Cubs clinch NL Central, but Wrigley bash will wait another day

Cubs clinch NL Central, but Wrigley bash will wait another day

Miguel Montero stood at his locker late Thursday night with his hands behind back his back, holding designer sunglasses, not high-tech goggles. The Cubs catcher wore a white Miami Beach Golf Club hat and a pinkish-orange Lululemon polo shirt instead of 2016 National League Central Champions gear.

There was no ear-splitting music blasting from the sound system. The reporters surrounding Montero after a 5-4 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers could actually hear what he was saying inside the Wrigley Field clubhouse and not worry about getting drenched in champagne and beer. 

With the magic number still suspended at one, the Cubs didn’t wait around to see if Johnny Cueto and the San Francisco Giants would beat the St. Louis Cardinals at AT&T Park and hand them the division title.

“There’s no reason to be disappointed,” Montero said. “It’s a great feeling, because regardless, we can actually have a chance tomorrow and the next day and the next day. It’s not like we have that much pressure on our back because they’re going to catch us or something like that.” 

Exactly. By the time the Cardinals lost on the West Coast, a few minutes before midnight Chicago time, the Wrigley Field video boards had turned to black and the night crews were cleaning up from a raucous crowd of 41,362 that didn’t get to see the party that will now wait until Friday.

Up in the Wrigley Field press box, you could hear the car horns and cheering throughout the neighborhood once San Francisco’s 6-2 victory over St. Louis went final. Instead of that game, the TV screens inside the Wrigley Field clubhouse had broadcast a message:

Schedule for Friday
DRESS AT 11:30 a.m. 
Game at 1:20 p.m. against Brewers

And if the Giants did win Thursday night…

“I’ll probably go to a club,” Montero said. “No, just kidding. I’m going home. I’m going to watch a TV show or something like that, because I don’t really watch baseball that much. The reality is that I don’t care what happens (to the Cardinals). I want to come back tomorrow and win a game and celebrate on our own.

“It tastes a little different.”

Yes, the Cubs are a different team, with their ritualistic celebrations, a Party Room built into their state-of-the-art-clubhouse and a nonchalant attitude toward advancing to consecutive postseasons for only the fourth time (!!!) in franchise history (1885-86, 1906-08 and 2007-08, when they last won the division and captured back-to-back titles).

“Well, I’m sure they’ll have it taped off, plastic everywhere, to make sure nothing’s ruined,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said before the game. “But I don’t know how crazy we’ll get. We’ll enjoy it, for sure. But the next one – as they continue to come – will get bigger.” 

After changing the culture around this team, pushing so many of the right motivational buttons and pulling all those in-game levers, manager Joe Maddon didn’t plan to extend his 30-minute rule or change his morning Starbucks routine.

“Sure, go home,” Maddon said. “I am.”

Because ultimately a World Series-or-bust team with multiple MVP and Cy Young Award candidates will be judged in October. And, once again, Maddon delivered a win-or-lose line that would hold up for this news cycle.

“This is just the first step,” Maddon said. “We have much larger baseball fish to fry in our skillet.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your postseason gear here!]

Now the Cubs can align their rotation for October, deal with any nagging injuries, lock up home-field advantage through the NL Championship Series and prepare for whatever team – St. Louis, San Francisco, New York Mets – emerges from the wild-card battle. 

“It’s what we envisioned all along,” Arrieta said. “I’m just proud of all the guys in here for growing and learning at such a quick pace, especially the young players in this locker room. And to all do that together has really put us in this position we’re in right now. It’s given us the ability to have this lead, give guys rest and move forward into the most important part of our season.”

When Maddon came here with the Tampa Bay Rays in August 2014, the Cubs were a fifth-place team playing out an 89-loss season, but he still felt the energy at Wrigley Field, looking up at the lights and the crowd and feeling like he was in the middle of a computer-generated scene from “Gladiator.” 

As Maddon kept listening to modified versions of the disappointment question during Thursday’s postgame news conference, he should have snapped and screamed: “Are you not entertained?”

“To some it might be anti-climactic,” Maddon said. “But 93 wins, that’s not a bad season. However we get this accomplished, I’ll take it.”

