Tag: Joe Maddon

Joe Maddon Responds to Aroldis Chapman’s Comments on World Series Usage

Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon defended himself Saturday after Aroldis Chapman criticized his usage in the World Series.

Would I do it differently? No,” Maddon said in an interview with the New York Post‘s Kevin Kernan. “There is no Game 7 without winning Game 6. And there is no Game 8 if you don’t win Game 7. That’s why you do what you have to do.”

Chapman appeared in Games 6 and 7 of the Fall Classic. His inclusion in Game 6 was surprising considering the Cubs were up 7-2 at the time. The four-time All-Star had also thrown a season-high 42 pitches two days earlier.

By the time Chapman took the mound in the eighth inning of Game 7, he looked gassed. He allowed an RBI double to Brandon Guyer and then a game-tying home run to Rajai Davis.

The important game was going to be Game 7,” Chapman said of appearing in Game 6, per the New York TimesBilly Witz. “We had that game almost won. And the next day I came in and I was tired.”

Maddon’s position is understandable. The Cubs acquired Chapman exactly for the purpose of pitching in high-leverage situations in the postseason. 

At the same time, Chapman’s critique isn’t without merit. He was overworked in the playoffs, and it nearly cost the Cubs a title.

Maddon told Kernan that Chapman never raised any issues with his workload in the World Series. Chapman, however, said he felt he wasn’t in a position to decline any opportunity to pitch, per Witz:

I never told him my opinion about the way he was using me because the way I feel is that, as baseball players, we’re warriors. Our job is to do what we need to do on the field. But if they send me out there to pitch, I’m going to go out there and pitch. If I’m healthy, I’m going to go out there and pitch. If I’m tired, I’m going to put that aside and just get through it.

Chapman’s workload almost certainly would’ve been a bigger story had the Indians won Game 7. Instead, everything worked out well for him and Maddon.

Together, they helped the Cubs win their first World Series since 1908. Chapman also parlayed his 2016 success into a five-year, $86 million deal with the New York Yankees earlier this month.  

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Why Stop at One: Cubs Built for a Long Run of Title Contention

CLEVELAND — It was the wise Satchel Paige who warned, “Don’t look back; something might be gaining on you.”

Don’t the Cleveland Indians, who let a three-games-to-one World Series lead slip away to the Chicago Cubs, know it. Didn’t the Los Angeles Dodgers, who fumbled a two-games-to-one National League Championship Series lead, learn it. Weren’t the San Francisco Giants, who allowed a 5-2 lead in Game 4 of the NL Division Series to dissipate, guilty of it.

It took 108 years for the Chicago Cubs to catch up to the rest of baseball in the month of October.

But now that they’re champions, look out, because it may take everyone else several years to catch back up to them. Here’s something worth stashing in your closet next to the sunblock for next spring training: The last time the Cubs won a World Series, they did it in back-to-back years, 1907 and 1908.

These Cubs waged a campaign on multiple fronts this autumn to exorcise a century’s worth of demons: Rival teams, curses, ghosts and, to a degree, their own youth.

Youth is resilient and youth is beautiful, but it also is not on the clock. Players develop at their own pace, which is why the 2015 Cubs came steaming down the tracks ahead of schedule, and why still-learning uber-talents like Javier Baez (23), Addison Russell (22), Willson Contreras (24) and, at times, even Kris Bryant (24) maybe weren’t the perfect, mistake-free players Cubs fans expected at times as 2016 climaxed.

Experience is the great teacher. That this band of incredibly skilled, and young, Cubs was able to win it all while gaining it was impressive. That there is every reason to believe we haven’t seen the best yet of a team that won 103 games this summer is the stuff of imagination and wonder.

“Hey, listen,” Ryan Dempster, the retired pitcher who serves as a special assistant to Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, said as champagne sprayed in the Cubs’ clubhouse early Thursday morning. “The tough part is to realize that that’s the next goal, right?

“They can do it again and again down the road. Right now they deserve to embrace this moment. All year, they had a target on their back from other teams, the media, fans, and yet they still were the best team in baseball. They did it.

“To see what they did tonight bodes well for the future.”

Bryant, Russell, Baez, Kyle Schwarber (23), Anthony Rizzo (27) and Kyle Hendricks (26) are among the core players who are under contract through at least 2020. Jorge Soler (24) is another whom the Cubs think will develop into an impact player, though he had a disappointing season and stayed in the background this fall. Outfielder Albert Almora (22), who also played some but mostly remained on the bench during the postseason, was a first-round pick in 2012.

In Game 2 last week, the Cubs set a World Series record by starting six players under the age of 25: Schwarber, Bryant, Baez, Russell, Contreras and Soler. The previous record was five players, set by Cincinnati in Game 4 of the 1970 World Series.

Russell and Baez are growing up together in the middle of the infield and already are setting the bar high.

“I think the combination we have up the middle is as good as you’ll ever see,” starter Jake Arrieta said.

Bryant likely will be named the NL’s Most Valuable Player later this month when the awards are announced. Schwarber had just five plate appearances before a devastating knee injury ended his season. Then, in a stunning comeback on the game’s grandest stage, he batted .412 (7-for-17) with two RBI and two runs scored in 20 World Series plate appearances.

“He jacks everybody up,” manager Joe Maddon said of Schwarber during the World Series. “He makes the lineup better, thicker. Zo is seeing better pitches.”

