Cubs

Maddon blows up at Cardinals: 'We're not going to put up with that'

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Maddon blows up at Cardinals: 'We're not going to put up with that'

Joe Maddon was just itching for a reporter to ask him about Anthony Rizzo's hit-by-pitch in the seventh inning.

The Cubs manager was all prepared and used the platform with media and a half-dozen TV cameras to send the Cardinals a message: "We're not going to put up with that."

When Cardinals slugger Matt Holliday pinch-hit in the fifth inning, he took a pitch in the helmet from Cubs pitcher Dan Haren, who insisted over and over that it was an accident. After all, the Cubs were only winning 3-2 at the time and the tying run was already on second base.

The Cardinals retaliated by plunking Rizzo in the seventh, and pitcher Matt Belisle and St. Louis manager Mike Matheny were both ejected.

"I'm really disappointed in what the Cardinals did right there," Maddon said. "Absolutely. We did not hit their guy on purpose at all. It was an absolute mistake; there was no malicious intent on Dan Haren's part. None.

"So to become this vigilante group that all of a sudden wants to get their own pound of flesh, that's absolutely insane, ridiculous and wrong. We don't start stuff, but we will stop stuff."

Maddon went on to say that his team plans on stealing bases late in blowout games against the Cardinals if they refuse to hold runners on the bases.

Maddon cited a desire to score more runs and ensure important relievers like Hector Rondon can just get a rest and not have to worry about warming up.

[MORE: Heads up: The Cubs are coming after the Cardinals]

"I never read this book the Cardinals have written on how to play baseball," Maddon said. "That particular book that you guys got was written right around the turn of the last century. Like 1900, when it took several singles to score runs as opposed to one big guy coming up to hit a home run.

"So that all has changed. You can take that book and you can read it yourself. 'Cause I don't give a crap about that book. I want everybody there to understand that. We don't start stuff, but we stop stuff."

Maddon is known for his mild temper and positive, patient nature. It's a major reason why the Cubs thought he'd be a perfect fit on a young team getting their first taste of winning at the big-league level.

Friday's postgame press conference was probably the most fired up Maddon has been all season.

He refused to believe Belisle's pitch may have been an accident.

"Of course not. That is ridiculous," Maddon said. "I don't want to hear that. I don't want to hear about pitching inside. I don't want to hear any of that crap.

"The pitch [Haren] hit their guy with was an absolute mistake. It was awful. We all hated it in the dugout. I'm happy that he's fine, absolutely, but you don't do that under those circumstances.

"We don't start stuff, but we finish stuff."

That one-liner will probably end up on a T-shirt in the Cubs clubhouse before the homestand is over.

When Rizzo was hit, he started walking toward the mound slowly, but other than that, there was no altercation between the two teams or any players. Maddon stayed at his perch on the top step of the Cubs' dugout.

[RELATED: Redemption: Starlin Castro has game of his life as Cubs beat Cards]

Maddon mentioned he didn't have any personal history with the Cardinals organization prior to Friday, but ask him again in a week.

"I don't know who put out the hit - I don't know if Tony Soprano was in the dugout; I didn't see him in there," Maddon said. "We're not gonna put up with that from them or anybody else.

"I didn't cause a ruckus out there because I have a lot of respect for the umpire crew that was out there. I thought they did a great job. ... I just want people to know just because we didn't go out there in that particular moment is not a sign of weakness. We didn't go out there out of respect to the umpires."

Haren came up in the Cardinals organization and said he expected there to be retaliation, to the point where he even apologized to Rizzo right after the fifth inning in case the Cardinals went after him.

Haren talked about how it was ingrained in their minds in the Cardinals organization to protect the big guys - like Holliday or Albert Pujols - when they were hit.

"They've been known for doing these types of things and policing it that way," Haren said. "Sometimes they take it to a little bit of an extreme, but you just hope that they know it wasn't on purpose. I don't know if they do [know].

"They were yelling at me pretty good from the dugout. I didn't know what to say; did they want me to say 'I'm sorry'?"

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry didn't need much of a spark now that the Cubs are competitive and coming after the Cardinals in the divisional race.

