Cubs

Kyle Schwarber damages Wrigley video board as order is restored in Cubs universe

Kyle Schwarber damages Wrigley video board as order is restored in Cubs universe

This is an oversimplification. And sometimes only the loudest voices get heard on social media. But where so many Cubs fans and enough of the Chicago media put blind faith and absolute trust into the rebuilding years, there now seems to be some general skepticism and a when-is-it-time-to-panic countdown.

Don’t mean to spoil the ending of David Ross’ new book, but the Cubs won the World Series.

Last year is over, but the Cubs still have an explosive collection of hitters, a playoff-tested rotation, a significantly better bullpen and money/prospects to spend at the trade deadline.

[CubsTalk Podcast: Jason McLeod on Ian Happ, Dylan Cease and MLB Draft]

The signs even showed up before Wednesday’s 7-5 win over the Cincinnati Reds, when Kyle Schwarber crushed a ball in batting practice and knocked out part of the lighting for the Budweiser script atop a Wrigley Field video board.

“I hope I won’t get the bill,” Schwarber said. “It had some wind behind it, I guess, and got up there, and you could see some wires fall. I apologize in advance.”

Schwarber damaged the first two letters and part of the “d” out in right field, or roughly the same spot where one of his home-run balls landed during the 2015 playoffs. If Schwarber doesn’t have a Budweiser deal yet, “I should,” he joked.

If you needed another reality check and a reminder of the uncertainty the Cubs used to face, Scott Feldman stood 6-foot-6 on the mound in a gray uniform. This is the answer to the trivia question, the sign-and-flip guy traded along with Steve Clevenger to the Baltimore Orioles for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop in the middle of a 96-loss season in 2013.

The Cubs knocked out Feldman in the third inning, pushing their record to one game above .500 and seeing the correction they predicted. Except for Ian Happ, the Cubs don’t have that many other cards left to play in the middle of May. And manager Joe Maddon doesn’t really think about the point where he would start doing things differently.

“It would have to take a lot, honestly, because they’re so young,” Maddon said. “This is our World Series group and this is our future group. So part of it is you have to understand they have to feel confidence and consistency from me and the organization.

“If you just start haphazardly picking names out of a hat or trying to create a different method when it’s really not necessary — that’s what you have to be careful about.

“When you have young guys in this position, the big picture would be that you would not want to influence or dent their confidence in any way or have them lose faith in you.

“There’s a lot of patience from me right now for the whole group. This is our group. And they’re going to keep getting better.”

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After all the noise about whether or not Maddon should stick with Schwarber (.188 average) at the leadoff spot, he ignited the five-run burst off Feldman in the second inning when he smashed a two-out, two-run, bases-loaded single past Reds first baseman Joey Votto.

“It’s really hard for human beings to process a 162-game season and see it in its entirety, see it from 10,000 feet,” team president Theo Epstein said. “The game wouldn’t be as fun if you could do that. I remember right around this time last year we were 25-6 and I was getting asked non-sarcastic questions about how are we going to manage the push for the greatest record of all-time vs. resting our guys for the playoffs. I called BS on that.

“And now I’m getting asked about if we’re going to send everyday guys down to Triple-A. (And) I was asked by someone else if we were going to consider selling and things like that. So I call BS on that, too.”

On an 83-degree night with 24-mph winds gusting, Kyle Hendricks again looked like the guy who impersonated Greg Maddux and led the majors in ERA last season. Hendricks is 2-1 with a 1.82 ERA in his last five starts after limiting the Reds (19-20) to two runs across six innings. The rotation is beginning to trend in the right direction and that is how the Cubs will take off from 20-19.

“Ultimately, you are how you play over the course of a season,” Epstein said. “But you also have to look at the amount of talent on a club and whether you trust their makeup and whether they care and whether you think we’re going to reach our level, because we’re going to work really hard to make adjustments and overcome whatever adversity is presented us.

“I don’t want to sound like I’m blind to what’s gone on or sort of like overly faithful in certain guys. (But) you also have to trust what you believe about players and what you see and understand the season is 162 games for a reason, because it tends to be a meritocracy.”

The Cubs are also getting under people’s skin again. After another stress-free ninth inning ended for Wade Davis (9-for-9 in save chances, zero earned runs in 18 appearances) with an overturned replay call, Reds manager Bryan Price had this to say to reporters:

“Two teams are trying to win that game. As much as it’s ‘Hail to the Cubs’ and they’re the World Series champs and they’re great, we’re trying to win the ballgame, too. Until I see that, I’m going to be more than upset. That's not a way to end a ballgame, unless they can show us something that's definitive. If they can't, shame on them."

Cubs' Tommy Hottovy: 'Scary part' of COVID-19 is how fast deadly virus spreads

Cubs' Tommy Hottovy: 'Scary part' of COVID-19 is how fast deadly virus spreads

Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy is home in Kansas City for a couple rare days during the baseball season. His mom wants to meet him for lunch, and his sister, a grade-school teacher in town, just had a baby that he hasn’t had a chance to see yet.

“How much would I love to go get to see her and my new nephew?” Hottovy said. “Can’t do it. Just can’t.”

Not this time. Not with what’s at stake. Not when possible threats to health and professional purpose lurk in every unfamiliar hallway, byway and unmasked face while the Cubs navigate their first multi-city road trip of the season.

Don’t believe the risk of spread and large-scale COVID-19 team outbreaks are that sensitive, extreme and potentially swift? Just ask the Marlins and Cardinals, whose outbreaks in the first week of play put their seasons on hold and threatened the status of the league’s season.

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“I’m not leaving the hotel. I told my family and friends and everybody [in Kansas City],” Hottovy said. “We all signed up for this, to make sure that for this to work we all have to make those kinds of sacrifices. I love my family to death and would love to get to see them, but right now this is our home.”

