Cubs

Cubs: Addison Russell won’t fly under the radar much longer

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Cubs: Addison Russell won’t fly under the radar much longer

ST. LOUIS – Addison Russell didn’t get his own billboard across the street from the iconic marquee before his Wrigley Field debut. He wears Under Armour, not adidas.

Russell didn’t shoot a commercial with a goat during his time at Triple-A Iowa. Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan, Bulls star Joakim Noah and Bears legend Mike Ditka didn’t celebrate his arrival in a Red Bull spot.

But if not for Kris Bryant, Russell would be the one anointed by Cubs fans and the Chicago media. That’s what happens when you go into the season as Baseball America’s No. 3 prospect while your teammate gets ranked No. 1 overall on the same list.  

[RELATED - For Cubs, closing the gap on Cardinals is easier said than done]

Not that Russell is complaining.     

“That’s kind of how I like it,” Russell said. “I like to be under the radar a little bit. I don’t like to be out there in the media a lot. I’m just kind of a quiet person. It’s been kind of cool just to kick back, relax and let most of the attention go the other way.”

Busch Stadium’s sea of red is not exactly a relaxing environment for the Cubs, much less the National League’s youngest player at 21 years and 104 days. But Russell has confidently shown that he belongs right in the middle of the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry, leaving St. Louis with a 10-game hitting streak (12-for-35, .343) after Thursday’s 5-1 loss.

“I’ve never played with so many fans in the stadium before,” Russell said. “It’s pretty cool because I’m performing in front of all these people. It’s just something that has to come along with it. It’s a pretty cool atmosphere. You definitely feel the rivalry tension. It’s a good thing.”

The Cardinals drew 170,273 and won this four-game series. But St. Louis fans should get used to seeing Russell, who has now played exactly as many career games in the big leagues (14) as on the Triple-A level. He’s already tied for the team lead with six doubles and out-homering Bryant 2-0.

[RELATED - Joe Maddon entertained by Starlin Castro’s mime routine]

“The ball comes off the bat hot,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s got a really sound approach to the ball with his hands and the way he flicks the bat head at the ball. That’s where all this pop’s coming from.

“This guy’s got some legitimate power in his bat.”  

That’s why Cubs executives were ecstatic when Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane offered to include the young shortstop in last summer’s blockbuster Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel trade.    

“I want to be consistent,” Russell said. “I’m still trying to learn the ins and outs of second base. But at the plate, I think it’s a little natural. Things are just coming together. I’m seeing more pitches, seeing more pitchers and really recognizing pitches here.

“It’s more laid-back now that I’m getting these ABs.”

Russell has a smooth voice that makes it sound like he could someday be a news anchor or a narrator for HBO documentaries. Maddon has noticed how much Russell has exhaled since he got called up, flying from Des Moines to Minneapolis to Pittsburgh to make his big-league debut on April 21 at PNC Park.

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“You’re seeing it in the game,” Maddon said. “You can see the difference in his swing…how much freer it (is). But conversationally, he’s legitimately at ease and smiling like he did in spring training. And to me, that’s the true indicator.

“And as he gets more comfortable – heads up.”

Basket Slam: Wrigley's quirks come to Cubs' aid in walk-off win

Basket Slam: Wrigley's quirks come to Cubs' aid in walk-off win

The Wrigley Field basket has played a huge role in this week's Cubs-Reds series.

In Monday night's game, Cincinnati catcher Curt Casali hit a game-tying homer into the basket in the seventh inning of a game the Cubs went on to lose.

But the basket giveth and the basket also taketh away.

Tuesday night, it was Kyle Schwarber and the Cubs who were singing the praises of one of the strangest ballpark quirks in baseball.

Schwarber connected on a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th inning off Reds closer Raisel Iglesias, hitting a fly ball through the impossibly-humid air and into the basket in left-centerfield for a 4-3 Cubs win.

"Whoever thought about that basket — whenever that occurred — tell them, 'thank you,'" Joe Maddon said. "Although it did work against us [Monday]. When it works for you, it's awesome."

Schwarber has stood under the left-field basket many times with his back against the wall, thinking he might be able to make a play on a high fly ball only to see it settle into the wickets and turn into a chance for a Bleacher Bum to show off their arm. 

But is he a huge fan of the basket now that it worked in his favor?

"I guess so," Schwarber laughed. "Yesterday, it cost us, but today, it helped us out. It's just the factor of Wrigley Field. Happy it worked out today."

It was Schwarber's first career walk off RBI of any kind.

It was the Cubs' fourth walk-off homer of the season, but their first since May 11 when Willson Contreras called "game" on the Milwaukee Brewers. 

The Cubs are now 4-1 since the All-Star Break and hold a 2.5-game lead in the division.

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Big changes to the Cubs roster

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Big changes to the Cubs roster

Doug Glanville and Ozzie Guillen join Leila Rahimi on Baseball Night in Chicago to discuss all things baseball.

The talk about the trade that sent Cubs pitcher Mike Montgomery to the Royals in exchange for Martin Maldonado, Willson Contreras' injury that sent him to the injured list and an update on the White Sox roster moves and rebuild status.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below: