Cubs

How often do the Cubs think about Game 7?

How often do the Cubs think about Game 7?

CLEVELAND — Diehard Cubs fans probably think about that epic Game 7 every day, right?

It was — arguably — the greatest baseball game ever played given the stakes (a winner-take-all to end one of the two biggest championship droughts in the sport) and all the wild moments.

The highlights still have the power to give Cubs fans chills 18 months later:

But how often do the guys who took part in that game think about those moments?

This week, as the Cubs split a series with the Cleveland Indians and walked the same steps and sat in the same seats and put their stuff in the same lockers as they did almost exactly a year-and-a-half ago, the nostalgia was undeniable.

The first thing Addison Russell noticed was how he was at the same locker (many Cubs were) as the World Series and the visiting locker room carpet was redone.

He also admitted it felt surreal, almost like a dream.

Kyle Schwarber made that Hollywood-style comeback to be able to DH for the four World Series games at Progressive Field, but he doesn't think about his journey back from a devastating knee injury.

No, he preferred to focus on the Cubs' comeback from down 3-1 in the series.

"I like to think about the World Series," Schwarber said. "I really don't think about all that other stuff. I just think about the games that we played. Pretty much all the resiliency and everything right there that we had and how we faced adversity.

"I don't think anyone here doesn't think about it, because I always think about it all the time. It's that moment that we all live for and it's an addicting feeling and we want to get there again, so we just gotta take it a step at a time."

On the other side of the coin, Cubs manager Joe Maddon insists he doesn't spend time looking in the past.

"Not unless I'm asked about it," Maddon said. "I think I'm really good about turning pages and not even realizing it. I often talk about present tense and I think I'm pretty good about it. Unless it's brought up, I don't go there."

Admittedly, a lot has changed for these Cubs since then.

With World Series MVP Ben Zobrist currently on the disabled list, only 13 of the 25 active Cubs were also active in Game 7.

And given this 11-10 team has "World Series or bust" expectations on the 2018 campaign, there's work to be done and not much time to focus on the past.

Take David Bote — a 2012 Cubs draft pick who was just called up to make his MLB debut last weekend — who watched the road to end a 108-year title drought from afar, but is now in the midst of a bid at a new iteration of Even Year Magic.

"The organization does a great job of being all together and we're in one spot [in spring training], so you get to see and experience it with them," Bote said. "Here, what we're talking about is today and how we can win today. We don't really talk about what happened in the past in '16."

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

A year ago, the Cubs were struggling to float above .500, sitting 1.5 games behind the first-place Brewers.

Two years ago, the Cubs were10.5 games up on the second-place Cardinals in the division and already in cruise control to the postseason.

As they entered a weekend series in Cincinnati at 42-29 and in a tie for first place, the Cubs are feeling quite a bit more like 2016 than 2017.

The major reason? Energy, as Joe Maddon pointed out over the weekend.

That energy shows up most often on defense.

The 2016 Cubs put up maybe the best defensive season in baseball history while last year they truly looked hungover.

After a big of a slow start to 2018, the Cubs are feelin' more of that '16 swag.

If you watched either of the wins against the Los Angeles Dodgers this week at Wrigley Field, it's clear to see why: the defense.

"I like the defense," Maddon said of his team last week. "I'm into the defense. There's a tightness about the group. There's a closeness about the group. Not saying last year wasn't like that, but this group is definitely trending more in the '16 direction regarding interacting.

"If anything — and the one thing that makes me extremely pleased — would be the continuation of the defense. We've fed so much off our defense in '16. We've been doing that more recently again. We do so much good out there, then we come in and it gets kinda electric in the dugout. I'd like to see that trend continue on defense."

The Cubs scored only 2 runs in 10 innings in the second game against the Dodgers Tuesday night and managed just 4 runs in the finale Wednesday. Yet their gloves helped hold the Dodgers to only 1 run combined between the two games.

Wednesday's game was a defensive clinic, with Jason Heyward throwing out Chris Taylor at home plate with an incredible tag by Willson Contreras while Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber all hit the ground to make sprawling/diving plays.

"[Almora] comes in and dives for one and I'm just like, 'OK, I'm done clapping for you guys,'" Jon Lester, Wednesday's winning pitcher, joked. "It's expected now that these guys make these plays. It's fun on our end. It's the, 'Here, hit it. Our guys are really good out there and they're gonna run it down.'"

The Heyward throw, in particular, jacked the team up. 

Maddon compared it to a grand slam with how much energy it provided the Cubs. Almora said he momentarily lost his voice because he was screaming so much at the play.

There was also Baez making plays in the hole at shortstop, then switching over to second base and turning a ridiculous unassisted double play on a liner in the 8th inning.

"That's what we're capable of doing," Maddon said. "In the past, when we've won on a high level, we've played outstanding defense. It never gets old to watch that kind of baseball."

The Cubs are back to forcing opposing hitters to jog off the field, shaking their head in frustration and disbelief.

"It could be so dispiriting to the other side when you make plays like that," Maddon said. "And also it's buoyant to your pitchers. So there's all kinds of good stuff goin' on there."

A lot of that is the play of the outfield, with Almora back to himself after a down 2017 season and Schwarber turning into a plus-rated defensive outfield.

After finishing 19th in baseball in outfield assists last season, the Cubs are currently tied for 6th with 14 outfield assists this year.

Schwarber has 7 alone, which is already as many as he tallied in the entire 2017 season.

"I feel like they'll learn quickly on Schwarber, if they haven't yet," Heyward said. "You gotta earn that respect. You gotta earn that sense of caution from the third base coach.

"But please keep running on me in those situations. I want it to happen."

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow's body may not be healthy, but his sense of humor sure isn't on the disabled list.

The Cubs closer had to go on the DL Wednesday after he injured his back changing out of his pants early Monday morning when the Cubs returned home to Chicago after a Sunday night game in St. Louis.

The story made national rounds, not only in the baseball world, but resonating with non-sports fans, as well. After all, it's not every day a guy who gets paid millions for his athletic endeavors injures himself on a mundane every day activity.

But it's all good, because even Morrow can find the humor in the situation, Tweeting this out Thursday afternoon:

Morrow's back tightened up on him and didn't loosen up enough the next two days, making him unavailable for the Cubs doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

The team decided to put him on the shelf Wednesday morning so an already-gassed bullpen wouldn't have more pressure during this stretch of 14 games in 13 days.

The Cubs are in Cincinnati this weekend for a four-game series with the Reds. Morrow is eligible to return from the DL next Wednesday in Los Angeles as the Cubs once again take on the Dodgers — Morrow's old team.

The 33-year-old pitcher is 16-for-17 in save chances this year while posting a 1.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in 22.2 innings. He's only given up a run in 2 of his 26 outings as a Cub.