Cubs

Rizzo feels more comfortable this offseason

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Rizzo feels more comfortable this offseason

After his performance last season, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is almost certain he will stay put this offseason.

Rizzo, who hit .285 with 15 homers and 48 RBIs in 87 games, had the type of season that should lend the youngster a bunch of confidence. But since he has been traded in each of the past two offseasons, Rizzo wont allow himself to get too comfortable, even if management is high on his abilities.

Youve still got to work hard and put in the time, Rizzo said before Saturdays National Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame in Rosemont. But I feel good. I know Im not going to get traded, hopefully at least. I just feel good and confident.

Rizzo should take some solace in the fact Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer and assistant GM Jason McLeod have twice acquired him.

The second of those acquisitions was January 6 when the Cubs dealt Andrew Cashner to the San Diego Padres in exchange for Rizzo.

It was Hoyer and McLeod who also brought Rizzo to the Padres as part of a four-player package that sent Adrian Gonzalez to the Boston Red Sox in December 2010. Though Rizzo wasnt considered the centerpiece of the Gonzalez trade -- Red Sox No. 1 prospect Casey Kelly was also included -- Hoyer and McLeod were clearly excited about the first baseman. The Padres promoted Rizzo to the majors in June 2011 after he tore up Triple-A pitching and believed him to be the franchises first baseman of the future.

But Rizzo hit only .141 in 153 plate appearances with the Padres and after Hoyer and McLeod joined Theo Epstein with the Cubs, Rizzos job status appeared to be in doubt. The Padres new brass made their feelings even more clear when they acquired top prospect and first baseman Yonder Alonso from the Cincinnati Reds last December, which led to Rizzo feeling more uncertain about his future with the Padres.

Less than three weeks later, Rizzo was headed to Chicago.

I had no idea what they were going to do, Rizzo said. Its one of those things that is uncontrollable. I think it worked out for the best. Once (the Alonso trade) happened, I hoped it would be here because Jed and Theo and Jason all came over here. So I was hoping they believed in me and they brought me over and I have an opportunity and have got to keep going with it.

Perhaps it was the belief held by Hoyer, McLeod and Epstein that allowed Rizzo to overcome a slight confidence problem brought on by his struggles in 2011. Unlike the previous season, Rizzo didnt endure long slumps with the Cubs. He reduced his strikeouts from once every 2.78 at-bats in 2011 to once every 5.44 at-bats. He also hit 14 more homers and never gave the Cubs reason to remove him from the lineup.

(My confidence) did waver definitely (in 2011), but it didnt get me down because I knew that it was all mental, Rizzo said. I just got out of it and had some success last year and just want to keep building. Next season, spring training, I just cant wait to get out there and get going.

He hopes with the Cubs.

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.