CHICAGO — While the Chicago Cubs were waiting to find out if they would play the New York Mets or San Francisco Giants in the NL Division Series, Addison Russell thought about the experience he gained in last year’s playoffs.
It was invaluable, even if an injury cut it short.
“It’s pretty important,” Russell said Wednesday. “I kind of got to see the atmosphere a little bit, especially in that wild-card game and the first games against the Cardinals as well. I got that experience in my back pocket. Hopefully, this first series against whoever it may be, positive, and amped up as well.”
The Cubs created a buzz in the North Side of Chicago by rolling to a major league-leading 103 wins. Long-suffering fans are hoping for their first title since 1908, and the atmosphere at Wrigley Field figures to be charged when the Division Series opens Friday night.
Victories are tougher to come by in October than in May or June, though. Chicago’s track record and talent only count for so much in five- or seven-game series.
“It has to do with good fortune,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “That doesn’t mean the team that gets there is lucky. You’re going to have to have some breaks along the way.”
The Cubs won more games than they had since 1910, with one of the deepest lineups and pitching staffs in the game.
They boast two NL MVP candidates in Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo and a pair of Cy Young Award contenders in Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks to go with last year’s winner in Jake Arrieta.
They also have a 22-year-old in Russell who emerged as one of the best all-around shortstops in baseball. The NL All-Star is a strong candidate for the Gold Glove and a key contributor at the plate. And he comes into these playoffs looking to stick around until the end after showing some flashes in a run last year that ended with an injury.
Russell broke up a no-hit bid by St. Louis’ John Lackey with a single in the sixth inning of the opener of the NL Division Series. But he pulled his left hamstring sliding into third with a triple in Game 3 against the Cardinals and did not play again.
The Cubs were then swept by the Mets in the NLCS, but they came back better this year and so did Russell. He hit 21 homers and drove in 95 runs — second among major league shortstops — to go with some spectacular play in the field.
“I’m a little bit more familiar with these guys,” Russell said. “I’ve been playing on this surface for a little bit longer so that makes everything a little bit more comfortable for me.”
Russell was initially drafted by the Oakland Athletics with the 11th pick in the 2012 draft and appeared to be on a path to becoming their long-term shortstop. But that changed two years ago.
With one of the best teams in the majors, Oakland sent Russell to the Cubs in a multiplayer deal for pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.
That trade turned some heads in Chicago since they already had one young shortstop in Starlin Castro and another in the system in Javier Baez. But it worked out well.
Russell supplanted Castro as the everyday shortstop down the stretch last season after playing second base. That allowed the Cubs to trade Castro to the New York Yankees in the offseason and helped pave the way for Baez to become a super utility player.
Now, the Cubs have their sights set on the biggest prize of all. And Russell is a reason why.