The Cubs second trip, which started with a 6-1 victory Wednesday in Kansas City and continues to St. Louis before finishing in Cleveland next week, coincides with stepped-up COVID-19 protocols from Major League Baseball following the Marlins and Cardinals outbreaks.

The Cubs already had protocols in place that exceeded MLB’s original mandates and that are in compliance with the new mandates. And a month into the league’s restart they remained the only team without a player having tested positive for the virus.

RELATED: Cubs better prepared than MLB to finish COVID-19 season — which is the problem

In fact, Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant decided on his own to start wearing a protective mask on the bases when the Cubs played last week in Cincinnati, where three Reds players were sidelined either by positive tests or self-reported symptoms as that series opened. And first baseman Anthony Rizzo told ESPN 1000 on Tuesday that he plans to keep a mask in his pocket while in the field in St. Louis and will consider wearing it when somebody reaches base.

“No matter what measures you put in place, when you’re trying to pull off a season that requires travel in the middle of a global pandemic, it ultimately does come down to personal responsibility,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said. “And everyone is at the mercy of the least responsible person because of the nature of the spread of this disease.”

Nobody knows that more than Hottovy and many of the Cubs who watched their pitching coach deteriorate in real time during daily Zoom sessions in May and June until the worst symptoms of his frightening monthlong bout with the virus forced him to hand off his job duties.

Whether Hottovy’s experience led directly to the Cubs’ more extreme safety policies or the individual players’ apparent hyper diligence, MLB’s recent coronavirus outbreaks and other cases at least raise questions about whether some teams and players — or even the league — respect the potential severity of a virus that has killed more than 158,000 Americans in five months.

“I don’t think people underestimate that aspect of it; I think they underestimated how easy it was to spread,” Hottovy said of the outbreaks — including a Cardinals outbreak that reportedly was traced to one asymptomatic, outside individual familiar with the team.

Hottovy called the highly contagious nature of the virus “the scary part of this,” both in terms of the potential to quickly render an organization unable to field a team as well as the subsequent, inherent risk that poses to family members and others who might, in turn, be among those who then become severely impacted by the virus.

And the hardest part, he said, is not letting down your guard within the team bubble when it’s easy to trust that when it’s only teammates in the room that it’s OK to disregard masks, distancing and other safety measures.

“That’s when it gets dangerous,” said Hottovy, whose team talks often about assuming everyone — including each other — has the virus.

So just like in Cincinnati, neither he nor anyone else in the Cubs’ traveling party plans to go anywhere but to and from hotels and ballparks during their trip.

“Listen, you don’t have to search too far for a reason to take it serious,” Cubs second baseman Jason Kipnis said.

“I have three of my close friends who got it, that are over it. But the symptoms are as real as it gets from the sounds of it. And I think you have guys who are risking stuff coming and playing this season, whether it’s Craig [Kimbrel] and his daughter [heart condition] or Anthony [Rizzo] and Jon [Lester] with their [cancer] history.

“You’re paying respect to them and doing your teammate justice by not being the one to kind of go out,” Kipnis added. “It’s one of those years where, hey, you’ve got to buckle down and stay the course. I think everybody’s going through it, so you don’t want to be the one that kind of screws this one up.

The Cubs’ 10-2 start to a 60-game season seems to further incentivize that discipline — some players in recent days even suggesting the discipline in following the protocols has carried into the professionalism on the field.

It’s impossible to know if any of it will be enough for the Cubs to keep their moving bubble secure, much less whether the two outbreaks that MLB seems to have withstood will provide the significant enough wakeup call that MLB and team officials have suggested.

“The vast, vast majority of everyone involved in this enterprise, the players and staff, are doing a solid job so far in making a lot of sacrifices,” Epstein said. “And we just have to get everybody on board. And hopefully these two outbreaks are enough to get everyone to the point where we have essentially perfect execution going forward, because that’s largely what it will take.”

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Cubs' David Ross defends Javier Báez, doesn't 'nitpick' baserunning lapse

Cubs' David Ross defends Javier Báez, doesn't 'nitpick' baserunning lapse

Cubs shortstop Javier Báez recognizes he should have run out of the batter’s box.

“It was my mistake,” Báez said after Wednesday’s 6-1 Cubs win over the Royals. “I thought that ball was foul.”

With two on and no out in the fourth inning Wednesday, Báez hit a towering pop fly down the right field foul line. He hesitated in the batter’s box for a few moments, leaving shortly before the ball dropped in fair just inside the line.

“I kind of lost it, but the wind started bringing it back,” Báez said. “Even [Royals catcher Salvador Pérez] was kind of surprised and he was like, ‘I think it’s gonna be fair,’ so I started running.”

Báez wound up with an RBI single, scoring Kris Bryant from second and moving Anthony Rizzo to third with no outs. He likely could have wound up at second base with a double, setting up the Cubs with two runners in scoring position and no outs. 

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The inning ended shortly after, as Willson Contreras grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, scoring Rizzo to take a 2-1 lead, and David Bote struck out two batters later. In the end, the moment didn’t hurt the Cubs, who never trailed after taking that fourth inning lead.

After the game, Cubs manager David Ross defended Báez and said he didn’t talk to him about running that ball out.

“I think that’s a really close play,” Ross said. “If I want to be the type of manager that nitpicks every little thing... These guys go out and play their butt off every single night for me and for this group. 

“If I feel like they’re dogging it, we’ll have a conversation. I feel like that’s a play that he may have assumed was foul. I think Javy’s one of the most exciting players and he plays hard every time I see him out there on the field. 

“So, I don’t have a problem with a guy that brings it every single day.”

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