Cubs: Joe Maddon still believes in Pedro Strop despite ‘strange’ struggles


Cubs: Joe Maddon still believes in Pedro Strop despite ‘strange’ struggles

ATLANTA — Cubs manager Joe Maddon still believes Pedro Strop can be an important part of his team’s playoff push despite the right-hander’s pair of high-profile losses over the last week and a half.

Eury Perez’s go-ahead two-run single in the eighth off Strop sent the Cubs a 4-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves Friday night at Turner Field, leaving the 30-year-old to wonder how a promising first half has started to come unraveled recently.

In Strop’s last appearance before Friday, he gave up a go-ahead two-out two-run home run on a 1-2 fastball to St. Louis Cardinals All-Star Jhonny Peralta that delivered the Cubs a gutting loss to the National League Central leader. Friday in Atlanta was another frustrating night for him.

“I don’t know. I really don’t what to say about it,” Strop said. “It’s either been really good or either really bad. I think I gotta do a better job staying on one level. We all know we’re going to have bad outings but I gotta minimize it.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs will give Kyle Schwarber a ‘soft landing’ at catcher]

Joe Maddon, though, said after the game he hasn’t lost confidence in Strop.

“It’s so strange,” Maddon said. “I have so much faith in this guy, I really believe he’s that good. He let it get away from him, but I really believe he’s one of the best. We just gotta continue to work him through this moment.”

The common thread between Strop’s two rough outings is a pair of walks to players to whom he should’ve pitched aggressively.

Before Peralta’s home run, Strop issued a four-pitch walk to a struggling Matt Carpenter (who had eight hits in his previous 57 at-bats). On Friday, Maddon had Strop intentionally walk A.J. Pierzynski with first base open to face Andrelton Simmons, who had a .233 batting average since June 1 entering Friday.

Strop walked Simmons, too, firing both a 2-2 slider and 3-2 fastball into the dirt.

“I wanted to throw a slider for a strike and I couldn’t execute the pitch,” Strop said. “I might’ve went too fine on that at-bat, I should’ve just attacked him.”

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Perez then jumped on Strop’s first-pitch slider and knocked it into right for the game-winning hit.

Strop said he’s feeling fine health-wise, though Maddon said it’s more mental and hasn’t seen him be assertive enough in recent appearances. This is a guy who had a 2.21 ERA for the Cubs a year ago and rebounded from a rough stretch in early May to post a 1.78 ERA between May 8 and July 7.

Maddon’s confident Strop can fix the problem again. But as the innings grow more important into August and September, the Cubs can’t afford to have Strop continue to give away close and late games.

“I know they’ve been rough performances lately, but I really think this guy’s outstanding,” Maddon said. “… We gotta get his confidence back up because stuff-wise, he’s got premier stuff. There’s no doubt in my mind.”


Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans


Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: