Cubs

How a team meeting in San Diego helped the Cubs hit the reset button and sweep the Cardinals at Wrigley Field

How a team meeting in San Diego helped the Cubs hit the reset button and sweep the Cardinals at Wrigley Field

It wasn't quite a rain delay before extra innings in Game 7 of the World Series, but the Cubs had another crucial team meeting last week and they've once again found immediate success after.

Prior to the final game on an 0-6 road trip, the Cubs players all got together in San Diego and hashed some things out.

Of course, the Cubs wound up losing to the Padres that day, but they've since stopped the bleeding and put the finishing touches on a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals Sunday night at Wrigley Field.

"We just talked," Kyle Hendricks said. "It was good stuff, just getting back to focusing on what we do. Inside the clubhouse, focusing on the guys and playing the game."

Jason Heyward was the leader of that now-famous Game 7 weight room meeting. He downplayed the San Diego meeting as standard regular maintenance.

"We're not gonna dwell on it," Heyward said. "It's just checking in. You gotta check in. You gotta be on the same page, regardless of how things are going.

"That's something we're going to continue to get better at and do a great job of. Not to say it's a lack of this and that. It's just nice to be on the same page. It's nice to hear how everybody's doing.

"Everybody just kinda saying whatever you need to say. If you feel like you need to say something, voice it. You just want to hear each other. You just want to check in and say, 'Hey, what we got, guys?' 

"... Regardless of what our coaches tell us, regardless of whatever kind of work you put in, if you're not on the same page as a team, you're not gonna go anywhere."

The Cubs scored just nine runs in six games on the road trip, but put up 15 on the board in three games against St. Louis over the weekend.

One of the main issues on the West Coast last week was a lack of timely hitting, but the Cubs went 3-for-4 with runners in scoring position Sunday night, including Ian Happ's three-run homer in the fourth inning and pinch-hits from Albert Almora Jr. (third inning) and the game-winner from Jon Jay (seventh inning).

"It's always good to just slow things down and just talk," Jay said. "That's what we did — slowed things down, talked a little bit and just reminded ourselves how good we really are. 

"You look around, you look at a lot of guys' baseball cards here. They've done a lot of good things. The younger guys, they've done stuff and they're gonna continue to get better. That's kind of how the season is. There's 162 games for a reason."

Jay also downplayed the meeting as "nothing big. Just reminding ourselves what we really can do. We all have each other's backs."

Prior to Sunday's game, Joe Maddon spoke about how he stands on the top step in the dugout every night to get a feel for his players.

And the Cubs manager noticed a difference in his team this weekend at Wrigley Field compared to the West Coast trip, citing a certain "believability" that has returned.

Hendricks has noticed the same thing.

"There has been a little mindset change," Hendricks said. "I don't know what to attribute it to, honestly. The guys kinda got together and talked amongst ourselves. Maybe it's just that team confidence that's back.

"Everybody's just a little bit more relaxed, focused on ourselves and what we're doing moreso than what's coming from the outside. It's just what we needed to get back to — playing our brand of baseball."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

2-21_jim_hickey_usat.jpg
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.”