Zo, Ben Zobrist, used one of those pitches to push an RBI double into left field in the 10th inning of Wednesday night’s Game 7, snapping a 6-6 tie.

There were times this postseason, especially at the plate, in which the Cubs were maddeningly inconsistent compared to what we generally expect of a 103-win team. There also were reasons.

“I think a lot of it has to do with youth,” Maddon said. “That’s what I keep bringing up. As we continue to move forward together, the one area of our club that I anticipate is going to get better is offense.

“If you put your scout’s cap on right now, normally you look at our group, or any group, you’re going to see running speed that should hopefully remain the same, possibly regress a little bit. Defense should remain the same, possibly get a little bit better. Arm strength the same thing, you want to at least maintain what you have. But if you had to write numbers down on a piece of paper, the one you’re going to project a lot on would be offense, whether it’s hitting or hitting with power.”

Over 17 postseason games, the Cubs batted .233 with a .293 on-base percentage and a .399 slugging percentage.

In the World Series, they batted .249 with a .316 on-base percentage and a .404 slugging percentage.

During the regular season, they hit .256/.343/.429.

Part of the struggle during the postseason, of course, is attributable to a steady diet of Corey Klubers, Madison Bumgarners and Clayton Kershaws. You’re not facing the Milwaukee Brewers‘ fourth and fifth starters in October.

But part of the inconsistency is growing pains, too. Baez was the MVP of the NLCS, then hit .167 with 13 strikeouts in 30 at-bats in the World Series. As one veteran scout said, Baez suddenly regressed to the young kid whom the Cubs first called up in 2014.

Everybody handles moments differently, and those who have an excitable personality, like Baez, sometimes have difficulty slowing things down when the noise becomes deafening. Also, opposing scouting reports are thick and detailed in the postseason, and these intelligence briefings expose the holes of even the greatest hitters. Not everybody is capable of making adjustments from at-bat to at-bat, or even from game to game, especially on the big stage. Baez, who is eminently capable of winning a Gold Glove at multiple positions (second base, third base, shortstop), made great strides offensively this summer, cutting his strikeout percentage down to 24 percent from 30 percent in 2015 and 41.5 percent in 2014, per Fangraphs.

“It’s going to be easy to understand that the area we’re going to get better at is offense,” Maddon said. “Understanding themselves better. Understanding what the pitcher’s going to try to do against them. Understanding how to make adjustments in the game. Understanding how to utilize the entire field more consistently as they gain experience.

“The part that’s really exciting to me is that we’re in this position right now, two years in a row. Last year we didn’t quite get here, but two years in a row now we’ve been one of the last four teams playing with a really young group of baseball players that are going to continually get better.”

Even despite Baez’s World Series struggles at the plate, there were moments like this one:

While Baez, Russell and Bryant consume most of the spotlight, signs of talented young Cubs were everywhere this autumn. At one point during a pivotal moment in Game 5 against Cleveland, rookie Carl Edwards Jr. (25) was on the mound throwing to catcher Contreras.

Both players started this 103-win season at Triple-A Iowa.

Contreras, too, was guilty of a rookie mistake under the bright lights. Though he was behind the plate in Game 2, catching Arrieta’s 5 1/3 no-hit innings, he rightfully caught heat for preening after a double in Game 1. After blasting a Cody Allen pitch to right field, Contreras flipped his bat and walked about five steps, admiring the fly, before realizing it wasn’t over the fence and turning on the afterburners to reach second.

Contreras apologized to Cubs fans via Twitter:

Said Maddon, “As [the young players] gain more experience, you’re going to see a lot of that stuff go away.”

Not surprisingly, the Cubs have left a trail of admirers in their wake.

“They’ve got a lot of versatility,” retired manager Jim Leyland, who now works for the commissioner’s office, said. “I love their young shortstop [Russell]. … He kind of gets lost a little bit with [Cleveland’s Francisco] Lindor and [Houston‘s Carlos] Correa and some of the other guys, [Corey] Seager out in Los Angeles, but this kid’s really good.

“Anthony Rizzo’s a two-way player; he’s an excellent fielder as well as a power guy. … And I think a guy like Ben Zobrist has been a big key for them. He kind of solidifies things. They’ve got a nice combination, and Joe does a great job with them.”

Perhaps as impressive as anything else was this young core’s ability to block out the anguish of more than a century of Cubs baseball, the billy goats and curses and black cats, and lift this franchise to heights few of us have ever before seen. And though it was far more difficult than it sometimes appeared, they made it look as if they were lifting a simple Louisville Slugger more often than not.

“I think the way they did it,” catcher David Ross said. “There are a lot of young, successful and talented players here, and they expect to succeed. They’re not worried about past things. They’re looking at now, and the future is very bright. …

“I’m happy for the city of Chicago, for Cubs fans who have been so dedicated. These guys worked their tails off. They’ve all been through a lot, and they deserve everything they get for the rest of their life.”

Not only will the surging Cubs be favored again in 2017, but there also doesn’t even appear to be a spot for Zobrist, the World Series MVP. Baez is the projected second baseman and Schwarber the left fielder with Almora expected to supplant Dexter Fowler in center field. Where might that leave Zobrist? Possibly on the trade block. Or in even more of a super-utility role than he’s accustomed to.

