Cubs

Game 4 NLCS pitching matchup: Experienced John Lackey vs. naive Julio Urias

Game 4 NLCS pitching matchup: Experienced John Lackey vs. naive Julio Urias

LOS ANGELES — The Game 4 starters for the National League Championship Series couldn't be more different.

It's not so much of young vs. old, though it is that.

Dodgers southpaw Julio Urias just turned 20 and will be the youngest pitcher ever to start an NLCS game.

Cubs right-hander John Lackey turns 38 on Sunday (what would be Game 7 if the series goes that far) and is at the tail end of his 14th year in the big leagues.

Lackey has almost twice as many postseason innings on his resume (131 1/3) than Urias has in his entire MLB career (77 innings, all coming in 2016).

But that doesn't mean the Cubs have the clear advantage in what has become essentially a must-win game with the Dodgers up in the series and the possibility of Clayton Kershaw looming in Game 5.

"Sometimes it can be good to be young," Lackey said. "You don't know what you're getting into. You can just go out there and let your talent take over. And, obviously, he has a lot of that.

"It's a new situation for him. Back then, I was just worried about, you know, not messing it up for the older guys more than anything."

Now Lackey is one of the "older guys," a grizzled veteran who helped nurture some of the Cubs' young players and brought an edge to the clubhouse in a season where the goal from Day 1 has been World Series or bust.

Lackey has cut his teeth on the "Big Boy Games" he has been talking about all season and will get another chance to show off his cowboy style Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium.

They're going to need his edge to get back on track. A Game 4 win would turn the NLCS into a best-of-three series and give the Cubs homefield advantage with Games 6 and 7 set to be played at Wrigley Field.

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Lackey views this start as a new challenge and said he doesn't spend much time looking back at the two championship runs he's been through (in 2002 and 2013).

"I had a long break in between World Series, so you realize how special they are and how hard it is to get there and how meaningful those games are," Lackey said. "They're tough to get to and tough to win.

"At this point in my career, you've got to put in the work, you've got to put in the time. I don't got time to think that far back. I'm thinking ahead, and those are things maybe I'll check out on video when I retire in a few years."

Lackey isn't exactly in the twilight of his career. Joe Maddon said he still sees the same guy he saw start Game 7 of the 2002 World Series for the Anaheim Angels (where Maddon was on the coaching staff) and actually believes the veteran is in even better shape now.

Lackey struck out 8.6 batters per nine innings in 2016, tied for the best mark of his career. And he has won 24 games with a 3.03 ERA over the last two seasons (he spent 2015 with the St. Louis Cardinals).

"He's a cowboy when he pitches," Maddon said. "He goes right after hitters. There's not a whole lot hidden when John pitches."

As for a big start, Lackey believes his experience really only comes into play with the smaller stuff — press conference the day before a start, longer TV timeouts, flyovers and other pregame festivities.

Urias admitted the pressure is always there and that he felt it during his NLDS appearance against the Nationals in Washington — his only postseason action — in which he walked two and allowed a hit in two innings of scoreless work.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he didn't have to talk to Urias after the outing and has confidence in the 20-year-old to deliver in a high-pressure situation.

"He's just so calm and cool," Roberts said. "Some of it plays to the youthfulness, the naïveté, and just not really understanding the gravity of the moment, which is great.

"It's just these guys, the world around them, the noise, they just completely eliminated it. And it's just fun to watch these young guys go. Julio — I have no concerns about him taking the ball."

Addison Russell releases statement, calls abuse allegations 'completely false'

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USA TODAY

Addison Russell releases statement, calls abuse allegations 'completely false'

Addison Russell responded to the allegations that he physically and psychologically abused his ex-wife, Melisa Reidy.

In a statement released Friday night, Russell called the allegations against him "completely false," stating that he is confident that an investigation will exonerate him.

"These allegations are completely false. I made that clear to Major League Baseball last year and reiterated it to the Cubs today," Russell said in a statement released by the Major League Baseball Player's Assocation. "I'm confident any full and fair investigation will fully exonerate me. The protection of my children is foremost in my mind so I will have no further comment."

Reidy released a blog post late Thursday night detailing years of physical, emotional and psychological abuse that she experienced while married to Russell. The Cubs released a statement early Friday, saying they would "cooperate with the League's investigation so the appropriate action can be taken."

