Cubs: Addison Russell getting comfortable playing off shortstop


Cubs: Addison Russell getting comfortable playing off shortstop

By promoting Addison Russell after only 11 games at Triple-A Iowa, the Cubs sent the message that he’s a big part of a win-now team and not the distant future, reinforcing the idea that he’s essentially untouchable.

In cases like this, other teams usually get the hint and move on, looking deeper inside another farm system to see if there are still any potential trade scenarios. For the Cubs, Russell headlining a deal for someone like, say, Philadelphia Phillies ace Cole Hamels is a nonstarter.

However the Cubs wind up getting more pitching, know that the New York Mets aren’t exactly enamored with Starlin Castro and publicly say they’re committed to Wilmer Flores at shortstop. The Starlin-to-New York rumors should end with Thursday’s 6-5 win and the Cubs finishing the four-game sweep at Wrigley Field. 

Because broadly speaking Castro is too much of a free swinger – and not enough of a power hitter – for Mets general manager Sandy Alderson and an Ivy League front office rooted in “Moneyball.”   

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The Cubs also don’t want to tear apart their middle infield at a time when they figure to be in the wild-card hunt and hope to be in the division race.

“We’ve been working on double plays,” Russell said. “We kind of have a good sense of where we want our feeds and how each other reacts to the ball. We’re coming along good.”

Russell carries himself with a quiet confidence and fits into the clubhouse so well that it’s easy to forget he’s only 21 years old and learning a new position on the fly in the majors.

“It’s pretty spectacular,” manager Joe Maddon said. “You have to understand (it’s) not only changing positions but changing sides of the field. Entirely different. When you’re playing on the left side at shortstop, and then you go to the right side, the ball off the bat, the angles are entirely different. Where you’re supposed to go on different plays – entirely different.

“I’ve talked about the road map before. That really takes a little bit of forethought regarding: Where am I supposed to be if this happens? But more than anything, the way the ball comes off the bat, it’s always going to go away from you, hook or slice. And you got to get used to (it).

“The (other) difference (is) the double play. And it’s not as easy as it looks when the guy is coming up your butt and all of a sudden you got to get out of the way. There’s different ways to protect yourself, whether it’s using the bag, stepping back, coming across. It depends on how hard the ball is hit.

“When the ball is hit real softly, you probably got to get out of the way, come across the bag. If it’s hit hard, you can protect yourself differently. There are all these little nuances. It’s not that easy and he’s made a nice adjustment.”

[RELATED - Is Kris Bryant the long-term answer at third base?]

Russell – who entered this season as Baseball America’s No. 3 overall prospect – has been able to hide a little bit in Kris Bryant’s shadow and as a No. 9 hitter. He knows he’s nowhere close to being a finished product at second base.

“Still getting there,” Russell said. “Even if I’ve been playing there for years and years, I still want to learn something about the position. So there’s a long way to go, I think. But I’m getting more comfortable.”

Russell’s presence could also have the added benefit of motivating Castro, who’s still a three-time All-Star at the age of 25, with seemingly all of his prime years in front of him and a team-friendly contract that could run through 2020.  

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“Right now, the thing that I’m really impressed with is how he’s leading himself, if that makes any sense,” Maddon said of Castro. “He’s really been animated and he gets upset with himself if he doesn’t come through in the moment. If he makes a mistake, he’s really holding himself highly accountable. And I think the other guys are seeing that.

“I don’t know if you’ve watched him a whole lot on the infield with Addison. They’re talking a lot and it’s starting from Starlin towards ‘Addie.’ It’s not the other way around. I’ve seen a lot of that.” 

A messy night at Wrigley Field ends without a pitch being thrown

A messy night at Wrigley Field ends without a pitch being thrown

The NLCS rematch will have to wait another day.

Mother Nature and the power at Wrigley Field care not for your excitement about a "big series" between the Cubs and Dodgers.

Thunderstorms rolled over the North Side of Chicago, where the Dodgers ended the Cubs' postseason run 8 months ago. 

On top of that, the power at Wrigley Field was not cooperating with the lights down the right field line going out for hours during the rain delay. 

The lights came back on at one point before again going out again roughly a half hour before Monday night's game was officially called. After a delay stretching almost three hours, word finally filtered out just before 10 p.m. the game would be postponed a day.

The Cubs and Dodgers will make the game up as part of a day-night doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field with the first game starting at 12:05 p.m. and the second at the regularly scheduled time of 7:05 p.m. Tyler Chatwood will start the first game for the Cubs with Mike Montgomery slated to go Game 2.

As of 10 p.m. Monday night, the Cubs were unsure what caused the power issue at Wrigley Field but were working on fixing the problem ahead of Tuesday's scheduled doubleheader.

The evening started with the tarp being rolled onto the field by the Cubs grounds crew roughly an hour before scheduled first pitch with a forecast calling for a 100 percent chance of rain.

Only a light rain fell until a downpour began around 8:15 p.m.:

That lasted only about a half hour before the grounds crew came back out around 8:45 p.m. to partially remove the tarp and attempt to get the field ready to play.

The only issue at that point was the light and a sinister forecast.

"It takes 45 minutes to get the field ready to play," said Julian Green, Cubs director of communications. "So once you take that tarp off, you saw them putting the chalk lines down, getting ready.

