Cubs ready to start a new chapter in rivalry with Cardinals

Cubs ready to start a new chapter in rivalry with Cardinals

When the first pitch is thrown Monday night at Busch Stadium, all the predicitions get thrown out the window.

All the shots fired in media interviews and public appearances will become an afterthought.

A new chapter is ready to begin in the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry.

Joe Maddon attacking "The Cardinal Way" in the Wrigley Field dungeon is so last year. As are the 19 regular season matchups and four-game National League Division Series.

The fallout from the Jason Heyward signing is last winter's story. 

All that remains are the memories, but it's now time to forge a new path. 

The Cubs are no longer the little brother just trying to hang in there with one of the elite franchises in baseball. 

Now the Cubs are the favorites and the Cardinals are trying to chase them (on paper, at least).

When talking about the history between the two franchises, Heyward used air quotes around the word, "rivlary."

"People ask me about the rivalry this year, but I'm on this side and it feels like we have a lot of work to do as far as being established in the playoffs," Heyward said. "They've got World Series championships. They've got division titles. We want to be established as a group here in Chicago."

Heyward has a point. The Cubs didn't win a game after dispatching the Cardinals in the NLDS, so it's not like they drew any closer to the Cardinals' 11 World Series championships in 2015.

Maddon got his first taste of the rivalry's passion last season, lighting up the Cardinals after they threw at Anthony Rizzo in retaliation.

The Cubs manager admitted part of that rant was about changing the perception of his team, letting his young group of players know they have to go out and earn their place among baseball's best.

"We went through the same thing in Tampa Bay with the Red Sox and Yankees," Maddon said. "Nobody's going to give you anything, man. I don't expect anything to be given to us, either.

"If you want to ascend, you gotta take it. It's not gonna be given to you. What I felt last year was that we didn't necessarily understand that, so I wanted our guys to understand that."

Maddon grew up a Cardinals fan and reiterated his respect for the organization Sunday at Wrigley Field.

"But I'm a Cub," he said. "They're good and they've been good for a long time. They're not gonna relinquish anything easily. 

"That was my point. Not to denigrate anybody or say anything poorly or badly about it. It was about us and our ascension. That's how you do it."

The young Cubs needed to learn they belonged with the big dogs, but when it comes down to actual rivalry, many of the parties involved on both sides insist that kind of stuff is more for the fans.

Even if it is mostly a fan-driven rivalry, Monday should be an interesting series opener.

John Lackey - the Cardinals' best pitcher last season - will make his first start in a Cubs uniform in Busch Stadium while Heyward will do the same. 

When the 26-year-old outfielder spurned the Cardinals in the offseason, some fans took to burning their Heyward jerseys in an emotional response.

Heyward has shrugged all that off - "As far as burning the jerseys, they paid for it, so they can do whatever they want."

But Maddon took a different stance.

"It's not good for your children to see stuff like that," Maddon said. "I mean, why would you do something like that? I don't get that.

"I'm sure the real Cardinal fans weren't proud of that moment, either. They have one of the best fanbases in all of professional sports, just like we do. There's probably certain things that we wouldn't be proud of people doing in [Wrigley Field]."

As for playing against his former teammates, Heyward admitted he'd be happy to see a lot of familiar faces - "It's like playing against your brothers."

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Willson Contreras’ third-inning home run might not have ended up standing out too much in an All-Star Game featuring a jaw-dropping and record-shattering 10 dingers.

But, obviously, it will always stand out to the guy who hit it.

“I enjoyed every single second that I spent out there.”

Remarkably, Contreras repeated his feat from two seasons ago, when he hit his first big league homer on the first big league pitch he ever saw. Ditto on Tuesday night at Nationals Park, when he launched the first pitch he saw as an All Star out over the wall in left field.

“When I hit the ball and thought it was gone, I went back to 2016, playing in Chicago. It was the same thing, first pitch for a homer,” Contreras, all smiles, said following the American League’s 8-6 victory. “I’m really blessed with these kinds of situations. Those moments, they’re going to be history and they’re going to be in my mind and my heart.”

Contreras’ long ball was the highlight of the evening for fans watching back home in Chicago. Javy Baez got a hit in his first All-Star at-bat but was outdone by his teammate. White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu was hitless in his two trips to the plate.

