Cubs

Once again, Joe Maddon’s Cubs respond to the win-or-else pressure

Once again, Joe Maddon’s Cubs respond to the win-or-else pressure

The Cubs are going to need a bigger target. Just imagine the circus atmosphere and suffocating expectations when Joe Maddon’s team reports to spring training next year in Arizona – either as the defending World Series champs or after coming agonizingly close without winning the franchise’s first title in 108 years.     

Both of those possibilities are still in play after a gutsy 3-2 win over the Cleveland Indians on Oct. 30 – the latest the Cubs have ever played a game at Wrigley Field in franchise history. The Cubs went into Game 5 with one primary thought in mind: Just get back to Cleveland.    

Maddon managed with a sense of urgency, pulling big-game pitcher Jon Lester after 90 pitches, trusting rookie reliever Carl Edwards Jr. for two batters in the seventh inning and using superstar closer Aroldis Chapman to get the last eight outs.  

With last year’s Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta) lined up to start Tuesday night on extra rest, this season’s ERA leader (Kyle Hendricks) positioned to start a Game 7 if necessary and Kyle Schwarber ready to change the entire complexion of this lineup as the designated hitter at Progressive Field, the Cubs are set up for either an epic comeback or a massive disappointment.

“Again, it doesn’t matter,” Maddon said. “It really doesn’t matter. From Day 1, we’ve been engulfed, surrounded, inundated with these thoughts. And my guys have handled it great. You cannot handle it any better, I don’t think, than our guys have handled it.

“I don’t think there’s any Cub fan throughout the universe actually that would not be happy with where we’re at – at this particular moment – based on what’s occurred over the last century and over the last several years.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

The last time the Cubs faced an elimination game, Maddon invited Simon the Magician to perform in the Wrigley Field clubhouse. That idea sounded more like a manager running out of ideas with his team down 3-0 in last year’s National League Championship Series.

Except for the Chapman move, Maddon didn’t pull anything out of his bag of tricks with the Cubs down 3-1 in the World Series, knowing that the New York Mets and all their power pitchers posed different problems than a Cleveland team built around a No. 1 starter (Corey Kluber) and a deep, versatile bullpen that has covered up so many holes in the roster.

Plus, the 2016 team is a year older and a year wiser, with so much more across-the-board talent and a $155 million ace on the mound. The Cubs (obviously) made batting practice optional and instructed their players to be dressed by 5:30 p.m. for a 7:17 first pitch.

“No magicians,” Maddon said. “The guys have been fine all year. I don’t want to confuse things out there right now. There were moments last year where I thought it was necessary. Right now, I think they’re able to stand on their own without all the diversions.

“Bill Murray was walking around here yesterday before the game though.”

The Cubs brought some of this upon themselves, from Maddon’s look-at-us stunts to John Lackey’s “didn’t come here for a haircut” act to Lester reminding everyone at various points in the season that this team hasn’t done anything yet.

But if the young Cubs looked like they were trying too hard in Games 3 and 4 – and feeling the enormity of Wrigley Field’s first World Series events in 71 years – then they settled down to win a tense Game 5.

“I really anticipate that we’re going to be able to finish this off,” Maddon said. “You still look at the steppingstones, the building blocks to get to this point. You can’t tell me last year wasn’t successful just getting to the (NLCS).

“You can’t tell me this year wasn’t successful getting to the World Series. I just don’t buy that kind of logic. You get to this moment and there are so many micro pockets that can occur. Like right now, we’re having a hard time with their pitching staff in a seven-game series. Over the course of 162, you can absorb those moments and move on and get to the next team and right yourself.

“I’m not of that mindset at all that the winner-take-all is the successful one and the one that doesn’t is not.”

This might be remembered as the defining momentum swing, the Cubs starting to look like that 103-win team again. The heart of the order pieced together the big inning the Cubs needed in the fourth against Trevor Bauer, scoring three runs with a mixture of Bryzzo power (Kris Bryant homered into the left-center field bleachers before Anthony Rizzo settled for a double when his ball didn’t go over the right-field wall) and small-ball creativity (Ben Zobrist’s line-drive single, Addison Russell’s infield single, Javier Baez’s bunt, David Ross’ sacrifice fly).

Now some of that pressure the Cubs felt will shift onto the Indians. Two wins from baseball immortality? The Cubs would have taken that when the mimes and zoo animals showed up in spring training.

“Of course, the goal is to win it all,” Maddon said. “But there’s also the building component, the culture component, all the different things that permit you to be excellent on an annual basis that are now in place. All those things matter.”

Kyle Hendricks takes in a Blackhawks game with... Bastian Schweinsteiger?

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NBC Sports Chicago

Kyle Hendricks takes in a Blackhawks game with... Bastian Schweinsteiger?

