Chicago Cubs

What sort of job has Joe Maddon done with this Cubs team?

What sort of job has Joe Maddon done with this Cubs team?

At different points throughout a disappointing season, Cubs president Theo Epstein has used the code words you would normally hear about a manager on the hot seat. Epstein vented his frustrations while the Cubs kept staggering around the .500 mark, admitting the team didn’t have a clear identity or play with the same edge.

But Joe Maddon is a future Hall of Famer, the only manager to lead this franchise to a World Series title since the Theodore Roosevelt administration and a larger-than-life personality in the middle of a long-term contract that will pay him in the neighborhood of $28 million.

Maddon oversees an ultra-talented team that overall has been one of the healthiest in the majors this season. The Cubs play in a mediocre division with three small-market franchises that ranked in the bottom eight in terms of Opening Day payroll – and in a big city where even athletes on last-place teams get treated like royalty.

Is there anything Maddon could have done differently – or can do now – with the defending champs?

“Collectively, from top to bottom, I think obviously we haven’t had the same kind of year as last year, or even the year before,” general manager Jed Hoyer said before Monday night’s 15-5 win over the Cincinnati Reds pushed the Cubs out to a 1.5-game lead on the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central. “That assessment is on everybody. I wouldn’t single anything out about Joe that he hasn’t done.

“But in general, as a group, starting with Theo and me, I think we haven’t played as well. We haven’t been as sharp. And that’s something we have to find. But the good thing about baseball is that we still have 46 games left to find it. Starting now.”

Maddon’s “American Legion Week” began with the Wrigley Field clubhouse opening to the media at 4:30 p.m., or almost an hour later than normal for a 7:05 game. Before doing his pregame press briefing, Maddon unfurled a blue-and-gold “Palatine Post No. 690” flag in the interview room and held it up for the cameras. The fine for a player, coach or manager getting to work too early this week is handing over a $100 bottle of wine (with receipt).

“Just show up a little bit later, a little bit more rested mentally,” Maddon said. “Go out and just play the game of baseball like it was intended to be played.

“Data, extra work, all that kind of stuff – it’s the middle of August. We’ve had since the beginning of February to get all that stuff in the barn. So I just want us to play.”

[MORE CUBS: Will Cubs make another deal in August with Willson Contreras sidelined?]

The Cubs have given up 91 runs in the first inning this season – or almost 30 more than any other inning – and seen their defense slip from a historic level to a point where Maddon keeps harping on mental mistakes and making the routine plays routinely. Though the Cubs are still a top-three team in terms of defensive efficiency, even Maddon admits they have not passed the eye test.

Maddon is also a progressive thinker who takes the entire 162-game schedule into account, believes in rest and recovery, tries to keep role players involved and keeps sending positive vibes into the clubhouse and through the media.

“Good or bad, it would have nothing to do with us showing up early or late,” Maddon said. “Taking 50 swings or 100 swings tonight or not has nothing to do with our success or not. When it comes to the offensive side of our team right now, more than anything, it’s about swinging at bad pitches. So if you want to go out there and practice taking pitches, that might be more beneficial.

“There are so many disconnected thoughts in our game regarding work and how you work. When it comes to data and video and information, I’m all about it. But at some point, you got to turn it down just a little bit and go out there and play unencumbered.”

Maddon projected so much confidence and pushed all the right buttons in 2015 when the Cubs went 42-18 in August, September and early October combined, surging to 97 wins and into the NL Championship Series.

All the first- and second-guessing over how Maddon managed last year’s World Series Game 7 overshadowed the way he got the Cubs to “Embrace The Target” and play loose yet focused under enormous pressure.

Maybe Maddon’s sense of calm is the best way to handle this three-ring circus and he will be proven right if a 62-55 team corrects itself and finally takes off. “American Legion Week” started a run where the Cubs will face last-place teams for 13 straight games and 70 percent of the remaining schedule is against teams currently at or below .500.

This is how it works: The manager will either get credit for steering the team toward another division title – or the blame for a stunning collapse – whether or not he thinks like that.

“I just try to treat every game with equal amount of respect,” Maddon said. “I don’t apply any more weight to one game over another. I’ve always said that. I mean it.

“You got to play it right every night. And please don’t take anything for granted in this game, or in any part of your life. I’m just not that guy. We got to come out and play our best game.”

