Chicago Cubs: Addison Russell’s harrowing fall from grace

(Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images) /
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Chicago Cubs
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Chicago Cubs: Cracking a big league roster

That winter brought intense excitement to the North Side of Chicago. Epstein went out and got Rays manager Joe Maddon, after the quirky baseball guru opted out of his deal in Tampa Bay. Few even knew his contract contained such a provision.

But when GM Andrew Friedman headed west to lead the Dodgers’ baseball ops team as president, Maddon took the chance to join Epstein in Chicago.

And when the Cubs got to Arizona for Spring Training, Maddon got his first glimpse of Addison Russell.

"“I thought he picked up a ground ball exactly as it should be picked up,” Maddon said. “His mechanics are sound. … I like simplicity in everything, and it’s very simple. I like that. … And then beyond that, don’t forget he just turned 21. Watch him take batting practice. Listen to the ball off the bat. It’s got a different sound when he hits the baseball, and that’s going to really project over the next couple years – or decade.”"

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Chicago entered 2015 coming off 101, 96 and 89 losses, respectively, in 2012, 2013 and 2014. In short, we all wondered when the ‘rebuild’ would start to net positive results. And, no, in case you forgot (or didn’t become a fan till around two years ago) – 89 losses wasn’t enough of a ‘success’.

With Maddon at the helm, the youth movement was in full effect. Russell made his big-league debut on April 21 – less than a month into the season. He collected his first hit the next day in a loss at PNC Park.

Over the course of the 2015 campaign, the rookie put together a 12-game hit streak and provided seven go-ahead knocks en route to a .696 OPS, 13 home runs and 54 RBI. That was hardly what you wanted, at least offensively, but Russell’s defense had Wrigley buzzing on a daily basis.

After hanging around the .500 in the first half, the Cubs put together back-to-back 19-9 months to close out the regular season and earn one of the two Wild Card berths. Jake Arrieta, eventual NL Cy Young winner, pitched them past the Pittsburgh Pirates and they knocked out the rival St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS before falling into the New York Mets’ star-studded rotation in the NLCS.