Cubs

Cubs: What is Joe Maddon's plan behind Anthony Rizzo at first base?

Cubs: What is Joe Maddon's plan behind Anthony Rizzo at first base?

MILWAUKEE - Anthony Rizzo strolled into the visiting clubhouse at Miller Park Thursday morning and immediately heard it from his teammates:

"Rizzo, how was your night off?" 

"Rizz, you only played like three innings last night, right? You should be feeling fresh!"

"Rizz, why are you so late? KB played like 30 positions last night and he's here already."

It was all in good fun, obviously, pointing out how Rizzo came out of the game in the top of the ninth for pinch-runner Javy Baez and then was forced to stay on the bench for the four extra innings.

It was only the second time all season Rizzo has not played a full game.

Meanwhile, Kris Bryant started the game in left field, then came in to act as a fifth infielder in the bottom of the 12th when the Brewers loaded the bases with nobody out.

During the course of that inning, Bryant moved all over the infield, including actually switching gloves with Baez to play first base for a bit, too.

"There were so many things going on," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before explaining his thought process in detail, explaining why he decided to switch Bryant to first base in the middle of the inning.

"Javy at third base was very appealing. I went back in and looked and thought, 'I gotta do this for the next hitter if we get to him.' Then, when it gets to two outs, if there's a throw going to first base, who's gonna pick it? Who's gonna make the play at first base?

"KB can do that. But I have a lot of faith in Javy at handling the the baseball."

In spring training, Maddon said Baez was the backup option at first base if Rizzo ever got hit with a pitch in a bad spot or needed an extended break..

Baez has filled the Ben Zobrist role for Maddon this season, playing all four infield positions plus left field. He has been at first base all seven innings Rizzo has been on the bench in 2016.

But the Cubs manager also likes the 6-foot-5 Bryant over at first base and Baez's slick glove at the hot corner.

"[The plan behind Rizzo is] probably KB or Javy," Maddon said. "Just depends on who's pitching, where you think the ball's gonna be hit. I mean, truly, you think at that level. 

"When you have guys that are that versatile, you're always looking for the edge. Who's giving you the edge at a particular position? You're looking for an edge, however small it might be.

"Javy can play there, but so can KB. There are two guys beyond Rizz."

NBC Sports Chicago to present documentary on 20th anniversay of epic home run race

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NBC Sports Chicago

NBC Sports Chicago to present documentary on 20th anniversay of epic home run race

“1998: Summer of Sammy” presented by Elgin Hyundai

Premieres next Monday, October 1 at 7:00 PM CT -- Exclusively on NBC Sports Chicago, NBCSportsChicago.com, and the NBC Sports app

Chicago, IL (September 24, 2018) – In a year that elevated the Chicago Cubs to national prominence, one which will be historically credited to its 29-year-old superstar from the Dominican Republic, NBC Sports Chicago – THE home of the #AuthenticFan – proudly announces its next landmark documentary, 1998: Summer of Sammy, presented by Elgin Hyundai. This half-hour NBC Sports Chicago Original Production premieres Monday, October 1 at 7:00 PM CT exclusively on NBC Sports Chicago, NBCSportsChicago.com, and on the NBC Sports app. Official trailer here: SUMMER OF SAMMY

1998: Summer of Sammy chronicles the unforgettable home run race of 1998 that pitted Chicago’s Sammy Sosa against the St. Louis Cardinals ball-bashing superstar Mark McGwire in their quest to break the once unbreakable 61 home runs hit by the New York Yankees Roger Maris in 1961. Just four years after the MLB players strike, the nation was once again captivated with the sport of baseball as fans flocked to the ballpark and to their television sets with the thrilling drama and theatre that the two superstars created in 1998. But, what followed in the years thereafter forever put a spotlight on an era once celebrated.

Shortly after the great home run chase of ‘98, suspicions of steroid use caused a stir and forced baseball to reevaluate their drug testing program. 1998: Summer of Sammy not only relives the glory of that special season, but also delves into its aftermath and the marred spotlight that exists with Sosa’s life today, one that continues to plague his hopeful return to the Cubs organization.

Featuring Sosa’s memorable interview with NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan, who was also a producer on this project, 1998: Summer of Sammy was crafted by NBC Sports Chicago’s expert behind-the-scenes team featuring Executive Producer/Editor Matt Buckman, Executive Producer Jon Graff, Senior Producers Ryan McGuffey and John Schippman, and photographers George Gaza and Eric Fogle.

