Cubs

Joe Maddon doesn't believe in Sports Illustrated cover jinx for Cubs

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Joe Maddon doesn't believe in Sports Illustrated cover jinx for Cubs

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Cubs manager Joe Maddon doesn’t believe in the Sports Illustrated cover jinx.

The Cubs landed on the front of the magazine’s baseball preview with Sports Illustrated picking the Houston Astros — another team accused of tanking during a multiyear rebuild — to beat them in the World Series.

“Well, you know, just get us there,” Maddon said before Tuesday’s Cactus League game against the Cincinnati Reds at Goodyear Ballpark. “SI, please get us there. I’d be happy with that.”

All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward, Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant and Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta made the regional cover, which labels the group as “The Revenants: Out of The Desert, into the World Series (Finally).”

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This is the same outlet that proclaimed Houston as “Your 2017 World Series Champs” back in 2014. The Astros puffed out their chests and granted behind-the-scenes access for that cover story, but their surprising breakthrough into the playoffs last season accelerated the timeline.

“It’s just part of the game, man,” Maddon said. “I’m sure they’ve been right on occasion. They’ve probably been wrong more than they’ve been right. But everybody’s wrong more than they’re right when it comes down to predicting who’s going to be where.”

Keep in mind that Sports Illustrated splashed the Cubs — and a high-stepping Pedro Strop — across the cover of last year’s Aug. 31 issue. The Cubs finished the regular season as the hottest team in baseball and eliminated the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals from the playoffs.

Cubs fans also remember the “It’s Gonna Happen” and “Hell Freezes Over” covers from the 2008 (Kosuke Fukudome) and 2004 (Kerry Wood) seasons that ended in bitter disappointment.

“I don’t put a whole lot of emphasis on any of that,” Maddon said. “I think it’s great for the organization. Just like it’s great for the Rays now to be participating in the game in Cuba (with) the stage you got there. When you’re presented on the cover of Sports Illustrated, obviously, it’s a wonderful stage for us.

“But it doesn’t mean anything other than it’s good reading (and) great photography. When I was a kid, man, you couldn’t wait for that to come out.”

Cubs Talk Producer Tony Andracki contributed to this article.

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.