“There’s no question this should be a very good team for a very long time,” Leyland said. “Whether they’re going to get back to the World Series every year, that’s a different story. It’s pretty hard to do.”

Undoubtedly. But in winning it all this year, the Cubs have taken that long, difficult first step. Maybe this powerful young core develops into the next dynasty, or maybe not. But one thing is certain: Given the talent, youth and build of this team, the Cubs should be powerful for the next five or six years, minimum.

And as this group writes its own history, it will do so from a blank canvas that includes no previous baggage.

“It’s really great for our entire Cub-dom to get beyond that moment and continue to move forward,” Maddon said, “because now, based on the young players we have in this organization, we have an opportunity to be good for a long time, and without any constraints, without any of the negative dialogue.

“The burden has been lifted.”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

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Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and the Cubs Building the ‘New-Age’ MLB Star

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs led the league this year in, among other things, wins, winning percentage, run differential and multitasking.

Yes, that’s right. Multitasking.

Do you feel pretty accomplished when you knock off three things at once? Look at Javier Baez, who this year became just the fourth Cubs player since 1913 with at least 20 starts at second base, third base and shortstop. He also started twice at first base, vacuumed the Cubs clubhouse after each game and refilled the team’s Gatorade supply daily.

Well, those last couple of things might be a bit of an exaggeration, but the way Baez is stealing hearts (and home plates) this postseason, it’s at least believable.

“He’s probably the most exciting player in baseball right now,” Cubs catcher David Ross raves. “He’s energetic. He’s not scared of the moment. And the flair he has…he’s very, very exciting to watch.”

Meantime…feel like a world-beater when you can text, email and watch your favorite television show all at the same time? Look at Kris Bryant, who probably is on his way to the NL MVP award this season because of the one-of-a-kind combination of his bat and versatility. Bryant in 2016 became only the second player in history to smash at least 35 homers while playing at least 10 games at third base, left field and right field in the same season. Albert Pujols (2001) was the first.

Yes, these Cubs are a postmodern team for a postmodern age. Led by Bryant and Baez, they tweet, they laugh, they win. Every day is Casual Friday.

What’s especially unique is their unselfish, team-first attitude that allows manager Joe Maddon to move them all over the diamond while constructing a lineup that gives the Cubs the best chance to win on that particular night.

Ben Zobrist, who signed a four-year, $56 million free-agent deal last winter, was one of Maddon’s original Swiss Army knives back in Tampa Bay in 2008. From second base to shortstop to the outfield, he changed positions more often than Beyonce changes outfits.

And yet, Bryant absolutely does not remind Zobrist of himself.

“No,” Zobrist says. “Because when I started doing it, it was out of necessity to get into the lineup. The guys who were the stars of the team, like Kris Bryant, wouldn’t do that. So it’s a different situation.

“It’s basically just Joe taking a star and using all of the possible assets that that guy has. And that guy being willing to do that is extremely rare. Extremely rare. Most guys in his position would not do that. That just says the kind of person, the kind of team guy, he is.”

Excuses are available like low-hanging fruit for Bryant to pick if he wanted to play the superstar card: Changing positions every other day, or even in the middle of a game, is too much of a distraction. He might not be comfortable. He could embarrass himself. It could ruin his concentration at the plate.

Instead, Bryant embraces it.

“I’ve played all over the field my whole life so it wasn’t too uncomfortable for me,” he says. “It’s just getting used to the perspectives from each position. Each outfield spot is different for me. But I’ve never felt uncomfortable.”

Even at the major league level, where the stadiums come with three decks and the lights are brighter than Broadway?

“Honestly, I feel like at times at this level it’s easier because you have the better lights, the better visual backdrops, that sort of thing,” Bryant says.

“Obviously, I’ve played third base, but moving around might add a little more of that fresher element.”

That can-do attitude is a lot of what allowed Maddon to create space for Baez. When the season started, Bryant was the third baseman, Addison Russell the shortstop, Zobrist the second baseman and Anthony Rizzo at first. Baez, the Cubs’ first-round draft pick in 2011 (ninth overall), came up through the minors as a shortstop. Any reservations he had about taking new positions out for a test drive were overcome by this realization: Would he rather be playing shortstop at Triple-A Iowa, or a variety of positions in the big leagues?

Baez is immensely popular within the clubhouse, and as if there weren’t a big enough soft spot for him from the beginning, it’s only grown since his sister, Noely, tragically passed away in April 2015. Born with Spina bifida, doctors didn’t think Noely would survive the day she was born. Instead, she lived until she was 21, teaching her brother a thing or two about fighting and living along the way.

Though Noely was able to travel to Denver along with the entire Baez family for his major league debut Aug. 5, 2014, she died the following spring. Baez, who was extremely close with her and has a large tattoo picturing her on his right shoulder, was playing in Triple-A Iowa at the time. He took two weeks away from baseball before he came back.

“From the time we showed up in 2012, we saw how incredibly close Javier was to his sister,” Jason McLeod, the Cubs’ senior vice president of scouting and player development, says. “She was at a lot of his minor league games, right there in the front row in her wheelchair. After the game, he’d go over and give her a kiss.

“It was really fun and special to see how much he cared about her. When she died, we wanted to support him as much as we could. We wanted to be there with open arms when he came back, but first give him the space he needed.”