“Sammy Sosa’s historic quest and battle to rewrite the home run record book truly captivated an entire nation back in 1998,” said Kevin Cross, Vice President of Content for NBC Sports Chicago. “I couldn’t be prouder of our amazing production team for their long hours and hard work on a documentary that explores that amazing season, along with Sosa’s life twenty years later.”

In addition to its candid interview session with Sosa, 1998: Summer of Sammy also features interviews with McGwire, former MLB Commissioner Allan H. “Bud” Selig, former Cubs teammate Kerry Wood, former Cubs announcers Steve Stone & Chip Caray, and Hall of Fame baseball journalist Peter Gammons, among others.

Note the following quotes from the NBC Sports Chicago Original Production of 1998: Summer of Sammy, debuting Monday, October 1 at 7:00 PM CT on NBC Sports Chicago, NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive , and the NBC Sports app:

SAMMY SOSA on the HR battle vs. McGwire in 1998: “’98 changed everything. You know, more people come to the game. I mean Mark and I shocked the world. Mark and I came in and put a show together, and a lot of more people started coming to the ballpark. I felt very happy I feel proud you know to compete with Mark.

SAMMY SOSA on being present for McGwire’s record-breaking 62nd HR: “I remember I was in right field, you know the Roger Maris family was there too, so I came running down the field, and showed him (McGwire) the respect, give him a hug, and it felt great because it was two lions fighting for first place, there was no jealousy between us.”

SAMMY SOSA on his life and legacy: “I am my own boss, I don't need a job. I was playing for a company many years ago, so after I retire I formed my own company, so I'm not looking for a job, and when I call somebody, the first thing that I say is, 'I'm not looking for a job. Just called you to say hello.' So I have my own company, I'm comfortable, thank God I've got my beautiful family, I got my friends, you know what I mean? And I've got all my Chicago fans in the whole world that respect me, what I've done. Some people criticize me but that's okay, I'm happy anyway, and I'm living my life the way I am, you know, I believe in God, that's one of the things that's made me stronger every day, so you know if I wanted to come back to Chicago I'd come back for the fans. Those people, I owe those people something.
My legacy, nobody’s going to take it away from me, it matters what I've done. So for that, I'm happy, I'm pleased. And you know look, time will heal everything.”

MARK McGWIRE on the HR battle vs. Sosa late in the ’98 season: “He actually was ahead for a couple innings the last week into September. It was one of the things to think about when (networks) were breaking into regular televised shows and newscasts and they were breaking in to just show our at bats. The night that I broke it against the Cubs, it was like FOX goes ‘Hey we’re going to make it like a nationally-televised game.’ It’s like how do you even know that it’s going to happen and it turns out that it happened the same inning almost the same count that Maris broke it in the bottom of the 4th inning. It was just one of those moments where a lot of special things happened that the forces upstairs controlled…that was pretty, really unique.“

KERRY WOOD on how the ’98 HR race saved the sport: “Those guys (Sosa & McGwire) saved baseball. They single-handedly brought the fans back to the game. The post-strike (period) was kind of in a lull until ‘98 when these guys were chasing each other…they brought it back, they brought the fans back.”

STEVE STONE on how the ’98 HR race saved the sport: “There’s no doubt about it, baseball needed a shot in the arm after the ’94 strike, it cost baseball Montreal…but ’98 absolutely breathed life back into the game. It was that chase…that chase rejuvenated baseball, it brought back life to the game. In that respect, it was the best thing that happened to baseball to that point. Baseball is still reaping the benefits to a certain extent because of ’98”

PETER GAMMONS on Sosa’s tarnished legacy: “Sammy should be celebrated, not just shamed, and there is no one on this earth who actually know how many players did and how many players didn’t. And I kind of look at it that way. There were rumors of guys who failed tests when the tests weren’t supposed to count. And I just ignore it. Because you know what, we don’t know. They probably didn’t know. And you can’t take back what that year of 1998 did for baseball.”

BUD SELIG on the Washington D.C. Congressional hearing in ’05 and the Cubs position on Sosa: “(1998) was exciting, they both handled themselves well, there’s no question about it. Later on in Washington, in that house hearing, Sammy and Mark both didn’t do as well as I’d wish they had done. I talked to all of them before the hearing. And I had had a very close relationship with Sammy as you know with him, with Mark McGwire, all of them, and I could see that they were nervous. Sammy was fairly mute, not fairly, he was mute, and Mark did things later I was proud of him and I’m glad clubs gave him a chance, but it was unfortunate. And I want to say this too, I understand the Cubs position. I have enormous respect for Tom Ricketts, and what they’ve done in Chicago is I think is amazing and I understand how they feel on this subject. This is a very sensitive subject.”

