Cubs: Joe Maddon preaching patience for Jorge Soler

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Cubs: Joe Maddon preaching patience for Jorge Soler

In spring training, Joe Maddon labeled Jorge Soler as Vladimir Guerrero with plate discipline. That made it sound like the Cubs manager saw the young Cuban outfielder someday approaching something close to a Hall of Fame ceiling.

It’s not going to be that easy for any of the powerful young hitters the Cubs are building around now. Maddon can’t communicate that much with Soler in Spanish, but he wants his coaching staff to send a message and reinforce certain ideas.

[MORE CUBS: Joe Maddon hates the idea of the DH in National League]

This is all part of the learning curve for a guy who only played 54 career games above the A-ball level before his big-league promotion last summer: Soler broke an 0-for-15 streak with a first-inning double during Monday night’s 4-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field.

“The biggest thing I’ve noticed with him is frustration in other components of his game,” Maddon said. “That’s what I would really like for him to avoid. He has shown in the past to be a really patient hitter that doesn’t normally chase.

“He has been (chasing) more recently. For me, it’s the old scouting adage of: ‘If he’s shown it to you before, he’s going to show it to you again.’ So I know he’s going to go back to being that guy. I just think that with the great start that he has had, he’s probably just pressing a little bit more.”

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Buy a Jorge Soler jersey]

It can’t be easy hitting on a cold night when it’s 43 degrees at first pitch and you’re wearing a facemask. Soler – who had struck out 10 times in his previous four games – wowed Cubs officials with his methodical approach coming out of Cuba and those skills still leave him with a .762 OPS in April.

“All he needs to do is take his walks,” Maddon said. “Seriously, when you’re walking, you’re hitting, especially with guys that are that good. Meaning that you’re not expanding your strike zone. You’re not chasing that guy’s pitch. You’re making him come to you more.

“He doesn’t need to make any adjustments physically (with) his feet, arms, hands, head, whatever. His adjustment just has to come from the fact that I’m going to accept my walks. And once he comes to terms with that, he’ll take off again.”

Honda Road Ahead: Can Cubs slow down Nationals bats?

Honda Road Ahead: Can Cubs slow down Nationals bats?

CSN's David Kaplan and David DeJesus discuss the upcoming matchups in this edition of the Cubs Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland & NW Indiana Honda Dealers.

Maybe a four-game series with the N.L. East-leading Washington Nationals will help the Cubs take off. 

It did last year. 

The Cubs swept the Nats early last season, boosting themselves into first place in the National League - a position they wouldn't relinquish. More than a sweep, though, a positive series is vital for a team that continues to hover around .500. 

To do so, Joe Maddon's pitchers must somehow slow the Nationals offense, which has managed to push across more runs than any team in the majors. 

After D.C., the Cubs are off to Cincy for a three-game set with the Reds. 

Watch David Kaplan and David DeJesus preview the upcoming matchups in the video above. 

Cubs in sink-or-swim mode with Nationals looming: ‘Keep the floaties on’

Cubs in sink-or-swim mode with Nationals looming: ‘Keep the floaties on’

MIAMI – Jon Jay walked into a quiet clubhouse late Sunday morning, turned right and headed directly toward the sound system in one corner of the room, plugging his phone into the sound system and playing Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.”

The Cubs outfielder whistled as he changed into his work clothes at Marlins Park, singing along to the lyrics with Anthony Rizzo a few lockers over: “Don’t worry, about a thing, ‘cause every little thing gonna be all right.” 

That’s what the Cubs keep telling themselves, because most of them have World Series rings and the National League Central is such a bad division.

“The biggest thing is to keep the floaties on until we get this thing right,” manager Joe Maddon said before a 4-2 loss left the Cubs treading water again at 38-37. “We’re solvent. We’re right there. We’re right next to first place.”

In leaving this relaxed tropical environment after a 4-2 loss, the Cubs will jump into the deep end on Monday night for the start of a four-game showdown at Nationals Park, where Dusty Baker will stack his rotation with Gio Gonzalez, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg and hope Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman can outslug a bad bullpen.

Maddon already sounded doubtful about All-Star shortstop Addison Russell, who mishandled the spin on a routine Ichiro Suzuki groundball in the first inning and later exited the game with a “sharp, pinching pain” at the front of his right shoulder.

Miami sunk the Cubs with three unearned runs after Russell’s error, part of a season-long trend where the defending champs can’t seem to put it all together in every phase of the game. Martin Prado drilled Mike Montgomery’s first-pitch, 93-mph fastball off the left-center field wall for a two-out, two-run double and the Cubs will have to play sharper against the first-place Nationals (45-30).

“It could be a great test,” reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant said. “It will be nice to see where we’re at against them.”

The Cubs had enough trouble against Edinson Volquez and the Miami bullpen, translating eight hits and seven walks into only two runs while leaving 11 runners on base. That wasted a quality start from Montgomery (1-4, 2.03 ERA), who lasted six innings and retired the last 10 batters he faced. More than anything, Maddon sounded disappointed in Willson Contreras missing a hit-and-run sign in the seventh inning and Ian Happ getting thrown out at second base.

“Keep The Floaties On” sounds like an idea for Maddon’s next T-shirt. The 2017 Cubs haven’t been more than four games over .500 or two games under .500 at any point this season. The 2016 Cubs didn’t lose their 37th game until July 19 and spent 180 days in first place.

“That’s what was so special about it,” Rizzo said. “We boat-raced from Game 1 to Game 7 with a couple bumps in the road, but this is baseball. It’s not going to be all smooth-sailing every day. You got to work through things.”

The Cubs might be working without the safety net of a wild card when the Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies are all on pace for close to 100 victories in the brutal NL West. For all their inconsistencies, the Cubs are still only 1.5 games behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers in a division where the other three teams could become trade-deadline sellers.

“I know that, but I also know that we have not had that run yet, which I believe we have (in us),” Maddon said. “I’m waiting on us to get well. I want our young guys to (use) the whole field, hitting-wise, and see where that can take us. Right now, our starters are pitching like we thought that they could.

“I’ve always wanted to win the division, obviously. We’ll just play that out. It’s too early for me to really be concerned about that yet. We’re pitching better. We’re catching the ball better. And now all of a sudden, they’re starting to use the whole field. So let’s see where this takes us right now.”

Sink or swim, the Cubs are going into the nation’s capital, less than six months after their White House visit. The big idea will be survival more than dynasty in what could still be a playoff preview.

“We’re looking forward to play them,” Montgomery said. “We know where they’re at. We know we could see them down the line.”