Chicago Cubs

What runs through Joe Maddon’s mind with Cubs back in San Francisco and making a playoff surge

inside_the_mind_of_maddon_slide.jpg
USA TODAY

What runs through Joe Maddon’s mind with Cubs back in San Francisco and making a playoff surge

SAN FRANCISCO – Joe Maddon always talks like a Haight-Ashbury philosopher and gets to play dress-up with the black leather motorcycle vests the Cubs wore for this “Easy Rider” road trip. But Major League Baseball’s hippie manager – the one who became rich and famous beyond his wildest dreams – definitely vibrates on this city’s frequency.

The memories came rushing back for Maddon seeing the San Francisco Giants again, thinking about how the Cubs staged an epic comeback in Game 4 of last year’s National League Division Series and unleashed a wild celebration inside AT&T Park visiting clubhouse, relieved to not have to face Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner in an elimination game that would have created so much anxiety in Wrigleyville.       

“It’s crazy how the human mind works,” Maddon said before Monday night’s 5-3 win highlighted by Jake Arrieta dealing like it was October and Javier Baez dashing for an inside-the-park home run. “First of all, no time elapsed. What was it, nine months ago? It’s incredible how we as humans – time just evaporates on us.”

It was actually 10 months ago. But forget it, he’s rolling.

“So the nine months evaporated,” Maddon said. “It was like we had just walked in yesterday. Driving in, the sky here always has a different method of blue. I don’t know if it’s the ocean being right here, the coolness to the air. But there’s a different method to the blue here. It’s not blue-blue. It’s just kind of like pale blue.

“And then it feels crispy. So it’s always got that feel. And when we walk in – even though it was nine months ago – we were just here yesterday. So that was very familiar as we drove up today.”

This is also where Maddon worked as Mike Scioscia’s bench coach when the Anaheim Angels outlasted Barry Bonds in the 2002 World Series.   

“The Giants – you always have a ton of respect,” Maddon said of the proud organization that has cratered to 44-70 after winning World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 and creating such a vibrant atmosphere inside and around a stadium that became an instant classic. “It’s a tough place to play, but I’ve had some good memories here. Last year probably can’t be topped.

“I thought that victory here last year really set up the entire postseason. I thought (about) all that stuff. To beat them here and not have to take it back to Chicago, I thought, was pretty much the whole linchpin, the key point, the seminal moment in last year’s postseason that permitted us to win.”

That ninth-inning rally saw the Cubs erase a three-run deficit by scoring four runs again five different San Francisco relievers. The Cubs then survived a 21-inning scoreless streak vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Championship Series and climbed out of a 3-1 hole against the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.

The been-there, done-that confidence contributed to the championship hangover that saw the 2017 Cubs at the .500 mark 21 different times and as recently as July 15. But the muscle memory will help in a division race the Milwaukee Brewers probably didn’t expect to be in, where the St. Louis Cardinals are at .500 and the Pittsburgh Pirates are two games under.

“I just went through that whole thing, but it doesn’t matter right now,” Maddon said. “This is a whole new situation. We’re trying to write a whole entirely different chapter. We’re writing this chapter in a much different way than we did last year.

“So regardless of all the nostalgia and all the warm fuzzies, it’s an entirely different moment right now – for them and for us. They’re having an entirely different moment themselves. So it’s just a different method right now. Last year is last year. It’s just a totally different day.”

The schedule will also ease up after this weekend’s series against the Arizona Diamondbacks amid the noise pollution at Chase Field. At that point, the Cubs might not face another team with a winning record until Labor Day in Pittsburgh, and one game above .500 on July 21 has so far been the high-water mark for the Pirates.   

The Cubs have more home games left on their calendar this season (26) than any other Central team. Of their 51 remaining games overall, 39 are against teams with a record of .500 or below. Now up 1.5 games on the Brewers, FanGraphs calculates the playoff odds for the defending champs at 91.5 percent.

“Personally, I never take anything or anybody for granted in anything, in any walk of life,” Maddon said. “I learned that from ‘The Godfather.’ Mario Puzo taught me that.”

