Cubs

Cubs starting to believe in magic

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Cubs starting to believe in magic

NEW YORK — Clubhouse DJ Chris Denorfia programmed the postgame playlist with The Cars’ “Magic,” Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra,” Pilot’s “(Oh, Oh, Oh it’s) Magic” and that “I’ve Got The Magic in Me” song from the “Pitch Perfect” soundtrack.

Yes, the Cubs have a completely different vibe this season, conjuring up a 2-0 victory over the New York Mets that took 11 innings on Wednesday at Citi Field. So who cares if Simon the Magician really is that good or the Mets lineup really is that bad?

As the offense disappeared on back-to-back nights in Queens, it became hard to tell which one of these teams went for offense and built the franchise around young hitters. The Cubs and Mets will probably be scoreboard-watching all summer long and fighting for a wild-card spot, but it’s been almost all zeroes here.

Yet the Cubs are now 6-0 against the Mets this season and back to six games over .500 — and smiling and laughing after scoring 10 runs in the last eight games.

[MORE CUBS: Maddon likes Motte's 'pure blunt force' in ninth inning]

Freewheeling manager Joe Maddon had responded to a five-game losing streak by — obviously — welcoming mentalist/mind reader Simon Winthrop into the clubhouse to perform his tricks in front of the team before Tuesday’s 1-0 win over the Mets.

“Win or lose,” Maddon said, “I am really proud of the way our guys have been playing baseball. There is no quit. There is no giving up. We’re a little bit challenged offensively right now, and a lot of times teams will sink because of that. We have not.”

The Cubs finally broke through with two outs in the 11th inning, needing Starlin Castro to “Respect 90” and beat the throw on a slow-rolling groundball toward third base. Castro hustled for an infield single and allowed Anthony Rizzo to score from third base.

“We’ve been like that almost all year,” Castro said. “We won a lot of games by one run. We won a lot of games by two runs. We lost games by one or two runs. That’s really important. If we keep the game close, we got a chance, (because) you never know. We got a pretty good team. No matter what, we’re going to be together.”

[MORE CUBS: Addison Russell ready to handle the grind of a long season]

The Cubs have won 19 one-run games — and nine in extra innings — but it’s not like they’re doing it with smoke and mirrors. They hope this is the real Jon Lester.

Their $155 million ace began July with seven scoreless innings after a rough April (0-2, 6.23 ERA), an excellent May (4-1, 1.76 ERA) and a rocky June (0-3, 5.74 ERA).

“I’ll use anything we can get right now,” Lester said. “Hopefully, now we can just get on a little bit of a roll and not worry about going too good, too bad all the time.

“That’s really our whole rotation. I don’t think you put it solely on one guy. Once our rotation gets on a roll, that’s when things start clicking.

“The times where our offense isn’t picking us up, we’ve got to pick them up.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get a new Cubs hat right here]

While Lester is usually all business — and has felt the weight of his contract and the newness of everything — he couldn’t help but laugh at the clubhouse beats and the emerging personality of this team.

Lester looked over at Rizzo and referenced his sweet “Matrix” slide on a double steal in the ninth inning.

“Now we got a mix tape of magic music,” Lester said. “We got Houdini over here running to third and saying it’s magic. Hey, I’ve been through seasons where you have stuff like that. It makes it fun. It makes it interesting.”

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

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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.