Cubs attempting to return to normalcy with Addison Russell

Cubs attempting to return to normalcy with Addison Russell

For now at least, the Cubs and Addison Russell are ready to move on.

Social media lit up during the Cubs-Marlins series finale Wednesday night as Russell's estranged wife, Melisa, posted an Instagram photo and called him out for infidelity. The incident took a hard left turn when a commenter claiming to be Melisa's close friend accused Russell of domestic abuse.

The Cubs got out in front of the story and told Russell to stay home from the ballpark Thursday while the 23-year-old shortstop also released a statement calling "any allegation I have abused my wife is false and hurtful."

Russell was back at Wrigley Field Friday and though he was not in the starting lineup against the Colorado Rockies, he was active and available off the bench.  The Cubs never ended up getting him in the game during a 5-3 loss.

There has been no indication Major League Baseball's investigation into the matter has concluded, but for now, the Cubs and Russell will try to get back to business as usual.

"We just talked to him about taking [Thursday] off," Joe Maddon said before Friday's game. "We were anticipating he would be back here today. We left it open but, 'yes, if you want to come back today if everything feels good.' 

"I talked to him last night — he sounded really good. He sounded very clear, very directed and that's a good thing. He's back. We'll utilize him as normal... We're not gonna run away from the opportunity to play him. 

"So again, it's just normal patterns. It's good to have him back. I had a great conversation and it seems to me that maybe mentally, he's in a little bit better place."

Russell was in the Cubs clubhouse Friday morning and met with the media some three hours before first pitch. He refused to discuss the off-field matter, preferring to focus on "baseball questions."

Russell refused to attribute his on-field struggles — .209 average, .626 OPS — to his issues away from the ballpark.

"There's periods of times where you're struggling, you're scuffling and sometimes you stink," Russell said. "I know that being young in the major leagues is gonna come with a lot of adversity. I'm here for a reason — it's because I'm good."

He said he has been working with Cubs hitting coach John Mallee on getting his foot down sooner and attempting to simplify things and get back to "ABC baseball."

Russell admitted spending a day away from the field was difficult given that the ballpark is his home and where he feels comfortable.

But he also seemed to welcome the opportunity to recharge mentally and get back on track in what has clearly been one of the toughest years of his life, both on and off the field.

"I think everything is a learning curve and you tackle those adversities day by day and you overcome those and it's only going to make you a better player, a better person at the end of the day," Russell said. "I'm happy that I got that day mentally to just relax.

"You just get back to your inner thoughts. What were you doing whenever you're successful is kinda like what I was thinking. You get back in those positive thoughts and I think positive things start happening."

Before the social media-induced storm Wednesday night, Russell had spent the last week-and-a-half as part of a timeshare with Javy Baez at shortstop.

The two young players were rotating starts at the position, freeing up Russell to do more work with Mallee off to the side while still getting regular game action to try to work through his struggles.

Russell was an All-Star in 2016 and is among the best defenders in baseball at any position (he's currently tied for second in baseball in Defensive Runs Saved behind only Colorado's Nolan Arenado). But he said he is all for sharing the shortstop job with Baez in an effort to help the 30-29 Cubs find their rhythm.

From the Cubs' perspective, Maddon just wants to treat Russell like normal.

"It's all I know how to do, man," Maddon said. "I really have a lot of respect for everybody that I work with. I had a good conversation with him. I don't think we should change anything about how we do interact with him right now."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

It was a tough day for the North Siders.

The Cubs got obliterated by the Cardinals as Matt Carpenter had a three-homer, two-double day. Ben Finfer, Seth Gruen and Maggie Hendricks join David Kaplan on the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast to talk about the blowout.

Was Jon Lester due for this kind of terrible outing? And do the Cubs have enough to swing a big trade before the deadline?

Plus, the panel discusses Matt Nagy’s first training camp practice in the rain and Roquan Smith’s absence in Bourbonnais.

You can listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Jon Lester saw a start like this coming

Jon Lester saw a start like this coming

Jon Lester had easily his worst outing of the year, allowing the Cardinals to score eight runs on seven hits, the veteran All-Star only managed three innings before Joe Maddon turned to his bullpen. 

The Cardinals would take game two of the series by the score of 18 to 5, and while none of the Cubs pitchers could silence the Cardinal bats, Lester didn't shy away from his poor outing. 

"You know, I don't want to chalk this up as bad days happen," said Lester. "I think mechanically this has kinda been coming." 

Lester knew he was struggling to hit his spots, and while his ERA was a sparkling 2.58 coming into this start, his peripheral stats had him pegged as a potential regression candidate in the second half of the season.

His 4.35 FIP and 3.30 walks per nine innings show a pitcher who is relying heavily on his defense to get outs, which isn't surprising for a 33-year-old veteran but the walks are a concern. 

Cubs manager Joe Maddon was aware Lester had been working on his mechanics, but even he was surprised that Lester's start went downhill so quickly. 

"I thought he had good stuff to start the game, hitting [92-93 mph] and I'm thinking this might be a good day," said Maddon. "But you could just see from the beginning he was off just a little bit." 

Over Lester's last four starts his ERA has been an uncharacteristic 4.57, issuing 10 walks over those four starts, and only making it past the 6th inning once. At this point of Lester's career, he knows the best way for him to get outs isn't through strikeouts but by inducing soft contact and avoiding walks. 

And while both his hard contact rate and walks have increased this season, Lester's experience and high baseball I.Q. has allowed him to navigate his way through sticky situations. 

"I've been getting outs," Lester said candidly. "I just feel like when I've had that strikeout or I have a guy set up for that pitch I haven't been able to execute it." 

And while this outing was one to forget, it's at least a positive sign that Lester is aware of his issues on the mound. The veteran knows how to get outs and he knows what he needs to do to be successful in the latter part of his career. He just needs to get back to executing those pitches. 

Just don't expect Lester to dive head first into the analytics on how to fix his issues, he'll stick to hard work and baseball common sense. 

"I'm not too concerned with the analytic B.S., I'm worried about my mechanical fix for my next start."