Baez’s incredible versatility, and eagerness to imitate a disc jockey taking requests, allowed Maddon to deploy a stunning array of lineups this summer. Baez made 38 starts at second base, 36 at third base, 21 at shortstop and even two at first base. Whatever the skipper asked.

Maddon leaned especially hard on Baez’s glove as a weapon with Jon Lester on the mound. Baez was in the starting lineup for 27 of the left-hander’s 32 starts this year, including 18 times at third base, five at shortstop and four at second base. In collaboration with the Cubs’ internal analytics department, Maddon’s method is crystal clear: He wants to place Baez where the Cubs think the most action will be on a given night.

“It makes them tough to game-plan for,” Andy Green, the San Diego Padres manager, says. “You look up on a given day and Javy Baez is playing third base, you immediately know you’re not bunting that day, you immediately know you can’t delay-steal third base, you immediately know he’s going to shut things down because that’s the kind of athlete he is.

“So moving those guys around the diamond changes the context of the game.”

It is this versatility and strategizing that positioned the Cubs to lead the majors with 82 defensive runs saved this summer, according to FanGraphs’ calculation. And it wasn’t even close. Houston was a distant second at 51 runs saved.

Maddon, or a member of his staff, texts the players on the morning of a game so that there are no surprises when they walk into the clubhouse later that day. Bryant’s cellphone will buzz and tell him he’s playing third base tonight, or left field. Same for Baez.

The results speak volumes for what has become a vibrant, energetic and creative culture created under Maddon, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and the rest of the gang.

“We have guys who are able to understand the overall goal and are willing to get out of their comfort zone for a little bit and try something,” Zobrist says. “It also says Joe believes in players. He believes that if you’re an athlete, you can do it. Even if at first you’re like, ‘Uh, I don’t know.’ He believes you’re capable of doing things you haven’t even thought of before.”

As for the conventional wisdom that suggests changing positions might make a player less effective at the plate because he has so much on his mind, Maddon, the man who preaches that batting practice is overrated anyway, thinks that’s rubbish. Look at Baez this year: He’s significantly reduced his strikeouts. Might frequent position changes actually do the opposite of what some think and free up a player’s mind?

“I totally believe it does work opposite,” Maddon says. “I never believed that by moving them around it [could hurt them at the plate]. I believe that by moving them around it helps them at the plate because you focus so much on your defense you’re not worried so much about your offense.

“I totally believe that by bringing a young guy up, i.e. a Zobrist back in the day, even B.J. Upton…B.J. came up when I was in Tampa and was established as a shortstop. He wasn’t doing that well, so we started moving him around, put him at second base, and I thought he was almost an All-Star candidate before he hurt his leg running to first base in Miami. But he hit.

“He hit by playing different positions. We had him working out at different positions everyday pregame and I thought that would de-emphasize all this work in the cage. Hitters swing too much, they think too much. If all it took was X number of swings in a day or X number of hours of hitting, then everybody would be a .300 hitter. Because everybody puts that time in, and I think it’s counterproductive. I think it works absolutely in reverse. I think there’s a point of diminishing returns that sets in, guys become arm-weary, mentally weary, by swinging the bat too much.

“I wish they’d play with their gloves a little more often. I think there is this residual effect in a positive way offensively by not swinging so much. I do, I believe playing more defense and playing different positions can help a young player become a better offensive player.”

Even before he became a manager and created the “Zorilla” phenomenon with Zobrist in Tampa, as a coach in Anaheim, Maddon’s fingerprints were all over the versatility of Tony Phillips, Mark McLemore and Chone Figgins.

“The players have to be able to do those things,” Maddon says. “Not everybody can play those positions well. I think that’s the greater requirement as opposed to worrying about their hitting, it’s can they do that on defense? If they can’t, then you don’t do that.”

As Maddon points out, from a manager’s perspective, it is far easier to do this with a younger player on the way up than with a veteran. It becomes difficult to teach an old dog new tricks, right? In this vein, Bryant, 24, and Baez, 23, are perfect. To them, maintaining an array of broken-in gloves for different positions is a perfectly normal way to live an MLB life.

“If you try to get them to do that four years from now it might be difficult,” Maddon concedes. “But if they come in young doing this thing and get it to become part of their fabric and understand how it helps the group, you’ve got something.”

You better believe that other clubs are taking notes. It’s a copycat sport, and who wouldn’t want to emulate the Cubs right now?

Maddon first laid eyes on Baez in Puerto Rico when he visited two winters ago after accepting the Chicago job. He watched Baez make some slick plays in the infield and immediately knew that the Cubs would be a better team with Baez around.

This October, everyone is seeing that. He smashed a key home run against San Francisco and made several highlight-reel plays in the field during the division series. Against the Dodgers in Game 1 of this NL Championship Series, he created a run all by himself with a hustle double, a dash to third on a wild pitch and then a breathtaking steal of home. In Game 2, he alertly let a line drive skip on the ground in front of him, instead of catching it, to start a double play.

“He’s just a unique talent,” Maddon says, noting that it is only a select few players who possess it in any sport, like Magic Johnson, one of the Dodgers’ owners and the former NBA great.

“Some of your greater running backs,” he continues. “They just have this vision. They see things. He sees things. And that’s why he’s so good.”

It’s also why it will be so difficult for rival clubs to duplicate what the Cubs have right now. It is an exquisitely rare mix of vision, talent, unselfishness and a willingness by all to do things for the good of the team.

