Thrown into the fire, Cubs rookies leading the charge into contention


Thrown into the fire, Cubs rookies leading the charge into contention

Experience is overrated.

As the smoke cleared and the dust settled after their four-game sweep of the San Francisco Giants, the Cubs sat with the fourth-best record in baseball, even if they're only third in their own division.

The Cubs are now 3.5 games up on the Giants in the battle for the second wild card.

[RELATED - Arrieta struts his ace stuff as Cubs go for the Giants' 'jugular']

It doesn't matter if the Cubs are a year ahead of schedule in the rebuild. They're here now, riding the coattails of four rookies into contention.

There is no learning curve for Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber. The 2015 Cubs can't wait for them to go through growing pains the way Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo could over the team's fifth place finishes over the last several seasons.

For this team to have success, those rookies have to be thrown into the fire.

"That's huge. It's how you learn," said Jon Lester, owner of two World Series rings with the Boston Red Sox. "When you get put on this stage and you get put against good teams, you have to figure out ways to win.

"It's nice to see these guys show up every day, regardless of what happened the day before and they're ready to play. It's good to see. They're learning on the job and it's a hard thing to do."

But the rookies aren't just learning and taking notes. They're thriving.

The foursome combined to go 20-for-53 (.377 average) in the four games against the Giants with 16 RBI and 14 runs on six extra-base htis (four doubles, two homers), eight walks. They even added two stolen bases for good measure.

[MORE: Anthony Rizzo believes Starlin Castro will be fine]

The series also featured slight role changes for both Russell and Schwarber as Castro headed to the bench, making Russell the team's shortstop and Schwarber the new left fielder.

These rookies are learning and switching positions on top of adjusting to life in "The Show" and trying to figure out big-league pitching.

How do they keep from getting overwhelmed, especially during big moments when mistakes are magnified for a team playing so many close games?

"It's exciting to me," Russell said. "Whenever we're in big positions, it kinda hypes me up and I think it gets me more into the game.

"As competitors, we all do that. It's pretty cool to be able to feel that atmosphere at the big-league level."

Cubs manager Joe Maddon is one of the best in the game at nurturing young talent and creating a situation for rookies to thrive.

For the Cubs' foursome, it's just about not giving them more than they can handle.

Like Maddon's signature T-shirt says, "Do simple better."

"I don't want them to think about anything but just playing," he said after the Cubs' win Saturday. "Just go play. I don't want extra work, I don't want too much work, I don't want too much information.

"Like when you talk about big games, for example. It's not. It's Saturday's game. Tomorrow is Sunday's game. Play it. Play Sunday's game like you know how. And then we'll move on to come back on Tuesday's game."

Maddon called Bryant one of the best young players he's ever had and took the time to gush about each one of the four rookies over the course of the weekend, calling attention to some small part of their game that they're excelling at.

In the clubhouse, ask any veteran about one of the rookies and watch them immediately light up.

Miguel Montero - who just came off the disabled list Friday in a move that helped contribute to Schwarber's switch to left field on a more regular basis - said these rookies "don't get shy."

"They've been amazing," Montero said. "They've been doing a great job all around. Those guys are incredible and they come to play.

"You can tell. They play hard; they grind it out. It's fun to watch them."

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Of course, it's always fun when you're winning.

But this team is winning because of that youth, Lester said. All the postgame dance parties in the clubhouse and "firsts" on the field are keeping things fresh for everybody in the locker room.

"Guys have energy, guys have excitement to be in this position," Lester said. "Sometimes, you can get complacent by doing it every single year and being with the same guys and just kinda going through the motions of August and September like, 'Oh we'll be there when we get there.'

"For a group of guys that have never done it, you've got that excitement every single day that we've got a chance.

"It's just been impressive to see the transformation as they came up as prospects to everyday big leaguers and now we're into this little push. Seeing them learn has been fun."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

For the second time in 1998, Sosa went back-to-back games with multiple home runs. After going yard twice on June 19 of that season, Slammin' Sammy again sent two balls into the bleachers on June 20.

He singlehandedly beat the Phillies that night, driving in 5 runs in a 9-4 Cubs victory.

But that wasn't the most impressive feat of the day from Sosa. His second homer was actually measured at a whopping 500 feet! It was the longest of the season, but not the longest of his career. On June 24, 2003, Sosa hit a homer at Wrigley measured at 511 feet.

The back-to-back big games raised Sosa's season OPS to 1.083 with a ridiculous .685 slugging percentage. He began June 1998 with a .608 slugging percentage.

Fun fact: Kerry Wood struck out 11 batters in 7.1 innings on June 20, 1998 to pick up his 7th big-league victory. As Wood marched to the National League Rookie of the Year that season, he finished with a 13-6 record and 233 strikeouts in only 166.2 innings for a career-high 12.6 K/9 rate.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How long can Cubs stick with Tyler Chatwood?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: How long can Cubs stick with Tyler Chatwood?

On tonight's episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Kap hosts David Haugh, Jason Goch and Rich Campbell. Tyler Chatwood's control issues continued on Tuesday. How long can the Cubs withstand his walks before needing to make a change? What's more concerning, Chatwood's control or Brandon Morrow's bad back?

Plus, the NBA Draft is two days away. How big is this for Gar Forman and John Paxson? And does Villanova's Donte DiVincenzo intrigue you at all?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: