Soriano wants to lead the way for Cubs


Soriano wants to lead the way for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. You can ask Alfonso Soriano just about anything and hell say whatevers on his mind.

When the clubhouse opened on Friday, the media staked out the corner by his locker, shoulder to shoulder, oblivious to the two players stretching out on the floor, forcing them to get up and move.

On a Cubs team without many big names, and with so many new faces, there is still Soriano.

Soriano was at ease standing there in front of the waves of reporters, resting his arm against a locker. He insisted that Starlin Castro did nothing wrong. He said he was happy for Ryan Braun, glad the Milwaukee Brewers star overturned a 50-game suspension for a positive drug test.

Carlos Zambrano? Soriano says: Nobody was happy. I think the team was happy they were able to trade him. I think Zs happy, too, now that hes in Miami, so it worked great for both (sides).

Zambrano is hanging with Ozzie Guillen, while Aramis Ramirez will protect Braun in the Brewers lineup. The sweeping changes at Clark and Addison didnt touch Soriano.

The past couple years we had a nice group, but some people (werent) giving 100 percent, Soriano said. Now this group is kind of young. Theyre hungry to play and were ready to compete.

The Cubs were coming off a last-place finish in 2006 when Soriano signed his 136 million contract. Hes a symbol of the old way of doing business, the win-one-for-the-Tribune mentality that overtook the organization.

Theo Epstein is supposed to build it the right way, for the long haul. A 36-year-old outfielder with creaky legs, no-trade rights and 54 million guaranteed through 2014 doesnt exactly fit the vision. But the new president of baseball operations expects Soriano to be a leader.

People respect me because of the way that I work Im not a lazy guy, Soriano said. Im the oldest guy (among the position players). People see me work. People see my attitude, so I think thats a leader.

Soriano believes he will get along fine with new manager Dale Sveum, whos promised to hold players accountable and call out anyone who doesnt hustle.

Its not a problem, Soriano said. We can play hard for him. I think if we play harder every day, well see a difference and I want to try to do my best to make him happy.

The bigger tension might be between the urge to win now and the patience it will take to build an annual contender. Its something Sveum mentioned in his first meeting with the whole team.

The biggest question (all) winter was rebuilding, (that) things are starting over, Sveum said. I just let them know (this is) a team that can compete Were not here to rebuild. Were here to try and win the World Series this year.

Chairman Tom Ricketts even corrected one reporter who used the word patience.

No, were not preaching patience, Ricketts said. Were preaching have expectations. Expect these guys to play hard. Expect them to compete every game. Expect them to have a great season. Its not about patience. We got a good team and were going to have a good year.

As much as the Cubs wanted someone to take on even a fraction of Sorianos contract, they need him now to generate 25 homers, 90 RBIs and anchor the middle of the lineup.

Theyve said nothing about a trade, Soriano said. Im here. I dont want to think about if I want to get traded in the future or tomorrow, whatever. I just got to concentrate and play baseball.

All these years later, and after a winter in which he was booed at the Cubs Convention and all over the trade rumors, Soriano has shown up for another rebuilding project.

I love this organization, he said. I signed here to try to make this team better and win. I think weve got a chance to win and thats my goal. I just want to stay here to see this team win one championship.

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Clayton Kershaw stands between Cubs and World Series: ‘To be the best, you got to beat the best’

Clayton Kershaw stands between Cubs and World Series: ‘To be the best, you got to beat the best’

Clayton Kershaw stands between the Cubs and the World Series, a possibility that left veteran catcher David Ross thinking about Ric Flair inside Dodger Stadium’s visiting clubhouse late Thursday night: To be The Man, you got to beat The Man. 

“Woo!” That’s how the Cubs like to punctuate their postgame celebration routine, channeling the professional wrestling legend in a ritual with so much sensory overload that the fog machine set off fire alarms throughout the underground Wrigley Field lair…after a win in the middle of August. “Woo!” 
The Cubs left Los Angeles one win away from their first National League pennant since 1945, and with two chances to pull it off this weekend at Wrigley Field, beginning on Saturday night in Game 6. So imagine how this crew would trash the Party Room if they beat Kershaw, a three-time Cy Young Award winner and 2014 NL MVP. 

“The guy competes,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s pretty much like mechanics be damned, it’s just about me beating you somehow. 

“He’s got a good fastball that he locates. He doesn’t walk people. He’s got a dynamic curve and slider. And he’s got deception. He’s a little bit funky, and that’s got to be hard to pick up. The ball gets on you pretty quickly, and then he commands it. 

“So there’s nothing you could possibly ask for that he doesn’t already have.”

Now we’ll see if something clicked while the Cubs turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 NLCS lead – handling rookie starters Julio Urias and Kenta Maeda and the softer parts of the Los Angeles bullpen – or if those 18 runs combined in Games 4 and 5 were a mirage.

In 16-plus innings so far, the Cubs still haven’t scored a run off Kershaw, if-necessary Game 7 lefty starter Rich Hill or dominating closer Kenley Jansen, who got this review from Maddon: “He’s like a 100-pound heavier version of Mariano Rivera. He’s the bigger man with the same kind of stuff.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

Why are the Cubs so confident? Remember, this offense scored 808 runs during the regular season, more than every NL team except for the Colorado Rockies. This lineup knocked out October legend Madison Bumgarner after five innings in the divisional round (though pitcher Jake Arrieta delivered the three-run homer in a game the San Francisco Giants would win in extra innings). 

The Cubs should at least have a better idea of what to expect after getting that up-close view during a 1-0 loss in Game 2, the end of a 10-day period where the Dodgers used Kershaw for three starts and a division-series save against the Washington Nationals.  

Ben Zobrist – a veteran of 11 postseason series – explained: “His heater – as straight as it is – (comes from) the deception of his funky windup. You think you’re there, and it’s right above your barrel.”

“We’ll all be ready to go,” All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “Any time you see a guy back-to-back, it’s always to our advantage as hitters. We just have to go out there and play our game and have good at-bats off a left-handed pitcher. 

“I know it’s Clayton Kershaw, but we really got to just focus in on having good at-bats.” 

The Dodgers still have to beat a leading Cy Young contender (Kyle Hendricks) and last year’s award winner (Arrieta) on back-to-back nights in a building that will be shaking if the Cubs take an early lead with a Kris Bryant home run. And until this October, Kershaw had a reputation for underachieving in the playoffs.

“We got to battle,” Bryant said. “We know Kershaw likes to keep his pitch count down, because he wants to pitch the whole game. He’s a competitor, so we got to find a way to work counts and not swing at the pitches that he wants us to.

“Any time you got the best in the game going at you, it’s a challenge. And it’s going to be fun.” 

That’s exactly how the Cubs have approached everything this year, with an Embrace-The-Target attitude and all this Flair for the dramatic. 

“To be the best, you got to beat the best,” Rizzo said.