Chicago Cubs

In 'rollercoaster' Cubs year, Russell gets first win

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In 'rollercoaster' Cubs year, Russell gets first win

Friday, Sept. 3, 2010
Updated 6:45 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

James Russell made the team out of spring training as a 24-year-old rookie. Except for the 18-day stretch he spent at Triple-A Iowa in June, he has been there for almost all of the weirdness surrounding this Cubs season.

But it wasnt until the third day of September that he earned his first major-league victory. His father Jeff won 56 games, lost 73 and saved 186 for five different teams during his 14-year career. There was a text message waiting for the son on Friday afternoon, saying congratulations and call home.

Blake DeWitt secured the 7-6 victory over the New York Mets with a three-run homer he launched into Wrigley Fields right-field bleachers. Afterward the 6-foot-4-inch Russell, an easy-going type who once pitched at the University of Texas, had changed into shorts and a T-shirt and stood in front of his locker.

I guess I owe Blake a beer or two, he said.

Russell recently got a haircut, shaved his beard and joked that he looked like he was 14 years old. Outside of Starlin Castro, the Cubs can drink legally, but the average age of their roster is 28 years and 72 days, making them the eighth-youngest group in the majors.

Thats why its crucial that their next manager be able to guide players who are on a steep learning curve. A 58-77 team overall is now 7-3 since Mike Quade took over for Lou Piniella. Beyond wins and losses, Quade hopes there will be a full accounting of his 37 games in charge.

The guys are playing hard, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. Mikes done a real nice job of getting everybody involved and giving people chances and putting some people in spots that wed like them to be in, so we can see what we got by the end of the year.

Its hard to tell what the Cubs have in Randy Wells, who finished a strong rookie season at 12-10 with a 3.05 ERA last year. Just check out his splits from July (2-2, 1.83) and August (1-4, 5.91). He began September by giving in to a media label he hates.

You put yourself in the mindset coming into spring training that this sophomore jinx or whatever you guys call it isnt real, Wells said. You can work through it. But the truth of the matter (is) the biggest part of the sophomore jinx is mental. Its learning how to work through the bad things, working through the struggles.

Wells gave up three runs in the first before putting together four scoreless innings. Quade came out to the mound to visit him with two outs in the sixth and left him in the game, trying to buy time for his bullpen, and knowing that Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes were on the Mets bench.

Lucas Duda slapped an RBI double into the right-field corner for his first major-league hit to tie the game 4-4. Wells was charged with four runs on eight hits in 5 23 innings.

Its not a matter of ability. Its not a matter of stuff, Wells said. Its just a matter of knowing how to deal with this league. The reports get better. Guys have seen you.

You got to be on top of your game every time. Theres no, Ok, Im not sharp, but Im hoping guys hit balls right at people.

Wells isnt going through this alone, and he knows that he will be challenged for a job in 2011. Russell bailed him out by getting Beltran to fly out to end the sixth, minutes before DeWitt changed the game with one swing.

In front of 31,424 fans, Russell (1-1, 4.50) faced only one batter and threw seven pitches, but that was enough. Hes shown that he could be a useful bullpen piece in the future and was finally rewarded with a win. When youre young and play for the Cubs, theres no shortage of places to celebrate.

Its been quite a rollercoaster ride, but I wouldnt trade it for anything in the world, Russell said. Thats one thing I pride myself on not getting too up or too down. The minute you get really high in this game, you get a piece of humble pie. And next thing you know youre down in Triple-A.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

The evolution of Kris Bryant and why Joey Votto became his favorite player

The evolution of Kris Bryant and why Joey Votto became his favorite player

Kris Bryant already has a bromance with Anthony Rizzo, their Bryzzo Souvenir Co. brand and a joint appearance at a downtown Chicago hotel this weekend where Cubs fans can pay $699 for their autographs.

Bryant also has a friendly rivalry with Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals superstar who loves trolling on social media and teasing where he might land as a free agent after the 2018 season. Even their wives had fun with it on Instagram earlier this month when the Nationals came to Wrigley Field for a potential playoff preview.

But the player Bryant patterns himself after now – the one who lives up to “The Science of Hitting” and the principles his father absorbed from Ted Williams and passed down in the family’s batting cage in Las Vegas – is Joey Votto.

“He’s the best player ever,” Bryant said before Wednesday night’s 7-6 walk-off win over the Cincinnati Reds. “He’s my favorite player. I love watching him. I love talking to him, just picking his brain.

“He gets a lot of (heat) about his walks and working at-bats and some people want him to swing at more pitches. But, gosh, I mean, he does an unbelievable job. You know that he’s going to give you a great at-bat every time he goes up there. It’s definitely a guy that I look up to and I can learn from.”

Favorite player? Really?

“Besides, you know, people on my team,” Bryant said with a laugh.

The Cubs contained Votto on a night where their bullpen nearly imploded, holding him to a 1-for-4 that stopped him from tying the major-league record Williams set in 1948 by getting on base at least twice in 21 straight games with the Boston Red Sox.

Through Votto, Bryant sees where he can grow after becoming a National League Rookie of the Year and MVP and World Series champion before his 25th birthday.    

