Cubs

Joe Maddon knows it’s time to start pushing Cubs harder – except Wade Davis

Joe Maddon knows it’s time to start pushing Cubs harder – except Wade Davis

BALTIMORE – The Cubs gave Joe Maddon a shiny new toy last summer without handing over the instruction manual – or the manager never bothered to read it – or something else got lost in translation.

How to handle Aroldis Chapman became a recurring storyline, from his tone-deaf welcome-to-Chicago press conference to the first- and second-guessing even after winning a World Series Game 7.   

As the defending champs try to find another gear after a stop-and-start first half, Maddon understands “now is the time to push it a little bit, absolutely.” Except with All-Star closer Wade Davis, who has already shown an ability or willingness to work multiple innings and notched the final out in a World Series for the 2015 Kansas City Royals.  

“I learned early last year with Chappy that he didn’t want to do it,” Maddon said Saturday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. “When we first got him, I thought: ‘We’re good.’ And then I found out that it wasn’t so good, so we backed off. We had the conversation right there for the postseason and then everything was easy after that.”

Does Davis have a Santiago that you have to clear it with?

“I’m not aware of it,” Maddon said when asked about Chapman’s personal assistant who hung around the clubhouse and functioned as a go-between for the 100-mph closer and the coaching staff. “Santiago, we had a great relationship, it was awesome.

“But, yeah, with Wade, I don’t want to push him on that, unless it’s absolutely necessary, with or without Santiago.”   

While Maddon can ride $155 million ace Jon Lester and new addition Jose Quintana – and make daily lineup decisions that aren’t as focused on the big picture – he’s not ready to extend Davis for four- or five-out saves: “I don’t think so, not yet.”

Because the Cubs purposely built a deeper bullpen this year with Koji Uehara, Carl Edwards Jr. and Pedro Strop and want to keep Davis performing at this optimal level (2-0, 1.74 ERA, 17-for-17 in save chances) for a full season.  

“That would be like if everybody’s exhausted,” Maddon said. “Listen, I’m good with Koji. I’m good with C.J. Stropy’s been pitching really good in the eighth. I have no problem with any of that stuff.

“I’m saying when you get on a nice run when you start winning some games, the guys get fatigued, and then all of a sudden you may have to get an extra inning or an extra out or two out of somebody under those circumstances.

“Right now, we’re OK. But that would be the reason why I would do it, because if the bullpen’s fatigued, we’re on a nice little run right here, he’s rested, so let’s see him get four outs tonight. And I want to believe I’m going to ask him before the game ever begins.”

Chapman’s overuse in the playoffs is a story that won’t go away for the New York Yankees, who’ve already stashed him on the disabled list for a month (inflammation in the rotator cuff of his left shoulder) and watched him put up ordinary numbers (3.92 ERA, 8-for-11 in save chances) in the first season of a five-year, $86 million contract.

[MORE: Cubs trying to 'become the team that everyone loves again']

Lost amid that criticism of Maddon is how his aggressiveness in August 2015 – not caring about Jason Hammel’s feelings or Starlin Castro’s ego – helped transform the Cubs into a 97-win team that would come back for more. 

“This second half, we do have to really push it a little bit,” Maddon said. “The first half, I was concerned about doing that too early. And I know (there were times): ‘Boy, that doesn’t make any sense. Why would you?’ Because the guys are fatigued from the last two years, and I thought if you get the whip out too soon, man, you will be done by the middle of August.

“Of course, we can’t just keep putting it off until tomorrow. (So) get the pitching right. Keep the bullpen in order. And to get back to the point about the lineups – make sure everybody still plays but you might push somebody a little bit more right now.”

Jason Heyward predicts he will be the MVP of 2018 Cubs

Jason Heyward predicts he will be the MVP of 2018 Cubs

“Who will be the Cubs’ 2018 team MVP?”

Jason Heyward: “Me!”

No hesitation, no pause. Just an honest answer from a confident 28-year old with a $184 million contract.

Nobody wants to succeed more at the plate than the Cubs’ two-time Gold Glove award winner, but the offense has been downright ugly (.243, 18 HR, 108 RBI in 268 games).

