Chicago Cubs

Embrace the Suck: Joe Maddon, Cubs have a new, perfectly-timed rallying cry

Embrace the Suck: Joe Maddon, Cubs have a new, perfectly-timed rallying cry

You might've heard, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon moonlights as a T-shirt salesman.

The team that leads Major League Baseball in T-shirts just added a new one to the batch Friday afternoon, though the mid-May 44-degree day did not make for great T-shirt weather:

Embrace the Suck is a blend of two phrases Maddon used as rallying cries during the championship 2016 season: "Embrace the Target" and "Try Not to Suck."

It's also a military term that the Cubs have been hoping to employ since spring training ever since Joshua Lifrak — the organization's director of mental skills program in the minor leagues — brought it to the manager's attention.

"[It means] exactly what it says," Maddon said. "... It's been a military phrase for probably the last 20 years. I had never heard about it before. It also includes Embrace the Target, Try Not to Suck — it's a morphing of those two phrases and we've been working with the military in order to be able to utilize it where we can sell it and use it for our team phrase."

Maddon and the Cubs are teaming up with KorkedBaseball.com again to sell the shirt and will split the proceeds with the military as well as Maddon's Respect 90 charitable foundation.

"Embrace the Suck" originated from the U.S. Army and is linked to the Navy Seals. It's also being used as a rallying cry for the Atlanta Falcons as of this week after head coach Dan Quinn used it to refocus his team this offseason following a collapse in the Super Bowl.

For the reigning world-champion Cubs, the phrase is remarkably applicable during the first 40 games of a season that has not lived up to expectations set forth by a team that won 200 games across the last two years.

"The message could not be more appropriate than it is right now regarding the start of the season," Maddon said. "We're embracing the suck, we're trying to continue to move forward. 

"Militarily speaking, I would imagine if you're fighting or in a difficult situation, it's never any good. But nevertheless, you have to embrace the moment somehow."

The Cubs spent last year embracing the target on their backs as the preseason favorite to win it all. They're still getting everybody's best shot as they were in 2016, but the 2017 team has yet to click on all cylinders and is still trying to settle into a groove.

So how, exactly, do the Cubs Embrace the Suck?

"It's never going to be the same path," Maddon said. "To this point, it's not run exactly the way we've liked it to. But again, to really expect utopia on an annual basis in the baseball industry is difficult and not really a good method.

"I want our guys to understand: Maybe we haven't done our best work to this point, but that's a good thing. To really stay focused and understand that the better days are coming.

"More recently, we've had three good days, but it's gonna take a lot more than that to get back to where we want to be. So the concept of embracing the target, try not to suck and then embracing the suck, to me makes all the sense in the world."

Of course, the Cubs are coming off a three-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds, their first sweep since Sept. 19-21 of last season (also against the Reds at Wrigley Field).

The panic is gone — for now, at least — surrounding a Cubs team that is now 21-19 and has a chance to knock the first-place Brewers out of the top spot in the NL Central this weekend.

"We're over .500," Kris Bryant deadpanned, "so everybody can stop freaking out now."

Jon Lester hits disabled list as back-to-back Octobers start catching up to Cubs

Jon Lester hits disabled list as back-to-back Octobers start catching up to Cubs

Typically, you wouldn’t expect there to be anything wrong with playing deep into the month of October in back-to-back seasons.

Indeed only the back-to-back world-championship campaigns in 1907 and 1908 have produced a better two-season stretch of Cubs baseball than what the team has done the past couple of years. A run to the National League Championship Series in 2015 was followed up by last season’s curse-smashing World Series win, which still has much of Lakeview in a pretty euphoric state.

But not every effect is a positive one, as the 2017 edition of the Cubs are finding out.

The debate over a so-called “World Series hangover” aside, the Cubs were hit with a more tangible detriment from playing so many postseason games Friday, when Jon Lester was placed on the disabled list with what was described as left lat tightness and general shoulder fatigue.

The news on Lester, of course, could’ve been far worse. In fact, many were expecting far worse, making Friday’s news qualify as a sigh of relief for a team that will need every one of its weapons to battle through an extremely tight division race. Lester, according to the Cubs, has no structural damage and is getting put on the shelf mostly to rest up after back-to-back seasons of deep playoff runs.

“His arm is tired, which is understandable,” team president Theo Epstein said. “If you look at the load that he’s carried, pitching seven months the last couple years, taking the ball every fifth day. There comes a time where all pitchers need a breather, and this is his time.

