Cubs

Can Cubs recreate their clubhouse chemistry from last year?

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Can Cubs recreate their clubhouse chemistry from last year?

For a franchise that hasn't won a championship in more than a century, the Cubs have an awful lot of World Series rings in their clubhouse.

That's by design.

Theo Epstein's front office already brought in Jon Lester and David Ross (both were on the 2013 World Champion Red Sox team) last year, and this season have reunited the duo with former Boston teammates John Lackey and Shane Victorino.

Add newly-crowned World Series winner Ben Zobrist (2015 Kansas City Royals) and there's suddenly an abundance of championship pedigree in the Cubs' clubhouse.

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That veteran experience - along with Joe Maddon's coaching staff - has helped create a culture with the Cubs that can help mitigate the development and eventual bumps and bruises from a roster jam-packed with fresh-faced kids.

"Anytime you've been through the grind of a season and come out on top, you realize how many twists and turns it's going to take to get there," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "I think that experience is invaluable.

"It wasn't something we talked about - that we had to go out and get guys who have won championships, but I think player after player, as we kept acquiring these veteran guys, these guys have won.

"They've been a big part of championship teams. And especially balancing some of our youth, I think that makes a big difference."

Zobrist joined the Royals midseason last year, but fit in immediately and helped guide the franchise to the promised land.

In Kansas City, Zobrist saw everybody pulling on one rope, caring only about getting back to the World Series and winning it all. He watched as a group of diverse individuals came together for one purpose.

Sabermetricians claim clubhouse chemistry doesn't matter at all, but Zobrist got a firsthand look at how culture plays a big role.

"If you're playing well, you have good chemistry," Zobrist said. "If you have good chemistry, you're more likely to play well. If teams win early on in the season, they feel like the chemistry is amazing, regardless of whether you got a bunch of great guys in the clubhouse or not.

"You just get along better because you're winning and that's the goal and the mindset. That being said, I do think that there's a special group of personalities here that they all seem like they enjoy each other, they're very easy to get along with and those kinds of players tend to want to win for each other more.

"So when you get out there and you're playing for each other, you're more likely to sacrifice yourself in the moment you need to for the team. That's going to help the team win in the end. I think this team has it."

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The Cubs feel chemistry played a huge role in their surprising 2015 season as the team hit stride in August and soared to 97 regular-season victories, a nail-biting wild card win over the Pittsburgh Pirates and dethroned the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series before getting swept out of the postseason by the New York Mets.

With all the new guys in the mix, can the Cubs replicate that chemistry?

"I always believe that chemistry can be created," Maddon said. "After all, if you've never won before, where's the chemistry coming from? The group that says that winning creates chemistry has never had to attempt to create it.

"And what does that mean? We talked a lot about building relationships last year, creating trust, the interactions that creates this open exchange of ideas. If you haven't had it before, how do you do it?

"You just can't say, 'Oh, we're gonna get a bunch of guys in a room, we're gonna win and we're gonna have chemistry.' I don't believe in that. I believe it can be intentionally created."

Maddon said he sees the young players buying into the culture even more now that they're "more comfortable in their major-league skin."

But those veterans are the ones that set the tone.

Ross joked the retirement of a backup catcher with a .228 career batting average shouldn't be a big deal, but it's not the numbers on the back of his baseball card that make Ross so valuable to the Cubs.

"Too many times, you portray players as being clubhouse leaders and that's done too loosely," Maddon said. "With [Ross], it's legitimate. He is a clubhouse leader.

"Why? In spite of not hitting .275 or better, he still creates this stature or maintains this stature in the clubhouse because of the respect people have for him about how he goes about his business. And then when he says something, it's pertinent, it's right on.

"I really don't care what he hits batting-average-wise. His job is totally different. Whatever he hits is gravy for us. I love what he does - how well he interacts with Jon Lester and all the other stuff that he does for the team. It's almost immeasurable. It's that important."

Part of the Cubs' success last season in instituting a successful culture was removing ego from the equation. That's easy to do for unproven rookies and an upstart team that wasn't expected to contend.

But will that mean the same culture will take effect this year?

Maddon has raved about how egoless his players are, with everybody pulling on the same rope. It will be hard to manage throughout the season with the inevitable speed bumps as guys wish they were hitting higher in the order or playing more or pitching in a more prominent role.

Yet the Cubs are confident Maddon can manage all the egos with his laid back, fun-loving style.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

The Cubs also have created a self-policing culture within the clubhouse. So if a guy starts to get upset for selfish reasons, other players step in to hold them accountable and keep everybody in line.

"Theo does such a good job," Anthony Rizzo said. "He doesn't bring in just anyone; he brings in high-character guys. You see it already with [Zobrist], [Jason Heyward] and Lackey coming in.

"They just fit right in. This is a clubhouse where there are no egos. That's what worked for us last year. I don't really plan on anyone having one this year, either."

Regardless of what the numbers and advanced statistics say, the Cubs believe chemistry matters.

"I don't think [chemistry] is overrated at all," Rizzo said. "A lot of these guys get paid to crunch numbers up top, but they know how important it is to have chemistry.

"There are a few teams that might win by their talent. But you look at the Royals last year - those guys have played together for almost 10 years coming up together. They're really good friends and that's what we plan on being."

Podcast: Wild week at Wrigley wraps up with Cubs showing what they’re made of

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AP

Podcast: Wild week at Wrigley wraps up with Cubs showing what they’re made of

The Cubs have been a different team the last six weeks, looking a lot more like the resilient bunch from 2016 than the sluggish 2017 squad that lacked energy. After some wacky circumstances Monday and a tough loss in Game 1 of Tuesday’s doubleheader, the Cubs came out and showed what they’re made of in the last two games of the series against the Dodgers, a team that knocked them out of postseason play last fall.

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki sum up the longest short homestand (or shortest long homestand?), updating the status of Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, the Cubs pitching staff and how the team is rounding into form as the season’s halfway mark approaches.

Check out the entire podcast here:

Brandon Morrow lands on DL after hurting back while taking his pants off

Brandon Morrow lands on DL after hurting back while taking his pants off

Remember that one time Sammy Sosa threw out his back while sneezing? Well, Brandon Morrow may have topped that on the Cubs all-time list of wacky injuries.

The 33-year-old closer was placed on the 10-day disabled list prior to Wednesday's game after hurting his back while taking his pants off upon returning from the team's road trip to St. Louis. It's being labeled as "lower back tightness."

"It's frustrating any time you can't get out there, and especially when you can't go because of something stupid like taking your pants off," Morrow told reporters on Tuesday.

And that's put the Cubs pitching staff in a tough spot for the rest of the week, given Wednesday's series finale against the Dodgers is the third game in a little more than 24 hours for the Cubs.

"I don't want to downplay anything," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "Obviously he had back spams, he had the same thing in spring training. We'll start treating it the same way we did in spring training; I think he was out about a week to 10 days. If things go as we hope, I think it'd be the kind of thing where he'd probably be able to be throwing before the 10 days is up.

"But we felt like it wasn't going to be something where he was ready this weekend and if he's not going to be ready all weekend, we can already backdate it three days so it made sense to put him on the DL."

Morrow is tied for fifth in the National League with 16 saves and owns a 1.59 ERA is 26 relief appearances this season. Justin Hancock, who served as the 26th man during Tuesday's doubleheader, stayed with the team as a result.