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."

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


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.