What Cubs learned in 2018 and how they plan to carry those lessons into 2019

What Cubs learned in 2018 and how they plan to carry those lessons into 2019

MESA, Ariz. — You might've heard, but the Cubs won 95 games last season and yet were at home on their couches by the time the National League Division Series began.

There's nothing the Cubs can do about that now...unless they somehow acquired a time machine.

But that's not to say the tough ending to last season went for naught. 

There was plenty to be gleaned from the way the Cubs limped into the winter and they certainly hope they've digested the right lessons and are making the right changes for 2019.

As the Cubs officially begin the new season with the opening of spring camp this week, here are some of the key figures to this year's squad weighing in on their main takeaways from 2018 and how they can carry this newfound knowledge into the future:

Kris Bryant

"As a team, I definitely think that sense of urgency, whether it be a hot day game in August and you're kind of dragging a little bit, to kinda turn it on a little bit. I think that's something we can learn from. I feel like last year, we didn't really have that sense of urgency. Some of the games where they weren't ideal conditions or we weren't feeling great — we kinda went through the motions a little bit. But I think this year, we'll play with a little more urgency.

"Personally, for me, not every year is gonna turn out the way you want it to and that's OK. There's plenty of learning experiences in that. I learned what it's like to be on the DL and want to be out there and play and kinda feel helpless not being able to do it. I hope there's no more times like that in my career, but the reality is that there might be and now I know how to deal with it."

Albert Almora Jr.

"The personal side of it, you just try to stay healthy. Try to eliminate the too highs or the too lows — try to stay consistent as much as possible. On the team side, it's the winning aspect of it. Trying to send a message early on in the year and take charge of the division. That's our goal."

"We ended too early. We still had a lot left in our tank. When something's taken from you, I think we deserved to keep going. We had a good year. The state of hunger and that work ethic lights an even bigger fire. It's a good time, it's a good time to be us and we're ready to go."

Ben Zobrist

"No matter where you're at in the standings, you can never really take that for granted. Not that we did, we were the top team in the National League two days before the end of the season."

"Everybody, obviously, going into the offseason was so motivated to work hard, to change things up, fix things, do whatever we had to do to make the adjustments necessary to get back to where we know we can be as a club. And guys have done that. And we're excited to do that in spring training. That just makes this year that much more of a motivating thing to winning another championship for Chicago."

Theo Epstein

"Since 2016, [we've lacked a little bit of urgency]. The opposite of urgency is complacency. It hasn't been like it's all complacent all the time. We have great players and they play hard. We've done so many things well, but being honest with ourselves — it hasn't been the sense of urgency that we probably need to get all the way where we want to go. The way last season ended is the greatest motivator that it could possibly be. Now it's all about channeling that in a productive way to go play."

Joe Maddon

"We pitched well, we caught it well, we ran it well, we did not hit it as well as we thought we were going to hit it. That's pretty much what it came down to. I'm not blaming anybody. That's baseball, man."

Kyle Hendricks

"We went through a lot as a group and went through some tough times and I think getting through those, you learn a lot about yourself. Where we've been the last few years — 95 wins in the regular season is great, but our focus is always postseason and making a long run there.

"It was a different kind of disappointment, just being so quick, not making it far at all, not making a run. So I think a lot of guys internalized that. The offseason's been dragging on. It's a long offseason, so I know guys have been working hard and just really have the edge."

David Bote

"We know the goal is obviously to win the World Series. We had a tough stretch of games the last month. If we can find a way to dig deep in those situations where it's not always going to be easy and realize that a June 7 game on a Wednesday is important at the end of the year. I think that's what I took away. The club does a really good job of that, but I think I kinda understood what that meant. A random Wednesday, whoever we're playing — if we're playing the worst team in baseball, they still get paid, they're still good. You can't relax against that team. That comes in down to the end where we're tied with the Brewers down the stretch, that win means we get 2 days off and the Division Series instead of the Wild Card. So it's just things like that. I knew those things mattered, but kinda going through it, experiencing it, that's REALLY what it means. That game on June 7 really does have weight. People say it does, but it makes sure you buy into that all.

"It kinda teaches you to listen to your body, to listen to how you feel. But also when you're feeling that bad, how can you find a way to help the team win. So that's where — can you get that walk, can you get that guy over? When you don't feel like you're holding a 40-pound bat and you're like 'I can't hit' you gotta find a way to get it done. Being able to recognize that and be like, 'OK, I'm gonna take it a little bit easier' but also, 'I gotta do my work to get ready.' So it's a fine line of where is that? You just gotta go out there and trust that your preparation was there and then the results are going to be the results. You can't get too high or too low with it. You wake up the next day and get back at it."

Kyle Schwarber

"Sometimes you gotta be kicked down and dragged through the dirt to really recognize what we got here. I think we're really excited for this opportunity."

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In a surprise move, Cubs option Ian Happ to Triple-A

In a surprise move, Cubs option Ian Happ to Triple-A

In a surprise move, Ian Happ will not be on the Cubs roster on Opening Day.

Joe Maddon told reporters on Saturday that Happ will begin the season with Triple-A Iowa. Happ debuted with the Cubs in May of 2017 and had been up with the Cubs ever since.

The move means the Cubs will likely start the 2019 season with Albert Almora Jr., Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber as the team's outfielders. Ben Zobrist and Kris Bryant can also play in the outfield, but both are expected to be regular starters on the infield. With Addison Russell still serving his suspension, Zobrist is expected to start at second base. Bryant will occupy his regular spot at third, but can also play in the outfield with David Bote filling in at third as needed. Additionally, Daniel Descalso is expected to be ready for Opening Day after enduring a left shoulder injury and gives the team versatility on the infield.

Happ, 24, hit .253/.328/.514 with 24 home runs as a rookie in 2017. Last season his numbers dipped to .233/.353/.408, including .196/.313/.340 after the all-star break. He has played in 257 games in the past two seasons with the Cubs.

Happ has been struggling at the plate this spring. He is hitting .135/.196/.192 in 17 Cactus League games.

"We just want to make sure that he gets down there and really gets a lot of consistent at-bats, especially from the left side," Maddon said. "Obviously we consider him a huge part of our future, but just based on the conclusion of last year and what we're seeing at this point this year, we think it's really important."

Happ's move comes as a surprise, but it may not be a long-term move. With Happ being optioned to Triple-A, that gives the Cubs an extra roster spot that could be used for a reliever.

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Former Cubs starting pitcher Jason Hammel announces retirement


Former Cubs starting pitcher Jason Hammel announces retirement

A notable member of the 2016 Cubs is hanging up his spikes.

Saturday, former Cubs starting pitcher Jason Hammel announced that he is retiring from baseball. Hammel, 36, was pitching for the Rangers in spring training.

The move is somewhat surprising, as the Rangers announced Friday that Hammel made the team's Opening Day roster as a long reliever. 

Hammel joined the Cubs ahead of the 2014 season on a one-year contract, and he pitched to a 2.98 ERA in 17 starts. However, the Cubs traded him and Jeff Samardzija to the Athletics that July for Addison Russell.

Following the 2014 season, Hammel re-joined the Cubs on a two-year contract. He proved to be a durable starter in 2015 (3.74 ERA, 31 starts) and in 2016 (3.83 ERA, 30 starts). He made just two postseason starts (both in 2015), though, surrendering a combined seven runs in just 4 1/3 innings.

The Cubs elected not to re-sign Hammel after their 2016 championship season, leading the right-hander to join the Royals on a two-year deal. He struggled with the Royals, finishing with a 5.59 ERA in 71 games (50 starts).

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