Cubs

Cubs think Pedro Strop has turned a corner against the Cardinals

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Cubs think Pedro Strop has turned a corner against the Cardinals

If you were looking for Pedro Strop at Wrigley Field Sunday, you probably couldn't find him because he was at the beach.

Joe Maddon joked Saturday that Strop earned himself some time off at the beach because he's been working so hard lately ... and the Cubs manager was true to his word:

 

 

"Strop is not available," Maddon said Sunday. "He'll be at the beach."

Maddon and Strop's Cubs teammates carried the same sentiment: Break well deserved.

Strop had worked in four of five Cubs games prior to Sunday. He came in to stop the bleeding Saturday and put an end to the Cardinals' rally.

[MORE: Cubs make another statement Saturday win over Cardinals]

Strop picked up the save in the Cubs' fifth straight win, but the more important thing was who he did it against.

The Cardinals have had Strop's number this season, but he tossed back-to-back shutout innings against St. Louis in the first two games of the weekend series at Wrigley.

"My numbers against them have not been the greatest, but you know what? That's in the past," Strop said. "I'm always looking forward and hopefully I can just keep doing my thing against them and against other teams, too."

Strop came into the year with a career 1.64 ERA and 1.00 WHIP against the Cardinals, allowing just two earned runs in 11 innings.

He also started the 2015 campaign with 1.1 shutout innings against the Cubs' division rival, but then the wheels came off.

In seven outings against the Cardinals from May 4 through Sept. 9, Strop allowed nine earned runs on eight hits (including two homers) and five walks in only four innings.

Maddon doesn't know exactly why the Cardinals - in particular - gave Strop fits, but he acknowledged it may be mental.

"Some of it's been pitch selection and what he's throwing in different counts," Maddon said. "Stuff's always good. I think it's like anything else.

"I've talked about us having to learn how to win in St. Louis and Pittsburgh and feeling good about it, but there are times where a player will see a team with a uniform on and automatically do well - or sometimes not so well - against that team regardless of who's in the uniform."

[MORE - Joe Maddon, Cubs tirade-free after ejections against Cardinals]

Maddon also believes Strop has gotten over the hump against the NL Central leaders, thanks in large part to working out of Saturday's two-on, no-out jam.

"I just think he had to get through some negative mental thoughts and push beyond that," Maddon said. "What he did [Saturday] was spectacular. That was not easy to do.

"So you gotta give him a lot of credit. What he did [Saturday], that's the thing you're looking for moving forward, to really have him feel much better about pitching against this team."

Strop couldn't put his finger on why exactly the Cardinals owned him for four months this season, but he was sure to tip his cap to a St. Louis organization that has been tough on nearly every opposing pitcher the last 15 years or so.

The Cubs are going to need to rely on Strop in the postseason, whether that's in the one-game wild card playoff or a five/seven-game series.

If the Cubs do advance beyond the wild-card game, they'll likely have another showdown with St. Louis awaiting them.

Strop is a fiery guy, known for his fist pumps and primal shouts. He loves being in a pennant race.

"This is awesome," he said. "Anybody should want this, pitching in this kind of situation where you know everything counts for a reason.

"This team hasn't been in this situation in a long time and I'm so happy to be a part of it."

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.