Cubs

Cubs 'can't imagine' what Wrigley Field atmosphere will be like for World Series

Cubs 'can't imagine' what Wrigley Field atmosphere will be like for World Series

The Cubs already know they have some of the most loyal fans in all of sports. Fans have brought their enthusiasm to Wrigley Field on game days all season long.

But the Cubs also know the energy at The Friendly Confines may reach a new level when they host a World Series game for the first time since Oct. 10, 1945.

"It's going to be an absolute blast," said manager Joe Maddon. "Beanie's (Maddon's mom) coming in. My kids are coming. Everybody's coming in. It's going to be great. So I know that people have been waiting for this for a long time are going to savor it, and hopefully on our part we can do something to really make it even better."

Ben Zobrist is no stranger to the World Series, with 2016 being his third appearance and second consecutive. He knows what the main stage's atmosphere can be like, but for a fan base that's waited 71 years?

"I can't imagine. They're probably just as excited, if not more excited than we are to see that game played there," said Zobrist, a Eureka, Ill. native. "It's been a long time. They've been waiting patiently and they deserve to have these games played there. Hopefully we can get some Ws there for them. We know it's gonna be electric and a really fun atmosphere."

The Cubs understand what this moment means for their fans. They've also heard all the narratives and they don't care.

"We are very much aware of everything that's gone on in the past, but we have to live in the present otherwise you'll never be able to get to this juncture in the season," Maddon said. "So I really am impressed whatever I've read or have heard, the respect our players have shown about every part of this entire situation, organizationally, city-wide, fanbase, all that stuff. I think our players have been outstanding in the way they've handled all that. But at the end of the day, you want to get on that field for the last out, and you want to celebrate among each other.

"I mean, we've been after this for a bit, like everybody else has. We've been after it a bit. Last year started, this year Spring Training. All season long people have been after us, and our guys are still standing. Give them a lot of credit for that. Like Manolo just pointed out, pretty young team on the field last night."

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The Cubs' batting order for Game 2 at Progressive Field featured six players age 24 or younger, which marked a postseason record. One of those men included designated hitter Kyle Schwarber, who made a surprise return in Game 1 after suffering a significant knee injury in the third game of the regular season.

Although Schwarber wasn't medically cleared by doctors to play the field for Games 3-5 at Wrigley Field, he will be available to come off the bench and pinch hit.

As if the crowd didn't have something to cheer about already, they won't have to wait long to recognize Schwarber for his return, as player introductions will take place prior to Game 3.

"It's going to be great," Schwarber said. "I remember just walking out on the line, when I first got injured, and back for the first playoff game and everything like that, they welcomed me very well. This time, you know, I'm just going to embrace the moment.

"It's going to be awesome. It's the World Series at Wrigley Field. It's going to be electric. It's going to be a fun atmosphere. So I'll definitely soak it in."

Count Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein among those excited to see how loud Wrigley will get when Schwarber runs out of the dugout after his named is called.

"I'll let it speak for itself," Epstein said. "I mean, we were here on Opening Day when he walked out with one crutch, and it was deafening. I think our fans also have a special connection with Kyle, and I'm sure they'll take advantage of the opportunity to let him know how much they appreciate him tomorrow night. Hopefully during the game, too."

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

The Cubs are heading into a new season with a different hitting coach for the second straight winter, but the most recent choice is a familiar face.

Anthony Iapoce is set to join Joe Maddon's coaching staff this week after serving in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers for the last three seasons. The Cubs confirmed the move Monday afternoon shortly after the news broke out of the Rangers camp.

The Cubs fired Chili Davis last week after just one season as the team's hitting coach.

Entering the final week of the season, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister, leaving Iapoce and the rest of the Texas coaching staff in limbo.

As such, Iapoce is rejoining the Cubs, where he served as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-15 focusing on player development, particularly in the hitting department throughout the minor leagues.

Iapoce has familiarity with a bunch of the current star offensive players on the Cubs, from Willson Contreras to Kris Bryant. 

Both Bryant and Contreras endured tough 2018 seasons at the plate, which was a huge reason for the Cubs' underperforming lineup. Bryant's issue was more related to a left shoulder injured suffered in mid-May while Contreras' offensive woes remain a major question mark after the young catcher looked to be emerging as a legitimate superstar entering the campaign.

Getting Contreras back to the hitter that put up 21 homers and 74 RBI in only 117 games in 2017 will be one of the main goals for Iapoce, so the history between the two could be a key.

