Cubs: Wade Davis' takeaways from trying to defend a World Series title

Cubs: Wade Davis' takeaways from trying to defend a World Series title

MESA, Ariz. — Wade Davis scanned the clubhouse in the spring-training complex and called the Cubs "a crazy talented group," saying there are 10 or 12 players who are among the best in all of Major League Baseball.

That's where Davis would set the baseline, looking ahead at a roster layered with high-end talent, youth, versatility and playoff experience. Not finding a deeper meaning in how the Kansas City Royals went from losing a World Series Game 7 in 2014 to winning the 2015 World Series to finishing last season at 81-81.

"I don't think I bought into that whole 'tired' or 'hangover' thing," Davis said. "I didn't think that was the case, because you get the whole winter to get rid of that and get after it."

It still might have caught up to Davis, who made 140 appearances and pitched in 20 more playoff games during those two pennant-winning seasons combined. A flexor strain in his right forearm twice put the All-Star closer on the disabled list last year, when the Royals sunk to third place in the American League Central.

"I don't think there was like a mentality that changed," Davis said. "We just didn't have all the pieces that we needed to have."

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Kansas City's season pivoted during a collision last May, when All-Star third baseman Mike Moustakas tore the ACL in his right knee and Gold Glove outfielder Alex Gordon broke his right wrist. The year after finishing third in the AL MVP voting, dynamic center fielder Lorenzo Cain stayed healthy enough to play in only 103 games. The pitching-and-defense formula didn't carry over for a team that put up a 4.67 rotation ERA and dropped from third to 17th in defensive efficiency.

Davis doesn't care about Cactus League stats (14.40 ERA) and gets the benefit of the doubt after being such a lights-out reliever in the postseason (0.84 ERA, 46 strikeouts in 32.1 innings). Manager Joe Maddon has insisted that Davis looks good in terms of velocity, movement and mechanics, suggesting the injury concerns are overblown.

But again staying healthy will be a huge issue for a Cubs team that won the National League pennant at a time when the Los Angeles Dodgers didn't seem to truly trust anyone on their pitching staff beyond Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill and Kenley Jansen. The Cleveland Indians somehow made it to the 10th inning of a World Series Game 7 without Carlos Carrasco or a full-strength Danny Salazar.

The dynamics of that entire playoff run might have changed if the ball Javier Baez hit off Johnny Cueto hadn't landed in the Wrigley Field basket for a 1-0 win over the San Francisco Giants in Game 1.

"There are definitely a lot of things that have to go your way in some situations," Davis said. "Sometimes, you just go out and beat the crap out of people. Sometimes, you need that flyball to drop or that ball to just go foul or whatever it might be. That's kind of the lucky part of the game."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 30th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 30th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa hit the 30-homer threshold on June 21, 1998 in only his 71st game of the season. For perspective, the 2018 Cubs leader in homers on June 21 is Javy Baez with 14 and Mike Trout leads all of baseball with only 23.

At this point, Mark McGwire was ahead of Sosa, but the Cubs slugger was pulling closer. McGwire had 33 dingers on June 21 while Ken Griffey Jr. had 28 and Greg Vaughn had 25.

Sosa' June 21 homer came off Tyler Green and was his 5th blast of the series against the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field that year. But the Cubs lost that series, despite Sosa's efforts.

Fun fact: Sosa drove in 10 runs in the three-game series with the Phillies that summer while the rest of his teammates combined for only 9 RBI.

Podcast: Wild week at Wrigley wraps up with Cubs showing what they’re made of


Podcast: Wild week at Wrigley wraps up with Cubs showing what they’re made of

The Cubs have been a different team the last six weeks, looking a lot more like the resilient bunch from 2016 than the sluggish 2017 squad that lacked energy. After some wacky circumstances Monday and a tough loss in Game 1 of Tuesday’s doubleheader, the Cubs came out and showed what they’re made of in the last two games of the series against the Dodgers, a team that knocked them out of postseason play last fall.

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki sum up the longest short homestand (or shortest long homestand?), updating the status of Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, the Cubs pitching staff and how the team is rounding into form as the season’s halfway mark approaches.

Check out the entire podcast here: