Cubs

Anthony Rizzo channels Rocky Balboa to keep Cubs loose before Game 5 World Series victory

Anthony Rizzo channels Rocky Balboa to keep Cubs loose before Game 5 World Series victory

Anthony Rizzo will spend part of Monday scavenging for trunks and boxing gloves so he can dress up for the Cubs’ Halloween night flight to Cleveland.

But the Cubs first baseman already acted out several of Rocky Balboa’s most significant fights in the home clubhouse on Sunday night prior to a 3-2 Game 5 victory over the Cleveland Indians in front of 41,711 at Wrigley Field.

In an attempt to fire up his teammates, the three-time All-Star played several ‘Rocky’ movies on televisions throughout the clubhouse and shadowboxed with several teammates. The Cubs then extended their heavyweight bout with the Indians at least one more game with the first World Series victory at Wrigley Field since Game 6 of the 1945 Fall Classic. The Indians take a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 when action resumes at 7:08 p.m. CST on Tuesday night.

“Just pulled it all out,” Rizzo said. “Got to put out the inspirational, underdog. We’re saying we’re going to battle, we’ve got to go the distance. There were some speeches in here, some motivational stuff.

“You’ve got to keep it loose.”

Loose was a priority as Rizzo said the nervous energy produced by a Wrigley crowd witnessing its first World Series in 71 years was palpable. Trailing 3-1 in the Series, Rizzo admitted Cubs fans weren’t the only ones with a case of the nerves.

“A lot of nervous energy at some points in the ballpark just like we were feeling,” Rizzo said.

But the Cubs fended off those emotions well enough to turn in an all-around crisp performance. Not only did they receive Herculean pitching efforts from Jon Lester and Aroldis Chapman, the defense ran on all cylinders. And then the middle of the order made its first significant impact since the fifth inning of Game 2.

Kris Bryant fired up his teammates and the crowd with a game-tying solo home run in the bottom of the fourth inning. Rizzo, who changed his walkup music to the theme from Rocky for his first at-bat, lined Trevor Bauer’s next pitch off the right-field fence for a double. When he reached second, ahead of a Ben Zobrist single, Rizzo shadowed boxed in the direction of the Cubs’ dugout.

It was the first time in the 2016 World Series the Cubs have strung together three consecutive hits and Addison Russell followed with an RBI single to drive in Rizzo and give them a 2-1 lead. Three batters later, a sac fly by David Ross gave the Cubs a two-run cushion they wouldn’t relinquish.

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“They kind of put their pitcher on the ropes a little bit,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We had better at-bats. We got our three runs. Yes, all of that. That's kind of what happened in Los Angeles where all of a sudden we got that one big blow.

“It's incredible when you do that what it does to your team and what it does to the (opposing) pitcher. It's just part of the game. So you have to be able to punch and counter-punch all the time, and we were able to do that tonight.”

After it worked on Sunday, Rizzo joked he might seek out a boxing outfit for the final road trip of the season. Not that teams need a ton of motivation at this point in a season. But every little bit helps as Rizzo found out Sunday.

“We had to get the levels up and we had Rocky on every TV in here before,” Rizzo said. “Imitating the boxing matches, the fight.

“We’ve got to go the distance now and we’ve got to believe in it.”

Cubs not selling Kyle Schwarber stock: 'We really believe in him'

Cubs not selling Kyle Schwarber stock: 'We really believe in him'

LAS VEGAS — It's Winter Meetings time, which means, of course, that it's Kyle Schwarber trade rumor season.

Every winter since he made his MLB debut in the middle of the 2015 season, Schwarber has found his name linked in trade rumors.

Yet the Cubs have not taken the bait, instead doubling and tripling down on Schwarber as a player and as an important part of the team's core. 

So it wasn't a surprise when USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale reported Sunday teams have inquired about trading for Schwarber but were turned away.

We know the Cubs don't deal in untouchables thanks to the Kris Bryant trade conversation earlier this winter, but Schwarber is right up there with players the organization has no interest in selling unless they're blown away with the return.

"Nothing's changed," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said Monday. "We really believe in him. He's an incredibly gifted hitter and we fully believe in the makeup. In general, I think you can ask a similar question about almost any guy in our core. For a reason, we 've stuck by these guys and we've won a lot of games with these guys and we believe in them.

"Of course there's no untouchables and we've said that over and over, so whenever these rumors come out — 'would they trade any of these guys?' Of course. We never have an untouchable. We do believe in these guys. If we didn't believe in them, we certainly would've changed course by now.

"The last three years, we've made a real effort to have this group together and I think we're still gonna win a lot of games as a group."

The day after the Cubs' 2018 season ended in disappointing fashion, Theo Epstein discussed the need to evaluate the team's young position players on production rather than potential.

