Cubs

Jason Heyward living up to Gold Glove reputation for new-look Cubs defense

Jason Heyward living up to Gold Glove reputation for new-look Cubs defense

Joe Maddon was asked if he’s ever seen an outfielder impact the game defensively the way Jason Heyward does on a nightly basis. 

“Not since Roberto,” Maddon said. “Just kidding, I didn’t see Mr. Clemente play (that often). They didn’t have TV back then. It was black and white.”

The Cubs are now watching Heyward up close and in high definition and already notice the difference, how line drives become outs in right field, runners don’t want to challenge his left arm and highlight-reel plays look routine.   

Wilson Sporting Goods gave Heyward a defensive player of the year award before Thursday night’s 8-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field, recognizing a 2015 season where he finished with 22 Defensive Runs Saved, a 6.5 WAR rating, a .990 fielding percentage and his third Gold Glove.  

“You just see some of the balls that are hit to right field that seem like doubles,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “He takes those away. He’s basically a centerfielder in right field.”

As much as the offense has been a huge focus during this 8-1 start, Heyward is part of a larger offseason story where the Cubs tried to change their defensive identity, projecting a full year of Addison Russell – and not Starlin Castro – at shortstop, signing steady All-Star Ben Zobrist to play second base and holding onto Javier Baez as their super-utility guy.

The Cubs began the day leading the majors with a .994 fielding percentage – they ranked 25th in that category last season – and now have only two errors through nine games. Maddon – who says he comes from The Land of Run Prevention after managing a small-market Tampa Bay Rays team that couldn’t afford the big free agents – believes defense wins championships. 

Heyward still remains a fascinating case study, getting paid like a middle-of-the-order hitter with only one 20-homer season on his resume after turning down offers believed to be in the $200-million range from the St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals.  

Defensive performance can be hard to quantify because the existing metrics are sort of unreliable – and the Cubs truly valued Heyward for his age-26 upside and all those prime years ahead – but his Gold Glove pedigree certainly factored into the decision to give him the biggest contract in franchise history at eight years and $184 million guaranteed.  

That’s the price for an excellent defender – as well as a patient, grinding approach to at-bats, a hard-charging style while running the bases and a reputation for being a good dude. 

“He’s a technician,” Maddon said, rewinding Heyward robbing Scott Schebler during Wednesday’s 9-2 win over the Reds. “How he broke to the ball, how low he stayed and how his dive was just perfectly timed – he knew he was going to catch it. 

“From the moment he broke, he knew he was going to catch that ball. Some of that can be taught technically, but his instinct for the ball, his ability to move quickly or read the swing of the bat – all that (matters).”

The Heyward Effect is also an investment in the team’s pitching infrastructure, reducing stressful innings, getting in runners’ heads and making opponents more conservative and station-to-station. 

“A lot of times guys that throw out a lot of runners are (doing it) because they don’t throw well,” Maddon said. “The guys that really throw well – or the guys that charge the ball properly – get less opportunity because that’s talked about in the pre-series meeting: ‘Listen, this guy’s going to come after it hard. He throws really well. Be careful.’ That’s all a guy’s got to hear in a meeting and then he’s going to be like ultra-careful.”

Kyle Hendricks takes in a Blackhawks game with... Bastian Schweinsteiger?

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NBC Sports Chicago

Kyle Hendricks takes in a Blackhawks game with... Bastian Schweinsteiger?

A Cubs pitcher taking in a Blackhawks game in a suite is nothing special, but doing so with a World Cup winner is... different.

Kyle Hendricks was spotted by the cameras of Thursday's Blackhawks-Coyotes broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago. The guy he was standing next to was none other than Chicago Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, a World Cup with Germany and Champions League winner with Bayern Munich.

Hendricks is known for being reserved on the mound and in his interviews with the media. Meanwhile, Schweinsteiger was filmed yelling "Bear Down" in the hallway of Toyota Park after a Fire practice earlier in the day.

There's no telling what inspired Schweinsteiger to do this, but he has definitely embraced Chicago sports teams since joining the Fire in March of 2017.

