Imagine the possibilities if Cubs hire Maddux

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Imagine the possibilities if Cubs hire Maddux

Mike Maddux had everyone laughing with his one-liners, and silent when he cut short questions about why he didnt interview in Boston. It sounded like hed have to think about it if he was offered the job.

But most of all, Maddux had an edge that would serve him well if he becomes the next Cubs manager. That presence seemed to keep open the long-shot possibilities that his brother Greg could join the staff and that Carlos Zambrano might be saved.

The Rangers pitching coach met with Cubs executives for roughly four hours on Tuesday night, and continued interviewing on Wednesday at Wrigley Field. They discussed what role his brother could play in the organization, though Maddux declined to elaborate, calling it a private family matter.

Theres a lot of dynamics in every decision we make, and family not only extends to my wife and my daughters, but also my brother and his family.

Maddux and Nolan Ryan pushed their pitchers in Texas, an old-school philosophy that led the Rangers to the World Series twice in the past two years. So how would you handle Zambrano?

I heard hes a big teddy bear, Maddux said, so might pick him up and just burp him.

Those 18 minutes inside the PNC Club were far more entertaining than anything Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin or Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum gave us during their media sessions.

No one knew what Theo Epstein or Jed Hoyer thought of the performance, because the Cubs executives left the room as soon as it was over, unavailable for comment. Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. will interview on Friday at Wrigley Field.

Maddux almost sounded like Zambranos agent, talking up the enigmatic pitcher who could use a fresh start elsewhere. This was more of a hypothetical question hoping to get a headline. But by hiring an expert, the Cubs could reinvent their pitching staff, with or without their 91.5 million man.

I saw Carlos Zambrano from across the field seven, eight years ago, Maddux said, and he was the best thing since sliced bread. Hed beat you on the mound. Hed beat you at the plate. Hed beat you on the field.

Total package, great competitor. He was the best pitcher in the National League, and thats what I have in my mind about him. Ive seen him dominate.

In Maddux, the Cubs would be getting a strong voice to say buy or sell on any pitcher, someone who could find internal solutions and shape the vision for an entire organization.

It takes no talent to be in shape that takes desire, Maddux said. Your window of opportunity is short, man. So if youre going to be out of shape and not give yourself every opportunity to be the best that you can be, well, shame on you, because you only get one crack at it.

That message could resonate with Epstein, who recently had to answer questions about the culture of fried chicken and beer in the Red Sox clubhouse. Either way, the Cubs will have to upgrade their rotation this winter. Among the qualities Maddux would look for in a pitching coach: Somebody who could put up with my second-guessing.

Maddux prepared for the interview by getting background information from his brother, who worked as a special assistant to Jim Hendry before the general manager was fired last summer. Family considerations could prevent the future Hall of Famer from taking on a full-time role.

Family concerns also forced Maddux, 50, to withdraw from the Red Sox managerial search this week, but he would not go into details: Were not in Boston right now, so talk about Chicago.

When Maddux was done playing in 2000 after 15 seasons, his two daughters were eight and 10 years old. They all moved to Wisconsin for his six seasons as Brewers pitching coach through 2008. His older daughter moved with him for college when he took the job with the Rangers, while his wife and other daughter stayed back. They all reunited last summer in Texas.

Thats pretty special, Maddux said. There does come a time (when) you got to stop and smell the roses and it was a pretty big gut check for me this year being with my family. The situation is nice both my kids are in school down there. (So) there are a lot of tough decisions that would have to be made.

Maddux seems willing to listen. All these years, he never stopped to analyze why the Cubs have gone more than a century without a World Series title. He might have to start coming up with some theories soon.

When I was with the opposition, I did everything I could to keep the Cubs from winning, Maddux said. I despised the song Go Cubs Go after theyd kick our butts. But Ive always admired this town. Its a very, very unique setup, very historic. And whoever becomes the manager of this ballclub is in a good spot.

Preview: Cubs-Marlins Sunday on CSN

Preview: Cubs-Marlins Sunday on CSN

The Cubs take on the Miami Marlins on Sunday, and you can catch all the action on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com and the NBC Sports App.

Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 11:30 a.m., followed by first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies on the call. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Mike Montgomery (1-3, 2.26 ERA) vs. Edinson Volquez (3-8, 4.19 ERA)

Click here for more stats to make sure you’re ready for the action.

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

Jon Lester: It’s go time for Cubs

Jon Lester: It’s go time for Cubs

MIAMI – Jon Lester dropped his head and wiped the sweat from his face. The Cubs ace didn’t jerk his neck and twist his body, hoping the swing and the sound somehow fooled him. The slow turnaround revealed the obvious – the 75-mph curveball out of his left hand flew over the left-field wall and nearly into the Clevelander bar billed as an adult playground. 

Lester gripped the next ball, stared out into the visual noise at Marlins Park and went to work late Saturday afternoon after J.T. Realmuto’s two-out, three-run homer in the first inning. This is the bulldog determination and tunnel vision that’s been the antidote to the big-market pressures at Fenway Park and Wrigley Field and made Lester such a big-game pitcher.

“You really just have to lock it down,” Lester said after doing just that in a 5-3 win. “You have to try to figure out a way to pitch innings. That was one thing I learned at an early age in Boston with ‘Schill’ (Curt Schilling) and Josh (Beckett). It doesn’t matter. Now we start over. You have to take that mindset of ‘It’s back to zero’ and not keep looking at the scoreboard.”

From that Realmuto moment, Lester retired the next 13 hitters he faced, 15 of the next 16 and 18 of his last 20 at a time when the Cubs needed that performance to buy time for their young hitters, weather a series of injuries and survive a brutal schedule.

Lester believed enough in the coming waves of talent to sign with a last-place team after the 2014 season, and got rewarded with his third World Series ring, continually impressed with this group’s poise and maturity.

The day after getting shut out for the sixth time this season, Addison Russell, Ian Happ, Javier Baez and Albert Almora Jr. – four 24-and-under players – combined to go 7-for-15 with five RBI and four runs scored.

“It’s a test for everybody,” Lester said. “These guys are kind of getting broken in early. They’re going to figure it out and we’re going to go. Now it seems like our guys are really feeling comfortable at the plate. We’re having good at-bats, normal at-bats.

“The results will come. This is, obviously, a results-driven industry. But the plans – as far as on the mound and in the batter’s box – just look a lot smoother right now, a lot cleaner and hopefully we can just keep playing good baseball.”

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The Cubs are 38-36, a half-game behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers and in position to win three consecutive series for the first time since April. Whether or not Lester (5-4, 3.83 ERA) returns to Little Havana for the All-Star Game, he is the bellwether for this rotation.  

“Jonny’s just got this thing going on right now,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He knows where the ball is going and he gets the high-number velocity when he wants to. He’s not just pitching at 92, 93, 94 (mph). It’s in his back pocket when he needs it. And he gets it with command when he wants it.

“As well as I’ve seen him pitch – I know he had a great run last year also – from a stuff perspective, command perspective, it’s as good as he can pitch.”

This $155 million investment will at some point become a sunk cost. The Cubs understand the history of nine-figure contracts for pitchers and how desperately they need reinforcements. But almost 100 innings into this title defense, Lester feels like he’s just getting started. 

“I feel better now than I did in April and May, for sure,” Lester said. “I think bigger bodies just take a while sometimes. Some years are different than others. Some years you come out like gangbusters and you’re ready to go and the body feels fine. And other years it takes a while to get into that rhythm of pitching every five days again. This was one of those years.”