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.

[RELATED - The art of the walk-up song: A reflection of the Cubs' personality]

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."

[RELATED - How Cubs plan to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump for young players in 2016]

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."

Kyle Hendricks takes in a Blackhawks game with... Bastian Schweinsteiger?

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NBC Sports Chicago

Kyle Hendricks takes in a Blackhawks game with... Bastian Schweinsteiger?

A Cubs pitcher taking in a Blackhawks game in a suite is nothing special, but doing so with a World Cup winner is... different.

Kyle Hendricks was spotted by the cameras of Thursday's Blackhawks-Coyotes broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago. The guy he was standing next to was none other than Chicago Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, a World Cup with Germany and Champions League winner with Bayern Munich.

Hendricks is known for being reserved on the mound and in his interviews with the media. Meanwhile, Schweinsteiger was filmed yelling "Bear Down" in the hallway of Toyota Park after a Fire practice earlier in the day.

There's no telling what inspired Schweinsteiger to do this, but he has definitely embraced Chicago sports teams since joining the Fire in March of 2017.

Makes you wonder what Hendricks and Schweinsteiger were talking about. Best places to get brats in Chicago?

Ben Zobrist provides a hilarious glimpse into how he's spending a free October

Ben Zobrist provides a hilarious glimpse into how he's spending a free October

Ben Zobrist won't win the Comeback Player of the Year award this winter, but maybe he can take home a Grammy for Best New Artist?

The Cubs veteran infielder/outfielder posted a hilarious video on his Instagram Wednesday night showcasing how he's been spending October after the Cubs were unceremoniously ousted from the playoffs after on the third day of the month.

It's a fantastic music video of Zobrist lip-syncing to Mumford & Sons' "I Will Wait" while he nearly knocks the TV off the wall of his home by swinging the bat indoors pretending to hit off Clayton Kershaw and frolicking around a field that looks shockingly similar to Hershel's farm from the second season of "The Walking Dead":

View this post on Instagram

It always takes me a few weeks to process the season and begin the offseason. Here are my thoughts.....along with a unique way of making light of the postseason that should have been......... (special thanks to @dimtillard for help with Video) Maybe you feel the way I do. It was a very quick and abrupt ending to a good season for us. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But let’s not forget all the good that happened. This game and this team gives us something to pass the time, to express our love and passion, to feel the joy of the wins and the pains of the losses, and it calls us to unity when we so easily can be divided about so many other things. Each game is a microcosm of life. The game itself is not Life, but it helps us deal with life in a way. I’m thankful for even the painful losses at the end. The game can be a great teacher. I felt privileged to play with this team and play for our fans all year. We were stretched and we grew in new ways as individuals and as a group and that is always a good thing. We strive to win championships, but more often the process is the goal. We will be stronger because of all that we went through this year. What will I do now? I will travel and watch my wife crush her book tour. I will be in and out of Chi-town. I just got back home to Franklin, TN. I will find joy in raising and watching my kids grow and continue becoming their own person. I will rest and begin preparing for next season. I will work hard in mind, body, and spirit. I will help other players with @patriotforward and @showandgo. I will focus on personal growth and charitable endeavors and become a better man, teammate, friend, and player. To Baseball and Fans: For the next 5 months until I play next year.... I will wait for you....

A post shared by Ben Zobrist (@benzobrist18) on

Zobrist also posted a lengthy caption on his perspective on the Cubs' disappointing end to the season:

It always takes me a few weeks to process the season and begin the offseason. Here are my thoughts.....along with a unique way of making light of the postseason that should have been......... (special thanks to @dimtillard for help with Video) 
Maybe you feel the way I do. It was a very quick and abrupt ending to a good season for us. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But let’s not forget all the good that happened. This game and this team gives us something to pass the time, to express our love and passion, to feel the joy of the wins and the pains of the losses, and it calls us to unity when we so easily can be divided about so many other things. Each game is a microcosm of life. The game itself is not
Life, but it helps us deal with life in a way. I’m thankful for even the painful losses at the end. The game can be a great teacher. 
I felt privileged to play with this team and play for our fans all year. We were stretched and we grew in new ways as individuals and as a group and that is always a good thing. We strive to win championships, but more often the process is the goal. We will be stronger because of all that we went through this year. 
What will I do now? I will travel and watch my wife crush her book tour. I will be in and out of Chi-town. I just got back home to Franklin, TN. I will find joy in raising and watching my kids grow and continue becoming their own person. I will rest and begin preparing for next season. I will work hard in mind, body, and spirit. I will help other players with @patriotforward and @showandgo. I will focus on personal growth and charitable endeavors and become a better man, teammate, friend, and player. 
To Baseball and Fans: For the next 5 months until I play next year....
I will wait for you....

Come for the Zobrist lip sync, but stay for the 37-year-old using a bat as a guitar while wearing a sleeveless shirt and rocking an old-timey top hat.

A year ago, Zobrist completely reshaped his offseason workout plan after three straight years of playing deep into October. It appears he's added another new trick to his winter workout — hopping over fences even though there is a clear opening just a foot away.

Hey, whatever works...