A Cubs pitcher taking in a Blackhawks game in a suite is nothing special, but doing so with a World Cup winner is... different.

Kyle Hendricks was spotted by the cameras of Thursday's Blackhawks-Coyotes broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago. The guy he was standing next to was none other than Chicago Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, a World Cup with Germany and Champions League winner with Bayern Munich.

Hendricks is known for being reserved on the mound and in his interviews with the media. Meanwhile, Schweinsteiger was filmed yelling "Bear Down" in the hallway of Toyota Park after a Fire practice earlier in the day.

There's no telling what inspired Schweinsteiger to do this, but he has definitely embraced Chicago sports teams since joining the Fire in March of 2017.

Makes you wonder what Hendricks and Schweinsteiger were talking about. Best places to get brats in Chicago?

Ben Zobrist provides a hilarious glimpse into how he's spending a free October

Ben Zobrist provides a hilarious glimpse into how he's spending a free October

Ben Zobrist won't win the Comeback Player of the Year award this winter, but maybe he can take home a Grammy for Best New Artist?

The Cubs veteran infielder/outfielder posted a hilarious video on his Instagram Wednesday night showcasing how he's been spending October after the Cubs were unceremoniously ousted from the playoffs after on the third day of the month.

It's a fantastic music video of Zobrist lip-syncing to Mumford & Sons' "I Will Wait" while he nearly knocks the TV off the wall of his home by swinging the bat indoors pretending to hit off Clayton Kershaw and frolicking around a field that looks shockingly similar to Hershel's farm from the second season of "The Walking Dead":

View this post on Instagram

It always takes me a few weeks to process the season and begin the offseason. Here are my thoughts.....along with a unique way of making light of the postseason that should have been......... (special thanks to @dimtillard for help with Video) Maybe you feel the way I do. It was a very quick and abrupt ending to a good season for us. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But let’s not forget all the good that happened. This game and this team gives us something to pass the time, to express our love and passion, to feel the joy of the wins and the pains of the losses, and it calls us to unity when we so easily can be divided about so many other things. Each game is a microcosm of life. The game itself is not Life, but it helps us deal with life in a way. I’m thankful for even the painful losses at the end. The game can be a great teacher. I felt privileged to play with this team and play for our fans all year. We were stretched and we grew in new ways as individuals and as a group and that is always a good thing. We strive to win championships, but more often the process is the goal. We will be stronger because of all that we went through this year. What will I do now? I will travel and watch my wife crush her book tour. I will be in and out of Chi-town. I just got back home to Franklin, TN. I will find joy in raising and watching my kids grow and continue becoming their own person. I will rest and begin preparing for next season. I will work hard in mind, body, and spirit. I will help other players with @patriotforward and @showandgo. I will focus on personal growth and charitable endeavors and become a better man, teammate, friend, and player. To Baseball and Fans: For the next 5 months until I play next year.... I will wait for you....

A post shared by Ben Zobrist (@benzobrist18) on

Zobrist also posted a lengthy caption on his perspective on the Cubs' disappointing end to the season:

It always takes me a few weeks to process the season and begin the offseason. Here are my thoughts.....along with a unique way of making light of the postseason that should have been......... (special thanks to @dimtillard for help with Video) 
Maybe you feel the way I do. It was a very quick and abrupt ending to a good season for us. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But let’s not forget all the good that happened. This game and this team gives us something to pass the time, to express our love and passion, to feel the joy of the wins and the pains of the losses, and it calls us to unity when we so easily can be divided about so many other things. Each game is a microcosm of life. The game itself is not
Life, but it helps us deal with life in a way. I’m thankful for even the painful losses at the end. The game can be a great teacher. 
I felt privileged to play with this team and play for our fans all year. We were stretched and we grew in new ways as individuals and as a group and that is always a good thing. We strive to win championships, but more often the process is the goal. We will be stronger because of all that we went through this year. 
What will I do now? I will travel and watch my wife crush her book tour. I will be in and out of Chi-town. I just got back home to Franklin, TN. I will find joy in raising and watching my kids grow and continue becoming their own person. I will rest and begin preparing for next season. I will work hard in mind, body, and spirit. I will help other players with @patriotforward and @showandgo. I will focus on personal growth and charitable endeavors and become a better man, teammate, friend, and player. 
To Baseball and Fans: For the next 5 months until I play next year....
I will wait for you....

Come for the Zobrist lip sync, but stay for the 37-year-old using a bat as a guitar while wearing a sleeveless shirt and rocking an old-timey top hat.

A year ago, Zobrist completely reshaped his offseason workout plan after three straight years of playing deep into October. It appears he's added another new trick to his winter workout — hopping over fences even though there is a clear opening just a foot away.

Hey, whatever works...