And while it will be a highlight on this night for Cubs fans, it will be a highlight forever for Contreras, who enjoyed the heck out of his first All-Star experience.

“‘I did it, I did it,’” he said when asked what was going through his head. “I knew it was something special. And I wasn’t trying to do too much because these guys are nasty, throwing 98 in the first inning. I just tried to get the hit out.”

The nasty guy he went deep against was Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell, whose 2.27 ERA on the season made him a very worthy inclusion on the AL roster. But Contreras was more impressed with the guy who started the game for the National League, raving about Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer after the game.

“He was great, man. Great stuff, he gets so into the game,” Contreras said. “I would like to have him one day on my team or play with him for a few years. That guy is amazing.”

That’s not the current Nationals star Cubs fans are dreaming about, Willy, but point taken.

But it wasn’t Snell or Scherzer or even Baez or Jon Lester, also in the NL dugout, who Contreras was thinking about the most during his home run trot. Instead, Contreras was thinking about his grandfather, Ernesto, who passed away a few years ago.

“My grandpa, he died in 2015,” Contreras said. “I grew up with him.

“He didn’t play ball. But I feel like every time I go out there and step into the box, he’s at my back. It just feels amazing when you hit a homer or do something special, look at the sky and you know that he’s there smiling somewhere.”

It all made for a pretty incredible night for Contreras, who has officially and loudly taken his place among baseball’s best on the game’s biggest stage.

The only thing that was missing? The ball.

Yeah, Contreras didn’t get the ball, not that he really expected to. But if you’ve got it, he wants it.

“I don’t think they’re giving it back,” he said with a grin.

We’ll see. Social media’s a powerful tool. So reach out.

Manny Machado as a Dodger creates a formidable foe out west for the Cubs

Manny Machado as a Dodger creates a formidable foe out west for the Cubs

Well, it's finally happening, or at least it's going to happen. The Athletics' Ken Rosenthal reported during the MLB All-Star game that the Baltimore Orioles had agreed to officially move their franchise player Manny Machado. Neither team has confirmed anything at this time, but the deal has reportedly been as close to a done deal for the last day or so, and it would seem Machado is destined for finish his 2018 campaign in Hollywood. 

Of course, with this addition, the reigning National League champions look primed for another deep postseason run. Though, the club is clinging to a half-game lead in the NL West, with Machado in tow the Dodgers are right with the Cubs and Brewers as the elite squads in the National League. It could be argued the Dodgers didn't necessarily 'need' Machado, with an offense that was already in the top 10 in runs scored, but Machado might be the perfect addition for the Dodgers. 

After losing their young star shortstop Corey Seager for the season with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers were in need of a more permanent solution at shortstop. And despite Machado's defensive metrics showing a steep decline in his glove at shortstop, the Dodgers will welcome his robust slash line of .315/.387/.575 while ignoring any shortcomings on defense. 

But what this means for the Cubs, who are only two games off the 2016 World Series club pace, is the path to another championship will likely require another run-in with the Dodgers. The club's biggest threat has been at this point the Brewers, but it's not hard to envision the Dodgers distancing themselves as the clear favorites in the National League with Machado in the heart of the order.

The good news for the Chicago is at least Machado didn't end up in Milwaukee, but that also could mean the Brewers make a more concerted effort to acquire pitching before the July 30th deadline. The Cubs will also see the return of Yu Darvish, who despite only managing to win one game this season in a Cubs uniform, will be a massive upgrade over the scuffling Tyler Chatwood. If the Cubs pitching can start producing like many expected them to before the start of 2018, and guys like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant start to hit alongside All-Stars Javier Baez and Willson Contreras, it's not hard to imagine the Cubs separating themselves from the pack in the 2nd half of season. 

The Dodgers are no strangers to blockbuster deadline deals, acquiring Yu Darvish in a similar three-month rental situation, but the Cubs getting a bat like Rizzo right and an arm like Darvish healthy would be better than any deal Theo Epstein could make to improve this team. And if it's not enough, the Cubs have a solid track record of grabbing former Dodger rentals in the off-season. The push for the playoffs starts Thursday for the north-siders.