“He’s actually told us he’s been dealing with it for a good bit now, so this was probably inevitable. He’s getting the break before anything serious happens. He’ll be down for a little while, but he’ll come back to finish the year really solid note, pitch a lot of important games the rest of the way.

“It’s a grind. Especially when you pitch through October a couple years in a row, things tend to add up. This hasn’t been a year where we’ve been able to open up any kind of lead (in the division) and proactively give guys as much rest as we would like. Now Jon’s going to get that blow, which in the long run will serve him well.”

After back-to-back seasons of sensational starting pitching up and down the Cubs’ rotation — Jake Arrieta won the Cy Young Award in 2015, while Lester and Kyle Hendricks were finalists last year — this season has seen consistency among those same pitchers be a big issue. It was the team’s No. 1 issue, per Joe Maddon, during that sub-.500 first half.

And while things have picked up dramatically since the All-Star break, Lester’s disastrous outing Thursday wasn’t the first such performance of his season. Four times since late May, Lester has thrown four innings or fewer. Thursday’s nasty 1.2-inning, eight-run shellacking was like a replay of his final start prior to the All-Star break, when he was tagged for 10 runs and recorded just two outs against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

In a season when breaking away from a mediocre pack of teams in the NL Central has yet to happen, fatigue is becoming a recurring theme.

“Jon has just pitched a lot,” Maddon said. “He’s pitched a lot over the last several years. And that’s what I keep talking about with a lot of our guys, when you take them out after 85, 90, 95 pitches, sometimes they don’t like it. But it’s a cumulative kind of effect that it’s going to have where all of a sudden it piles up and guys become tired or fatigued or they start doing something differently and all of a sudden they get some tightness.

“He probably was a little bit tired before the break. I think the break helped him a lot, he came out of the break well. Recently he’s felt a little bit of that tightness and just a general malaise. The fatigue is taking over. So we’re a little bit concerned about all of that. Give him a couple days off. I anticipate when he comes back you’re going to see a lot of what you saw post All-Star break.”

Lester’s trip to the disabled list coincides with a pair of other key performers spending time on the shelf. There seems to be no return in sight for injured shortstop Addison Russell, and the only update Maddon had on Willson Contreras was that the injured catcher “feels good.”

The good news for the Cubs is that they don’t expect to be without their ace long. Maybe just one or two missed starts. They’re mighty confident in their stopgap replacement plan, Mike Montgomery. So Lester’s injury doesn’t seem like it could have the same earth-shattering effect as losing the team’s hottest hitter, like they did when they lost Contreras.

Maddon, though, does see one of the team’s major injuries as an issue.

“The thing I’m concerned about is Javy (Baez)’s playing so much at shortstop right now. Among all the injuries, Addison impacts down the road more just because of what it’s doing,” Maddon said. “But Javy’s been playing with a lot of energy.

“I’ve been really watching him more than anybody because the outfielders are all getting breaks. (Kris Bryant) has not, (Anthony) Rizzo has not, but I get them out in a bad game or a good game, giving them some innings that way. So it’s been primarily Javy that I’m most concerned about, only because I’m worried about the latter part of the season. This guy’s played a lot. If and when we can get Addy back in there and get Javy on a more civil method regarding playing, I think that would be the one area that I’m most concerned about.”

Call it a World Series hangover. Call it just being tired. The Cubs’ rise over the past two seasons is having some ill effects as they look to repeat as World Series champs. They’re just hoping this banged-up month of August won’t prevent them from playing in three straight Octobers.

What really happened between Jon Lester and Chris Bosio

What really happened between Jon Lester and Chris Bosio

What really happened between Jon Lester and Chris Bosio?

After Lester's early exit from Thursday's game against the Cincinnati Reds, cameras caught the Cubs southpaw appearing to have a confrontation in the home dugout with Bosio, the team's pitching coach.

CSN's David Kaplan did some investigating and said Friday on his morning radio show on ESPN 1000 that Lester was expressing frustration with the Cubs defense. It was not directed to Bosio.

The Cubs were trailing 8-0 in the second inning when Lester left the game with left lat tightness. The Reds eventually tacked on another run to make it 9-0. It was a frustrating inning — to say the least — for the Cubs, who eventually erased the nine-run deficit but failed to complete the comeback in a 13-10 loss.

Kaplan also said an update on Lester should come some time Friday morning, but he isn't expected to miss a serious amount of time. He will likely land on the disabled list, though.