Cubs

Despite loss, Cubs leaving Wrigley with a great feeling

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Despite loss, Cubs leaving Wrigley with a great feeling

"How could I possibly be upset right now?"

Those aren't the words you expect to hear from a manager after his team was just shut out by a division rival, even from the perpetually-positive Joe Maddon.

Yet that's what Maddon opened his postgame press conference with Sunday following the Cubs' 3-0 loss to the Pirates (18-20) in front of 36,289 fans.

The defeat ended a six-game winning streak for the Cubs (21-16) and it was the first loss since the bleachers reopened Monday at Wrigley Field.

Still, it was the end to a 6-1 homestand against the first-place New York Mets and a Pirates team that has made the postseason each of the last two seasons.

"If we had this kind of homestand for the rest of the season, I'd be very pleased," Maddon said. "There's nothing to be upset about. Zero."

The Cubs wasted a stellar start from Jake Arrieta, who allowed just one run on five hits and a walk in seven innings while striking out seven. It was Arrieta's first quality start since April 26 in Cincinnati.

"Outstanding," Maddon said of Arrieta. "Really good stuff. ... Not a bad thing to say about him. Their guy was really good. [Pirates starter A.J.] Burnett's pretty much reinvented himself and he's pitching at a very high level right now.

"We were there moment-for-moment. They just got their run and we didn't."

[MORE: Travis Wood ready for whatever in move to Cubs bullpen]

After averaging 5.5 runs per game during the streak, the Cubs couldn't muster up any offense off Burnett, who lowered his season ERA to 1.38 with seven shutout innings.

The Cubs consistently worked the count, drawing five walks from Burnett, but they only managed three singles off the 38-year-old right-hander.

Pittsburgh outfielders combined to make a handful of very nice plays throughout the afternoon, including two highlight-reel plays from Andrew McCutchen in center and a pair of running catches at the wall with runners on base from left fielder Starling Marte and right fielder Gregory Polanco.

"It was one of those things where we had hard-hit balls kinda at guys or guys made some pretty good plays to record the out," Arrieta said. "It's one of those games where you feel like you won at the end because you played fairly well, just weren't able to scratch across a couple runs or get the big hit in that certain situation.

"But guys had good at-bats today. ... We're gonna have games like that where the other guy is better than our guy. We just have to keep grinding and I think the way we've been playing the last couple series, if we keep that going, we're gonna be fine."

Starlin Castro and Miguel Montero each singled and walked, while Kris Bryant collected the only other hit off Burnett. Bryant left the game after the fourth inning as he was feeling under the weather.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Addison Russell doubled off Pittsburgh's dominant setup man Tony Watson to lead off the eighth inning and Anthony Rizzo later walked, but both were stranded on base when Castro lined out to center.

The Cubs mounted another rally in the ninth as Jorge Soler reached on a one-out error and Chris Coghlan followed with a base hit. But Welington Castillo flew out to the warning track in right field and Russell grounded out to end the game and the winning streak.

Rizzo said the Cubs can feel the energy and excitement from the fans with the renovations at Wrigley coming together at the same time the product on the field is getting sharper and Arrieta called Sunday's game a playoff-type atmosphere.

"At the end of the day, as a team, we're excited about the way things are going, regardless of today's loss," Arrieta said. "And we're looking forward to the offday [Monday] and getting ready for San Diego."

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.”