Cubs see things starting to come together after sweep of Reds


Cubs see things starting to come together after sweep of Reds

CINCINNATI — The Cubs can keep dancing all the way home.

The music was blasting in the clubhouse again Sunday afternoon after the Cubs' 5-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds to complete a rain-shortened, two-game sweep.

That finished up a 4-2 road trip with a stop in Pittsburgh for four games before Cincinnati.

"I love it," manager Joe Maddon said. "In the division, on the road, two tough venues, two tough teams and to come back with a 4-2 record is not a bad thing."

The 2015 Cubs have had plenty of reasons to dance and celebrate, as the good vibes keep rolling in. Maddon's squad is now 10-7 overall, including a 6-3 record on the road.

"We've done a nice job [on the road]," Maddon said. "I'm telling you, the energy pregame in the dugout is outstanding. The guys are definitely on top of things. They're ready to play. And as a manager, that's all you can ask for."

[MORE: Jake Arrieta refuses to cave in, sets tone for Cubs]

With a roster packed with young, inexperienced talent, it's been a different guy stepping up each game. Friday night, it was Jonathan Herrera in extra innings.

Sunday, it was rookie Addison Russell, who came up with the big hit — a two-out, three-run double in the fourth inning in what ended up as the game-winner.

It was only the third hit of Russell's career, overshadowing a tough stretch that saw him go 0-for-6 with five strikeouts to start off the series against the Reds.

This weekend, it was Herrera and Russell, but rookies Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant have been impressive as well while Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro have provided a steadying presence both in the field and at the plate.

Even the veteran catchers — Miguel Montero and David Ross — got in on the action this weekend, combining for four RBI against the Reds.

[RELATED: Maddon: Castro creating 'good baseball karma' for himself]

And that's not even touching on the pitching, as the bullpen combined for eight shutout innings behind starters Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta.

"It's just kind of a testament to the guys we have here, the young players — they're a little more advanced than most," Arrieta said. "And that kinda helps bridge the gap of the experience. They're going to take their lumps, just like we all will from time to time, but they're ahead of the curve.

"Soler, Bryant, Russell, these guys are polished. Polished to an extent that they can come here and contribute right away. And that's what each and every one of them have been able to do throughout their short time here. We all know it's just going to continue.

"The guys we have around the young players who know how to get the job done, regardless of the jam or whatever happens throughout the game. ... Rizzo's made huge strides, as a leader, as a player. Castro's come a long way.

"If everyone continues to take that step, we can win at a high clip on the road and at home. I think it's all starting to come together for us."

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The season is only three weeks old, but the Cubs are gaining some swagger and starting to gel as a team, holding their celebrations/dance parties in the clubhouse after the game.

"It's good. It's loose," Lester said. "It's fun. It makes you forget about the grind and all that. It makes you have fun and smile and enjoy it. Sometimes people don't understand how hard it is to win a game in the big leagues.

"For us to come in here and celebrate each one of them like it's our last, it's a good feeling when we come in here and win. Even when we lose, guys are upbeat about it, like 'hey, we had our chances, but we didn't come through.'

"It's a good feeling to have when guys play loose, when guys enjoy it, when guys have fun. That gets everybody a chance to kind of relax and just play the game. At the end of the day, if we win, great, if we don't, hey we'll be back tomorrow and do it again."

Cubs to reportedly conduct second interview with Joe Espada for managerial opening

Cubs to reportedly conduct second interview with Joe Espada for managerial opening

Astros bench coach Joe Espada has two days off before Houston hosts Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday, but it looks like some of that time will be spent in Chicago.

According to multiple reports, the Cubs will interview Espada a second time for their managerial opening. MLB Network's Jon Heyman reports that the interview is happening on Sunday.

Espada is one of the more sought after managerial candidates this offseason, as he's spent the last six seasons with two of baseball's leading franchises. The 44-year-old has been Astros bench coach since 2018, and prior to that, he spent four seasons with the Yankees — 2014 as a front office assistant, 2015-17 as third base coach.

