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.  

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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.

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“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.”

Cardinals-Pirates series postponed, series vs. White Sox, Cubs loom on schedule

Cardinals-Pirates series postponed, series vs. White Sox, Cubs loom on schedule

The Cardinals' upcoming series against the Pirates has been postponed, MLB announced Sunday.

St. Louis hasn't played since July 29 as at least 16 members of the team have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week. Their series against the Brewers last weekend was postponed due to an outbreak involving seven players, including catcher Yadier Molina and shortstop Paul DeJong, and six staff members.

The Cardinals were set to return to play this weekend against the Cubs, but that series was postponed as at least three more Cardinals (two players — Austin Dean and Ryan Helsley — and one staff member) tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days.

The Cardinals have played five games this season and are now looking at playing 55 in just 46 days. They have a doubleheader against the Tigers scheduled for Thursday before opening a three-game series at the White Sox this coming weekend. They then have a three-game set scheduled at the Cubs Aug. 17-19.

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Cubs players union rep Ian Happ said the possibility of dropping a team for the rest of the season, one that’s sidelined for an extended period due to an outbreak, hasn’t come up in any conversations he’s been a part of.

“I don't think the league's entertaining it; I don't think the Cardinals are entertaining it. I think that right now, you're looking at just how many games can they get in,” Happ said Sunday. “The people making the schedule, the people making the decisions on that, I think they're totally committed to trying to get 60 games in for that team and for every ballclub.

“I think if we get in a situation where something like this happens on Sept. 15 or Sept. 20, that's where we're looking at, 'OK how do we make this work?’ But right now, we still have plenty of time. 

“There's days on the calendar and they're gonna go ahead and see how many games they can get in.”

The Cardinals could play several doubleheaders when it's safe for them to return. MLB recently made a rule change to shortening those to seven-inning games.

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Cubs trusted MLB to 'do the right thing,' but that hasn't always worked in 2020

Cubs trusted MLB to 'do the right thing,' but that hasn't always worked in 2020

Before the Cubs headed to St. Louis for what would end up being a postponed three-game series, they discussed the risks they would be facing by sharing a ballpark with the Cardinals.

“We trusted the process and the league,” Cubs MLBA representative Ian Happ said Sunday. “Trusted that the testing they were doing, as shown, would pick up any positives. That they would do a good job of making sure that we were safe.”

As it turned out, COVID-19 testing did reveal that the Cardinals’ outbreak wasn’t over, and Major League Baseball postponed the weekend series. The Cubs’ trust in the league was validated in this case, but the process also emphasized how vital it is for MLB to get COVID-19 related decisions right.

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Just a week ago, commissioner Rob Manfred passed blame for the outbreaks onto the players, telling ESPN’s Karl Ravech, “The players need to be better, but I am not a quitter in general and there is no reason to quit now.”

But Manfred has made mistakes along the way, with broad consequences.

From manager David Ross to the club’s front office, the Cubs have urged patience with the league as it navigates uncharted road blocks.

“We know the league has learned a lot with what happened with Miami,” Happ said. “And now they're continuing to learn with what's happening with St Louis, and we trust that they're going to do the right thing.”

Putting on a season in the middle of a pandemic was always going to be a challenge. But by going forward with it, Major League Baseball made a promise to its employees that it could handle the surprises. When people’s health and even lives are on the line, naivete is no excuse.

So, yes, there’s solace in the fact that the league pushed back the St. Louis series before any Cub could come into contact with a Cardinals employee. But the fact that it took mismanaging the Marlins’ COVID-19 outbreak to get there is troubling.

Don’t forget that when the Marlins had four positive tests, they still played the Phillies. Soon after, the Marlins’ positive test count skyrocketed to 21 players and staff members. Both Miami and Philadelphia’s schedules were impacted.

The Nationals took a vote – a step Happ said the Cubs never reached because they were in consensus that they’d play if cleared to do so – and a majority were against traveling to Miami.

“I probably wasn’t as aware of how many dominoes would fall when a team had an outbreak,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said last week.  

It wasn’t Hoyer’s job to know that. It was the league’s job to anticipate it.  

Thankfully only three Phillies staff members tested positive for COVID-19 after the team played the Marlins, and MLB identified two of those tests as false positives.

Major League Baseball seemed to learn from its mistake. When the Cardinals had two positive tests a week and a half ago, the league rescheduled their next game.

In a release, MLB said that the schedule change was, “consistent with protocols to allow enough time for additional testing and contact tracing to be conducted.”

By the time the Cubs sat in a St. Louis hotel Friday, waiting for the league to decide if their weekend series would be cancelled, MLB had adjusted the way it implemented the protocols it referenced. It had even strengthened its health and safety guidelines, for road games especially.

“The testing protocols worked,” Happ said. “They did a great job of picking everything up and making sure that the process was taken care of, when it pertains to the direct contacts and making sure that they took the right amount of time.”

The Cubs, who still have not had a player test positive, didn’t have to go through what the Phillies did: watching their opponent’s COVID-19 cases spike, with their own future unclear.

Major League baseball’s next challenge is cramming makeup games into an already packed schedule.

“It's important for us to get the Cardinals back on the field in the next week,” Happ said. “That's a big part of this.”

Even if the Cardinals are able to resume play Thursday, they would have to play 55 games in 46 days to complete a full schedule. But Happ said he hasn’t been involved in any discussions about dropping a team from the season due to COVID-19.

“I don’t think the league’s entertaining it,” he said. “I don’t think the Cardinals are entertaining it.”

As the league reshuffles the schedule, Major League Baseball is again in unchartered territory. Let’s hope this time it can get it right on the first try.

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