Chicago Cubs

Joe Maddon’s new normal for Cubs: A team people love to hate?

Joe Maddon’s new normal for Cubs: A team people love to hate?

MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs destroyed that “Lovable Loser” image years ago, no longer running the team like a mom-and-pop operation, squeezing the local government here for a brand-new spring-training facility and battling the rooftops, small businesses and City Hall for control of Wrigleyville.

A sleeping-giant franchise made the home-run hires, bringing in a guitar-playing, Ivy League-educated, future Hall of Fame executive to run baseball operations. A groovy, unconventional manager who loves the cameras and hates baseball’s unwritten rules would lead the team.

The players wouldn’t have to act like robots, with Theo Epstein’s culture and Joe Maddon’s attitude allowing them to express their individual personalities, show their emotions and design a Party Room inside Wrigley Field’s state-of-the-art clubhouse.

It’s too early to really feel the backlash — less than 48 hours before the defending World Series champs hold their first full-squad workout in Arizona — but the Cubs can sort of see it coming.

“I don’t know if the word’s ‘hated,’” Maddon said Thursday at the Sloan Park complex. But making a sense of swagger or arrogance part of this team’s identity? That’s Cub.

“It’s all about that,” Maddon said. “Just go back in history. I’ve often talked about the Dodgers when I came up in the minor leagues (with the Angels). Their uniforms were whiter than everybody else’s. They thought they were better than everybody else. And then they went out and they won all the time.

“I hated it, but I liked it at the same time. I think the Yankees have developed that kind of a culture. (With) teams that win — whether you even want to talk about the Patriots in football — it’s part of it.

“It’s not that you feel as though you’re just going to show up and throw your gloves out there and you’re going to win. That’s not the point. You gain this confidence based on winning — and there’s something to be said for knowing how to win.”

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Within the last two seasons, the Cubs have won 200 games, five playoff rounds and the franchise’s first World Series title since 1908. There still seemed to be a level of overexcitement, at times, in dissecting Maddon’s Game 7 decisions. Flashy, stylish players like Javier Baez and Willson Contreras will inevitably upset baseball’s fun police at some point this year.

After appearing all over the late-night talk-show circuit this offseason, this group is also positioned to be the next-generation version of the ’85 Bears in terms of seemingly unlimited marketing potential.

“The target grows bigger and bigger on this team,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “Even though people are gunning for us, we expect to win. We intend to see everybody’s best every time we step in between the lines.

“Dealing with pressure, I think, is a good thing. It shows you care. It’s an opportunity for guys to shine in big situations, especially trying to repeat and redo what we did last year. It’s possible. It’s definitely doable with the group we have here.”

Love it or hate it, this is the new normal, the Cubs starring as Major League Baseball’s glamor team.

“It works both ways,” Maddon said. “You’re going to get the group that absolutely jumps on the bandwagon, too. There’s a part of the world that wants to be attached to a winner. By the same token, there’s that group that’s always looking for somebody to fail.

“Regardless of the camp somebody may be in, for me, it’s about us, taking care of what we want to do, how we want to do it daily and creating the culture that we want. And then let people decide where they want to be with that.

“But I know (about) the genuine nature of our guys, the authentic nature of our players and their work ethic. I know we know what we’re all about — and that’s really what matters.”

Justin Wilson isn’t running away from big moments with Cubs: ‘I want the ball’

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AP

Justin Wilson isn’t running away from big moments with Cubs: ‘I want the ball’

MILWAUKEE – The Cubs have tried to find lower-pressure spots for Justin Wilson to work on things and rebuild his confidence without publicly burying a lefty reliever they specifically targeted before the July 31 trade deadline.

Both manager Joe Maddon and team president Theo Epstein have given Wilson the vote of confidence, though the real test will be whether or not the Cubs actually trust him in the playoffs.

“It’s an open book of communication here,” Wilson said. “We talk. I’ve talked to them and said: ‘Hey, I’m going to get right. I want the ball. I just want to keep getting back out there.’”

Even after All-Star closer Wade Davis blew his first save in more than a year, the Cubs could find big-picture optimism about their bullpen because Wilson got four outs during Saturday’s 4-3 10-inning loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.

“How good was that?” Maddon said. “That’s really something looking forward. He made a nice adjustment out there. It looked really good from the side. If we get that out of him, that could be a huge difference-maker for us.”

That was the idea when the Cubs made Wilson their headliner in the package deal with catcher Alex Avila and reinforced the bullpen for another World Series run. Wilson closed for the Detroit Tigers, notching 13 saves for a bad team, putting up a 2.48 ERA in 42 appearances and shutting down left- and right-handed hitters.