David Ross was the presumed favorite for the Cubs' opening, when the process got underway. However, by landing a second interview, Espada has clearly given the team something to think about. In fact, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan reported on Thursday the Cubs came away "exceptionally impressed" from Espada's first interview on Monday. 

MLB prefers teams not to make managerial announcements during the World Series. So, it might be a few more weeks before the Cubs announce their decision, unless they do so on Sunday or Monday.

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As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

When Ben Zobrist rejoined the Cubs active roster on Sept. 1, it was fair to wonder how much he could provide offensively. After all, he spent the previous four months on the restricted list while tending to a family matter, last playing a big-league game on May 6.

Zobrist did no baseball activities from May to mid-July, only working out to stay in shape. Although he eventually ramped things up, he played in just 12 minor league rehab games in August before returning to the Cubs, a small number compared to the length of his absence.

Even Zobrist admitted upon his big-league return that his timing at the plate wasn’t where he wanted it to be. And yet, what he did in September was nothing short of impressive. In 21 games, he posted a .284/.377/.388 slash line, performing at a level many couldn’t have expected, considering the circumstances.

Zobrist's impact on the Cubs' lineup goes beyond what you see in the box score, however. Not only is he a switch hitter with some pop, but he has a keen eye for the strike zone and frequently puts together professional at-bats.

On a Cubs team that tends to expand the zone, Zobrist’s presence mattered. In his second game back, for example, he went 3-for-3 with two walks, helping the Cubs beat the Brewers 10-5. After the game, Brewers starter Chase Anderson pointed out how different the Cubs' lineup looks with Zobrist in it.

"They play the matchups really well and Zobrist makes that team so much better," Anderson said on Sept. 5. "Just bringing his presence to the top of the lineup, it changes their dynamic a little bit."

Where Zobrist stands entering 2020, though, is currently unclear.

Zobrist is set to hit free agency after the World Series and will turn 39 next May. Therefore, it’s possible that he’s played his last game in the big leagues, as he has little, if anything, left to prove at this stage in his career.

Ahead of the Cubs’ season finale on Sept. 29, Zobrist told reporters in St. Louis that he hasn’t thought about how much time he’ll take before deciding what’s next for him. His family situation will obviously play a big role in his decision, but if September showed anything, it's that he still has something left in the tank.

“I’m 38 but I got that feeling all over again,” Zobrist said following the Cubs’ season finale, a 9-0 loss to the Cardinals in which he pitched a scoreless inning. “Just really fun, you know? It’s a fun game. Sometimes you don’t come out on the winning end, but you still gotta have fun with it and enjoy it. I enjoyed it today."

The Cubs roster is expected to undergo changes this offseason, with center field, second base and the leadoff spot being just a few areas the team will look to address. The latter two spots became revolving doors during Zobrist’s absence, as the Cubs struggled to replace what he brought offensively.

Zobrist is past the point in his career of being an everyday player. However, he still could be a useful asset for the Cubs in a supporting role, bringing his veteran approach to the lineup when he plays while still offering an experienced voice in the clubhouse.

“I take a lot of joy in that role, just being a supporting guy and being a part of winning clubs and part of winning atmospheres and cultures,” Zobrist said on Sept. 29. “The Chicago Cubs have been that since I’ve been around. This year we didn’t make the playoffs — we still have a winning record — (but) the kind of relationships that are built here and the culture that’s been built here is definitely a winning one.”

After the Cubs announced that they wouldn’t retain Joe Maddon for 2020, Zobrist acknowledged that more changes were likely coming in the offseason. Only time will tell what that means for the veteran utilityman — should he continue playing.

Whether he retires or joins a different team for 2020, though, Zobrist will look back on his four seasons with the Cubs fondly.

“(They’re) just the most passionate fans I’ve ever met,” he said of Cubs fans. “They’re very loyal, very passionate and it’s been such a pleasure to be a part of that team that beat the curse back in ’16, so I feel that still, when I see Cubs fans, there’s a lot of them that hug me and thank me for being a part of that.

“I’ll always look back at [my] time here — I don’t know what’s going to happen in the offseason — but look back at these four years and [be] very grateful to be able to be part of a group like this and be able to do what we did while I was here.”

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