Cubs

After Kershaw and Greinke, Cubs believe they can beat the best

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After Kershaw and Greinke, Cubs believe they can beat the best

After seeing Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, the Cubs believe they can beat the best.

The Los Angeles Dodgers rolled out Cy Young Award winners on back-to-back nights at Wrigley Field and a $270 million team still finds itself at 0-2 in this four-game statement series.

The atmosphere felt different on Tuesday night and the Cubs certainly looked legit, celebrating a 1-0 walk-off victory after Chris Denorfia’s sacrifice fly in the 10th inning, again showing this team won’t fade away.

It left the Cubs at nine games over .500 – for the first time since August 2009 – with a 39-30 record that’s better than all but two teams in the National League (though the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates also happen to play in their division).

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

“We all know we have talent,” said Anthony Rizzo, the 25-year-old All-Star first baseman. “As a team, we keep getting better. We’re really not even close to what we can really do.”

That’s the part that will make Cubs fans delirious and could embolden Theo Epstein’s front office at the trade deadline, the idea that this team is just scratching the surface of its potential.

The Cubs talked a big game heading into this season – just like any team that’s declared a winner at the winter meetings – but there’s a growing sense inside the clubhouse that this group can live up to the hype.   

The Cubs lead the majors with nine walk-off wins. They’re 8-3 in extra-inning games and 18-12 in one-run games. They play with nerve and confidence.

[MORE: Maddon trusts Epstein, Hoyer will come through at trade deadline]

“When we get to the eighth or ninth inning, everyone in (the dugout) is just like: This is what we do,” Rizzo said. “We just have a good vibe at all times. And it’s a lot of fun, because we’re all still growing up for the most part.”

The Cubs got contributions from all over, with Mike Baxter and Matt Szczur hitting back-to-back singles to lead off the 10th inning and Dexter Fowler coming off the bench with a sprained left ankle to work a walk and load the bases.

“It’s awesome,” Fowler said. “We got a tight-knit team. It’s awesome to win together. We’re gonna win together and we’re gonna lose together, but we don’t get too down when we lose, and we definitely think we can win each and every game.”

Jason Hammel – the sign-and-flip guy who’s become a core piece – walked off the mound in the eighth inning to a standing ovation from the crowd of 36,799. Hammel outlasted Greinke, the All-Star right-hander who now has a 1.70 ERA but needed to throw 111 pitches just to make it through six innings against this lineup.

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“It’s a learning experience,” Hammel said, “especially for the young guys. There are plenty of guys on this team that have done it before. But for these young guys, they’re learning how to continue to grind out professional at-bats. We need to make sure that every out, every pitch, every at-bat counts. Especially when you get deep into September and then October, everything counts.”

The Cubs are realistically thinking about the playoffs after five consecutive fifth-place finishes. 

Hammel played for Joe Maddon and the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays team that did the worst-to-first turnaround and made it to the World Series. Hammel also pitched for the 2012 Baltimore Orioles team that won 93 games after finishing in last place the year before.

Hammel thinks this is the best collection of young talent he’s ever been around. Maybe the Cubs will see Kershaw and Greinke again.

“Kudos to the front office for continuing to go through the draft and pick out great players,” Hammel said. “Obviously, when you’re bad for so long, you get the cream of the crop.

“But it’s the development part – the guys are really doing a good job. And I think it also says a lot about the leadership here, too, to take young guys and make sure they do have that good head on their shoulders when they get here and they’re not expected to take the world by the horns.

“They’re going to be together for a long time, so the sky’s the limit for this team.”

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Why can't a trade be looked at as a win-win? 

There doesn't always have to be a clear winner and loser.

Prior to Jose Quintana taking the ball for Saturday's game against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field, Joe Maddon was asked about the players (Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease) the Cubs gave up to acquire Quintana as well as the deal with the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman in July 2016.

Gleyber Torres is absolutely killing it in New York, hitting .323 with a 1.014 OPS, 9 homers and 24 RBI in only 29 games. Six of those homers have come in the last week alone. 

With the White Sox, both Jimenez and Cease have found success in Double-A and Advanced Class-A, respectively.

Jimenez is hitting .331 with a .992 OPS, 9 homers and 35 RBI in 35 games. Cease is 6-2 with a 2.83 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 47.2 innings.

As the Cubs work to get their offense settled into a consistent groove, some Cubs fans have been looking at what might've been with guys like Torres and Jimenez.

"You can't have it both ways, man," Maddon said. "I'm happy for Gleyber. When he left, we talked about it. And we talked about the kids that went to the White Sox. It's good stuff. 

"I'm really disappointed if anybody's disappointed in the fact we won the World Series in 2016 and the fact that the guy we're talking about that we had to give up Gleyber for was so instrumental in that happening. That's bad process if you're gonna get stuck on something like that. Be happy for Gleyber. Be happy for him."

Maddon has been a fan of Torres' since he saw him in spring training in 2015, Maddon's first year in the Cubs organization.

"This kid's 21, with high, high baseball intellect," Maddon said. "He's very similar to Javy on the field. I've had some great conversations with him in the past. 

"The first time I saw him in spring training, I thought this guy's for real. It was like one at-bat, line drive to RF, I said who is this guy? And then you have a conversation with him. He's solid."

Maddon's point is a great one — would Cubs fans prefer to still have Torres and NOT have the 2016 World Series championship? Because that title doesn't happen without Chapman, regardless of how you feel about him as a person or what the Cubs had to give up to acquire him.

"Don't play that game," Maddon said. "Be happy for [Torres]. I'm gonna be happy when Eloy and Dylan make it up here. All these dudes, I want them to get here and be really good. And the guys that we get, I want them to be really good. 

"I don't understand why somebody's gotta lose all the time. This is an absolute classic example of what was good for both teams."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998

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AP

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

An off-day did nothing to slow down the 1998 National League MVP as Sosa collected his second straight 2-homer game May 27 of that season.

He went deep in the eighth and ninth innings of a Cubs' 10-5 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field, driving in 3 runs. 

The first homer - off Darrin Winston - was an absolute blast, traveling an estimated 460 feet. The second shot was tame in comparison with only 400 feet as a recorded distance.

In a matter of two games, Sosa raised his season OPS from .930 to .988 and his slugging percentage from .521 to .577 thanks to a pair of 2-homer contests.

Fun fact: Doug Glanville - former Cubs outfielder and current NBC Sports Chicago analyst - was the Phillies leadoff hitter that day in 1998, collecting three hits and scoring a pair of runs.