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The future is now for the Cubs and Addison Russell

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The future is now for the Cubs and Addison Russell

PITTSBURGH — Addison Russell became the overnight trending topic on Twitter, the latest mega-prospect dropped into what’s becoming a very interesting Cubs team.

Looking out across the infield at this beautiful waterfront stadium, you saw Russell playing alongside Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Kris Bryant. No player is older than 25. Each one is under club control through at least the 2020 season.

The Cubs kept pushing the youth movement they believe will create a perennial contender, fast-tracking Russell into Tuesday night’s 9-8 comeback victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. 

“I’m excited for what tomorrow brings,” Russell said after going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. “I’m just happy to get the first one out of the way, kind of see what it’s like up here.”

[MORE CUBS: Starlin Castro wants to win now with Addison Russell]

In terms of atmosphere, the Cubs (8-5) are trying to create to what manager Joe Maddon would call “the new normal.” The Pittsburgh skyline became the backdrop, but the Cubs think this group can play together at Wrigley Field and deep into October.

“It’s all still theory,” Maddon said. “Theory and reality are kind of coming together. My point is that they have to get out there and play. It’s one thing to look good on a piece of paper — and another thing to go out there and perform.

“I have a lot of faith in this group. I think we are going to perform. But be patient. They are young. They are going to make mistakes. They’re going to have some bad days. It’s not going to be an oil painting every night. But if you have a creative mind’s eye, you can see over the next couple years (what) it’s going to possibly look like.”

This doesn’t definitively answer the long-term questions about Castro, a three-time All-Star shortstop who wants to win a Gold Glove this year and looks energized playing for a team that’s not already buried in April.

The Cubs have options. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein went into this season saying he had no agenda, wanting to see how it all shakes out first.

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Russell might be the best defensive shortstop in the organization. But for now, the Cubs will get him acclimated at second base, where Arismendy Alcantara (2-for-26) didn’t produce and Jonathan Herrera has been filling in with Tommy La Stella (rib cage) on the disabled list.       

“I did not expect this,” Russell said. “I couldn’t even guess that this was going to happen to me. But I’m here now, and that’s all that counts.”

Russell is 21 years old and has played only 14 career games at the Triple-A level. He hit .318 with four doubles, one homer and nine RBI in 11 games at Iowa this month. He entered this season as a consensus top-five prospect for Baseball Prospectus (No. 2), Baseball America (No. 3), ESPN (No. 4) and MLB.com (No. 5). 

To make room for Russell, the Cubs optioned Alcantara to Iowa and transferred third baseman Mike Olt (wrist) to the 60-day disabled list. Whatever happens next, the Cubs have sent a clear message that the future is now, with Bryant and Jorge Soler already making an immediate impact.

“I’m ready to perform with these guys,” Russell said. “Hopefully, if someone else is in my shoes, you’ll be asking them the same question about me. That’s kind of like the goal right now.”

 

Why Cubs might not lose again and other musings in strange, short season

Why Cubs might not lose again and other musings in strange, short season

As if things weren’t already going well enough for the Cubs during this strange, short season of baseball in a pandemic, now the baseball gods are dropping gifts into their laps.

The Cardinals’ lengthy shutdown because of a coronavirus outbreak has the Cubs’ arch rivals restarting their season Saturday in Chicago with a patched-up roster and eight games over the next five days, including five games against the Cubs.

And although that means the relative hardship of two doubleheaders for the Cubs in three days, all five of those games Monday through Wednesday are against a decimated Cards roster that won’t have the front end of its rotation for any of the games.

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They catch the Cardinals at their weakest point of the early season a week after catching an otherwise formidable Cleveland team at a moment of clubhouse crisis involving protocol perps Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger.

That one resulted in a two-game sweep by a combined score of 14-3.

This one already has resulted in all 10 games against the Cardinals now being scheduled for Wrigley Field.

Combine that with the three road games against the White Sox next month, and it means that the team with baseball’s best record on the field, the perfect record in player COVID-19 testing and no significant injuries to key players so far will play 60 percent of its games within its Chicago bubble if the Cubs and MLB pull off the full 60-game season.

If the Cubs were positioned any better to make the playoffs, they’d already be there.

“You can look at it that way if you want,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “We’re just doing our thing.”

No other way to look at it from here. Have you seen the rest of the schedule?

The Cubs have 43 games left, including 29 within a National League Central Division that doesn’t include another .500 team three weeks into a nine-week season. Nine more games are against the Tigers and White Sox.

The best team on the schedule is the Twins, and all three of those games are at home and not until the second-to-last weekend of the season.

With all due respect to Ross and his fear of “bad juju,” the Cubs can’t lose.

“It’s still early on,” the manager said.

Nothing’s early in a 60-game season. And the Cubs already have matched the hot starts of their 2016 and 1908 World Series champions.

“We’ve still got a long ways to go in the season,” Ross said.

The Cubs did have to scratch Tyler Chatwood from his scheduled start Friday night because of back tightness. And Kris Bryant has missed the last two games because of a sore finger after rolling his wrist trying to make a diving catch in left field in Cleveland Wednesday.

But Alec Mills looked good in short-notice replacement duty Friday until a rough four-pitch (and three-run) sequence in the sixth. And Chatwood might be ready for one of Monday’s games — or possibly one of Wednesday’s.

“Things falling in our favor?” Ross said. “We’re playing good baseball, and that should be the focus for me and not the other stuff.”

Granted, they still have to play the games. Granted, Bryant wasn’t available off the bench with the bases loaded in the eighth Friday, and Josh Phegley struck out instead.

And, yes, they actually lost a game to the Brewers Friday night.

But if you still don’t believe the baseball gods are stirring the Cubs’ pot so far this season, you weren’t paying attention in the ninth inning when Craig Kimbrel struck out Avisail Garcia swinging at a 98-mph fastball to start the scoreless inning and Manny Piña swinging at a 96-mph fastball to end it.

What closer problem? Bring on the Cardinals, right?

These guys might not lose another game.

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Cubs' Colin Rea to start on Saturday, Tyler Chatwood possibly Monday

Cubs' Colin Rea to start on Saturday, Tyler Chatwood possibly Monday

The Cubs plan to start swingman Colin Rea on Saturday against the Brewers, manager David Ross said after Friday's game.

Alec Mills was originally slated to pitch Saturday but was bumped up to Friday because Tyler Chatwood was scratched with mid-back tightness. The Cubs will evaluate Chatwood to see if he's an option to pitch on Monday, when they're scheduled to play a doubleheader against the Cardinals.

Rea, 30, has made two appearances this season, allowing no runs and one hit while striking out three in three innings. He was named the 2019 Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year, sporting a 3.95 ERA in 26 starts.

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Rea's last big league start was July 30, 2016 with the Marlins. He allowed one hit in 3 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out four with no walks.

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