Lesser-celebrated feats by the much-celebrated 2016 Cubs

Lesser-celebrated feats by the much-celebrated 2016 Cubs

The Cubs' championship season was full of fun facts and historic statistical notes. 

But today, let's go back and recap some of the things you may not have known or perhaps forgot about, with assistance from the incomparable Baseball-Reference.com Play Index (subscribe now!). I selected twelve players and found one fact for each. 

So without further ado…

Miguel Montero

  • The only Cubs player with a regular season (9/6/2015) AND postseason (10/15/2016) grand slam at Wrigley Field (Will Clark has one of each as an opponent).

Anthony Rizzo

  • On Aug. 1, Rizzo had a single, double, triple, walk and a HBP. He’s the only Cubs player (1913-present) to do that in a game.

Addison Russell

  • Russell led the Majors with 9 bases loaded hits in 2016; the most by a Cubs player in a season since Derrek Lee (9) in 2009.

Dexter Fowler

  • On May 31, the Cubs were shut out 5-0 by Dodgers; held to one hit and one walk. The hit and walk were both by Dexter Fowler. The last time the Cubs were held to a lone hit and walk – both by the same player – was July 6, 1940 (Stan Hack).

Javier Baez

  • On June 28, Baez hit the latest grand slam (inning-wise) in Cubs history – in the 15th inning at Cincinnati. The previous “record” was held by Cliff Johnson (14th inning in 1980).

Willson Contreras

  • Both his first AND second career home runs were in games he didn’t start. The last Cubs player to make that claim was Bobby Scales in 2009.

Jason Heyward

  • On Sept. 4, Heyward collected 3 RBI singles accounting for all three Cubs runs in a 3-2 walk-off win vs Giants. The last Cub to do exactly that (3 RBI singles accounting for all 3 runs in a Cubs win) was Randy Hundley (also including a walk-off) July 26, 1969.

Kyle Schwarber

  • Schwarber is the first player ever to have no hits during the regular season but at least three during that season’s World Series (he had 7 hits).

Jake Arrieta

  • Over the 2015-16 seasons, Arrieta has posted a .201 BA and .562 OPS at the plate. He has held opponents to a .189 BA and .543 OPS over that span.

Kris Bryant

  • In 2016, Bryant had three games with at least 4 Runs, 4 Hits and 5 RBI. There were three such games in Cubs history from 1960-2015. Hack Wilson was the last Cub with three such games in a season (1930).

David Ross

  • Ross hit a home run in the World Series in the final game of his career. (Assuming Javier Baez, Dexter Fowler & Rajai Davis all play again) Ross finishes his career as the third player to do this, joining Bobby Kielty (2007) and Shawon Dunston (2002).

Ben Zobrist

  • On May 6, Zobrist hit 2 home runs off Max Scherzer, who went on to win the 2016 NL Cy Young Award. The last Cubs player to hit 2 HR in a game off that season’s eventual  Cy Young winner was Ernie Banks in 1963 (off Sandy Koufax).

Cubs: Ben Zobrist's path back to October and a possible three-peat

Cubs: Ben Zobrist's path back to October and a possible three-peat

MESA, Ariz. – Ben Zobrist is focused on a personal three-peat, not worrying about a changing of the guard or any awkward moments with Javier Baez. Cubs manager Joe Maddon has repeatedly said that Zobrist will be the primary second baseman and another "Javy Being Javy" highlight reel from the World Baseball Classic won't change that thinking right now.

Zobrist sees the big picture better than almost anyone else in the clubhouse after going undrafted out of Eureka High School in downstate Illinois, perfecting the super-utility role Maddon envisioned with the Tampa Bay Rays and helping transform the 2015 Kansas City Royals into World Series champions.

While Baez started all 17 playoff games at second base last year, bursting onto the scene as the National League Championship co-MVP, Zobrist became the World Series MVP with his clutch hitting and still has three seasons left on his $56 million contract.

Maddon didn't spare anyone's feelings during the playoffs, turning $184 million outfielder Jason Heyward into a part-time player, giving a quick hook to major-league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks and shunning relievers not named Aroldis Chapman.

"We haven't had an extended conversation about it," Zobrist said. "But at the beginning of spring, we talked about it. I think his words were: ‘I really think rest is the next improvement in player performance.' Learning what rest means, what good rest is for players and what kind of rest certain players need versus others.

"That doesn't necessarily mean just because you're 35. It could mean you're 25 and you still got to take care of yourself and make sure you're getting the proper rest. Because we have such a deep team, he's able to do that at any given point in time and still feel confident about the team we have on the field.

"It's a good problem to have when you have really good players not playing and sitting on the bench. We had that all last year and we had guys accept their role and just buy into the team concept.

"The makeup of this team is the same, basically. We've got a few new guys and they've got the same mindset, so I anticipate more of the same."

Injuries are one variable that prevents Maddon from getting too stressed out about dividing the playing time over 162 games while the NCAA tournament is still going. Zobrist's stiff neck felt good enough to hit leadoff and play right field in Tuesday afternoon's 10-7 loss to the San Francisco Giants, seeing his first Cactus League action since March 19.

Zobrist plans to play again on Wednesday in Mesa and catch up with more at-bats on the minor-league side of the complex. Assuming Zobrist and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell (stiff back) are ready for Opening Night, Baez will be an NLCS MVP, all-WBC talent waiting for the right matchup or break in the schedule or to sub in as a defensive replacement.

"It's pretty impressive, looking around at the young talent in this clubhouse," Zobrist said. "All throughout spring training, we've seen there's definitely other talent coming, so this team is poised to have a good, long run of success. If everybody stays healthy and we stay together, this is a very good team.

"The biggest thing that I go into the season with this year is we have to be healthy and we have to make sure that we don't relax too much. That's the temptation for teams that just won, to go: OK, well, we're tired, because we had a long season last year and you kind of just assume things are going to go as well as they did.

"You can't assume anything. No matter how good this team is, we have to still go out and execute and perform – and that's going to determine where we are in the standings."

In real time, as the Cubs experienced their lowest moments during last year's regular season, Zobrist correctly pointed out the exhaustion factor while the team played 24 days in a row, losing 15 of their last 21 games before the All-Star break.

What looks like overwhelming depth on paper should help the 2017 Cubs survive and advance into October.

"It's huge," Zobrist said. "It's up and down the lineup on offense. It's all throughout the pitching staff and on the defensive side. It's so deep that you can absorb a little bit of injury here and there.

"With that being said, there are certain guys that you just don't want to lose. So we got to protect everybody. We got to protect our horses – both on the mound and in the lineup – and just make sure that we have our key cogs in there. And if we do, we're as good, if not better, than anybody out there."

Cubs return Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to Yankees as roster comes into focus

Cubs return Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to Yankees as roster comes into focus

MESA, Ariz. - Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella - and a combination of right/left, outfield/infield and contractual considerations - appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

The Cubs returned Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to the New York Yankees on Tuesday and assigned injured non-roster players Jemile Weeks and Chris Dominguez to minor-league camp. That left 27 players still technically in the mix, though depth catcher Carlos Corporan isn't really part of that conversation.

The projected eight-man bullpen would look like this: Wade Davis; Koji Uehara; Pedro Strop; Hector Rondon; Carl Edwards Jr.; Justin Grimm; and lefties Mike Montgomery and Brian Duensing.

Szczur, who is out of minor-league options, could be a good fourth outfielder on a team that didn't have so much depth and World Series expectations, making him a potential trade chip for pitching. La Stella offers infield insurance and a left-handed bat off the bench.