While Schwarber took some steps forward in 2018, he still falls into that category. Sure, he drastically improved his defense thanks to increased fitness/weight levels. And he improved his walk rate while cutting down on his strikeout rate. 

But he still hasn't morphed into that ever-dangerous hitter that sits in the middle of the Cubs order and strikes fear into opposing pitchers. Schwarber hit 30 homers in 2017 and 26 last season, but drove in just 59 and 61 runs, respectively. He also found himself out of the lineup often against left-handed pitchers. 

It's important to keep in mind that Schwarber is still developing as a hitter and big-league player, missing out on the entire 2016 regular season with that devastating knee injury and enduring prolonged struggles in 2017 due in part to increased pressure hitting in the leadoff spot.

To put it in perspective, Schwarber had a very similar season to Phillies cornerstone player Rhys Hoskins and consider how he compares to fellow teammates Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo through a similar number of plate appearances through their first three-plus MLB seasons:

Schwarber (1,274 PAs) — .228/.339/.470 (.809  OPS)
Rizzo (1,211 PAs) — .238/.324/.412 (.735 OPS)
Baez (1,267 PAs) — .255/.300/.427 (.727 OPS)

Schwarber was worth 3.2 WAR (FanGraphs) for the Cubs in 2018, but the team knows there's a lot more in there waiting to be unlocked.

He's a big reason why the Cubs are betting on an overall team improvement in 2019 thanks to individual steps forward.

"Ultimately, I'll still go back to what I've said over and over each winter is the biggest improvements are going to be from within," Hoyer said. "No matter what we do from the outside, getting our guys back and getting our team playing like we should is the most important thing.

"We have spent a lot of time on that today as well, talking to Joe, talking to our coaches, talking to our scouts. As much as we talk about external stuff, we never get that far away from the internal improvements we need to make."

With Hot Stove season in full tilt, when will Cubs join the fray?

With Hot Stove season in full tilt, when will Cubs join the fray?

LAS VEGAS — Cubs fans are getting very antsy, and it's easy to see why.

The Cubs' offseason began weeks earlier than past falls due to the one-and-done postseason appearance and with such a disappointing finale, even Theo Epstein teased the potential for an offseason of change

Yet here we are, at the end of the first day of the MLB Winter Meetings — 68 days after the 2018 season came to a close — and the Cubs have yet to make an impactful addition to the roster.

That's not to say they haven't done anything. They picked up Cole Hamels' $20 million option as well as the team options they held on Pedro Strop and Jose Quintana. But the list of offseason acquistions at the moment looks like this:

LHP Jerry Vasto (waivers)
RHP Rowan Wick (trade with Padres)
OF Johnny Field (waivers)

Only Wick is on the 40-man roster. The Cubs also re-signed pitcher Kyle Ryan to a major-league deal after he spent 2018 in their minor-league system.

On the other side of the coin, the Cubs have already lost Drew Smyly and Jesse Chavez this winter — both of whom ended up with the Rangers — and traded Tommy La Stella to the Los Angeles Angels. They've also likely lost a crop of free agents headlined by Daniel Murphy and Justin Wilson (neither are expected back in a Cubs uniform in 2019).

So it's understandable why fans are impatient.

Does that mean the Cubs are on the verge of making a move and filling the holes in their bullpen or lineup?

"No, nothing imminent," GM Jed Hoyer said Monday evening in the Cubs' suite inside the Delano Las Vegas. "Today is sort of build the ground work, have those conversations and hopefully you build some momentum for the end of the week or towards next week. But there's nothing imminent."

Like last winter, it's a very slow-moving free agent market around the game even if the trade market has been very active to date. 

It's not just the top names like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, either. Almost every free agent relief pitcher is still on the market and nearly every team with hopes of contending in 2019 needs to build up their bullpen, so the Cubs have spent a lot of time talking to agents with nothing bearing fruit yet (obviously). 

That said, Hoyer confirmed the Cubs still spent much of their time Monday chatting with other teams about potential trades. 

While the Cubs have been clear about their desire to add relievers, another bench bat and some more leadership in the position player group, they also continue to state publicly that they're expecting most of the advancement from 2018 to 2019 to be done in-house. The Cubs front office maintains the solutions will come from within to rebound from a late-season fade where the offense went ice cold.

Still, for those who can't wait for there to be actual news — any news — on the Cubs front, they may not have to wait long.

As Hoyer met with the Chicago media early Monday evening (Vegas time), he speculated the day may be only half over for the Cubs front office.

"I feel like Day 1 is really difficult to assess," Hoyer said Monday. "We'll have a better sense of [any potential moves] tomorrow. If things are going to happen, they gain momentum as the week goes on. Usually, ideas don't percolate on Wednesday.

"The way things work in these meetings, [Monday evening is] like Noon on the first day in some weird way. People work through the night."