Wilson – who gave up 16 walks in 40.1 innings for Detroit – allowed 16 walks and 17 hits through his first 14.1 innings as a Cub while putting up a 6.28 ERA.

On a smoking 88-degree afternoon and in front of a loud crowd of 44,067, Wilson faced the top four hitters in the Milwaukee lineup and unleashed 17 fastballs in a row, all of them buzzing around 95-97 mph across the seventh and eighth innings. Wilson struck out Eric Sogard and Neil Walker, forced Ryan Braun to fly out to left field and struck out Travis Shaw swinging.

With stuff like that, the magic number to clinch the National League Central title in the low single digits and another week left in the regular season, the Cubs hope Wilson can figure it out and become the late-inning weapon they envisioned.       

“Clearly, it hasn’t been the same for me from before the trade,” Wilson said. “I just want to keep pitching.”

The Streak ends as Cubs watch Wade Davis finally blow a save: ‘It’s definitely on me’

The Streak ends as Cubs watch Wade Davis finally blow a save: ‘It’s definitely on me’

MILWAUKEE – The efficient, emotionless way Wade Davis did his job helped the Cubs stay afloat during the disappointing first half of this season, a time when late-inning losses could have really damaged the clubhouse and the defending World Series champs might have collapsed.  

Standing at his locker, Davis had the same stone-faced expression on his bearded face after Saturday afternoon’s 4-3 walk-off loss, the third straight 10-inning game the Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers have played at Miller Park. Because Davis had been 32-for-32 in save chances this year, the Cubs could appreciate all the heart-pounding action and how this compared to October.  

“We 100 percent won that game today, it seemed like,” Davis said in his monotone voice. “The offense and everything was incredible, coming back twice. It’s definitely on me.”

It was jarring to watch Travis Shaw drive a hanging curveball over the fence in left-center field and into the Milwaukee bullpen. Teammates waited for Shaw at home plate with Gatorade buckets after that game-winning two-run homer, showering him and tearing his jersey apart amid the mosh pit, the Brewers still clinging to their hopes in the National League wild-card race.

The perfect season already ended for Davis in the ninth inning, when Orlando Arcia hammered a misplaced 92-mph fastball that stayed just inside the left-field foul pole and landed in the second deck.

The crowd of 44,067 watched Davis blow his first save since Sept. 2, 2016, which also happened to be his first game back in the Kansas City Royals bullpen after spending more than a month on the disabled list with a flexor strain in his right elbow.

“There’s nothing to lament right there,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Another intensely good baseball game. And they got us at the end. But there’s no way, shape or form to point a finger at Wade.”

Davis wasn’t pointing a finger at Maddon and doing an Aroldis Chapman impression, but the All-Star closer did admit: “My arm was dragging a little bit.”

The Cubs had used Davis five times within the last eight days, including a back-to-back-to-back last weekend against the St. Louis Cardinals and then asking him to get five outs in Thursday night’s 10-inning comeback win over Milwaukee. Until Saturday’s comeback, the Brewers had been 0-54 when trailing after eight innings.  

“I just made a lot of bad pitches,” Davis said, who had converted his last 38 save chances and set a new franchise record to begin his Cubs career/set him up for a big contract this winter as a free agent.

Maddon, who will face another round of bullpen-management questions when the playoffs begin, had Hector Rondon warming up in the 10th inning, but the right-hander threw a scoreless inning on Friday night, his first appearance since Sept. 8 after getting treated for a sore elbow.

“If we did not score when we scored, I would have brought Rondon into the game,” Maddon said. “But once we scored, I put him back out there. It was a pretty easy equation.

“He’s your best guy. There’s no second-guessing whatsoever. He was fine to go back out there.”

What did The Streak mean to you?

“Not much,” Davis said. “I obviously wanted to win today’s game and put us in a better position than we were yesterday. So it kind of stinks, but, you know, move on from it.”

That summed up the entire mood inside the visiting clubhouse, the Cubs pointing to a dominant Kyle Hendricks start (one run in six innings), Justin Wilson auditioning for a trusted role out of the playoff bullpen (four outs) and a resourceful lineup that manufactured offense without hitting home runs.  

“It’s been a hell of a series so far,” Hendricks said.

The magic number to eliminate the Brewers from the division race remains four, while the Cardinals were at five heading into their Saturday night game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cubs can’t wait to unleash Davis in October.

“There’s no difference between these three games and the games that are going to occur the next month,” Maddon said. “They were absolutely that intense.”