Cubs

Cubs send message in DC: ‘We can play with the big boys’

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Cubs send message in DC: ‘We can play with the big boys’

WASHINGTON – Deep inside Nationals Park, the thumping dance music could be heard on the other side of the clubhouse walls, the Cubs whooping it up with another postgame celebration.

The Cubs sent a message with Sunday’s 6-3 victory over Washington, taking this four-game series from a trendy pick to win the World Series, a franchise using a similar blueprint to build a perennial contender.

“It just validates,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I’ve been saying all along: I know we can play with the big boys in this league. But you got to prove it.”

This road trip, which continues with another big test on Tuesday night in Detroit, has been a microcosm of the season, the Cubs going 1-for-3 against the dysfunctional Miami Marlins before going 3-for-4 against the no-longer-in-first-place Nationals.

[MORE: Baez sidelined with fractured finger]

“We have played less effectively against teams that have been struggling this year,” Maddon said. “We’ve been playing well against teams that are going well. And we got to stop that. We got to play well against everybody.”

The Cubs (30-25) didn’t play a perfect game, but they did beat Jordan Zimmermann, wearing out the Nationals (30-27) with 14 hits. They squeezed five innings out of Kyle Hendricks (2-2, 3.96 ERA) before Maddon started pushing the bullpen buttons.

With Hector Rondon struggling and Pedro Strop unavailable, Jason Motte became the third different Cubs reliever to notch a save during this series. Rondon worked the eighth inning and for now it looks like this team will go without a set closer.

“I wanted him to get less stressful work,” Maddon said. “It’s still a three-run lead and you got three really good hitters coming up, (but) it’s not the mental thought of the ninth inning.

[ALSO: Will Cubs make splash in MLB Draft at No. 9?]

“He did exactly what we talked about. He worked on some things, and he was outstanding.”

Rondon shrugged off the demotion and it looks like there will be plenty of high-leverage moments to go around for a team that’s 15-10 in one-run games. 

“I’ll come into any situation,” Rondon said. “It doesn’t matter.”

The concentration sometimes comes and goes – Starlin Castro made his 13th error – but the Cubs have definitely shown their potential. They swept the first-place New York Mets out of Wrigley Field after a four-game series last month. They have gone 6-4 against the Pittsburgh Pirates – a playoff team two years running – and 2-4 against the last-place Milwaukee Brewers.

“We definitely have that competitive edge,” Hendricks said. “We want to beat the good teams. That’s definitely part of it. But at the same time, we can’t take (teams lightly). All teams in this league (have) major-league hitters and major-league pitchers.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

“You got to get up for every game, and I really don’t think we have a problem with that. We come to play every day.”

Maybe some of this can be written off as youth and inexperience, but the Nationals know the Cubs won’t be pushovers anymore.

“It’s hard to explain that – I guess you could say maybe playing to the level of your competition,” said Kris Bryant, who singled, doubled, tripled and walked. “It’s good to beat a team like that.

“They’re going to go deep in the postseason and we sure hope to be there playing against ‘em. But to go out there and put (up four) runs off of a guy like Jordan Zimmermann, it definitely gives us that confidence going forward.”

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.”