Cubs

Cubs could see this heavyweight rematch coming: Bring on the Dodgers

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AP

Cubs could see this heavyweight rematch coming: Bring on the Dodgers

WASHINGTON – Joe Maddon plays mind games and sends messages through the media and sometimes just runs with whatever idea pops into his head.

Maddon turned on a big-picture question from a New York Times reporter in late August, essentially skipping over the comparisons between the 2016 Cubs and the 2017 Dodgers and jumping to how much he would love to face the group on the Sports Illustrated cover labeled as: “Best. Team. Ever?”

Bring it on, Maddon signaled, looking forward to when the defending World Series champs would be at full strength and saying how much he would love that matchup against the Dodgers in October.

Well, here it is, a rematch of last year’s National League Championship Series, Game 1 on Saturday night at Dodger Stadium, Clayton Kershaw and the rest of a $200-plus million team knowing this season will be a failure if they don’t win an iconic franchise’s first World Series title since 1988.

“You have to beat the best to be the best,” Maddon explained this week in the middle of a grueling first-round, five-game series against the Nationals. “You can’t run away from any of this stuff. The question could have been about any team, not just the Dodgers.

“Pick the ’27 Yankees. Pick the ’64 Cardinals, the Big Red Machine, whatever, the We Are Family (Pirates). You just want to believe your guys can match up with anybody. And I want our guys to believe the same thing.”

The Cubs had credibility issues when Maddon made that declaration in Philadelphia during a 3-3 road trip against the last-place Reds and Phillies, part of the same overall pattern that led to a 43-45 first half and Milwaukee’s three-game sweep at Wrigley Field in the middle of September.

From that point, the Cubs buried the Brewers and Cardinals in the division race, going 15-4 to close the regular season and devastating a 97-win Washington team in the playoffs.

“That was brought up to me,” Maddon said, “and all I said was I was just agreeing with the comment. Somebody brought up the Dodgers. They could have brought up the ’27 Yankees. I was not pointing anything out.

“When that was all going on, there was a lot of nonbelievers. We have really, obviously, picked it up in the second half in general, and then I’m using Milwaukee as the benchmark. In 2015, I used the Giants in August as being that seminal moment that all of a sudden it seemed to get right. Since (then), our mental intensity has really been outstanding every game.

“I wasn’t talking about the Dodgers. Somebody else was.”

The Dodgers still have the main elements in place that held the Cubs scoreless for 21 straight innings during the 2016 NLCS — the great Kershaw, lefty curveball specialist Rich Hill, Kenley Jansen imitating Mariano Rivera — but their roster isn’t quite as top-heavy anymore after making a trade-deadline splash with Yu Darvish and developing Cody Bellinger into a 39-homer, 97-RBI force and probably the unanimous NL Rookie of the Year.

While the Cubs felt like they blacked out during a crazy NLDS —  and the team’s West Coast charter flight got diverted to New Mexico on Friday morning — the Dodgers relaxed and set up their pitching after sweeping the Diamondbacks in three games.

“I can’t wait,” said shortstop Addison Russell, whose 2016 postseason could be divided into through (1-for-24) and after (12-for-40) Game 3 at Dodger Stadium. “We’re willing to take on each challenge. I know that we got another big challenge ahead of us against the Dodgers.”

Remember, the Dodgers had to play a one-run elimination game at Nationals Park on Oct. 13, 2016, using Jansen and Kershaw to nail down the final nine outs, the same urgency/desperation the Cubs showed Thursday night in using Jose Quintana and Wade Davis for the last three innings against Washington.

Will the 2017 Cubs run out of gas like the 2016 Dodgers? Can the 2017 Dodgers withstand the pressure and freak-out moments as well as the 2016 Cubs? Stay tuned.  

“They’ve been the best team in baseball since Day 1,” said Jon Lester, last year’s NLCS co-MVP with Javier Baez. “The roles are reversed. We were that team last year — and we moved on — and they’re that team this year.

“But we know going into L.A. that it’s going to be a hard series, regardless. They got a great staff. They got a great lineup, so we got to respect them. Hopefully, they respect us, and it’s a good series.”    

Kris Bryant reportedly loses his grievance case

Kris Bryant reportedly loses his grievance case

The Cubs' offseason has been in a holding pattern while the team awaited the results of Kris Bryant’s grievance case. According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the Cubs and Bryant finally have their answer.

Bryant was hoping to hit free agency after the 2020 season instead of after 2021 as was originally expected. Passan is reporting that Bryant has lost his grievance and the Cubs have maintained two years of control for the former MVP third baseman.

This is not a surprise decision, but does allow the Cubs to move forward in their offseason plans. Rumors and reports have had the Cubs looking to cut payroll to get under the luxury tax. Moving Bryant via trade allows the Cubs to get prospect talent in return while offloading his $18.6 million salary. The two sides settled on that number to avoid arbitration earlier this offseason.

Teams on the other end of a potential Bryant trade can now move forward knowing how long they would have the 28-year-old under contract for. Bryant’s value is obviously greater with two years of control than one. Reports said teams didn’t want to deal for Bryant until they knew for sure his grievance case had a resolution.

This all stemmed from the Cubs bringing Bryant up on April 17, 2015. If Bryant had been up a day earlier, he would have hit free agency after 2020. Instead, the Cubs played the service time game, and now know they won.

This is a big deal to the Cubs not only because of the retained value, but because they can move on with their offseason. The domino effect could mean that moves start happening quickly for the Cubs.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Nick Castellanos leaves and the Cubs tough off-season continues

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Nick Castellanos leaves and the Cubs tough off-season continues

The long off-season for the Cubs continues as they haven't made any significant moves so far and have watched players from last year's roster move on. Host David Kaplan is joined by NBC Sports Chicago producers Jeff Nelson and Nate Poppen as they discuss the lack luster off-season, expectations fans should have, Kaplan gives an exclusive update on the Kris Bryant grievance and the chances that the NL adopts the designated hitter.

(1:21) - Cubs have done nothing but watch players leave this off-season

(5:49) - The current roster is still pretty good

(8:55) - Kaplan gives exclusive update on Kris Bryant grievance

(11:12) - The Cubs still have a chance to win the division

(13:56) - What should Cubs fans expect this season

(16:12) - How does the designated hitter in the NL in 2021 effect the Cubs?

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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