Cubs

Now Cubs have to respond to the adversity and move on with or without Addison Russell: ‘Real life happens all the time’

Now Cubs have to respond to the adversity and move on with or without Addison Russell: ‘Real life happens all the time’

It’s probably too simple to say the Cubs played distracted on Thursday night at Wrigley Field. It’s also not really an exaggeration to suggest the defending World Series champs could be in crisis mode.

The Cubs held a brief team meeting before a 4-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies, getting an update on Addison Russell’s situation and a reminder on how to handle questions about domestic-violence allegations they don’t have answers for now.

This is unchartered territory, a third-party accusation on Instagram that has since been deleted, a relatively new Major League Baseball policy that gives commissioner Rob Manfred a lot of latitude and little precedent and the Cubs not knowing when their All-Star shortstop will return.    

“We have great clubhouse chemistry, but real life happens all the time,” team president Theo Epstein said. “Sometimes, it reaches the light of day, and sometimes it doesn’t. But there are serious situations that come up throughout the course of a season and right now we’re dealing with a very serious allegation.

“We’ll see where it develops. But, yeah, it’s not always just baseball in there. Everybody has a personal life. The real world happens every day to guys and they know how to deal with it and still play the game.”

Three-plus hours after the Cubs announced Kyle Hendricks would be going on the disabled list with a hand injury, the first-place Rockies jumped  their other Cy Young Award finalist from last year. Jon Lester watched ex-Cub DJ LeMahieu – a rare miss from the early days of the Epstein administration – launch a two-out, three-run homer into the right-field basket that gave Colorado a 4-1 lead in the second inning. This kind of night: Lester was informed that LeMahieu had hit only one other home run off a left-handed fastball within the last four years.  

“Baseball is a game of adjustments,” Lester said. “It’s a game that can be cruel to you at times and be really good to you at times. With Kyle doing down, all the stuff going on with Addie, you know what, that’s why we’ve got 25 guys and we’ll figure it out. You can’t worry about stuff you can’t control.

“The next guy will step in and hopefully fill that void. That’s all you can really do in this game. You can’t dwell on the negatives and you look forward to tomorrow.”

Even if the Cubs sound optimistic about Hendricks, there are now questions up and down the rotation, from how Mike Montgomery transitions out of the bullpen to where Jake Arrieta goes from here to how much John Lackey (5.12 ERA) has left at the age of 38 to if Eddie Butler can stick in the big leagues after failing with the Rockies.

Sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals last weekend now feels like ancient history for a 30-29 team near the beginning of a 30-games-in-31-days stretch between June 2 and July 2 that hasn’t even gotten into the 17 road games in five different cities yet.

“It’s all about depth,” manager Joe Maddon said. “You don’t win without depth. That happens on an annual basis. We’ve been pretty good regarding picking other guys up over the last couple years.

“These are the kind of things you have to expect during the course of the year.”

It would be foolish to write off the Cubs when they are only one game out of first place in a weak division. Javier Baez might wind up being a better shortstop than Russell and Epstein could trade for a big-time starter before the July 31 deadline.

But it’s also probably time to slow down the Cubs Way narrative about the organization’s emphasis on character and makeup after rationalizing Aroldis Chapman’s 30-game suspension under MLB’s domestic-violence policy and making that blockbuster trade with the New York Yankees last summer.

“I think they’re distinct at this time,” Epstein said. “With Aroldis Chapman, it was a player who had served his discipline and had undergone the disciplinary action through the program.

“He was somebody who we then spent a lot of time doing our own research on whether we thought he had grown from the incident and moved on and could be a productive member of our clubhouse and a good citizen while with the Cubs.

“This is an allegation by a third party on social media. They are distinct situations, but they both fall under the same general umbrella. And because the nature of the allegation is very serious, we are taking it very seriously.”

All the players can do is shrug their shoulders, get through the initial media wave and go back to work.

“We’re human beings,” said Anthony Rizzo, the face-of-the-franchise first baseman. “We’re put on this high level, but things happen off the field that usually don’t get this far to the media. Things are going on all the time, on and off the field. You learn to deal with it.

“I love Addison. We’ve had some really good memories together, but I don’t know. I love him here. I don’t know what’s going on outside of this.”

Cubs camp observations: Wrigley's home-field advantage without fans

Cubs camp observations: Wrigley's home-field advantage without fans

Four days into the Cubs’ training camp restart, we’ve only begun to get acquainted with the new normal of baseball rhythms and routines that we can only hope will result in a 2020 season of 60 games.

If the league can fix some of its early testing issues and keep enough players on enough teams healthy enough to start the season, what might come into play for the Cubs and the actual baseball.