“He’s not just doing it this year – he’s doing it his whole career,” Bryant said. “He’s a future Hall of Famer, that’s for sure.”

Bryant – who has reached base safely in his last 13 games and put up a 1.035 OPS in August – is heating up at a time when the Cubs are trying to fend off the Milwaukee Brewers (1.5 games back) and St. Louis Cardinals (2.5 games back) in a tight division race.

Where Votto famously dismissed old questions about whether or not he was being too selective, Bryant blocks out any talk about an All-Star snub, his batting average with runners in scoring position (.227) or RBI total (54). Bryant is getting on base more than 40 percent of the time and also leads the team in doubles (25), runs scored (78) and OPS (.936).  

“Sometimes it’s almost like you can kind of go up there and force the pitcher to throw the pitch that you want, just by taking pitches,” Bryant said. “My first year, I was kind of just up there swinging at everything. I still felt the approach was good and it could work in the big leagues. And it did. But I think there’s ways to have a better approach up there.

“(Votto’s) a different guy with that. I feel like he’s aggressive, but he’s not going to swing at a pitch until he wants it. And he mentioned that to me, too, when I got to first (on Monday night). He said: ‘Your approach looks a lot better this year.’”

Bryant sincerely thanked Votto, but the reigning MVP isn’t trying to put together a package deal with Harper and turn the Cubs into Major League Baseball’s version of the Golden State Warriors.  

“I already told him before: ‘We already have a pretty good first baseman. He’s not going anywhere,’” Bryant said. “Joey can switch positions if he wants to play for the Cubs.”

Why Cubs gave World Series rings to fired managers Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria

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USA TODAY

Why Cubs gave World Series rings to fired managers Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria

Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria scrapped for their careers as big-league players, paid their dues as coaches and dreamed about managing the Cubs team that finally ended a century-and-counting championship drought.       

In terms of style and personality, they also couldn’t have been more different, which was kind of the point when the Cubs fired Sveum after 197 combined losses during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

Where Sveum had a constant 5 o’clock shadow and could be gruff with the media and brutally honest about his players, Renteria put a happy face on the teardown and could begin to actually see what the Cubs were building – at least until Joe Maddon opted out of his contract with the Tampa Bay Rays after the 2014 season.  

So much has changed around this gentrified neighborhood since then. Even the bar where team president Theo Epstein fired Sveum over drinks shut down and will reportedly be replaced with something called a Capital One Café. But in thoughtful gestures that recognized how the Cubs got here, both Sveum and Renteria now have 2016 World Series rings.

“We felt like they both came in and busted their butt to help our young players get better,” general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday at Wrigley Field. “They were both put in a position where we were rebuilding. Obviously, we were honest with both guys about the rebuilding process. But both guys were ultimate team members.

“Their willingness to go along – to execute the plan that we had set out for them, to play oftentimes with either inexperienced players or shorthanded – was remarkable.

“We think both Dale and Ricky had a big impact on our young players and really helped us win a World Series. It was the right thing to do to give them a ring.”

In contrast to the media blitz surrounding the private Steve Bartman ceremony, the Cubs quietly gave a ring to former general manager Jim Hendry, who now works as a special assistant for the New York Yankees. USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale included those nuggets within a revealing story about White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who raved about the job Renteria has done during a rebuilding year on the South Side.

Hoyer – who knew Renteria well from their time together with the San Diego Padres – was there for the ring presentation last month in a hallway outside the visiting clubhouse before a crosstown game at Wrigley Field.

“I love the fact that the White Sox are high on him and have been happy with his contributions,” Hoyer said. “Not to go back over history, but he was put in a tough spot. We made a decision that at the time we even admitted wasn’t necessarily fair to Ricky. And the least we could do was to give him a ring.”

Chairman Tom Ricketts – whose family signed off on the gifts – is widely respected within the organization for the way he took an interest in the draft, knew scouts by name, invested in infrastructure and visited minor-league affiliates.

“There’s a long history with this organization,” Hoyer said. “A lot of people had a part in us winning in 2016. It wasn’t only people that were still here in 2016. A number of people had an impact on our players, whether it was through managing, through scouting, through player development.

“We thought the right thing to do was to honor those commitments to our team by giving them rings. And not acting as though you had to be here in 2016 necessarily and be part of the organization to have impact.”

Hendry’s group built the pipeline in Latin America that produced catcher Willson Contreras and left enough assets for the Epstein regime to flip and acquire players like Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell and Kyle Hendricks. Former amateur scouting director Tim Wilken – who now works as a special assistant for the Arizona Diamondbacks – had the vision to draft Javier Baez and Jeff Samardzija.

Sveum, who earned a 2015 World Series ring as the Kansas City Royals hitting coach, hired coaches Chris Bosio and Mike Borzello and left his mark with the pitching infrastructure and game-planning system that helped market trade chips like Samardzija, Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman and Matt Garza.   

The Cubs already gave a ring to ex-pro scouting director Joe Bohringer, who now works as a Seattle Mariners special assistant, and a number of long-time, behind-the-scenes employees who left before It Happened.

“When you take a step back and look at any championship,” Hoyer said, “there are just so many people that have an impact on it.”