Cubs

Anthony Rizzo wants more for the World Series champion Cubs: ‘Success is very addicting’

Anthony Rizzo wants more for the World Series champion Cubs: ‘Success is very addicting’

The Cubs kept telling themselves – and their fans and the media and all those business partners – they were on the greatest quest in professional sports.

So now what?

Anthony Rizzo's Instagram account shows the spoils of winning the franchise's first World Series title since 1908. There's a collage from his "Saturday Night Live" appearance with Bill Murray, Dexter Fowler and David Ross. There are pictures from Kris Bryant's splashy wedding in Las Vegas.

There are beach, sunset and yacht postcards from Thailand, Vietnam (where Rizzo went squid fishing) and the British Virgin Islands (where the All-Star first baseman bumped into Mayor Rahm Emanuel). On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Rizzo hopes to give the nation's 44th president his No. 44 jersey when the Cubs visit Barack Obama's White House.

But Rizzo has a simple answer for anyone wondering if the Cubs are sleeping off the hangover – or maybe not feeling quite as hungry – after enjoying their global victory tour.

"You want more," Rizzo said Thursday during a Cubs Caravan stop at Northwest Middle School, where he raised the World Series trophy in a gym filled with roaring students. "Success is very addicting."

Generations of fans will thank the 2016 team when Cubs Convention opens at the Sheraton Grand Chicago on Friday – or 32 days until pitchers and catchers report to Arizona – for an event that would still be jam-packed coming off a last-place finish.

That's when Rizzo predicted the 2015 Cubs would win a division title, backing it up, in essence, with 97 wins and a trip to the National League Championship Series. But there's no need to drum up confidence and make guarantees anymore.

The Cubs are now Major League Baseball's glamour team, a telegenic group with crossover appeal and social-media savvy. Built and shaped by baseball rock stars in the front office (Theo Epstein) and dugout (Joe Maddon), the Cubs play with style, attitude and emotion. There's enough young blue-chip talent to make October baseball a reality at Wrigley Field for years to come.

"You just want to keep going," Rizzo said. "All the perks that have come this year have been amazing. You see guys after they win championships go on a couple talk shows. We had probably 20 guys on different talk shows, doing everything, branching out. It's amazing for the game. It's good for baseball.

"When I work out now, it's: ‘Oh, how are you going to get that going?' Well, it's easy. I want to do it again. I think everyone else will have that mentality as well."

Rizzo is coming off a 32-homer, 109-RBI season where he won Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards and found the right balance between Maddon's ideals of staying loose and playing hard.

Rizzo took a broader view of his game and attacked the weaker parts without getting overloaded or overwhelmed by the history. He helped create the chill vibes in the clubhouse as these Cubs have clearly taken on elements of his personality.

"With the experience we've gained from getting swept by the Mets, to winning a Game 7 in the best World Series ever," Rizzo said, "I think anything that's thrown at us, we'll be able to handle.

"Especially with going into spring (training) last year with all the extra media and all the scrutiny, the way we were able to handle ourselves in the clubhouse and not worry about anything else was the biggest key."

Injuries, underperformance and a different chemistry could all derail the 2017 Cubs. But these core players get the benefit of the doubt after the way they burst onto the scene and shrugged off the century-plus championship drought.

Bryant won Rookie of the Year and MVP awards before turning 25 and getting married. Addison Russell and Javier Baez are going into their age-23 and age-24 seasons. Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras and Albert Almora Jr. still haven't completed a full year in the big leagues yet.

The Cubs feel like the party in Wrigleyville is just beginning.

"We just got to keep going, keep sticking to the process, keep having fun," Rizzo said. "And know that – just like last year – we were the team to beat, and we're going to be the team to beat this year. So we got to go in there with the mentality of getting it on from the first day of spring until the last game."

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

There's a legit case to be made that Ian Happ has been the Cubs' second-best hitter in 2018.

Yes, really.

Happ ranks second on the Cubs in OPS (.895), behind only Kris Bryant (.995) among regulars, though a recent hot streak has buoyed that overall bottom line for Happ.

Still, it's been a pretty incredible hot streak and it's propelled Happ back to where he began the season — at the top of the Cubs order. 

Happ has walked 10 times in the last 6 games and hammered out 3 homers in that span, including one on top of the Schwarboard in right field as a pinch-hitter Tuesday night.

Even more jaw-dropping: He's only struck out 5 times in the last 9 games after a dreadful start to the season in that regard.

"It was just a matter of time until things clicked a little bit," Happ said. "That's why we play 162 games and it's a game of adjustments. At the end of the day, it all evens out.

"Look at the back of Tony [Rizzo's] baseball card — it's the same thing every single year. That's how this thing goes. You're gonna have your ups and your downs and I'm just trying to be as consistent as I can. If I can level it out a little bit and be more consistent over a period of time, that'll be better for our team."

So yes, Happ is on the upswing right now and he'll inevitably have more slumps where he strikes out too much and looks lost at the plate.

Such is life for a 23-year-old who is still a week away from his 162nd career MLB game.

The league had adjusted to Happ and he had to adjust back, which he'd been working hard doing behind the scenes.

"I just try to get him to primarily slow things down," Joe Maddon said. "Try to get him back into left-center. And I did not want to heap a whole lot of at-bats on him. When you're not going good, if you heap too many at-bats on somebody, all of a sudden, that's really hard to dig out of that hole.

"So a lot of conversations — a lot of conversations — but nothing complicated. I like to go the simple side of things. I wanted him to try not to lift the ball intentionally, really organize his strike zone."

Maddon believes Happ had lost sight of his strike zone organization, chasing too many pitches out of the zone — particularly the high fastball.

Now, the Cubs manager sees Happ using his hands more and less of his arms in his swing, working a more precise, compact path to the ball.

The Happ experiment at leadoff was a disaster to begin the year — .186 AVG, .573 OPS and 22 strikeouts in 10 starts there — but all the same tools and rationale exist for why Maddon likes the switch-hitting utiliy player in that spot.

And that's why Happ was leading off Wednesday with both Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. getting the night off.

"We're gonna find out [if he can stick at leadoff]," Maddon said. "I just thought he's looked better. He's coming off a nice streak on the road trip. [Tuesday night], pinch-hitting. I know the home run's great and of course that's nice.

"But how he got to the pitch that he hit out, to me, was the important thing. Got the two strikes, took the two borderline pitches and then all of a sudden, [the pitcher] came in with a little bit more and he didn't miss it.

"That's the big thing about hitting well, too — when you see your pitch, you don't either take it or foul it off. You don't miss it. He didn't miss it."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Who has more fun on the diamond, Javier Baez or Yolmer Sanchez?

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Who has more fun on the diamond, Javier Baez or Yolmer Sanchez?

Ozzie Guillen and David DeJesus join Leila Rahimi on Wednesday's podcast. After Tuesday's game-winning hit and second self-inflicted Gatorade bath the guys wonder if anyone has more fun on the field than Yolmer Sanchez. Jim DeShaies joins the conversation and brings Javy Baez to the table.

Plus, Manny Mania continues to swirl in Chicago. Finally, what should be the White Sox plan for calling up their top prospects?

Listen to the full Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast right here: