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Matt Szczur's perspective as Cubs shed 'Lovable Losers' label

Matt Szczur's perspective as Cubs shed 'Lovable Losers' label

No current player understands what it means to be a Cub more than Matt Szczur.

The 2010 fifth-round pick has been here longer than Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod, Anthony Rizzo and Joe Maddon, just to name a few. 

And entering his eighth year with the organization, Szczur is already in Cubs history forever as one of thd guys who helped end the 108-year championship drought.

So how did the Cubs finally shed that "Lovable Losers" label and win it all? The key may be in Szczur's perspective.

"Winning the World Series is a dream come true, obviously," Szczur said. "If you ask a lot of these guys, it wouldn't matter what team. But being the Cubs, it's really special, just because of the drought for 108 years. As far as wrapping [my head] around it, I don't think we think like that. We just go out there and we're just trying to win every day. It's just hard to explain how I feel as a baseball player.

"It's awesome to win the World Series and to win with the Cubs, but as far as putting it in perspective, just winning the World Series is awesome. But that's what we're here to do. We're here to win; we're here to accomplish those feats.

"It's like the first time you get called up to the big leagues. People are like, 'Wow, what is it like?' But you've been playing [baseball] for so long, it's just another day. So winning the World Series with the Cubs — it's awesome, but that's what we're here to do.

"For me, that's the best way I can describe it. To put it in perspective as far as the Cubs not winning in 108 years, we don't think like that. As baseball players, we're here to win, every day."

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Szczur said he doesn't think the 2016 Cubs had any issues with "Cubbie Occurrences" or curses or anything even remotely in that category mainly because they didn't feel any added pressure. They didn't let any outside noise seep into the clubhouse and disrupt the mojo that was formed from the most talented roster in Major League Baseball and the confidence that came with the league's best regular season record.

As a two-sport star at Villanova, the former wide receiver has been in his fair share of locker rooms and called the Cubs World Series-winning clubhouse one of the best he's ever been a part of.

Szczur played only a small role in the Cubs' championship in terms of on-field stats, but his impact loomed large behind the scenes.

The 27-year-old outfielder was one of the top pinch hitters in baseball in the 2016 regular season and was not on the active roster in any of the three postseason series, replaced by Albert Almora Jr.

But as Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell broke out of their prolonged slumps at the turn of the tide in the National League Championship Series in Los Angeles, there was Szczur in a supporting role: lending Rizzo his bat and Russell his leggings.

"He's such a good teammate," manager Joe Maddon said. "You saw that last year; you saw how the guys gravitated toward him. He's not on the playoff rosters but he's with us and he's on the top step constantly.

"It's just who he is. It is the football mentality, but it's also him. This is a pretty good human being."

As the roster crunch starts to heat up with spring training coming to a close, will Szczur have a spot on these Cubs? He's out of options so he cannot be sent down to the minor leagues without passing through waivers and as a proven bench/role player, his value at the big-legaue level is apparent. 

But Szczur didn't come to Cubs camp with any sort of chip on his shoulder.

"I don't think like that," he said. "I just want to win. I feel like guys that want to win takes care of itself.

"I'll do anything to win. I won't cheat, but as far as on the field and what they ask me to do, that's just how I play."

Maddon sees that, too.

"Totally. He's been that guy his whole life," Maddon said. "Wherever he's played — I would imagine you talk to the Villanova football coaches and they'd tell you the same thing. You could go back to his high school days.

"He's just a different cat. The way he approaches life in general; he's just so sincere about everything and everybody he comes in contact with. No doubt.

"Here's a guy that's still trying to establish himself as an everyday player in the big leagues, but he's there for everybody else all the time. Just a different animal, man."

Who knew? Statistical oddities from Ian Happ, Daniel Palka and others from the past week in Chicago baseball

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USA TODAY

Who knew? Statistical oddities from Ian Happ, Daniel Palka and others from the past week in Chicago baseball

This past weekend Ian Happ rocked Cincinnati harder than anyone since Dr. Johnny Fever, and the White Sox from last Sunday to yesterday posted a winning 4-3 record.

It’s Monday, so let’s examine the box scores from the previous seven days for another edition of Who Knew?

Leading off

Tim Anderson started this season 5-for-5 in plate appearances leading off games: double, single, single, home run, single.

He finally made a leadoff out on Sunday.

Déjà Vu

On Monday, Ozzie Albies hit a leadoff home run off José Quintana for the second time this season. 

It was rare enough that a batter had multiple leadoff home runs against the Cubs in the same season. The last batter to do that was Hall of Famer Craig Biggio in 2006 (one each off Greg Maddux and then-starter Carlos Marmol).

But multiple leadoff home runs against the same Cubs PITCHER in the same season? Quite rare. At first, I believed it to be the first such occurrence since at least the 1880’s, but there was one other time since that I initially missed.