Despite not performing up to a megadeal, Heyward has no problem talking about his contract:

“It is what it is, I earned it," Heyward said. "I earned that part of it. For me, it’s awesome. To be where I want to be, that’s the most important thing.”

After spending time talking at Cubs Convention speaking with Heyward, his manager and six of his other teammates, it’s no surprise that it was Heyward who delivered the now-famous Game 7 “Rain Delay Speech.”

His teammates adore him.

Question to Ben Zobrist: “Who’s your favorite teammate of all-time at any level?”

After a 10-second pause: “Jason Heyward.”

That definitely says something coming from a 36-year-old, three-time All-Star and World Series MVP.

For the true blue Cubs fans that can’t stand Heyward and his untradeable contract, sorry, his teammates and manager have nothing but good things to say. 

By all accounts, Heyward is a quality human being despite his shortcomings in the batter’s box the last two seasons.

And his goals for an offensive renaissance in 2018 are simple and basic:

“Just being in the lineup every game.”

His teammates will be behind him 100 percent, even if the fans are not.

How Addison Russell plans to keep nagging arm/foot injuries at bay in 2018

How Addison Russell plans to keep nagging arm/foot injuries at bay in 2018

Addison Russell doesn't have time to think about whether or not Javy Baez is coming for the starting shortstop gig.

Russell is too busy making sure he's able to perform at his physical peak for as much of 2018 as possible after a rough few years in that regard.

The soon-to-be-24-year-old only played in 110 games last year as he missed more than a month with a foot injury. He also has a history of hamstring injuries (including the one that kept him out of the 2015 NLCS) and a sore throwing arm that has cropped up at times throughout the last few years (though whether the arm is an issue or not depends on who you ask).

Russell admits his arm has been an issue and he has a new plan of attack this winter that will carry into the spring.

"I've been doing a throwing program," Russell said. "I feel like in the past, with my arm, I started throwing a little bit too early in spring training.

"This year, in the offseason, just kinda ease into it a little bit. In the offseason last year, I feel like I threw a little bit too much. Once midseason hit, it was all the downward effect of me throwing too early in the offseason.

"Having that in mind, taking things easier in the offseason and then going into spring training and then once the season's here, maybe around a quarter of the way through the season, start revving it up and that way, I'll be able to last with both my foot and my arm."

Russell had a bad case of plantar fasciitis last summer that also affected his ability to throw the ball to first base.

He joked he feels like an old man because he is happy he can now wake up without any pain in the foot, but still makes sure he rolls his foot on a golf ball to keep things loose.

With regards to his offseason workouts, Russell is prioritizing quality over quantity and he's taken full advantage of the longer offseason that featured far less distractions than a year ago when the Cubs were coming off the first World Series championship in 108 years.

"I'm getting a little bit older and I think a little wiser when it comes to training and knowing my body," Russell said. "With that being said, it's just kinda being in tune to my body more than pounding out weights.

"Definitely running and cardio is something that has been beneficial to my career in the past. I'm keeping up with that."

Between the foot and arm modifications to his training regimen, Russell is hoping to cut down on some of his throwing errors that plagued him in 2017 and try to get back to the hitter he was when he clubbed 24 homers and drove in 108 runs in 168 games between the 2016 regular season and postseason.

"Definitely I want to be in the All-Star Game this next year," Russell said. "I feel like with the type of skillset that I have and the type of guys around me, I think that could be a goal that I could hit.

"Smaller goals as far as staying consistent with my workouts. Remaining flexible is a huge goal that I wanna hit this year. I see a lot of veteran guys after ballgames stretching and they've been playing for quite a while, so it definitely works out for them.

"Just taking something from veteran guys and kinda incorporating it into my game and picking their ear and listening to how they prepare and how to keep your body in shape is beneficial, for sure."

To make the All-Star Game, Russell would need to get out to a hot start, which is something the Cubs and their fans would love to see. His steady presence in the lineup and as a defensive anchor contributed to the inconsistencies of the 2017 Cubs.

Entering a pivotal season in his development, Russell has emerged as one of the biggest X-factors surrounding the Cubs entering 2018. 

The entire Addison Russell 1-on-1 interview will air Friday night on NBC Sports Chicago.