With the Rangers, Iapoce oversaw an offense that ranked 7th, 9th and 14th in MLB in runs scored over the last three seasons. The decline in offensive production is obviously not a great sign, but the Rangers as a team have fallen off greatly since notching the top seed in the AL playoffs in 2016 with 95 wins only to lose 95 games in 2018, resulting in the change at manager.

Iapoce has worked with an offense backed by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo the last few seasons.

Under Iapoce's tutelage, former top prospect Jurickson Profar shed any notion of a "bust" label and emerged as a budding star at age 25, collecting 61 extra-base hits with a .793 OPS in 2018.

When the Cubs let Davis go last week, they provided no update on assistant hitting coach Andy Haines, who just finished his first season in that role and is expected to remain with the team for 2019. The same offseason Iapoce left for the Rangers, Haines took over as the Cubs' minor league hitting instructor.

What should Brandon Morrow's role be in Cubs 2019 bullpen?

What should Brandon Morrow's role be in Cubs 2019 bullpen?

Since the Cubs' early exit from the postseason, many have turned their attention to the 2019 roster and wonder if Brandon Morrow will be the team's closer next year.

However, the question isn't WILL Morrow be the closer, but rather — SHOULD he be counted on as the main ninth-inning option?

Morrow didn't throw a single pitch for the Cubs after the All-Star Game, nursing a bone bruise in his forearm that did not heal in time to allow him to make a return down the stretch.

Of course, an injury isn't surprising given Morrow's lengthy history of arm issues. 

Consider: Even with a half-season spent on the DL, Morrow's 35 appearances in 2018 was his second-highest total since 2008 (though he also spent a ton of time as a starting pitcher from 2009-15).

Morrow is 34 now and has managed to throw just 211 innings in 126 games since the start of the 2013 season. 

Because of that, Theo Epstein isn't ready to anoint Morrow the Cubs' 2019 closer despite success in the role in his first year in Chicago (22-for-24 in save chances).

"[We're] very comfortable with Morrow as part of a deep and talented 'pen," Epstein said. "We have to recommit to him in a very structured role and stick with it to do our best to keep him healthy. Set some rules and adhere to them and build a 'pen around that. I'm comfortable."

Epstein is referencing the overuse the Cubs have pointed to for the origin of Morrow's bone bruise when he worked three straight games from May 31-June 2 during a stretch of four appearances in five days.

Joe Maddon and the Cubs were very cautious with Morrow early in the year, unleashing him for only three outings — and 2 innings — in the first two-plus weeks of the season, rarely using him even on back-to-back days.

During that late-May/early-June stretch, Morrow also three just 2 pitches in one outing (May 31) and was only called upon for the 14th inning June 2 when Maddon had already emptied the rest of the Cubs bullpen in a 7-1 extra-inning victory in New York.

The blame or origin of Morrow's bone bruise hardly matters now. All the Cubs can do at this moment is try to learn from it and carry those lessons into 2019. It sounds like they have, heading into Year 2 of a two-year, $21 million deal that also includes a team option for 2020.

"It's the type of injury you can fully recover from with rest," Epstein said. "that said, he has an injury history and we knew that going in. That was part of the calculation when we signed him and that's why it was the length it was and the amount of money it was, given his talent and everything else.

"We were riding pretty high with him for a few months and then we didn't have him for the second half of the season. And again, that's on me. We took an educated gamble on him there and on the 'pen overall, thinking that even if he did get hurt, we had enough talent to cover for it. And look, it was a really good year in the 'pen and he contributed to that greatly in the first half.

"They key is to keep him healthy as much as possible and especially target it for down the stretch and into what we hope will be a full month of October next year."

It's clear the Cubs will be even more cautious with Morrow in 2019, though he also should head into the new campaign with significantly more rest than he received last fall when he appeared in all seven games of the World Series out of the Dodgers bullpen.

Morrow has more than proven his value in this Cubs bullpen as a low-maintenance option when he's on the field who goes right after hitters and permits very few walks or home runs. 

But if the Cubs are going to keep him healthy for the most important time of the season in September and October, they'll need to once again pack the bullpen with at least 7 other arms besides Morrow, affording Maddon plenty of options.

When he is healthy, Morrow will probably get a ton of the closing opportunities, but the world has also seen what Pedro Strop can do in that role and the Cubs will likely add another arm or two this winter for high-leverage situations.