Cubs president Theo Epstein and owner Tom Ricketts held a press conference before Friday's game against the White Sox, saying that while the timing of the situation is not ideal, it does not matter.

"Any time there are accusations of this nature, they have to be taken very seriously and timing or inconvenience doesn't play into it," Epstein said. "All parties have an obligation to get to a just and fair resolution and if that includes discipline if appropriate, then so be it. If it doesn't, then so be it.

"But the important thing here is that justice and fairness is ultimately found. Timing is not ideal, but it doesn't matter. What matters is getting to a just and fair resolution and we're supportive of the league's step."

Baseball comes second for Cubs in Addison Russell situation

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USA TODAY

Baseball comes second for Cubs in Addison Russell situation

Two years after Theo Epstein sat in the visiting dugout on the South Side addressing the Cubs' trade for Aroldis Chapman in the same season he was suspended by Major League Baseball for domestic violence, the president of baseball operations once again had to touch on a similar topic in the same ballpark.

Addison Russell was placed on administrative leave early Friday afternoon, hours after a blog post surfaced from his ex-wife detailing physical and psychological abuse throughout their relationship.

"Disturbing" is how Epstein described Melisa Reidy's account when he saw it late Thursday night and said he immediately reached out to MLB's investigative body to see if they could verify any of the details.

Epstein and Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts had a phone call with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and the league office Friday morning, during which it was revealed the league would be placing Russell on administrative leave.

Russell can remain on leave for up to seven days and that leave can be extended by the league if need be after that time.

Epstein and Ricketts then met with Russell to inform him of the league's decision and questioned the shortstop on the details in Reidy's post.

"He reaffirmed his stance that he did not do what he is accused of having done," Epstein said.

The Cubs have no idea if Russell will play again this season as the team is in the midst of a tight pennant race in the final 10 days of September. But they also acknowledge baseball comes second in a time like this.

"Any time there are accusations of this nature, they have to be taken very seriously and timing or inconvenience doesn't play into it," Epstein said. "All parties have an obligation to get to a just and fair resolution and if that includes discipline if appropriate, then so be it. If it doesn't, then so be it.

"But the important thing here is that justice and fairness is ultimately found. Timing is not ideal, but it doesn't matter. What matters is getting to a just and fair resolution and we're supportive of the league's step."

There's not much the Cubs can do over the next week, as the matter "is in the league's court to do the investigation," Ricketts said.

Joe Maddon addressed the team with Epstein and Ricketts before Friday's game and has shifted his focus toward trying to win ballgames with the rest of the roster, stepping back to let the league handle the matter.

Between Epstein, Ricketts and Maddon, the word "process" was brought up over and over again in more than 20 minutes of press conferences.

Step 1 in that process was Russell being placed on administrative leave. Step 2 is the fact-finding mission as the league attempts to verify the "disturbing" claims.

The league opened an investigation on Russell last June after a domestic violence allegation was brought to light in a comment by Reidy's friend on an Instagram post. The comment was later deleted and Reidy did not cooperate with the MLB investigation, though the investigation remained open and Epstein admitted he has checked in with the league from time to time about the matter.

Russell spent only a couple days away from the team last June and was not placed on any official leave.

There is no word yet on if Reidy will cooperate with MLB's investigation this time around.

"Last year, it was a third-party accusation on social media," Epstein said. "And now, this is a direct accusation from the accuser, from the potential victim. The situation has changed. He was not placed on administrative leave last year. He was away from the team briefly, but we think this step is appropriate in light of the post."

Despite the accusation last June, reading the comments from Reidy's blog post was jarring for everybody involved.

"It always is," Maddon said, "whether it's on the baseball team, in your own personal family, wherever you may work. That just seems to be the way things are today."

The Cubs distanced themselves from making any sort of statement on Russell's character away from how they know him in a professional setting - as a ballplayer at the ballpark.

The next few days will determine Russell's standing with the Cubs and in the league for the rest of this season and possibly beyond.

"That balancing act that comes with an accusation and validating the rights of the accuser and providing an appropriate forum is something that's really difficult," Epstein said. "We don't have the answer for that, except that we know we have to take it as seriously as we possibly can to follow the process, because the process is designed to defend everyone's rights and to lead to a fair and just outcome."