Cubs

Cubs 'just didn't have it' in sloppy loss to Twins

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Cubs 'just didn't have it' in sloppy loss to Twins

MINNEAPOLIS - The National League brand of baseball is predicated on pitching, defense and manufacturing runs without the benefit of a regular designated hitter.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon talked again before Friday night's game about how he prefers the NL style of game and the strategy that goes into it, even though his team struggled to play defense and pitch in an ugly 7-2 loss to the Twins in front of 36,817 fans at Target Field.

The Cubs had rookie phenom Kyle Schwarber at DH with a .600 batting average coming into play Friday, but they struggled in every other aspect of the game, committing two errors and making a handful of other fielding miscues behind Kyle Hendricks, who gave up a career-high 11 hits and seven runs (six earned) in his five innings of work.

[MORE: Cubs on the mend: Soler takes BP, Olt begins rehab stint]

"I just wasn't making pitches. Just didn't have it today," Hendricks said. "My stuff just wasn't there. Just one of those days.

"Obviously to win ballgames, you've gotta pitch well and play defense. That's pretty clear. But the first part of that is pitching well. I can only do what I can and regardless of a couple of those plays, I still can't give up 11 hits in 5 innings."

Hendricks gave up three straight singles to lead off the game, but Starlin Castro booted what should have been an easy double-play ball - allowing one run to score - and then had a brain fart and kept his head down after the play, allowing Eddie Rosario to score easily from 2B despite the ball never leaving the infield dirt.

The Twins tacked on a run in the third, another two in the fifth and two more in the sixth to chase Hendricks once and for all.

"I'm going to defend our guys to the very end. I thought we played nine innings, played 'em hard," Maddon said. "I thought we hit some balls really good tonight. We were kind of a little bit unlucky.

"We made a mental mistake early in the game that cost us. But other than that, it looked more awful than it actually was. There was a lot of good."

Hendricks is very poised and even-keeled on the mound, even when things aren't going his way. Maddon didn't see the second-year starter show up any of his teammates despite a rough game.

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"With Kyle, if he had any frustration, he probably would have pinned it on himself," Maddon said. "He's not the kind of guy who's going to show frustration toward his teammates.

"But he'll be the first one to tell you also that when mistakes are made, you've gotta pitch through that, too. Game in progress, he just was not as sharp as he normally is."

The Cubs struggled offensively against Minnesota starter Phil Hughes, managing just two hits through eight innings, including Anthony Rizzo's fourth-inning home run.

Rizzo added another long home run in the ninth to close out the scoring for the Cubs.

"Just not our day," Hendricks said. "I don't think you can take too much from it.

"We were hitting balls hard just right at guys, and they were hitting balls hard that found holes. That's baseball."

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.”