Chicago Cubs

Why is Joe Maddon still harping on bad defense and waiting for Cubs to play with more focus?

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USA TODAY

Why is Joe Maddon still harping on bad defense and waiting for Cubs to play with more focus?

SAN FRANCISCO – There is no way around this: The Cubs can’t expect to beat a Madison Bumgarner in the playoffs – and the type of team the San Francisco Giants used to be – without sharpening their entire game. 
 
That is assuming the Cubs regroup and outlast a mediocre division after heart-and-soul catcher Willson Contreras suffered what could be a devastating hamstring injury during Wednesday’s 3-1 loss at AT&T Park. The Cubs already had trouble seeing the finish line in Addison Russell’s recovery from a strained right foot and don’t expect their All-Star shortstop to be ready to return when he’s eligible to come off the disabled list this weekend.
 
But injuries alone can’t explain away why the Cubs haven’t looked locked in defensively. It’s been the point of emphasis. Joe Maddon’s research into year-after effects led him to the Seattle Mariners and how Lou Piniella’s teams dropped from 116 wins in 2001 to 93 the next season and regressed on defense.
 
Whether or not this told the entire story about the Mariners, it sounded good and made sense to Maddon, who unveiled his slogan at Cubs Convention in January: “If we catch the ball and pitch the ball like we did last year, we shall ‘D-peat.’”
 
Right on cue in spring training, the “D-peat” T-shirts rolled off the assembly line and into the clubhouse. Now it’s the middle of August and a manager who rarely criticizes his players is still harping on defense and frustrated with the sloppy errors and mental lapses.     
 
“I don’t know why,” Maddon said. “The work’s the same. The guys are the same. To me, defense is a lot of just being here, being present tense, being right in this moment. 
 
“Not letting previous at-bats or moments creep into the thought process. So maybe in some awkward way, maybe our focus just isn’t as finely tuned on defense. There’s no way for me to gauge that.”
 
Knowing why and gauging that are part of the manager’s job description, but defense was supposed to be the constant for the defending World Series champs that would help bail out a pitching staff stressed from back-to-back playoff runs and take pressure off the young hitters in the lineup.    
 
“I did not expect what we did last year, because that was like above and beyond,” Maddon said. “I do expect us to be really good at this. And to this point, I don’t know where we rank in a lot of different efficiencies – or deficiencies. But just the eyeball test – we haven’t been as good.”
 
The Cubs actually rank third in the majors in defensive efficiency, but that’s still a steep drop from maybe being the best defensive team in baseball history.
 
Maddon definitely sounded annoyed after Tuesday’s night loss to a last-place team, watching a Javier Baez error help set up Buster Posey’s three-run homer and Ian Happ failing to stop a ball that skipped underneath his glove and created an insurance run.
 
Happ is a rookie without a natural position – and it’s not fair to compare anyone at second base to Baez – but the little things add up eventually. The Giants began to manufacture the go-ahead run in the seventh inning on Wednesday afternoon when Happ couldn’t make a diving, game-changing play on Denard Span’s infield single. It’s a sign of how many moving parts the Cubs are dealing with – and that shifting players around the field and playing to Maddon’s love of versatility won’t automatically create the next Ben Zobrist.
 
“Think of how many games has Happ even played at second,” Zobrist said. “He needs to at least have some time there to get his feet wet and kind of get that feel. He’s been playing a lot more outfield than the infield. And Javy hasn’t played shortstop as much. He played some, but to start playing it every day like he has been since Addie’s been on the DL is different for him, too.
 
“Maybe there’s a little something there where you got a couple guys that haven’t played as much up the middle together.
 
“All I can tell you from my perspective is: I know that those guys are doing as much – if not more – work now than they had been earlier in the season, or last year for that matter, as far as Javy’s concerned. It’s definitely not a lack of work or effort.”
 
The margin for error is so thin when Bumgarner is at full strength and shutting down the Cubs for seven innings (except for the first-pitch fastball Albert Almora Jr. drove over the left-center-field wall for a solo home run). But the Cubs already understand how it works and what it takes in October.  
 
“I want us to make the routine play more routinely,” Maddon said. “Not even the spectacular play – I’m just talking about the routine stuff. Play catch. And if we make the great play, I’ll take it.
 
“It’s a mental thing where you just have to raise your mental focus out there to make sure that it doesn’t happen, because we have to catch the ball. 
 
“All that stuff is interrelated. When we make mistakes that we shouldn’t make, I start counting pitches that we’re now throwing that we shouldn’t have to throw otherwise. That’s what really concerns me."

The worst seventh-inning stretch performances of all time

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Just 14 years ago, Cubs fans heard quite possibly the worst rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" ever. 

Ozzy Osbourne, lead vocalist for Black Sabbath, took the mic that 2003 afternoon at Wrigley and made eardrums bleed. It was that painful. 

It got "In the Loop" thinking, what were some other horrendous singing performances? 

From Da Coach to Scottie Pippen, the video above mashes up the worst of the worst. 

 

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Javy Baez the most exciting athlete in Chicago?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Javy Baez the most exciting athlete in Chicago?

Sam Panayotovich (WGN Radio), Chris Emma (670 The Score), Danny Ecker (Crain’s Chicago) join Kap on the panel.  Double good news for the Cubs—they beat the Blue Jays and Jon Lester’s injury will only keep him out 1-2 starts. 

Plus, should the Cubs now think about extending Jake Arrieta? And is Javy Baez the most exciting athlete in Chicago?

Plus which is more likely to happen—Mike Glennon plays great against the Cardinals or Mitch Trubisky is terrible?

Listen to the full epidsode here: