Addison Russell on his goal to be one of the best in Cubs history

Just when Cubs shortstop Addison Russell appeared to be shriveling on the vine last October — at the worst possible time, and for all to see — he suddenly burst into bloom.

Instantly forgotten was his miserable 1-for-24 start to the postseason. In its place came six hits, two homers and five runs scored over the final three games of the NLCS against the Dodgers. And then Russell topped that with — who will ever forget it? — a six-RBI performance in a must-win Game 6 of the World Series in Cleveland.

No player ever has driven in more runs in a World Series game when facing elimination. Talk about going from goat to GOAT.

“I don’t think anything has ever given me more confidence,” Russell said.

Addison Russell takes batting practice. (Photo by John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times)

Why are we talking about this now, seven games into a new season? Because Russell still looks back on that flurry of clutch at-bats, still reviews them on video, still tries to feed off that thing inside him that enabled him to peel himself off the mat and rise to the level of hero.

Confidence? Yeah, that probably was it. The 23-year-old has more of it than ever.

“My goal is not only to be one of the best shortstops in the league,” he said, “but to be one of the best shortstops in the Cubs organization in history. I think that would be pretty cool. If I keep doing what I’m doing, I think I’ll be on the right track.”

We can all agree that Ernie Banks’ standing as the greatest shortstop to wear a Cubs uniform is safe for the foreseeable future. Who else does that leave in Russell’s way? Don Kessinger, maybe? Starlin Castro, sort of? Hall of Famer Joe Tinker — who famously patrolled short for the championship Cubs of 1907 and ’08 — for sure.

There’s probably a decent-sized list. The important thing is that Russell views himself as promisingly as he does.

“He’s getting better, man,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I watch him in [batting practice] and the ball definitely sounds different off his bat. He’s young, with really strong hands, and he’s getting a better understanding. He’s chasing pitches out of the zone less. He’s using the whole field more. He’s motivated. This guy could really, really take off.”

 

 

Russell, who had 95 RBI in 2016, already is the only Cubs shortstop other than Banks (who did it 10 times) to drive in at least 90 in a season. And he’s off to a fast start in his third big-league campaign, with a team-high nine hits and four doubles.

Russell also has struck out only four times in 31 at-bats. Not much of a sample size, clearly, but it’s pretty encouraging given he whiffed in 31.4 percent of his at-bats as a rookie and 25.7 percent of his at-bats in Year 2.

“To know that I can produce in those high-pressure situations just really gets me back to that mental thought process of how I want to go about each at-bat,” he said. “Having that experience in the postseason, and especially in the World Series, makes what I think that I can bring to the plate now that much more special. I’m even smarter now about what I’m doing.”

Defense is a given with Russell, notwithstanding his funny-looking throwing error in Monday’s home-opening victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Offense? Let’s not call it a given yet.

But he has made such progress with the bat, it’s easy to see him ascending quickly on that list of Cubs shortstops. This is a guy who, just last October, was pinch-hit for in both the Giants and Dodgers series. Barely a week into the ensuing season, Russell seems so far past any area of doubt.

“I probably would never [pinch-hit for him] again,” Maddon said.

Russell’s confidence must be contagious.

CUBS ALL-STAR SHORTSTOPS

Woody English played in the first MLB All-Star Game in 1933. Like English, Billy Jurges (in 1937) made only one All-Star appearance in a Cubs uniform. Russell played in his first — but probably not last — midsummer classic in 2016. Here are the Cubs shortstops Russell is chasing:

Ernie Banks: 14 All-Star selections total; nine as a shortstop: There’s only one Mr. Cub.

Don Kessinger: six selections. A great fielder who, unfortunately, also had to hit.

Stalin Castro: three selections. Sadly, he got off the World Series express one stop too soon.

Sharon Dunston: two selections. Such a fun — and flawed — player.

Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

RELATED STORIES

Cubs expect ‘another special night’ for World Series ring event

Cubs star Kris Bryant sends baseballs sailing into Chicago River