Cubs

While Cubs plan Wrigley celebration, Jason Heyward is on to new season and off to good start

While Cubs plan Wrigley celebration, Jason Heyward is on to new season and off to good start

MILWAUKEE – Jason Heyward projected an all-business vibe on Sunday morning when reporters gathered around his locker inside Miller Park’s visiting clubhouse. Win or lose, Heyward is always accessible, polite and thoughtful, qualities that help insulate him from the pressure of having the biggest contract in franchise history.

Even at the end of the worst offensive season of his career, Heyward had enough clout to call that team meeting inside a Progressive Field weight room and refocus the Cubs in Game 7, though he hasn’t really felt like reliving his rain-delay speech: “It’s fine, but it’s on to this season.”

Heyward’s in-the-moment attitude also knocked down a softball question about what he’s looking forward to during Monday night’s banner-raising ceremony at Wrigley Field.   

“Um, what’s our record right now?” Heyward said. “Winning two series on a road trip.”

So much for feeling the hangover or looking ahead or getting distracted: One week into defending their World Series title, the Cubs are 4-2 with two walk-off losses, heading home for the 102nd opener at their iconic ballpark and a Wednesday night ceremony where they will get their championship rings.    

There are several reasons why the 2017 Cubs might be a better team on paper. But this 7-4 win over the Milwaukee Brewers highlighted how Heyward – now hitting .333 with an .820 OPS in an admittedly small sample size – could be so much more than a good clubhouse guy and a defensive wizard in right field.

“The reaction we got after winning it all last year, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to see that again in any sport,” All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “It’s images you’ll never forget, memories you’ll never forget. Tomorrow will be no different. People are going to be excited for that banner to go up.

“We’re excited about it, too, but everyone wants us to repeat, so we got to focus on winning today and then tomorrow.”

Heyward helped set the tone when the Cubs jumped Zach Davies in the first inning, blasting a two-run triple into right-center field and giving Jake Arrieta a 4-0 lead before he threw his first pitch.

Heyward’s 2-for-5 might have been a 5-for-5 cycle if: Ryan Braun hadn’t made a diving catch in the left-center field gap in the second inning; second baseman Jonathan Villar hadn’t made a diving stop to his left in the fifth inning; and Keon Broxton hadn’t made a leaping catch at the center-field wall in the ninth inning.    

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Heyward, a four-time Gold Glove winner, tipped his helmet to Broxton as he ran toward second base.

“Yeah, it was a good play,” Heyward deadpanned.

After a year of bad luck, bad timing and bad rhythm – at least from an offensive point of view – the Cubs watched Heyward break down his swing at the team’s Arizona complex and expect to see the returns on their $184 million investment. 

“I’m relaxed up there, not thinking a whole lot,” Heyward said. “Just really trying to focus on what the pitcher’s going to do, how they’re going to attack you, that kind of stuff. Not thinking about the swing or anything like that. It’s just where you need to be.

“Be aggressive in the strike zone. But be on time, be relaxed and go up there one pitch at a time, one at-bat at a time, the same stuff (for) anybody. Let the game take care of itself.”

Imagine how intimidating this lineup could be if Heyward resembles more of the guy who hit 27 homers for the Atlanta Braves in 2012, which became the template for his new/old swing. Heyward has already seen the blueprint for the championship rings, suggesting the Cubs feature the team’s 2016 logo when asked for his input during the design phase.  

“I don’t know how much I’ll have it on,” Heyward said. “It kind of goes without being said in Chicago, which is really cool, and for the majority of baseball fans around the world, so I don’t know how much I’ll wear it. I know I’ll cherish it and probably look at it a lot.

“It’s just going to be cool to hold it. There’s a lot of history in it, of course, and there’s a lot of our history in it, as well, with the 2016 season. It should be an awesome thing."

 

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred: 'We weren’t going to play more than 60 games'

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred: 'We weren’t going to play more than 60 games'

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred made an interesting revelation Wednesday about negotiations between MLB and the players union. In an interview with Dan Patrick, Manfred said the 2020 season was never going to be more than 60 games given the spread of the coronavirus — at least by the time they got to serious negotiations two weeks ago.

“The reality is we weren’t going to play more than 60 games, no matter how the negotiation with the players went, or any other factor," Manfred said on The Dan Patrick Show. "Sixty games is outside the envelope given the realities of the virus. I think this is the one thing that we come back to every single day: We’re trying to manage something that has proven to be unpredictable and unmanageable.

"I know it hasn’t looked particularly pretty in spots, but having said that, if we can pull off this 60-game season, I think it was the best we were gonna do for our fans given the course of the virus."

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Manfred unilaterally imposed a 60-game season after the two sides couldn't come to terms. The union rejected the owners' final proposal, retaining the right to file a grievance against the owners for not negotiating in good faith.

Whether Manfred's comments become a point of contention in any grievance the players might file is unclear. The league would likely argue Manfred was referring to negotiations after his face-to-face meeting with MLBPA executive director Tony Clark on June 16. Manfred's comments to Patrick's follow up question — if the league would have been willing to go to 80 games, had the players agreed to all their terms — also points to this.

"It’s the calendar, Dan. We’re playing 60 games in 63 days. I don’t see — given the reality of the health situation over the past few weeks — how we were gonna get going any faster than the calendar we’re on right now, no matter what the state of those negotiations were.

"Look, we did get a sub-optimal result from the negotiation in some ways. The fans aren’t gonna get an expanded postseason, which I think would have been good with the shortened season. The players left real money on the table. But that’s what happens when you have a negotiation that instead of being collaborative, gets into sort of a conflict situation.”

The players' final proposal called for a 70-game season. At this point in the calendar, 60 games in 69 days (Sept. 27 is the reported end date for the regular season) leaves room for a couple more games, not 70 (or more).

So, Manfred's right that 60 games on the current timetable was probably the most MLB can fit in amid the pandemic. But you have to wonder if the union will use those comments in a potential grievance. 

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Cubs fan base named second most loyal in MLB, only trailing Red Sox

Cubs fan base named second most loyal in MLB, only trailing Red Sox

When you wait more than 100 years for a championship, you must maintain a strong sense of loyalty to your favorite team. 

Cubs fans have done that, supporting the club through thick and thin, from the mediocre years to the curse-breaking 2016 World Series season. They pack the Wrigley Field stands, consistently ranking in the top 10 in attendance season after season.

That devotion led to Forbes naming Cubs fans the second most loyal fan base in Major League Baseball, second to only the Red Sox.

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Per Forbes, the rankings are based on "local television ratings (per Nielsen), stadium attendance based on capacity reached, secondary ticket demand (per StubHub), merchandise sales (per Fanatics), social media reach (Facebook and Twitter followers based on the team’s metro area population) and hometown crowd reach (defined by Nielsen as a percentage of the metropolitan area population that watched, attended and/or listened to a game in the last year)."

All that science aside, does the 108-year wait for a championship warrant the Cubs being first on this list? In fairness, the Red Sox waited 86 years before winning the 2004 World Series, their first since 1918. Plus, in terms of attendance, the Cubs have only out-drawn the Red Sox in six of the past 10 seasons, a near-equal split.

Two historic clubs. Two historic ballparks. Two historic championships. In a loyalty ranking, you can't go wrong with either franchise. Here's how the list's top 10 panned out:

10. Braves
9. Phillies
8. Indians
7. Giants
6. Brewers
5. Dodgers
4. Yankees
3. Cardinals
2. Cubs
1. Red Sox

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