"We wanted to be ready — even in the face of rain — if the lights came back on, we wanted to make sure we could play baseball, even if it was a limited window of opportunity."

As of 11 p.m., that second bout of rain had yet to materialize, but the lights issue also wasn't corrected and play on the field would've been impossible.

Fans lingered throughout the stadium for nearly three hours before an official conclusion came down. The Cubs kept the same announcement on the right field video board about the weather delay while the left field video board displayed the Brewers-Pirates and other MLB games.

This is the only trip to Chicago the Dodgers make throughout the 2018 season so the two teams and Major League Baseball did all they could to try to get a game in and avoid any issue where these two teams would have to play on a mutual off-day later in the year. 

The Cubs were in the midst of a stretch of 17 games in 17 days without a day off. They're still on that same schedule, though now with an unexpected day off Monday and a doubleheader Tuesday.

The Cubs are no stranger to postponements this season as wacky weather has continued to hamper this MLB season.

"Not only for the Chicago Cubs, but Chicago in general, this has been a really interesting spring and summer season," Green said. "We're taking our licks just like everybody else is.

"Our plan is to play baseball tomorrow and make sure we can accomodate fans as best as possible. So fans who have tickets to tonight's game will be able to use them for tomorrow."

How the Cubs are trying to help Kris Bryant out of his slump

How the Cubs are trying to help Kris Bryant out of his slump

Whatever Kris Bryant does from here, it's just frosting on the cake that is his legacy.

That's one way to look at the lasting impact of a guy like Bryant, who morphed from "The Chosen One" as the No. 2 overall pick. He's lived up to the hype from Day 1, has a Rookie of the Year and NL MVP Award in his trophy case and — most importantly of all — led the Cubs to their first World Series championship in 108 years.

A slump in May and June of 2018 won't tarnish that legacy.

But you can also forgive Cubs fans if they're growing a little antsy with their stud player. 

Just rest easy that he's growing a little antsy, too.

After chronicling his "temper tantrums" and actually admitting he gets so angry he is prone to breaking bats in frustration (still find that really hard to believe) last week, Bryant still isn't quite over his slump.

Maybe he's just simply trying to do too much right now.

"Kris is fine," Jon Lester said. "I mean, I think anytime you have a guy like that, he's got such high expectations not only of himself but the other people outside of the baseball world.

"I think he feels that — he feels pressure from his teammates, he feels pressure from himself and he wants to perform and he wants to do well every night. When he doesn't, it seems like he just keeps adding on. The rock on his back gets a little bigger every time."

As recently as May 22, Bryant was hitting .303 with a 1.007 OPS.

But since then — a span of 21 games — he's hitting just .241 with a .316 on-base percentage and .310 slugging percentage, good for a .627 OPS. More alarming than anything, he's struck out 28 times in 87 at-bats, taking a step back in the area he has made the most improvement in since breaking into the league in 2015.

The power has been an issue for even longer. Bryant just recently went a month without a homer before sending one into the bleachers Friday night at Busch Stadium.

Still, since May 15, he has only 8 extra-base hits (7 doubles and that 1 homer) in 27 games.

The struggle is real right now, but that hasn't stopped the Cubs from going 17-11 during Bryant's dip in power.

GM Jed Hoyer reiterated again that Bryant is the last guy the Cubs worry about in the big picture.

"The way he runs the bases, the way he plays defense, I feel like he's contributing to wins even when he might be struggling at the plate a little bit," Hoyer said Monday evening. "With guys like him, I always look at it and think to myself — that means a hot streak is right around the corner.

"I said that about Anthony [Rizzo] in April when he was struggling and he's been great since May 1. I think Kris will have the same kind of turnaraound. With him, it's just a matter of when he breaks out.

"Over the course of the season, every great player goes through one or two big slumps. We're in a strange sport where even the greatest players are not slump-proof. He'll get out of it and we'll all reap the benefits when he does."

Even with the struggles, Bryant ranks 23rd among position players in WAR (Fangraphs) with 2.3, pacing the Cubs in that category. That still puts him on pace for a roughly 6-WAR pace, which would be his lowest throughout his MLB career but is still very clearly elite.

In an effort to get him back to the "KB" we've seen so much over the last four years, Joe Maddon has twice resorted to bumping him to the top of the lineup, including Monday night's game against the Dodgers.

Maddon is hoping a move to the leadoff spot will reinstill in Bryant's head that he doesn't need to be a power hitter to help the team win.

For right now, it works. After all, Bryant is still tied for 9th in baseball in OBP (.389). 

"You really do start trying too hard," Maddon said. "You try to force things as opposed to letting them come to you. Especially a power guy that's not hit home runs in a bit. My take on power guys is that it normally is cyclical. They'll get it for a while, then they'll get away with it, then it comes back."

Like Hoyer, Maddon talked up Bryant's abilities as a "winning player" in every other area of the game even when he's not going yard. That includes his daily hustle and effort.

"When a guy like him goes through this moment, I want him to focus on that — not homers," Maddon said. "He probably hears that way too much about the power situation and I'm really not interested in that. 

"Put him back in the leadoff spot for the reasons I just said — he can help win a game in so many different ways and I want him to just focus on that. ... He needs our support; he's gonna get it. I just put him in that top spot to readjust how he's thinking and that's all."