woke up Monday — in advance of a three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals — 12.5 games up in the NL Central, the largest division lead in franchise history. 

The Cubs (47-23) will go to sleep Wednesday night with only a 9.5 game lead in the NL Central after being swept out of Wrigley by those same Cardinals (38-33).

It was a simple reminder that this Cardinals team won 100 games last year and has been a perennial World Series contender over the last decade-plus. 

It was also a reminder that more than half the season remains and a large lead can evaporate in a hurry.

Yet the Cubs (47-23) won't hit the panic button. They've known all along they can't take their hot start for granted.

"Honestly, man, I'm fine," Joe Maddon said after the Cubs' 7-2 loss Wednesday. "The first two games, we played really well and lost. Those are actually tougher to deal with. Today's game was just, they just clubbed us. Give them credit.

"...They played well and they beat us. That's it. That's all I got. You're gonna lose some games."

Jake Arrieta got the call to start Wednesday's game, but the reigning NL Cy Young winner couldn't put a stop to his team's mini losing streak.

However, he insists the mood in the clubhouse hasn't changed after the Cubs were swept for the first time in almost a year.

"Not really," Arrieta said. "We're in a good spot. We're gonna take our lumps. In May, I think, we lost several in a row. The mindset stayed the same. I don't see this being any different. 

"We'll adjust. We had to deal with some adversity. Some guys going down. But it's about how we pick each other up and bridge the gap until those guys get healthy and until we're at full strength."

The Cubs wound up 3-3 on the short homestand thanks to a sweep of the spiraling Pirates over the weekend.

But they experienced firsthand how the game of baseball giveth and taketh away.

"It's always wonderful if you're going to somebody else's ballpark and win like that. No doubt," Maddon said. "But there's a long time left. We're not taking anything for granted on our side, either. We gotta play. 

"It ended up being a .500 homestand. Our sights are set higher than that. But you can't be upst with that, either. The Pirates left feeling the same way that we feel right now. It's just how this thing rolls back and forth. 

"We gotta move on and we have a long road trip. We'll be ready to play. We got Jonny [Lester] tomorrow. Happy about that. I don't get too involved or emotionally upset about these kinds of moments. It's gonna happen. It happened. Move on."

Still, the Cubs are sitting at 9.5 games up in the division before July 4 has even come along, tied for the largest division lead in the league.

"When you're 10 games ahead, you look at it that way," Miguel Montero said. "Nothing you can do about it. It's over. You just gotta move on. Good thing we have a pretty good lead. We just can't take it for granted. 

"We just want to keep it there. Obviously they came here, they played us pretty good, so other than that, you can't live with the past. You gotta move on. We already lost. Nothing we can do about it. We just gotta go to Miami and play better."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below:

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.