Early observations after about a dozen Zoom sessions with team personnel and two intrasquad scrimmages:

NUTS: Home cooked?

The Cubs, who draw so reliably in one of the unique ballparks in the majors, might have more to lose than most teams without fans allowed to attend games when the season starts July 24.

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Just how much of the Confines’ home-field advantage is lost will be a matter of “wait-and-see,” manager David Ross said.

“There’s always an advantage to playing in your own park,” he said Sunday. “You feel more comfortable you woke up in your own bed. You’re not staying in a hotel room, which especially now, where you feel like outside spaces just aren’t comfortable as they used to be, probably [gives] a slight advantage in your city.

“There’s no substitute for fans,” he added. “There’s probably a slight advantage, but I don’t know if it’s as great as it used to be.”

What Ross didn’t mention were the rooftops across Waveland and Sheffield, which are planning to operate at 25-percent capacity when games start, suggesting at least a few hundred fans within cheering and booing distance.

“You’re going to hear them loud and clear, too,” pitcher Tyler Chatwood said. “I promise you that.”

BOLTS: Taking the fifth

All you need to know about Alec Mills’ ability to adjust and immediately step into an important role is what he did in an emergency start against the first-place Cardinals at Wrigley last year with the Cubs a half-game out and barely a week left in the season.

He hadn’t started anywhere in a month — and that was in the minors. But the guy who pitched out of the bullpen just three times in the four intervening weeks, pitched two outs deep into the fifth inning that day and didn’t allow a run (the bullpen took care of that, in a loss).

No wonder when Ross talks about Mills replacing the injured Jose Quintana (thumb) in the rotation, he says, “I’ve got a ton of confidence.”

He’s not the only one. “I’ve always had the mindset of doing whatever I can to stay ready and help in any way,” said Mills after pitching a strong three innings in a simulated game Sunday. “Obviously, with an unfortunate injury like this, I think it’s just even more heightened.

“I’m ready to do whatever, whether it needs to be maybe a start here or there, a couple more starts, long guy out of the pen — just whatever I need to do I pride myself on being ready to do that.”

CHATTER: The mask at hand

“It’s a little different. You leave the house with a phone, your keys, your wallet and your mask.”

—Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo on his and his teammates’ new daily normal.

“Everybody is thinking about it, but we try to get here and understand this is our safe zone and we’re trying to create that [within] the things that we’re going to do on and off the field.”

—Ross on players weighing the risk of playing during the pandemic against the safety precautions and protocols the team has built in and around its Wrigley Field bubble.

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2020 Cubs schedule features six games against White Sox: 'It’s exciting, right?'

2020 Cubs schedule features six games against White Sox: 'It’s exciting, right?'

Imagine it’s late September. The Cubs have already hosted the White Sox for three unforgettable games at Wrigley Field — fans packed the rooftops (at 25 percent capacity) around the ballpark. Now, it’s time to head to the South Side for the final series of the season, rife with playoff implications.

If the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t derail the 2020 MLB season, that scene very well could become a reality.

The Cubs regular season schedule, which MLB released Monday, features six Crosstown Classic games. The first of two series between the Chicago teams runs Aug. 21-23 at Wrigley Field. The second is penciled in for Sept. 25-27 at Guaranteed Rate Field. Both three-game series include Friday and Saturday evening games, and end with a Sunday afternoon game.

The Crosstown rivalry consumes 1/10 of the Cubs schedule this shortened season.

“It’s exciting, right?” Cubs manager David Ross said.

And quite convenient. That’s the point of a regionally-based schedule, which has the Cubs facing only NL Central and AL Central teams. While trying to limit the spread of COVID-19, that convenience becomes especially important.

“We get to sleep in our own beds at night,” Ross said of the Crosstown Classic. “We can set up things where if we need to we can work out here and drive over like you would in an Arizona spring training. There’s a lot of options that we have for us that we can do with an in-town team. I feel like that’s definitely a luxury.”

Some of those same advantages apply to the Cubs’ games at Milwaukee as well. As is the case with all their division rivals, the Cubs are scheduled to play the Brewers 10 times, including opening day at Wrigley Field on July 24.

As for their mid-September series at Milwaukee: “Players have the ability to drive up day of the game, drive back afterwards or get a car back,” Ross said. “There’s a lot of freedom and comfort in sleeping in your own bed, especially in the scenarios we’re in this year.”

The Cubs’ setup with the White Sox is mirrored over in Missouri between the Cardinals and Royals; they will also play each other six times. The Cubs will play three or four games against each of the four other teams in the AL Central. The White Sox are expected to be a stauncher opponent than the Royals, automatically giving the Cubs a tougher route through their interleague schedule.

But that’s a small price to pay for six rivalry games in Chicago.