By David Just — For the Sun-Times
Addison Russell walked around the Cubs clubhouse before Saturday’s game with a pair of socks pulled up to his knees that featured an image of Scottie Pippen on both feet.
Pippen, a member of the Bulls for 12 seasons, is a Hall of Famer who won six championships in Chicago. That’s a pretty good act to follow for Russell, who is one of several rookies on the Cubs with hopes of a similar career arc.
All of the Cubs rookies took a collective step forward by clinching their first playoff berth Friday, and they fittingly celebrated with champagne and beer.
“Looking around this clubhouse, you can tell this clubhouse is different,” Russell said. “There’s a lot of younger guys, but there’s a lot of players that want to win.”
After five straight losing seasons, the young Cubs seem blissfully ignorant of the 107-year championship drought that preceded their 2015 playoff berth.
Kris Bryant, whose bobblehead was handed out to fans Saturday at Wrigley, is the face of the team at age 23.
The National League Rookie of the Year frontrunner has posted a .278/.370/.501 slash line to go along with his 26 homers and 98 RBI.
“A lot of us have played to our potential, and that’s the reason we are where we’re at,” said Bryant, who said he slept through Friday night’s Giants-A’s game that put the Cubs into the playoffs. “It’s an exciting time for all of us. You kind of had a feeling we were going to get in, but it’s not over yet.”
Manager Joe Maddon pointed to the four-game sweep of the Giants from Aug. 6-9 as the moment he knew these Cubs had legitimate playoff potential.
It may or may not be coincidence that the team’s rookies were in top form that weekend. Bryant, Russell, Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler combined to go 20 for 53 with five doubles, two homers and 16 RBI in the sweep.
The weekend was an early glimpse at what the Cubs lineup was capable of with its rookies playing at the top of their game.
“That was really pertinent, that series,” Maddon said. “That series there, to me, in my mind, proved to me and to us that we can do this.”
Team president Theo Epstein agreed.
“That was a big turning point,” Epstein said. “I think, even the last two or three weeks we’ve noticed we’re better than we were through that series in August. It’s special. You look back to July 28 on and we are one of the best – if not the best – teams in baseball. It took on a life of its own. Now we have to go validate it.”
The Cubs’ rookies have played in playoff atmospheres during the late-season playoff race and seem eager, not worried, about the forthcoming postseason.
“We trained all offseason and all of this year to get to this point,” Russell said. “So we’re going to make the most of it.”