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.”

Predicting Cubs-Dodgers NLCS Game 5: 'Why not us?'

Predicting Cubs-Dodgers NLCS Game 5: 'Why not us?'

"NOT IN OUR HOUSE!" a Cubs coach yelled as he walked through the media throng awaiting entry into the clubhouse.

There was Kyle Schwarber standing at his locker, emphatically saying, "we're not gonna go down quietly."

There was Jake Arrieta, already making plans for what he would do to celebrate after the Cubs beat the Dodgers in the NLCS.

What a difference a day makes.

The Cubs looked completely beat and worn down after Game 3 Tuesday night. Kris Bryant echoed the same line — "why not us?" — he delivered last fall when the Cubs were down three games to one in the World Series, but this time, it just didn't feel the same.

Bryant looked shellshocked and admitted the team was drained after the NLDS and traveling across country to get steamrolled by the Dodgers in the first two games of the NLCS.

Wednesday night, things were different.

Even though the offense still hasn't broken out. 

Even though all the Cubs' runs still came off early homers — they have yet to score in this series not off a longball.

Even though Wade Davis is unavailable for Game 5 Thursday — the Cubs haven't won a game this postseason in which Davis did not pitch.

Even though the best pitcher on the planet — Clayton Kershaw — awaited the Cubs Thursday night at Wrigley Field.

The belief was back in the home clubhouse at Wrigley, even if it was just for one day.

But was it just for one day? 

I've been saying it all fall — the only time this Cubs team has played up to their potential is when they've had their backs against the wall. Your back couldn't possibly get more against the wall when down 0-3 in the NLCS, a deficit only one team in baseball history has come back from.

Conceivably, yes, the Cubs can pull this off. They can climb all the way out of this hole and make a second straight World Series.

If any team can do it, it's the group that erased the longest championship drought in American sports history and did it in the most dramatic way imaginable.

Will the Cubs be able to pull it off? 

I have no idea, honestly. I know that's a cop-out, but screw predictions at this point of the postseason. 

There's a very real possibility the Cubs offense finally breaks out and takes one more step toward writing this team's entry into the baseball history books.

There's also a very real possibility Kershaw comes out and slams the door on any talk of Cubs magic and finally pitches his way into the World Series for the first time.

Either way, the build-up to Thurday night around Wrigleyville is gonna be fun as hell.

Here's how the Cubs will line up as they try to take down Kershaw:

1. Albert Almora Jr. - CF
2. Kyle Schwarber - LF
3. Kris Bryant - 3B
4. Anthony Rizzo - 1B
5. Willson Contreras - C
6. Addison Russell - SS
7. Javy Baez - 2B
8. Ben Zobrist - RF
9. Jose Quintana - P

It's interesting to see Zobrist so low in the lineup. He's never hit eighth in a Cubs uniform and his last start in that spot in the order came in 2010 with Joe Maddon on the Tampa Bay Rays.

A huge reason for Zobrist's spot so low in Thursday's game is because he hit just .179 with a .553 OPS against left-handed pitchers in 2017 as he dealt through a wrist injury and other ailments that made hitting right-handed difficult.

In another huge playoff moment, Wade Davis stays cool while everything else around Cubs goes crazy

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USA TODAY

In another huge playoff moment, Wade Davis stays cool while everything else around Cubs goes crazy

This became a three-ring circus on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, Cubs manager Joe Maddon screaming at the umpires, the video board showing the replay of Curtis Granderson’s swing and the crowd of 42,195 booing and chanting “BULLS#$!!”

The Los Angeles Dodgers are still in command of this National League Championship Series, but the Cubs won’t go quietly into the offseason, unleashing All-Star closer Wade Davis for the final two innings of a 3-2 thriller that kept them alive for at least another night.

The Cubs can worry about the daunting task of winning three more elimination games in the morning. Once Davis forced Cody Bellinger into the double-play groundball that left Justin Turner stranded in the on-deck circle and this one ended at 11:16 p.m., he pulled at his right sleeve and buttoned the top of his jersey while waiting for the Cubs to start the high-five line. “Go Cubs Go” blasted from the stadium’s sound  system and fireworks erupted beyond the center-field scoreboard and Davis acted as if nothing had happened.

To put the idea of beating the Dodgers three times in a row in perspective, the Cubs blasted three homers and got a classic big-game performance out of Jake Arrieta and still needed Davis for a heart-stopping, high-wire act.

Maddon already ruled out Davis for Thursday night’s Game 5 after the closer fired 48 pitches – or four more than he did during last week’s seven-out save that eliminated the Washington Nationals. But at least the Cubs will have those decisions to make instead of cleaning out their lockers.

“I don’t know,” Davis said. “We’ll definitely come in tomorrow and get some treatment and go out and play catch and see how I feel.”

It looks like Davis doesn’t feel anything on the mound. Davis didn’t react to Turner chucking his bat and yelling into the visiting dugout after crushing a 94-mph fastball for a home run to begin the eighth inning. Davis didn’t seem bothered by Yasiel Puig flipping his bat after drawing a walk. And Davis never lost his composure while Maddon got ejected for the second time in four NLCS games.

Maddon flipped out at home plate umpire Jim Wolf – and really the entire crew – when what was initially called a swinging strike three on Granderson got overturned and ruled a foul tip.

“Wade doesn’t care about any of that,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “That’s the right guy to have on the mound. With the mentality he has, he’s going to strike the guy out on the next pitch. Obviously with the replay, it’s not easy to keep your composure. But he’s just different. He’s a different animal.”

While the fans at Wrigley Field got loud and turned angry, Davis chatted with catcher Willson Contreras: “I was just trying to think of the next pitch I was going to throw if he ended up staying in the box.”

Davis got Granderson (0-for-4, four strikeouts) swinging at strike four, walked Yasmani Grandal and then blew away Chase Utley with a 95.1-mph fastball, needing 34 pitches to finish the eighth inning. Davis wasn’t finished, using a Kris Bryant bat to hit against Dodger lefty Tony Cingrani, fouling off five pitches before striking out looking at a 94.9-mph fastball.

“Yeah, I gave up there after a little bit,” Davis said with a look that sort of resembled a smile. “He was bringing it pretty good, and I hadn’t seen a baseball in a while coming in like that.”

If the Cubs are going to match the 2004 Boston Red Sox – the only other team to come back from an 0-3 deficit since the LCS format expanded to seven games in 1985 – they are going to need the offense to generate more runs, a great start from Jose Quintana on Thursday night and someone else to run out of the bullpen. Not that Davis is ruling himself out for Game 5.

“Go get some sleep and then come in tomorrow and start getting ready,” Davis said.