“There are so many guys in the league who could do it if they put their mind to it,” says Zobrist, one of the pioneers of the trade. “But some guys don’t.” 

Among other things, Zobrist says, versatility not only helps the team, it can improve a player’s individual stock. Case in point: himself.

“Teams were looking at me not just as a second baseman or outfielder, but both,” says Zobrist, who emerged as one of the more desired players on the market last winter. “So several different teams were talking to me, saying we want you to do this or we want you to do this. They were putting offers on the table for various positions.

“If that opens up your opportunities, that’s what’s going to enable guys to make more money in free agency, too.”

So far, it has worked wonders for Bryant.

“I feel like it kind of keeps me on my toes in terms of moving around,” Bryant says. “It keeps you fresh at third base. I feel like this game is so monotonous, it’s the same thing over and over every day. So I feel like for me to move around to left field, third base, first base, right field, it kind of makes me wake up a little bit.”

“It’s a great model,” the Padres’ Green says. “Joe’s proven to be a trendsetter in the game in recent years. He was shifting before anybody else was shifting. You look back 20, 30 years at the way Tony La Russa managed the bullpen; now everybody is using their bullpen that way.

“Now, moving guys around the diamond, if you have the pieces to do that, it’s a concept I wouldn’t shy away from at all. But until you get that caliber of athlete all over the diamond where you’ve got a Javy Baez and a Ben Zobrist and a Kris Bryant, the rest of us are just pretending.”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

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How the Chicago Cubs Have Shaken off Slump to Fly Back to Top of MLB

CHICAGO — In sports, we’re used to losses prompting overly emotional and one-word reactions. Not so for the Chicago Cubs under manager Joe Maddon.

Sure, a baseball season is 162 games, but the sport still has its share of teams that allow a loss to linger. Maddon said he has been part of teams like that, so his objective when he joined Chicago in October 2014 was to keep emotions on an even keel.

The Cubs limped to the All-Star break this season, losing nine of 11, but they recently won 11 straight games and 13 of 15 overall.

“One of my main objectives with any team that I’m with is that you win hard for 30 minutes or lose hard for 30 minutes and you move on,” Maddon said Monday. “I don’t see anything productive about carrying a loss to the next day.

“You have to be intentionally upset, surly because you lost yesterday. You can’t smile. All that stuff is absolutely insane to me.”

Maddon explained all this while wearing a shirt that read “Try Not to Suck,” a phrase he has championed in an effort to keep things light. But while he is undoubtedly Mr. Cool in baseball’s managerial ranks, his influence is only worth so much on the field.

Every team needs talent.

The Cubs’ starting staff (3.15 ERA, .213 batting average against) and defense have both been among baseball’s best. According to FanGraphs, the Cubs lead baseball with a 49.5 ultimate zone rating (UZR) and 42.5 defensive runs above average (Def).

Chicago’s UZR is 15.3 points better than the second-ranked Toronto Blue Jays‘. Only three teams have a Def above 30, and the Cubs are the only club with one above 40.

“Our pitching staff is fun to play behind,” third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant said. “They keep you in it. We’re always on our toes. They work quick. They throw strikes. So far our defense has been really good. So from an offensive standpoint, if we go out there and get two or three runs one day with the pitchers we have, I think we have a really good chance to win.”

As evidence, during their 11-game winning streak, the Cubs scored five runs or fewer eight times.

Beyond the stats, Maddon’s ability to keep things in perspective has been a big plus.

“The good teams come in, you don’t even know if they won or lost,” Maddon said. “So that’s the point I’ve been trying to get across here. That’s the point I got across at the previous stop [Tamp Bay].

“It makes no sense to me. I can’t go there. We play too many games, and I think the group that shows up normally on a daily basis has the best chance of avoiding those bad moments.”


Seth Gruen is a national baseball columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @SethGruen.

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Joe Maddon Comments on Chicago’s Smokeless Tobacco Ban

Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon does not agree with the city’s decision to ban smokeless tobacco in sports stadiums. 

“I’m into personal freedoms. … I’m not into overlegislating the human race,” Maddon said Wednesday, per Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago.

As noted by Fran Spielman of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago City Council hit smokers hard by raising the minimum age from 18 to 21, outlawing discounts and putting a $6 million tax hike on tobacco products. The legislature also banned chewing tobacco in sports stadiums, a move that’s increased in prevalence over the last year.      

Smokeless tobacco is now banned in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Boston. Maddon noted in his interview Wednesday that while he quit smokeless tobacco 15 years ago, he doesn’t believe the government should be stepping in to force players’ hands.

“I know of the pitfalls, but I’m into education,” Maddon said, via the Chicago Tribune. “Educate the masses and let everybody make their own decision. That’s what I’m about. To tell me what I can and cannot do as an adult, unless it’s illegal, is something different.”

While some players will adhere to the ban, it’s clear others won’t. When the situation was first making the news cycle after San Francisco’s ban, players seemed to indicate enforcing the law would be a futile endeavor.

“I think people would be able to get away with it,” Tommy Hunter of the Cleveland Indians said last August, per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. “I’m not just specifying baseball players. But how can you police smokeless tobacco anywhere? It’s going to be tough to do, but if they think they can do it, good luck.”

The only way anyone knows if the bans will have an effect is to see them in action. It’s a borderline unprecedented push largely aimed at curbing chewing tobacco use among youths. The product is still legal throughout the United States, and seeing ballplayers use it during game situations has been a part of the game for years.

