Cubs

Cubs catcher Miguel Montero is going to do it his way

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Cubs catcher Miguel Montero is going to do it his way

DENVER — Miguel Montero is eventually going to rub some Cubs people the wrong way and say something to the Chicago media that he should probably just keep to himself.

But this is going to be fun to watch, a very opinionated catcher who absolutely loves to talk working with this pitching staff inside the Wrigley Field fishbowl.

“I’m a winner, man,” Montero said. “I hate to lose. And I hate to give up a hit. Even though it’s the pitcher’s ERA, it hurts me when they give up a run, because I take it personally.”

Montero sort of wore out his welcome with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He had been in that organization since 2001, signing as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela and developing into a two-time All-Star. He also needed a change of scenery, the chance to play for a contender, not a team just beginning the rebuild.

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Montero is not going to be shy here. He stood in front of his locker on Sunday morning inside Coors Field’s visiting clubhouse and used Randy Johnson as an example. He remembered one game in particular while catching the future Hall of Famer in 2008.

“It was one batter,” Montero recalled. “First at-bat, he gave up a double, hanging slider, (right) down the line. Second at-bat, the same slider, and it’s a line drive off his foot.

“So the manager and the trainer go out to the mound and he’s looking at me: ‘We got to quit throwing sliders to that guy.’ And I look at him and I say: ‘No, you got to quit hanging it.’”

Montero also probably dropped an F-bomb on The Big Unit.

“I turn around and I walk back to the plate and I’m like: ‘What did I do?’” Montero said. “Well, two things can happen: Either I get sent down (to the minors) or I don’t catch anymore, because I was his personal guy.

“(But) he appreciated it. The next year, he was with the Giants, and I faced him in spring training. He threw me a fastball in and broke my bat. The media asked him: ‘Hey, did you say hi to Miggy?’ (Johnson goes): ‘No, he was too busy picking up his broken bat.’”

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The Cubs took on the three years and $40 million left on Montero’s contract because they thought he could get through to their pitchers and bring an edge to the clubhouse.

“Some guys need a pat on the back, some guys need to be yelled at,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “And I’m one of the guys that likes to be yelled at. He recognizes things in situations that I need to do differently, and it’s great to have a voice like that behind the plate.”

Pitcher Jason Hammel made a fist while describing Montero’s personality.

“When he wants you to throw a certain pitch,” Hammel said, “he’s like really emphatic about (it): ‘No, this is what you want to throw.’ Even if you shake, he wouldn’t take no (for an answer).

“It almost gives you that confidence to throw that pitch, even if you don’t want to. He has a good way of almost getting a little extra out of you when you want to kind of go in a different direction.”

Manager Joe Maddon compared Montero to another quote machine: Yogi Berra.

“Look at some photographs, man,” Maddon said. “Left-handed hitter with surprising power, not very tall. He’s probably more animated verbally than even Yogi was, in a sense. Yogi had his own Yogi-isms, and I guess there’s Miggy-isms. He’s got his own method of communication. (But) he absolutely loves to play baseball. He comes to play every day. His agenda is to win.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion. 

Cubs' World Series expectations are no surprise, but they show how radical transformation from Lovable Losers has been

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USA TODAY

Cubs' World Series expectations are no surprise, but they show how radical transformation from Lovable Losers has been

MESA, Ariz. — Tom Ricketts sure doesn’t sound like the guy who met his wife in the bleachers during the century-long tenure of the Lovable Losers.

“Everyone knows that this is a team that has the capability to win the World Series, and everyone will be disappointed if we don’t live up to that capability.”

Yeah, the Cubs have been among baseball’s best teams for three seasons now. That curse-smashing World Series win in 2016 was the high point of a three-year stretch of winning that’s seen three straight trips to the National League Championship Series and a combined 310 wins between the regular season and postseason.

But it’s still got to come as a strange sound to those who remember the Cubs as the longtime butt of so many baseball jokes. This team has one expectation, to win the World Series. The players have said it for a week leading up to Monday’s first full-squad workout. The front office said it when it introduced big-time free-agent signing Yu Darvish a week ago. And the chairman said it Monday.

“We very much expect to win,” Ricketts said. “We have the ability to win. Our division got a lot tougher, and the playoff opponents that we faced last year are likely to be there waiting for us again.

“I think at this point with this team, obviously that’s our goal. I won’t say a season’s a failure because you don’t win the World Series, but it is our goal.”

The confidence is not lacking. But more importantly, success drives expectations. And if the Cubs are going to be one of the best teams in baseball, they better keep winning, or they’ll fail to meet those expectations, expectations that can sometimes spin a little bit out of control.

During last year’s follow-up campaign to 2016’s championship run, a rocky start to the season that had the Cubs out of first place at the All-Star break was enough to make some fans feel like the sky was falling — as if one year without a World Series win would be unacceptable to a fan base that had just gone 108 without one.

After a grueling NLDS against the Washington Nationals, the Cubs looked well overmatched in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and that sparked plenty of outside criticism, as well as plenty of offseason activity to upgrade the club in the midst of baseball’s never-ending arms race.

“I think people forget we’ve won more games over the last three years than any other team. We’ve won more playoff games than any other team the last three years. And we’ve been to the NLCS three years in a row,” Ricketts said. “I think fans understand that this is a team that if we stay healthy and play up to our capability can be in that position, be in the World Series. I don’t blame them. We should have high expectations, we have a great team.”

On paper, there are plenty of reasons for high expectations. Certainly the team’s stated goals don’t seem outlandish or anything but expected. The addition of Darvish to a rotation that already boasted Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana makes the Cubs’ starting staff the best in the NL, maybe the best in the game. There were additions to the bullpen, and the team’s fleet of young star position players went untouched despite fears it might be broken up to acquire pitching.

“I think this is, on paper, the strongest rotation that we’ve ever had,” Ricketts said. “I think that being able to bring in a player of (Darvish’s) caliber reminds everyone that we’re intending to win our division and go all the way.

“We’ve kept a good core of players together for several years, and this year I think our offseason moves have really set us up to be one of the best teams in baseball.

“Just coming out of our team meeting, the vibe feels a lot like two years ago. Everybody’s in a really good place. I think everyone’s really hungry and really wants to get this season off to a great start and make this a memorable year.”

There should be no surprise that the team and its players and its executives and its owners feel the way they do. The Cubs are now expected winners, even if that’s still yet to sink in for the longtime fans and observers of the team they once called the Lovable Losers.