Makes you wonder what Hendricks and Schweinsteiger were talking about. Best places to get brats in Chicago?

Ben Zobrist provides a hilarious glimpse into how he's spending a free October

Ben Zobrist provides a hilarious glimpse into how he's spending a free October

Ben Zobrist won't win the Comeback Player of the Year award this winter, but maybe he can take home a Grammy for Best New Artist?

The Cubs veteran infielder/outfielder posted a hilarious video on his Instagram Wednesday night showcasing how he's been spending October after the Cubs were unceremoniously ousted from the playoffs after on the third day of the month.

It's a fantastic music video of Zobrist lip-syncing to Mumford & Sons' "I Will Wait" while he nearly knocks the TV off the wall of his home by swinging the bat indoors pretending to hit off Clayton Kershaw and frolicking around a field that looks shockingly similar to Hershel's farm from the second season of "The Walking Dead":

View this post on Instagram

It always takes me a few weeks to process the season and begin the offseason. Here are my thoughts.....along with a unique way of making light of the postseason that should have been......... (special thanks to @dimtillard for help with Video) Maybe you feel the way I do. It was a very quick and abrupt ending to a good season for us. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But let’s not forget all the good that happened. This game and this team gives us something to pass the time, to express our love and passion, to feel the joy of the wins and the pains of the losses, and it calls us to unity when we so easily can be divided about so many other things. Each game is a microcosm of life. The game itself is not Life, but it helps us deal with life in a way. I’m thankful for even the painful losses at the end. The game can be a great teacher. I felt privileged to play with this team and play for our fans all year. We were stretched and we grew in new ways as individuals and as a group and that is always a good thing. We strive to win championships, but more often the process is the goal. We will be stronger because of all that we went through this year. What will I do now? I will travel and watch my wife crush her book tour. I will be in and out of Chi-town. I just got back home to Franklin, TN. I will find joy in raising and watching my kids grow and continue becoming their own person. I will rest and begin preparing for next season. I will work hard in mind, body, and spirit. I will help other players with @patriotforward and @showandgo. I will focus on personal growth and charitable endeavors and become a better man, teammate, friend, and player. To Baseball and Fans: For the next 5 months until I play next year.... I will wait for you....

A post shared by Ben Zobrist (@benzobrist18) on

Zobrist also posted a lengthy caption on his perspective on the Cubs' disappointing end to the season:

It always takes me a few weeks to process the season and begin the offseason. Here are my thoughts.....along with a unique way of making light of the postseason that should have been......... (special thanks to @dimtillard for help with Video) 
Maybe you feel the way I do. It was a very quick and abrupt ending to a good season for us. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But let’s not forget all the good that happened. This game and this team gives us something to pass the time, to express our love and passion, to feel the joy of the wins and the pains of the losses, and it calls us to unity when we so easily can be divided about so many other things. Each game is a microcosm of life. The game itself is not
Life, but it helps us deal with life in a way. I’m thankful for even the painful losses at the end. The game can be a great teacher. 
I felt privileged to play with this team and play for our fans all year. We were stretched and we grew in new ways as individuals and as a group and that is always a good thing. We strive to win championships, but more often the process is the goal. We will be stronger because of all that we went through this year. 
What will I do now? I will travel and watch my wife crush her book tour. I will be in and out of Chi-town. I just got back home to Franklin, TN. I will find joy in raising and watching my kids grow and continue becoming their own person. I will rest and begin preparing for next season. I will work hard in mind, body, and spirit. I will help other players with @patriotforward and @showandgo. I will focus on personal growth and charitable endeavors and become a better man, teammate, friend, and player. 
To Baseball and Fans: For the next 5 months until I play next year....
I will wait for you....

Come for the Zobrist lip sync, but stay for the 37-year-old using a bat as a guitar while wearing a sleeveless shirt and rocking an old-timey top hat.

A year ago, Zobrist completely reshaped his offseason workout plan after three straight years of playing deep into October. It appears he's added another new trick to his winter workout — hopping over fences even though there is a clear opening just a foot away.

Hey, whatever works...