Joe Maddon feels the heat from White House comments and rethinks Trump vs. sports world

Joe Maddon feels the heat from White House comments and rethinks Trump vs. sports world

MILWAUKEE – Sticking to sports becomes impossible when Donald Trump calls protesting NFL players sons of b------ and feuds with NBA superstars Stephen Curry and LeBron James on Twitter while the University of North Carolina’s national championship men’s basketball team declines a White House invitation (scheduling conflict) and Oakland A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell takes a knee during the national anthem.

All that happened within 24-plus hours, a head-spinning news cycle that will not stop. It’s impossible to escape for a high-profile organization with political connections like the Cubs.

That’s how manager Joe Maddon wound up feeling the heat in Miller Park’s visiting dugout before Sunday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers, clarifying his comments to the Chicago Sun-Times that went viral: “It’s dangerous when folks in our country stop respecting the White House and the seat of the president.”

“What would you like me to say?” Maddon said. “I’ve read it all and I’m saying it’s understandable why these people – why the players – jumped back at him the way they did. It’s very understandable, absolutely. I had no idea.”

The Sun-Times asked Maddon for a reaction minutes after Saturday afternoon’s 10-inning, playoff-intensity loss to the Brewers as the media session was breaking up in the manager’s office inside the visiting clubhouse. That quote appeared deep within a longer story headlined: “Sports world revolts: LeBron James, Roger Goodell fire back at Trump.”    

“I had no idea what the president had said prior to being asked that question,” Maddon said, “so I wasn’t commenting on what the president had said. When (the reporter) asked me that question, I had no idea it was in that context whatsoever.”

The Cubs angle: The World Series champs starred in the final official White House event for President Barack Obama on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A group of players, staffers and executives returned for an Oval Office photo op with Trump on June 28, a side trip in the middle of a likely playoff preview against the Washington Nationals.        

Curry already made it clear that he would vote against the Golden State Warriors making a ceremonial visit to Trump’s White House. After Trump tweeted that he withdrew Curry’s championship invitation, Maddon told the Sun-Times: “With all due respect to everybody, I just believe that we need to get our acts together collectively, all of us.”

“I had no idea what he said,” Maddon said during Sunday’s pregame briefing. “I had no idea what was said. How would I? I had no idea what was said prior to (getting asked) that question.

“My response is typical: I always respect the office and the White House and the seat of the president, like I said before we had attended. That was what my response was about. It had nothing to do with the situation yesterday.”

Maddon backtracked and said he has no issues with LeBron using his @KingJames account to support Curry, call Trump “a bum” and tell his 38.5 million Twitter followers: “Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”

“I’ve always spoken what’s on my mind,” Maddon said, “and I’ve always respected other people doing the same. It’s that simple. I just did not know the context of the question yesterday at all.

“And then I read about it last night when I got back to my room. And I could understand what all the uproar was about, easily. But I had no idea after the game that’s what had been said.”

Maddon wore a black turtleneck and an olive coat to the White House in January and enjoyed seeing Obama, who gave him a shout-out during the East Room ceremony: “Let’s face it, there are not a lot of coaches or managers who are as cool as this guy. Look how he looks right now.”

Maddon also eagerly posed with Trump, a meeting set up through Cubs ownership and the Ricketts family’s influence within Republican politics. Maddon also aligned himself that week with a childhood friend from Pennsylvania, Congressman Lou Barletta, an early Trump supporter who recently announced a Senate campaign.

“Again, I have respect for the government of the United States,” Maddon said. “I have respect for the office. I have respect for the seat of the presidency. When it comes down to individual battles, I have nothing to do with that.

“All I’m saying is that I understand why the players responded the way they did. After I read the comments, it was very clear why they would respond the way they did.

“It’s just unfortunate we’ve arrived at this point where it’s so easy to have this dialogue between the highest office in the country and everybody else in such a negative way. That’s the part that’s really disappointing.”          

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

justin_wilson.jpg
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.”