Javier Baez stars for Cubs while his mind drifts to Hurricane Maria and family in Puerto Rico

Javier Baez stars for Cubs while his mind drifts to Hurricane Maria and family in Puerto Rico

MILWAUKEE – Javier Baez tries to use baseball as an escape, but his thoughts inevitably drift toward Puerto Rico and the damage and destruction Hurricane Maria has inflicted on his beloved island.  

“I’ve been doing my best to stay in the game,” Baez said. “But, really, my mind has been over there, trying to find out about family, how they’re doing.”

Baez could compartmentalize enough in the ninth inning to deliver the two-out, two-strike, game-tying RBI single on Thursday night at Miller Park, setting the stage for a dramatic 5-3 comeback victory over the Milwaukee Brewers that created a huge shift in momentum for the Cubs in the National League Central race.  

But several Cubs have been distracted during this nightmare hurricane season, seeing the haunting images on TV and thinking about more than magic numbers. Baez finally made contact with his brother, Gadiel, before Friday’s game in Milwaukee.

“He finally found a spot that has service. Everybody’s disconnected,” Baez said. “It’s been really, really crazy over there. They say there’s no trees in Puerto Rico right now.

“It’s really bad. (But) there are still people smiling and trying to get through it. We got no (other) option. Our whole family is over there. I think if we work together, the process is going to be faster and the help is going to be (stronger). Hopefully, everybody stays together and just tries to help.”

Baez has been using his social-media platforms, asking for prayers and helping raise funds through the GoFundMe page started by catcher Rene Rivera’s family and supported by teammate Victor Caratini.

Known for his flash and highlight-reel moments, Baez is actually more of a low-key personality off the field, close to his family and developing into one of the most important and dependable players for the defending World Series champs.       

“Sometimes, when you are going through difficult moments,” manager Joe Maddon said, “getting out there kind of is that little island that you need just to park your brain for a couple hours.

“You keep reading about it. You’re talking four-to-six months without power. When you read those lines, you know it’s devastating. But live it.

“Again, as an athlete, when you’re going through difficulties outside of your occupation, sometimes it’s the best place to be for those couple hours. And then you go back to reality afterwards.

“Javy has been on the stage. He’s had the bright lights shining on him for a long period of time for a young guy. He’s learned how to handle this pretty well.”

Baez starred for the team that made it to the World Baseball Classic championship game in March. He could feel the pride and energy and what that meant to Puerto Rico during an economic crisis.

“Our whole island, they were there for us,” Baez said. “If we really work together, we can get through it faster, and everything’s going to be OK over there.”

Carlos Zambrano on his messy exit from Cubs: 'It was my fault'

Carlos Zambrano on his messy exit from Cubs: 'It was my fault'

Carlos Zambrano didn't leave the Cubs on the best of terms and apologized to make for a better relationship with the organization. He thinks Sammy Sosa should do the same.

Zambrano recalled his messy exit in an interview on Facebook Live with CSN's David Kaplan. He talked about what made him decide to make amends with the Cubs in the clip above. See the full interview below:

'Big Z' Carlos Zambrano just stopped by! Have any questions for the former Cubs All-Star before they take on the Brewers again tonight?

Posted by CSN Chicago on Friday, September 22, 2017

"When I was traded it was not my best year with the Cubs," Zambrano recalled. "I say I don't think if I go to Chicago people will receive me as well. I think I will get booed. That was in my mind. I say the way I got out of Chicago wasn't the best way. Then people started calling me... My friends here were saying they love you here, you have to come back."

Zambrano said he "humbled" himself in his return to Chicago and threw out the first pitch for a Cubs game in May this season.

"I said, you know what, it was me," Zambrano said. "It was my fault the way I got off of the Cubs. It was my fault, not the Cubs' fault.

"I have to apologize because my last two years and the way I did it with the Cubs wasn't good."

Zambrano's situation is somewhat similar to Sosa's in terms of a rocky relationship with the organization post-playing career. The 36-year-old former pitcher thinks Sosa should do what Zambrano did.

"For me, I think Sammy has to come here," Zambrano said. "He's been here. I don't think people would boo him. Not in this age because the Cubs are winning. The Cubs won the World Series and everybody is happy here. Sammy was a big part of the Cubs for this town. Sammy did a lot of good things for the Cubs. He did more than I.

"He just needs to show up."