Cubs

No panic: Cubs expect to bounce back after Game 1 loss to Cardinals

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No panic: Cubs expect to bounce back after Game 1 loss to Cardinals

ST. LOUIS – Joe Maddon compared the wild-card rush to winning Game 7 of the World Series to start your playoff run. The Cubs are working backwards then to find the rhythm that made them a 97-win team – and not live or die with the randomness of one game.

The Cubs have another tomorrow after Friday’s 4-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, a point they made over and over again in the visiting clubhouse. You came to the wrong place if you were looking for any sense of panic.

From the star manager to the battle-tested veterans to all the young players who don’t know any better, the Cubs have more than enough egos and a strong belief they belonged here in Game 1 of the National League division series. 

After playing 2,344 regular-season games in a rivalry that stretches all the way back to the year Ellis Island opened, the Cubs and Cardinals finally met in the playoffs, Busch Stadium’s sea of red dotted with blue specks in the sellout crowd.   

[SHOP: Buy Cubs playoff gear]

“It’s like this all the time here, except there’s white towels waving around,” said Anthony Rizzo, who’s 0-for-7 with three strikeouts in two playoff games. “I really don’t think it’s any louder than it’s been when we were here in September, because that’s the way this place is. They’re always loud. 

“It’s just one game. We’ll bounce back tomorrow.”

It was 64 degrees for John Lackey’s first pitch at 5:46 p.m. on a gray evening that looked and felt like October. After jumping Gerrit Cole and knocking out the Pittsburgh Pirates ace after five innings in the wild-card game, the young Cubs couldn’t solve a two-time World Series champion.

[MORE: Playoff-tested Jon Lester comes up just short in Game 1 of NLDS]

“That’s why it’s first one to three,” Schwarber said. “It’s a race, not a sprint. The Pittsburgh game was a sprint. This is a nice little jog. We need to pace ourselves to go out there and win this next game. We can put ourselves in a pretty good situation going back home to our crowd. 

“We’re not too worried. We are obviously frustrated that we lost, but it happens.”

Lackey retired the first 10 batters he faced before Schwarber worked a five-pitch walk in the fourth, which got wiped away with an inning-ending double play. 

Addison Russell finally notched the first hit off Lackey with a single up the middle to lead off the sixth inning, which ended when Dexter Fowler hit a flyball out to the warning track in right field that landed safely in Randal Grichuk’s glove. 

“I’ve hit balls worse than that that have gone out here,” Fowler said. “Things just didn’t go our way.”

The Cubs got creative with Schwarber bunting to beat the shift to lead off the seventh inning, but Kris Bryant struck out and Rizzo hit into another double play, what can be an all-or-nothing team putting up zeroes.

[ALSO: Can Cubs trust Strop in critical moments against Cardinals?]

The Cubs led the majors with 1,518 strikeouts – or 126 more than the next team – and featured three rookies within the first seven spots on Friday’s lineup card. The Cubs can write off those swing-and-miss issues as a way to see more pitches and generate extra power.  

But the Cardinals certainly benefited from the return of Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina and the Cubs clearly had issues with home-plate umpire Phil Cuzzi.

“I’ll leave that up to you guys (in the media) to debate the strike zone,” said Chris Coghlan, who struck out looking twice and can be so demonstrative at home plate. “I’m just going to get in trouble if I say anything.”

The Cubs didn’t sound like a team in trouble, trying to quickly bury this loss and not worry about the possibility of leaving St. Louis in an 0-2 hole and being one game away from elimination.

“Tip your hat to John Lackey,” Rizzo said. “There was no hard contact off him. He was living on the corners and he didn’t put much over the plate. So there’s not much we can do right there.

“Win tomorrow. Come take care of business tomorrow, put the pressure on them to come to Wrigley.” 

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

[MORE: The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason]

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below:

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess, as we discussed on the latest CubsTalk Podcast.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.