Cubs

Cubs display their dominance in wacky eighth inning

Cubs display their dominance in wacky eighth inning

Hector Rondon might lead the league in near-appearances.

Rondon is the Cubs' unquestioned closer...only they don't really need one.

The Cubs have 38 victories, yet Rondon has only nine saves since most of the wins are by a wide margin.

Friday was another illustration as to why. 

With the Cubs clinging to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the eighth, Kris Bryant was hit by a pitch and Anthony Rizzo followed with a liner down the right-field line. 

Rizzo was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double, leaving Bryant at third base with two outs. 

At that point, it would take a clutch hit to drive home even one insurance run, so a perfect chance to get Rondon another save, right?

Nope. 

Here's the play-by-play breakdown of what happened next:

—Ben Zobrist was intentionally walked.
—The Diamondbacks made a pitching change, bringing in Silvino Bracho.
—Addison Russell — in his first at-bat of the game after coming in as a defensive replacement — doubled home Bryant and Zobrist.
—Miguel Montero was intentionally walked.
—Javier Baez doubled, driving home Russell and Montero. Baez then was awarded home plate (and another run) when Arizona shortstop Chris Owings hurled the relay throw into the stands.
—Tim Federowicz pinch-hit for Pedro Strop and reached on an error by Arizona right fielder Chris Hermann.
—Dexter Fowler was hit by a pitch.
—Federowicz advanced to third, Fowler to second on a wild pitch.
—Jason Heyward struck out swinging to end the inning.

Whoa. 

Go back and read that again if you need to. Even people watching the game intently were left trying to wrap their heads around it.

Baez was playing and he didn't even know Owings threw the ball into the stands.

"I was so pumped. I was just clapping so hard and when I turned, I saw the umpire say 'two bags' for me and I was like, 'OK. Whatever,'" Baez said.

Baez admitted he was extra motivated after he struck out his first three trips to the plate Friday and Montero was intentionally walked before him.

When Rizzo was nabbed at second base to kick off all the craziness, Joe Maddon insisted he didn't see the air being let out by the Cubs players in the dugout. 

"I wasn't concerned," Maddon said. "That's the aggressive nature of our team. Everybody understood that. I talked to Rizzo about it: 'I'm never gonna criticize you for trying to make a good play like that.'

"I didn't sense [the air going out of the team]. I really didn't."

Think it's safe to say the results — five runs with two outs — back Maddon's statement up.

The Cubs are now a season-high 23 games over .500 and a plus-140 run differential, which is almost double that of every other team in baseball.

When asked if the Cubs are playing any looser than they were during their brief lull in late May, Rizzo had his answer ready.

"No, honestly," he said. "There's no different feeling from a week-and-a-half ago when everyone was asking why we're not winning every game.

"We just come in every day, play and we have a good time doing it."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below:

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.