Cubs ignoring outside negativity after recent rough stretch

Cubs ignoring outside negativity after recent rough stretch

Joe Maddon's message for the Cubs entering the season's second half won't be turned into a T-shirt anytime soon.

"Ignore the outside negativity" doesn't have quite the same ring to it as "embrace the target."

After a stretch in which the Cubs won just six games out of 21 in the three weeks leading up to the All-Star Break, Maddon and Co. insist there's no panic, especially after a much-needed four-day break.

"The only people that are panicking about this team is the media," Anthony Rizzo said. "No offense to [the media], but all the comments coming out of everybody's mouth has been pretty negative except in this clubhouse. We feel great. Everyone feels great to be back together. We're ready to go."

Rizzo is in his fifth season in Chicago and has endured a 100-loss season with the Cubs, so he isn't surprised at the panic in the market.

"I just think it's July whatever the date is and you need stories to write about and what better story to write about than why are the Cubs struggling?" he said. "The only people that are worried about it are outsiders, not what's going on inside this clubhouse."

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Maddon took a more measured approach in response to the recent negativity surrounding the team with baseball's best run differential (+139), saying it makes for better TV and newspaper stories to blow a tough stretch out of proportion. Maddon also thinks it's a fan's right to panic or ride the emotional roller coaster.

The Cubs manager chooses to look at the glass half-full, admitting he gladly would have taken a seven-game lead in the division to kick off the second half if the current scenario was proposed to him in spring training.

"What really matters — and I try to get this point across to [the players] from Day 1 in spring training two years in a row now — I've always believed in the 'circle the wagons' theory," Maddno said. "In other words, it really doesn't matter what's coming from outside to within. It really matters what's happening from within — the clubhouse itself, ownership, front office, coaches, etc.

"The noise coming from outside, that's necessary. It can serve as motivation. It's also fans just being fans who show up and pay money and permit us to do this wonderful thing called playing baseball. I think it's about how you channel all that.

"...It's like any other job, man. What's coming from outside to in; you should feel confident knowing that what you're doing is the right thing. From our perspective, I believe the work's great, the caring's great, the effort's great. All that stuff is in place, so that's all we can control."

Maddon has spent his entire adult life in professional baseball, but said he has never felt as tired and worn out heading into an All-Star Break as he did this season playing 24 games in 24 days.

"Understand how this happened," Maddon said. "We got off to that wonderful start and then there's really reasons why maybe we backed off a little bit prior to the break. Now we've caught our breath, we're still looking to get 100 percent well and we have a lot of confidence we're going to have a really nice run in this second half."

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein actually sees the team's stretch as a good thing — a way to rise above adversity.

"That's what defines a baseball team is how it responds to adversity that crops up during the season," Epstein said. "That's what defines a baseball player — not when he's going well — but how locked in is he, how does he respond after he goes through a slump? Same thing for teams.

"This is a good opportunity for us to show what we're all about. I think that sort of internal response and adjustment is more significant than whatever the public narrative might be. I don't think people in this organization attach too much meaning to it.

"When we were 25-6 and the media was asking us questions about how we balance players getting their rest and going for the all-time wins record, I attached zero meaning to that and called BS on the questions. The same way if I think that people are getting too down on us when we're not playing well or falsely call us out for stuff, I'll call BS on that, too.

"I just think all that matters is how we respond to that adversity and how we handle that success, not what's being said about us at the time."

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Epstein said the Cubs are focused on getting back to the level they were at coming out of spring training before getting off to that record-breaking start.

"It's undeniable that we didn't play well for a long stretch of time," he said. "So once you go through that as a club, then you know it's possible. So you get to the edge of the abyss, you can stare right in and realize, 'Hey, we're not just gonna rack up the wins because we're good or because we can. We have to go out and earn it.'

"And I think that can be a good thing for a team. The focus that we had when we ended spring training and started Opening Day — how palpable that was — we know we need to tap into that again to get ultimately where we want to get.

"But that's not a surprise. That's life. That's baseball. That's why this season's 162 games long. The season shows you things about yourself that you need to see at times. It's all about how you respond."

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion


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.