Cubs

Arms race: Cubs send message in sweeping Mets

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Arms race: Cubs send message in sweeping Mets

Cubs manager Joe Maddon coughed twice before beginning his postgame news conference inside Wrigley Field’s interview room/dungeon.    

The fog machine in the clubhouse got to Maddon, who needed to clear his throat after celebrating Thursday’s 6-5 comeback victory over the New York Mets, finishing a four-game sweep of the National League East leaders.

“I’m just going to have to put my mask on before I walk through it,” Maddon said, sniffling after his 800th career win. “God, every night, I’ll take it. I’m not complaining.”

That would be a classic jump-the-shark moment: Maddon doing a “Breaking Bad” dress-up trip for a rebuilding job that should have required hazmat suits.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

The Cubs (19-15) and Anthony Rizzo Productions now have Chauvet DJ lighting equipment hanging from the clubhouse ceiling and a completely different vibe from the teams that finished in fifth place for five years in a row.  

“No one gives up,” Rizzo said. “Guys come to work every day and compete. We’re young. We have fun. And we have great veteran leadership.”

Who knows how long this dance party will last? On Thursday afternoon, Rizzo got hit for the 10th and 11th times this season, and the Cubs can’t afford one of those fastballs drilling their All-Star first baseman in the wrong spot. Catcher David Ross left the game with abdominal tightness. And Travis Wood (5.59 ERA) got knocked out in the fifth inning, leading to more questions about the back of the rotation.  

But as Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson said: “The potential is definitely there.”

The Cubs erased 3-0 and 5-1 deficits, getting a jumpstart from Dexter Fowler’s leadoff home run in the fourth inning and using their deep lineup to wear out the Mets (20-15).

[MORE: Russell getting comfortable playing off shortstop]

A team that went 0-79 when trailing heading into the ninth inning last season has already won six games in its last at-bat this season, going 10-6 so far in one-run games.

“Very businesslike,” Maddon said, describing the mood in the dugout. “We get down, nobody’s panicking. Nobody’s saying we can’t do this. I think there was a great believability within the group that we could do it.”

The Mets (20-15) left Wrigleyville barely holding onto first place, their lead over the Washington Nationals shrinking to just one game. This series had been framed as another measuring stick for the Cubs, New York’s young power pitchers against Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Starlin Castro, Jorge Soler and Addison Russell.

[ALSO: Cubs still see Soler as a monster in the making]

“It’s really cool,” said Bryant, who delivered a game-tying RBI single in the fifth inning and has driven in 10 runs in the last 10 games. “The Mets have a really good system. I’ve been following along with them, playing against them, and we got some pretty good young guys here. We just hope that we can continue that trend and do something in this game.”

The Cubs didn’t back down from Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey and Jon Niese. They didn’t commit an error during this four-game series. A beat-up bullpen immediately looked sharper with Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel pitching deep into games, not giving up a run in 9.2 innings combined.    

It’s only a snapshot, but for all the hype about the arms race between the Cubs and Mets, this looked more like two teams heading in opposite directions than two teams on the rise.     

“We respect everybody, but we should not revere anyone,” Maddon said. “I really dig our staff. I like our personnel a lot. I think the Mets have a wonderful thing going on, absolutely. But there’s got to be respect and not reverence.” 

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”