But as we learn more about the health risks, this is an admirable push to stop whatever influence players may have had on young people trying tobacco. 

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Joe Maddon’s Cocky, Loose Persona Was Perfect for Young Cubs Stars

Joe Maddon entered a den full of untested Cubbies. Now, after his first season at the helm, they’re all grown up.

No, Chicago didn’t bust its legendary World Series drought. But the Cubs engineered a significant turnaround, snapping a string of five consecutive losing seasons with a 97-win campaign and a return to the postseason.

A sizable share of the credit goes to the club’s brash, bespectacled skipper, who was rewarded with the National League Manager of the Year award Tuesday. To claim the prize, Maddon bested fellow finalists Mike Matheny of the St. Louis Cardinals and Terry Collins of the New York Mets. (Yes, Collins’ Mets swept Maddon’s Cubs in the National League Championship Series, but voters had cast their ballots before the playoffs.)

Maddon twice won the honor in the American League while managing the Tampa Bay Rays, meaning this latest bit of hardware vaults him into elite company, as ESPN Stats & Info noted:

More than anything, Maddon was the right fit for this club. Yes, his roster was bursting with ability, headlined by recently minted NL Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant and ace right-hander Jake Arrieta, a finalist for the NL Cy Young Award.

But the Cubs pinned their hopes on a gaggle of rookies, including Bryant, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber. If they had wobbled in stretches and faded in baseball’s toughest division, no one would have been surprised.

Instead, Chicago hung with the Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates and finished with the third-best record in baseball. It may have been the second wild-card team, but it would have won any other division. 

It’s impossible to say whether this group would’ve gelled so well and so quickly under another skipper. But it’s clear Maddon’s confident, free-and-easy persona rubbed off on his young charges, as CBS Sports’ Matt Snyder highlighted:

This Cubs nucleus hadn’t been around the concept of winning, and Maddon brought a complete culture change to the locker room. He found ways to keep them loose throughout the season, such as a magician, a petting zoo on the field at Wrigley and pajama night, which hilariously came the night of Jake Arrieta‘s no-hitter in Los Angeles.

Intangibles like a loose atmosphere and a winning culture don’t show up on a stat sheet, and they can’t even be quantified. But they matter, arguably as much as lineup construction or in-game tactical machinations.

Then again, Maddon has a deservedly strong reputation in those areas, as well. He’s known for being open to analytics and for mixing and matching as needed.

A less creative manager, for example, might have balked at moving Bryant around the diamond. Maddon, however, sized up his touted rook, determined he could handle multiple defensive assignments and gave him innings at third base, first base and all three outfield positions.

Maddon also wasn’t afraid to bench struggling shortstop Starlin Castro in August and replace the three-time All-Star with Russell.

Russell shined with his glove and provided some pop, while Castro returned at second base and picked up his game, as Snyder noted.

The chess analogy is overused when it comes to coaches and managers, but Maddon truly is a master at pushing his pieces and, often, seeing a few moves ahead. 

Which brings us back to his confident personality, which can border on cocky. 

“For me, I’m going to be talking playoffs next year,” Maddon said shortly after his hire, per MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat. “I’m going to tell you that right now. Because I can’t go to spring training and say any other thing. I’m just incapable of doing that.”

He knew he could guide this storied franchise out of the weeds—and he did. It’s not cockiness if you can back it up.

Of course, you can’t heap praise on Maddon without nodding to Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, the architect of Chicago’s renaissance. 

Epstein, who arrived in the Windy City after busting the Curse of the Bambino in Boston, methodically and expertly orchestrated this rebuild, and when the pieces were in place, he went out and snared the manager he wanted.

Tampering accusations surfaced at the time, since Maddon had to opt out of his contract with Tampa Bay to sign with Chicago. The Cubs were cleared of any wrongdoing by MLB, but the takeaway was that Epstein was willing to do what it took to land Maddon, even if it meant skirting the edge of the rules.

He got his man. The Cubs got back on the winning path. And Maddon has another shiny trinket to stash on his mantle.

Now, the expectation level has been set to sky-high. With their nucleus locked in and the Cubs likely to be active on a loaded free-agent market, the next step is as unambiguous as it is monumental: win a title, bury that damn billy goat and let the confetti rain on the North Side at long last.

For the moment, Maddon can bask in the glow of one promise fulfilled. These Cubbies needed to taste success, and he fed it to them.

Now, they’re hungry for more.


All statistics current as of Nov. 17 and courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Joe Maddon Wins NL Manager of the Year: Voting Results, Comments and Reaction

After winning Manager of the Year two times with the Tampa Bay Rays, Joe Maddon brought his magic to the Chicago Cubs and was named 2015 National League Manager of the Year. 

MLB Network provided the news:

Maddon won the award over New York Mets skipper Terry Collins and St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. Here is a look at the voting results:

With this win, Maddon joins Buck Showalter, Lou Piniella and Dusty Baker as three-time winners of the award. Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox are the only four-time winners. According to ESPN Stats & Info, he is the seventh manager to win the award three times and the sixth to win it in each league. 

Taking over a Cubs team that won 73 games in 2014 and had five consecutive losing seasons, Maddon was faced with a daunting task. 