Yu Darvish thinks Houston Astros should be stripped of 2017 World Series title

USA Today

Yu Darvish thinks Houston Astros should be stripped of 2017 World Series title

The Astros' sign-stealing scandal is personal for a lot of players, though it probably hits a little differently for Yu Darvish. 

Darvish was a member of the 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers team that Houston beat in the World Series. Darvish didn't have his best performance in the series and when asked about the scandal, the Cubs' pitcher didn't hold back:

It's a weird feeling. Like, in the Olympics, when a player cheats, you can't have a Gold medal, right? But they still have as World Series title. That makes me feel weird. That's it. And one more thing. With [Carlos] Correra talking about [Cody] Bellinger. I saw that yesterday. So they cheat, and I think right now that they don't have to talk. They shouldn't talk like that right now.

You can watch the video of Darvish's comments, from ESPN's Jesse Rogers, it right here.

The comments took on a life of their own, as Astros' soundbytes have been known to do over the last few weeks or so. Darvish was ready for the clapback, though, and delivered a final blow to some poor 'Stros fan who thought he could compete with Darvish on twitter dot com. 

Sign a lifetime contract, Yu. Never leave us.

Related: Bryant crushes Astros for cheating scandal: 'What a disgrace that was' 

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Jason Kipnis comes home looking to write one final chapter of his career


Jason Kipnis comes home looking to write one final chapter of his career

Jason Kipnis, who’s potentially the Cubs’ new second baseman but indisputably the pride of Northbrook, said there’s one major reason why his possible reunion with Wrigley Field is so exciting.

“Now I don’t have to hate the 'Go Cubs Go' song,” he quipped.

Kipnis was a late addition to the Cubs’ roster, and still not even a guaranteed one at that. After almost a decade spent being one of the Cleveland Indians’ cornerstones, Kipnis arrived in Mesa on a minor league contract, looking to win a job. Ironically, being with his hometown team is unfamiliar territory for the two-time All-Star. 

“[Leaving Cleveland] was hard at first,” he said. “You get used to the same place for 9-10 years, and I think it’s a little hard right now coming in and being the new guy and being lost and not knowing where to go. But it’ll be fun. It’s exciting. It’s kind of out of the comfort zone again, which is kind of what you want right now – to be uncomfortable. I don’t know, I’ve missed this feeling a little bit, so it’ll be good.”

It was a slow offseason for the second baseman, but the second baseman said he was weighing offers from several teams. Opportunity and organizational direction dictated most of his decision-making, but Kipnis admitted the forces around him were all, rather unsubtly, pulling him in one direction.

“They were telling me to take a deal, take a cut, whatever. Just get here,” he joked. “... It made sense, it really did. I think I didn't fully understand it until it was announced and my phone started blowing up and I realized just how many people this impacted around my life. Friends and family still live in Chicago, so it’s going to be exciting.”

The theme of renewed motivation has hung around Sloan Park like an early-morning Arizona chill, and Kipnis said part of the reason he feels the Cubs brought him in is to set a fire under some guys. He talked with Anthony Rizzo during the offseason, who talked about how the Cubs had struggled at times to put an appropriate emphasis on each of the 162 games in a regular season. That’s not a new problem in baseball, and it struck a chord with Kipnis, who himself was on plenty of talented Cleveland teams that never got over the hump. 

“They got a good core here. I’m well aware of that, they’re well aware of that, too,” he said. “I texted him and called him and asked him what happened last year, because I look at rosters, I look at St. Louis’, I look at all that, and I’m like, ‘I still would take your guys' roster.’” 

As for his direct competition, Kipnis said he hasn’t had a chance to really get to know Nico Hoerner yet, but doesn’t feel like the battle for second base has to be a contentious one by any means. At 32, Kipnis has been around long enough to understand the dynamics an aging veteran vs. a top prospect, and doesn't feel like it’s a situation where only one of them will end up benefiting. 

“I know he came up and had a pretty good success, so I think [it’s] going to be a competition, but at the same time, I’m not going to try to put him down,” he said. “I’d like to work with him, kind of teach him what I know too and hopefully both of us become better from it.”