Cubs

Cubs proving they have the right kind of fight

cubs-david-ross-5-31-15.png

Cubs proving they have the right kind of fight

The Cubs may not have proved themselves to be playoff contenders yet, not with a team four games over .500 that’s still prone to mistakes.

But in playing close games against established contenders in Washington and Kansas City over the last week at Wrigley Field, they’ve proved something else — at least to themselves.

“Listen man, you have to love the fight,” manager Joe Maddon said after David Ross’ 11th inning walk-off bloop single earned the Cubs a 2-1 win over Kansas City Sunday. “If you’re standing or sitting in the captain’s chair and you have a bunch of guys who can fight like that, what else could you possibly want? We’re not going to be perfect every night, we’re going to mistakes, of course we are. But if you have that kind of fight, I’ll take it.”

[MORE: Cubs: Joe Maddon embraces loss of September off day]

The Cubs won two of those five games against the Nationals and Royals, but weren’t blown out in any of them. A 3-0 loss on May 27 to Washington was largely the doing of Max Scherzer’s mastery, while a four-run loss to Kansas City on Friday was close until Dexter Fowler misjudged a soft line drive in the eighth. And even in that loss Friday, the Cubs battled back from an early deficit and tied things up when Addison Russell homered off lights-out Royals righty Kelvin Herrera.

Maddon characterized the homestead as “not bad,” and it’s worth repeating the Cubs still lost more games than they won on it. But through two months, the Cubs have already played in 24 one-run games, more than any team in baseball.

And in those games, despite an often-suspect defense and inconsistent bullpen, the Cubs are 14-10. That’s helped grow the kind of mentality that the club hopes pays off as the pressure builds over the summer.

“Everyone’s believing more,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “It’s nice. We stayed afloat through April and May, and now we can really take off and that’s what we want to do.”

[RELATED: Blackhawks or Lightning? Joe Maddon conflicted for Stanley Cup Final]

On Sunday, the Cubs fell behind 1-0 and had to find a way to scratch across a run as Yordano Ventura’s 100 mile per hour fastball and electric arsenal of offspeed pitches cleaved through the batting order. But after a seemingly-innocuous one-out walk and a wild pitch in the seventh, Chris Coghlan — who had three of the Cubs’ four hits off Ventura — laced a game-tying single to left.

The Cubs were poised to break through in the ninth inning off Royals reliever Wade Davis, who hadn’t allowed a run all season. But with runners on the corners and one out, David Ross was unable to successfully lay down a safety squeeze, instead bunting into an out at first and ultimately stranding Rizzo at third as the game careened into extra innings.

But Ross came back in the 11th and blooped a Jason Frasor changeup between left fielder Alex Gordon and shortstop Alcides Escobar in left for a walk-off single.

“Luckily I drove that ball in the gap right there at the end,” Ross smiled.

[NBC SHOP: Get your Cubs gear right here]

“… This was a tough homestand as far as playing really good competition and I thought we were in every game,” he said. “We believe we have a good team here, guys have a lot of confidence and they don’t give up. That’s the one thing about this team that has been really great to see these guys compete night in and night out.”

While Maddon said after the Cubs’ loss Friday his team wasn’t ready to compete for a World Series — as the Royals did in 2014 — he has seen the kind of signs from his players that make him believe they could get to that point this season. The Cubs aren’t where they need to be in terms of the concepts Maddon wants them to have nailed down, but what he sees his team have team has is that nebulous fighting spirit that any playoff contender ultimately needs.

“Once you get that engrained in the fabric of your culture, all of a sudden it can become the fabric of the day,” Maddon said. “Obviously Kansas City has that, Tampa Bay had it, I believe we got it. It’s there to be nurtured. It’s right there.”

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

1012_manny_machado.jpg
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.