Never one to shy away from a challenge, though, Maddon said at his introductory press conference in Chicago last November that he was thinking big right away, per CBS Sports’ Dayn Perry:

We’re going to set our marks high. So I’m going to talk playoffs, and I’m going to talk World Series. This year. I promise you. And I’m going to believe it. And I’m going to see how all this is going to play out. It’s within our future, there’s no question about that. I don’t know exactly when that’s going to happen, but in my mind’s eye, we’re going to the playoffs next year. That’s how I’m going to approach next season.

Everyone was aware the Cubs were building something interesting in the minors, with talent like Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Jorge Soler poised to make an impact of some kind in 2015, but even the most optimistic fans were calling Maddon crazy at the time. 

A funny thing happened along the way: The Cubs were winning right out of the gate, leading to surprise early call-ups for Russell and Kyle Schwarber. The young nucleus that also included Anthony Rizzo and breakout pitching sensation Jake Arrieta led the franchise to 97 wins in the regular season and an appearance in the NLCS for the first time since 2003. 

The Cubs’ 24-win improvement from 2014 was the most in MLB, with Texas being the only other team to break the 20-win plateau. 

Maddon has been revered as one of the best managers in baseball since he took over Tampa Bay in 2006. His work with the young Cubs in 2015 has the franchise expecting greatness moving forward and resulted in his latest Manager of the Year triumph.  

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NLCS Game 4: How Twitter Reacted to Chicago Cubs’ Loss to Mets

Wrigley Field was a haunted house for the Chicago Cubs in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. Daniel Murphy of the New York Mets again played the ghoul. 

Murphy hit a home run for the fifth straight postseason game, and he scored another run as the Mets jumped out to a 3-0 NLCS lead over the Cubs on Tuesday night. A man who would not have been recognized by some casual baseball fans a couple of weeks ago is now generating headlines literally every time that he takes the field. The Los Angeles Dodgers couldn’t cool Murphy down. Now it’s the Cubs being terrorized by the new Mr. October of New York.

You may have heard about the “curse” that supposedly hovers over the Cubs. Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post wrote about it on October 19: 

And by now, you almost certainly know that on Oct. 6, 1945, with the Cubs leading the Tigers 2-1 after three games of the World Series, Bill Sianis bought two tickets for Game 4. The War was over, but travel restrictions were still in effect so after three games in Detroit the Series shifted to Chicago; the Cubs needed to only split those games to win their first championship since 1908.

There are various versions of what happened when Sianis showed up at Wrigley that day with his “guest” — Murphy the goat. The most popular one goes something like this: The ushers stopped Sianis, told him no animals were allowed in the park. Sianis appealed to P. K. Wrigley himself, who confirmed the decision: “Let Billy in,” the Cubs owner said. “But not the goat.”

Sianis, incensed, demanded an explanation. And Wrigley gave him one.

“Because the goat stinks,” he said.

No matter the version of the story, this part is not in dispute: Sianis told Wrigley, “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more. The Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field.”

When the Tigers took three out of four to win the ’45 Series, a telegram arrived in the offices of P. K. Wrigley: “WHO STINKS NOW?”

That it is a man named Murphy who could have a role in the Cubs being swept right out of the NLCS has not been lost on social media. 


It is understandable that some fans of the Cubs and even members of the club are shocked following Game 3. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Murphy, who had all of 14 home runs during the regular season (h/t ESPN), was not supposed to become the most feared hitter in baseball. The renewal of the Cubs-Mets rivalry from decades ago presented, on paper, an ideal opportunity for the Cubs to end this “jinx” that has plagued Chicago since 1908.

What could have been a fairy-tale ending for long-suffering fans of the Cubs is quickly becoming a nightmare. The Cubs are not just on the brink of elimination via a sweep. To make what would now be an historic run to the World Series, the Cubs will have to defeat the following starting pitchers: Steven Matz, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom


Somewhat ironic in all of this is that the fanbase of the Mets is about as emotionally broken as are supporters of the Cubs. New York sports talk radio host Joe Benigno is but one tortured Mets fan. He theorized, during a segment that aired on WFAN on Tuesday afternoon, that it would be fitting for the Cubs to put an end to their World Series drought by coming back from being down 0-3 in the NLCS. That discussion sparked talk of when the Boston Red Sox completed their comeback against the New York Yankees during the 2004 ALCS. 

Cubs manager Joe Maddon knows his history. So does Chicago first baseman Anthony Rizzo. 

Members of the Cubs have to remain positive. The team’s season is, after all, not over. “One game at a time” may be a sports cliche, but it is one that is true for any series. The pressure is now on the Mets to close the Cubs out before things get interesting.

Chicago fans may not share that optimism. Could anybody blame them? “Unfortunately, their history is losing” is a line used to describe the relationship fans have with the Cubs in a wrap-up video for Game 3 of the NLCS. That says a lot, and it is a gut-punch to those fans.

His past play suggests that Murphy will soon return to form. That he hasn’t already is astonishing. Once that happens, it should theoretically have negative impacts on others in the lineup of the Mets. That domino effect could be just what the Cubs need to turn the NLCS around. 

Then again, one would think that a franchise could fall into a World Series championship at some point between 1908-2015. 

The Mets have looked like a runaway train in the NLCS. Harvey being nailed by a rocket-shot line drive early in the series didn’t slow the Mets. Neither did a lost ball in the ivy that cost the Mets at least an additional run in Game 3. Outside of having blind hope, Chicago fans have little reason to believe that the Mets will completely fall apart between now and Game 7. 

