Cubs

Chemistry matters for Cubs team taking the playoffs by storm

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Chemistry matters for Cubs team taking the playoffs by storm

Surrounded by reporters, Theo Epstein stopped the interview for a moment to jump up and down to “Ando En La Versace,” Starlin Castro’s walk-up song that gets the 40,000-plus at Wrigley Field rhythmically clapping in unison. 

Now soaked in champagne, the Cubs had just eliminated the hated St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night, advancing to the National League championship series a year after losing 89 games (which actually felt like real progress). 

Cubs fans have a love/hate relationship with Castro, who signed with the organization nine years ago as a teenager out of the Dominican Republic, getting a $45,000 bonus and rocketing through the system, never spending a full season on the Double-A level and playing zero Triple-A games.

Castro is the three-time All-Star shortstop who had been a lightning rod for five fifth-place teams, lost his job to Addison Russell in early August and then reinvented himself as an offensive/defensive force at second base. 

The Wrigleyville crowd is more Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen than Omega, but here comes the Cubs, clapping along to the beat.  

[SHOP: Buy Cubs playoff gear]

“There’s a real joy to what they’re doing,” Epstein said, getting back in character as the Cubs president of baseball operations. “The biggest thing, I thought, in ’04 was we came back because the guys in our clubhouse cared more about the other 24 guys than their own interest.” 

Of course, 2004 would be the Boston Red Sox team that had been down 0-3 against the great Mariano Rivera and stormed back to beat the New York Yankees in the ALCS and win the franchise’s first World Series in 86 years, making Epstein a forever legend throughout New England.

Epstein can be ruthless. Just ask Rick Renteria, who had been assured he would be back for the 2015 season, until Joe Maddon became a free agent and Epstein fired the manager. There’s little doubt Castro would have been traded at the July 31 deadline if the Cubs had gotten a decent offer.

But Epstein is also a great storyteller with an eye for details, a sentimental side and a sense of history. He graduated from Yale University and then learned the scouting side of the business. Remember, this is his 24th season in Major League Baseball. He can be an old-school guy, too.

“Not to get corny,” Epstein said, “but the human spirit – you can do more for other people than you can necessarily do for yourself. And that’s how you overcome adversity. Maybe that’s how a real young team wins 97 games – 101 now.” 

If those Red Sox will be remembered as a “Band of Idiots,” then this team likes to “Play Stupid,” as Jon Lester put it.   

How else to explain this? Look, the Cubs have real talent. Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez and Russell are all recent first-round picks drafted between No. 2 and 11th overall. 

The Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers were among the big-market teams chasing after Jorge Soler before he got $30 million guaranteed as an unproven Cuban outfielder.

[MORE: Cubs become baseball's biggest party and best story]

Jake Arrieta and Lester can match up with the top of any rotation, whether it’s facing the Dodgers or New York Mets in the next round that begins Saturday on the road.

But after seeing the clubhouse torn apart by all those trade-deadline deals, the Cubs also needed glue guys like backup catcher David Ross and reserve outfielder Chris Denorfia to help create a cohesive work environment.   

“Everybody wants a number on everything,” Maddon said. “This is human-being stuff. And we have really good guys in that clubhouse that relate well to others and keep them in line.”

Maddon absorbs information from the “The Geek Department,” but he also does things by feel, whether it’s bringing in Simon the Magician, petting zoo animals or dressing up in a “Top Gun” pajama suit for an overnight flight home after Arrieta’s no-hitter at Dodger Stadium: “I Feel the Need – The Need for Sleep.”

It helps that Maddon is now a trusted brand with the authority that comes with a five-year, $25 million contract. And not the obscure bench coach who took over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and lost 101 games in 2006. 

[ALSO: Baez steps into starring role to help Cubs finish off Cardinals]

“It’s somewhat easier to get my point across now,” Maddon admitted. “I’m sure they were questioning me a lot more behind my back then than maybe they do now. Although that’s still part of what a manager has to go through. 

“When players form those little groups with meetings after meetings – or at the water cooler or in the food room – there’s that group that’s always going to try to find another guy that supports his theory of being kind of screwed.”

The Cubs used 150 batting orders, creating so much depth that Maddon can treat the postseason like it’s the Stanley Cup playoffs or March Madness, rolling out different lines or substituting offense for defense in late possessions.  

The Cubs used 22 different relief pitchers during the regular season, including Ross and Denorfia, essentially rebuilding their bullpen from baseball’s DFA scrap heap with midseason moves for Clayton Richard, Trevor Cahill and Fernando Rodney.  

“That’s the beautiful part about it when you get a tightly-knit group,” Maddon said. “The guy that’s messing things up – looking for allies – is not going to find it.  

[MLB POSTSEASON: Maddon has built a Cubs bullpen ready for October]

“If the fans are looking for a definition as to why I always talk about letting the players handle it, why the clubhouse is so important, why you have to have leadership within the clubhouse, it’s because when you do, then these little pockets where they’re looking for allies in a negative sense – they get blown up immediately.

“I’m pretty certain we have that here right now where that negative component cannot prosper because the guys in the clubhouse get it.”

Travis Wood turned down the chance to sign a long-term deal after his All-Star season in 2013, lost his spot in the rotation and emerged as a trusted lefty out of the bullpen.

Miguel Montero didn’t love the idea of three-catcher rotations and wanted to be in the lineup every day as a two-time All-Star. But instead of blasting the organization on Twitter, he spontaneously created the #WeAreGood hashtag, responding to the inherent pessimism in Chicago. 

Anthony Rizzo matured into a leader, predicting the Cubs will win the division, producing like an MVP-level first baseman and becoming a ringleader for the postgame dance parties.

[MORE: Arrieta meets kids who have Jake Arrieta haircut]

“We don’t get to pick our friends in this job,” Rizzo said. “We’re stuck with who we have. So to be able to come in every day and be an enjoyable group is a lot of fun. It’s a big reason why we win a lot of games.”

The Cubs didn’t have a losing month or a losing streak that went longer than five games, winning 34 one-run games and 13 in extra innings, showing mental toughness and playing with exceptional confidence. 

Hawk Harrelson won’t be Epstein’s next special assistant, but the Cubs have “The Will to Win.” 

“It’s unbelievable how resilient this team is,” Cahill said. “They’re just young and dumb, I guess.”

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...