NBC Sports Chicago will also re-air 1998: Summer of Sammy presented by Elgin Hyundai on the following dates/times (all times Central Time): Oct. 1 at 9:00 PM, Oct. 3 at NOON, Oct. 5 at 8:00 PM, and Oct. 6 at 5:30 PM. In addition, fans on Twitter are urged to follow @NBCSChicago for the latest 1998: Summer of Sammy documentary updates and exclusive preview clips leading up to the October 1 premiere, plus -- fans can also get interactive prior to and during the premiere airing with their favorite 1998 memories and comments by utilizing the Twitter hashtag #SummerofSammy. Viewers are also urged to visit a special, dedicated NBCSportsChicago.com’s Cubs section at NBCSportsChicago.com/Cubs, which will include the official trailer, select video footage from the documentary, info on a special “Cubs Talk” podcast, and original 1998 commentary write-ups via NBCSportsChicago.com’s team of Cubs experts.

Kris Bryant's 'fatigued' shoulder looms over Cubs, but they insist there's no cause for concern

Kris Bryant's 'fatigued' shoulder looms over Cubs, but they insist there's no cause for concern

This obviously isn't where the Cubs or Kris Bryant wanted to be heading into the final week of the regular season.

Instead of talking about Bryant's level of play or the Cubs' second straight decisive win on the South Side, the 2016 NL MVP stood near his locker, entertaining more questions about his sore left shoulder while he watched Tiger Woods lock up a victory at the Tour Championship.

Bryant did not suit up for the Cubs Sunday, out with what his manager Joe Maddon called "fatigue." 

"His shoulder's just a little bit fatigued. Not hurting, just fatigued," Maddon said before the Cubs' 6-1 victory. "So you want to be proactive. You can wait 'til tomorrow [to give him a day off], but then if you wait 'til tomorrow and something were to happen today, I'd feel really badly about that. 

"So just talking to him, listening to him and his body, we're gonna give him today off."

Maddon later described Bryant's shoulder "fatigue" as a lack of strength given the superstar has missed essentially two months of action due to the injury.

Maddon acknowledged the Cubs may play things safe with Bryant and keep him out of the lineup Monday, too, but would leave that up to the player.

Bryant insisted he will be in the lineup, telling the group of reporters several times that he already told Maddon he would be ready to go for the first ame of the homestand Monday night at Wrigley Field.

The 26-year-old admitted he just needed a breather Sunday after appearing in every game since returning from the disabled list Sept. 1.

"I'm still kinda in the early stages — I've had 60-something at-bats, which is like a spring training load, I think," Bryant said. "I wouldn't say I'm feeling something — I was just tired from playing."

He said he and the Cubs are just trying to exercise caution to ensure his left shoulder doesn't get any worse with postseason baseball a week away.

"I haven't had any pain or any of that, which is great," Bryant said. "I just gotta stay on top of my shoulder program and stuff like that, which we're doing, so that's good."

Bryant said he hit in the cage and went through a normal pregame routine Sunday, but instead of trying to catch up to big league pitchers throwing in the mid 90s, he got to sit back and let his shoulder rest.

The only possible concern there may be more at play with Bryant's shoulder is the timing of Sunday's day off.

Maddon said he was going to be cautious with Bryant when he first got off the DL and make sure he got enough rest, but then Bryant played every inning but two in his first six games back, only receiving a day off on Sept. 7 because rain washed away the game at Nationals Park.

Of the Cubs' 13 games since the other rainout in Washington D.C. on Sept. 9, Bryant started and played the entire contest in 12 of those games (he came in in the seventh inning in the other).

Bryant has had to utilize that left shoudler quite a bit since beginning his rehab four weeks ago, but he also received a day of rest just two days ago, when the Cubs had their only off-day of the month. 

If Bryant is back in the lineup on Monday, then this is all a moot point. And at the moment, there's no need to think the sky is falling and the Cubs will be without Bryant at all moving forward.

In fact, exercising caution is the right move given the potential danger that any one swing could bring the pain back in that left shoulder.

The Cubs woke up Sunday morning with a 2.5-game lead in the division and will maintain that gap into the final week of the regular season. There's no point in pushing Bryant to exhaustion or risking injury at the moment.

But if and when he does return, what type of force will he be in the Cubs lineup?

Since returning, Bryant is slashing .275/.346/.406 (.752 OPS) with 1 homer, 6 doubles and 5 RBI in 69 at-bats. He's also struck out a whopping 27 times (including a pair of 4-whiff games) against only 6 walks.

A healthy and successful Bryant is vital to the Cubs' World Series hopes next month and it will be interesting to see how much his shoulder becomes a talking point around this team over the final seven games of the regular season.