Perhaps it’s time to rename it the “Murphy Curse.” 

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NLCS Schedule 2015: Start Time, Odds, World Series Predictions Before Game 2

Matt Harvey had made one start in the postseason in his short career in the majors, and that was earlier this season. Jon Lester had started 13 games and carried a 2.66 postseason ERA over his long tenure with the Red Sox, Athletics and Cubs.

But in Game 1 at Citi Field, Harvey looked like the veteran superstar against the Cubs’ talented bats, going 7.2 innings and only allowing four hits and two runs as the Mets took the early series lead with a 4-2 win.

It was a typical performance from New York this season, relying on their skilled, if slightly inexperienced, group of pitchers while the offense put together a passable game to secure the win.

With the Mets taking a 1-0 lead in the NLCS and the Royals up 2-0 heading to Toronto in the ALCS, the World Series has to be on the minds of both sets of fans. But can they get there, or will the Cubs or Blue Jays battle back to steal the series?

Let’s take a look at which teams are likely to advance to the Fall Classic and who is best positioned to take home the title:


Date: Oct. 18, 2015

Time: 7:30 p.m.

Odds: Cubs -175, Mets +165

Odds via OddsShark.com


World Series Prediction

Despite what was expected heading into the ALCS, the Kansas City Royals have taken complete control in the series and head to Toronto with a 2-0 lead. Blanking the Blue Jays in Game 1 was the perfect start, and a comeback win in Game 2 put last year’s runners-up in great position to return to the World Series.

Toronto has already used two of its top pitchers and still failed to secure a victory, while the Royals haven’t trotted out Johnny Cueto to pitch yet and should hold the advantage in Game 3 against Marcus Stroman.

If the Royals can manage a win in Toronto over the next three games, it will be hard for the Blue Jays to fight back into the series even with the powerful bats they have.

In the NLCS, the Mets played great defensively and shut down the vaunted young bats of the Chicago Cubs, doing just enough offensively to eke out a 3-1 win.

But with the talent the Cubs bring to the field on a nightly basis, it will be hard for New York to count on only giving up a single run every game and it remains to be seen if the Mets can keep up with Chicago in a high-scoring affair.

The Cubs get Jake Arrieta back for Game 2, which automatically gives them a huge advantage, and if they can win home-field advantage away from the Mets, Wrigley Field could be too much too handle over a three-game span.

With power hitting, youth and pitching on their side, the Cubs should be able to overcome the 1-0 deficit in the NLCS and join the Royals in the World Series.

The Cubs have shown time and again this postseason that they are one of the best power teams in the majors, but against the Royals, that seemingly means nothing. The bats of the Blue Jays have been largely held in check so far, and while Chicago is good, it can’t quite measure up to what Toronto brings to the plate.

Kansas City has the experience, the pitching and the batting to improve on last season’s result and claim the franchise’s second title in history. Chicago is the fun story this year and should challenge for the title for a long time, but the Chicago fans will have to wait at least another year before celebrating the ending of the drought.

World Series Prediction: Royals beat Cubs 4-2

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Cubs vs. Pirates NL Wild Card Game: Live Score and Instant Reaction

FINAL SCORE: Cubs 4-0 Pirates

The Cubs are moving on.

In a game that had pitcher’s duel written all over it, Jake Arietta answered the call and helped lead the Chicago Cubs to a 4-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Wild Card Game on Wednesday night.

Arrieta was masterful, twirling a complete-game four-hitter while striking out 11 Buccos. He worked through the game unscathed until the Pirates rallied the bases loaded in the sixth inning. However, Starling Marte ripped into a double play to end the threat.

Arrieta got some early help from the top of Chicago’s lineup, courtesy of Kyle Schwarber and Dexter Fowler. After driving home Fowler with a single in the first inning, the lefty rookie slugger Schwarber blasted a 449-foot home run to right field that drove in Fowler again and put the Cubs ahead, 3-0, in the third.

Not to be outdone, Fowler added a solo shot in the fifth to put Chicago up, 4-0. It would prove more than enough for Arrieta, as the only drama he encountered after the sixth was a bench-clearing brawl in the seventh.

He was plunked in his at-bat and had some words with Tony Watson, which emptied both benches in the process. The lone ejection was Sean Rodriguez, who took out some frustration on the water cooler. Arrieta responded to the chaos by stealing second base and getting through the seventh inning with help from a nifty Kris Bryant double-play turn to end the threat. 

Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole finished the night having given up four runs on six hits and tallying four strikeouts in five innings. The two home runs proved to be the difference, with the Pirates unable to find an answer on offense.

For the second straight year, Pittsburgh was held scoreless on its home field in the Wild Card Game. In those two games combined, the Bucs had just eight hits, nine baserunners and struck out 21 times.

The Pirates end their season with 98 wins, the second most in the majors. That won’t make losing two years in a row feel any better, and winning the division becomes that much more important in 2016.

For Chicago, tonight marked 14 consecutive wins in games Arrieta has pitched. The victory also ended a nine-game postseason losing streak.

The Cubs will now travel to St. Louis to play the Cardinals, whom they’ve faced 19 times this year but never in the playoffs. Chicago went 8-11 against St. Louis this season.

First pitch is slated for Friday at 6:45 p.m. ET.

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