The Chicago Cubs are the best team in baseball by almost every measure.

They have the best record (82-47) and the best run differential (plus-217). They rank among MLB‘s top five in OPS (.777) and runs scored (655). They lead both leagues in ERA (3.12).

They can hit. They can pitch. Their rivals have plenty of reasons to fear them.

Now, there’s another: Addison Russell, masher of baseballs.

A first-round pick by the Oakland A’s in 2012, Russell has flashed elite potential since his debut with Chicago last season. But over the past month-plus, the 22-year-old shortstop has elevated his game like a helium balloon in a stiff North Side breeze.

In his last 45 games—dating back to July 4—Russell has 11 home runs and 43 RBI and has raised his OPS nearly 30 points, from .728 to .757.

He’s been even hotter in August, with 10 of his 22 hits going for extra bases, including three doubles and seven home runs.

Zealous Cubs fans voted Russell into the All-Star Game starting lineup over more deserving candidates like the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ Corey Seager and San Francisco Giants‘ Brandon Crawford. Now, Russell is retroactively earning his spot.

“He’s working good at-bats,” manager Joe Maddon said, per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. “He’s just not chasing and opening up his strike zone. He’s really maturing offensively.”

Oh, and he’s the third-best defensive shortstop in the game according to the metrics, behind only Crawford and the Cleveland Indians‘ Francisco Lindor.

This feels like the right moment to insert a highlight reel:

Other Cubs siphon the hype, and for good reason. Reigning National League Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant plays capably all over the diamond and is crushing it like the NL MVP front-runner. First baseman Anthony Rizzo is on pace for a 30-homer, 100-RBI season and is also in the MVP discussion.

Infielder Javier Baez is a star on the rise. In the rotation, Jake Arrieta is in the Cy Young Award mix once again, as is surprise MLB ERA leader Kyle Hendricks.

Russell, however, is right there with them. Plus, he’s the youngest Cubbies regular (Bryant is 24 and Baez is 23). We might not have glimpsed his ceiling.

He’s already joined some elite historical company, as ESPN Stats & Info noted:

If we’re nitpicking, we could note Russell’s imbalanced home/road splits. He’s hit .275 with an .851 OPS at Wrigley Field this season, compared to marks of .214 and .668 away from his friendly confines.

But he’s muscled through the Cubs’ most recent western swing, bashing five home runs and tallying 10 RBI in eight total games against the Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers.

When a hitter starts raking, we often search for the explanation—for the switch he flipped. In Russell’s case, it appears to be pitch recognition.

“They try to run stuff in on me, and then they try to go soft, soft, soft, down,” Russell said in March, per FanGraphsEno Sarris. “I think they see some holes there.”

Russell is actually swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone this season (31.3 percent) than he did in 2015 (29.8 percent). But he’s making contact on 54.2 percent of those pitches compared to 48.4 percent last season.

That suggests he’s going after pitches he knows he can drive, rather than merely chasing bad balls. He’s maturing and adjusting, as all successful hitters do.

“His confidence is so high, he believes he belongs at this level,” Cubs third base and infield coach Gary Jones said, per Carrie Muskat of “That makes a world of difference. When a guy understands, ‘You know what, I do belong here, I know I can do this now,’ it’s huge.”

These being the Cubs, it’s tempting to lean toward pessimism. That century-plus championship drought is always there—the elephant in the room, the monkey on their back, pick your ham-fisted animal metaphor.

Chicago, however, keeps gaining steam, despite dropping two of three to the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers over the weekend.

Perhaps the club’s youth is helping the cause. As CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney opined, “A kid born in 1994 [Russell] doesn’t worry about the weight of the franchise’s history.”

The Cubs were already the best team in baseball. A slick-fielding, RBI-gobbling, fence-clearing Addison Russell makes them that much scarier.

If the NL’s other postseason hopefuls aren’t quaking in their cleats, they should be.


All statistics current as of Aug. 28 and courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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