Prior to Ozzie Albies (off Quintana), the last batter with multiple leadoff home runs against a single Cubs pitcher in a season was Heinie Sand of the Phillies, who led off two games in 1924 with home runs off Cubs right-hander Vic Keen.

Before Sand, you DO have to go back to the 1880s. Hall of Famer Buck Ewing hit two leadoff home runs off Fred Goldsmith (who claimed to have invented the curveball, but likely did not) in 1883.  It may have happened in 1884, but there are some missing details in the home run database and I can’t be certain. But it’s rare!

Saves without Strikeouts

Cubs closer Brandon Morrow has 10 saves this season. In half of them (including his latest save Tuesday), he did not record a strikeout.

Only Wade Davis, who closed out games for the Cubs last season, has more strikeout-less saves in 2018 (no punchouts in seven of his 16 saves). Davis, for the record, saved 32 games for the Cubs last season, but in only nine of those 32 did he not strike anyone out.

Meanwhile, up in the Pacific Northwest, Edwin Díaz of the Mariners has 15 saves this season and has at least one strikeout in all 15.

National Treasure

Leury García took Jameson Taillon deep Wednesday in Pittsburgh, giving him 13 career home runs, all in a White Sox uniform.

The thing is, seven of those 13 home runs have been against National League teams!  Check out his career splits with the Sox:

Versus NL 26 games .325/.373/.636 7 home runs
Versus AL 225 games .227/.267/.306 6 home runs

Uncanny!

Hit Bonanza

The Cubs started Friday’s game in Cincinnati like this:

Zobrist single, Bryant double, Rizzo single, Contreras single, Russell single.

It was the first time the Cubs started a game with five straight hits since Sept. 8, 2009 when they had EIGHT straight hits to start a game. They started that game as follows:

Ryan Theriot single, Milton Bradley single, Derrek Lee single, Aramis Ramírez single, Jeff Baker single, Geovany Soto double, Kosuke Fukudome double, Bobby Scales single. A Ryan Dempster sacrifice bunt snapped the streak, giving up an out in the first inning with a 6-0 lead.

Palka Dots

Sox slugger Daniel Palka has made an impact so far in the Majors. Half of his 16 hits have been of the extra-base variety.

In only 18 career games, Palka already has multiple doubles (three), triples (two) and home runs (three). Through 18 career games, Frank Thomas could check off two of those three boxes, although maybe not the two that you think.

The Big Hurt had six doubles and THREE TRIPLES in his initial dozen-and-a-half career games, but no home runs! The last White Sox player who had at least two of each type of extra-base hit through his first 18 career Major League contests?

Go back to Greg Walker, who collected two doubles, two triples and three home runs in an 11-game taste of the Majors in 1982 and his first seven games of 1983.

Ace of On-Base

Ian Happ returned to his old stomping grounds (kind of… he attended the University of Cincinnati) over the weekend and had quite a four-game series:

Friday 1 hit 3 walks
Saturday (Game 1) 3 hits 1 walk
Saturday (Game 2) 1 hit 2 walks
Sunday 0 hits 3 walks

Now granted, there aren’t as many four-game series as there used to be, but Happ was the first Cub to reach base at least three times in each game of a four-game series since Mark Grace during a four-game set versus Mets at Wrigley Field Aug. 9-12, 1991.Five hits and nine walks; Happ reached base at least three times in all four games!

Happ’s season slashline was boosted from .233/.301/.417 to .254/.361/.509 in those four games alone. His nine walks (five intentional, four unintentional) in the series is better than Javier Báez (six walks: four intentional, two unintentional) has for the entire season.

Happ on Friday became the first Cub to be walked three times intentionally in a game since Andre Dawson (FIVE times) on May 22, 1990. Back then, it actually required pitches to intentionally walk a batter.

Happ was also the first Cub to homer in both ends of a doubleheader since Chris Coghlan July 8, 2014 – also at Cincinnati. But Happ was able to do something Coghlan didn’t: in both games, Happ hit the lone Cubs home run! That’s something no Cub had done since Alfonso Soriano hit the lone Cubs' home run in each game of a doubleheader in St. Louis on Sept. 15, 2007.

Extra Extra!

José Abreu continues to produce. He doubled and homered Saturday night, making him the 23rd player in White Sox history to reach 300 career extra-base hits. He reached 300 extra-base hits in only 655 career Major League games, a number surpassed in White Sox history only by Frank Thomas (626). 

It was also Abreu’s 222nd career multi-hit game in a White Sox uniform, matching our “Beltin’” Bill Melton.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Reviewing a positive road trip for Jose Quintana, Yu Darvish and Ian Happ

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Reviewing a positive road trip for Jose Quintana, Yu Darvish and Ian Happ

Luke Stuckmeyer, David Kaplan, and Doug Glanville break down a solid 4-2 road trip for the Cubs. Plus, who would you rather have long-term: Bryce Harper or Manny Machado?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below. Apple Podcasts listeners can subscribe at the show page.