But this will be an added point of contention between the two teams for at least the rest of this season.

With emotions running high, it's fair to ask: Is the beanball done for the weekend?

"I think it's up to them," Haren said. "I certainly don't think anyone on our side is going to come out and throw at anybody, that's for sure. Since I've been here, there's never been any type of order to hit anybody or anything like that.

"It's up to them. If they want to continue, that's on them. Like I said to you guys, it was an accident and hopefully they threw at Rizzo and it's done with.

"You don't want to see someone get hurt, especially on two teams that are likely to be playing baseball a little bit deeper."

Javy Baez can do anything defensively, but what's next for him at the plate?

Javy Baez can do anything defensively, but what's next for him at the plate?

MESA, Ariz. — You don’t need to spend long searching the highlight reels to figure out why Javy Baez goes by “El Mago.”

Spanish for “The Magician,” that moniker is a fitting one considering what Baez can do with his glove and his arm up the middle of the infield. The king of tags, Baez also dazzles with his throwing arm and his range. He looks like a Gold Glove kind of player when you watch him do these amazing things. And it’s no surprise that in his first media session of the spring, he was talking about winning that award.

“Just to play hard and see what I can do. Obviously, try to be healthy the whole year again. And try to get that Gold Glove that I want because a lot of people know me for my defense,” he said Friday at Cubs camp. “Just try to get a Gold Glove and stay healthy the whole year.”

Those high expectations — in this case, being the best defensive second baseman in the National League — fall in line with everything the rest of the team is saying about their own high expectations. It’s been “World Series or bust” from pretty much everyone over the past couple weeks in Mesa.

Baez might not be all the way there just yet. Joe Maddon talked earlier this week about his reminders that Baez needs to keep focusing on making the easy plays while staying a master of the magnificent.

“What I talked to him about was, when he had to play shortstop, please make the routine play routinely and permit your athleticism to play. Because when the play requires crazinesss, you’re there, you can do that,” Maddon said. “But this straight up ground ball three-hopper to shortstop, come get the ball, play it through and make an accurate throw in a routine manner. Apparently that stuck. Because he told me once he thought in those terms, it really did slow it down for him. And he did do a better job at doing that.”

But the biggest question for Cubs fans when it comes to Baez is when the offense will catch up to his defense. Baez hit a game-winning homer run in his first major league game and smacked 23 of them last season, good for fifth on a team full of power bats. But arguably just as famous as Baez’s defensive magic is his tendency to chase pitches outside of the strike zone. He had 144 strikeouts last season and reached base at a .317 clip. Seven Cubs — including notable struggling hitters Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist — had higher on-base percentages in 2017.

Baez, for one, is staying focused on what he does best, saying he doesn’t really have any specific offensive goals for the upcoming season.

“I’m not worrying about too much about it,” he said. “I’m just trying to play defense, and just let the offense — see what happens.”

Maddon, unsurprisingly, talked much more about what Baez needs to do to become a better all-around player, and unsurprisingly that included being more selective at the plate.

“One of the best base runners in the game, one of the finest arms, most acrobatic, greatest range on defense, power. The biggest thing for me for him is to organize the strike zone,” Maddon said. “Once he does that, heads up. He’s at that point now, at-bat wise, if you want to get those 500, 600 plate appearances, part of that is to organize your zone, accept your walks, utilize the whole field, that kind of stuff. So that would be the level that I think’s the next level for him.”

Will Baez have a season’s worth of at-bats to get that done? The versatile Cubs roster includes a couple guys who split time between the infield and outfield in Zobrist and Ian Happ. Getting their more consistent bats in the lineup might mean sacrificing Baez’s defense on certain days. Baez, of course, also has the ability to slide over to shortstop to spell Addison Russell, like he did when Russell was on the disabled list last season.

Until Baez learns how to navigate that strike zone a bit better, it might make Maddon more likely to mix and match other options, rather than considering him an everyday lock like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.

But like Russell, Albert Almora Jr. and Willson Contreras, Baez is one of the young players who despite key roles on a championship contender the last few years still have big league growth to come. And Maddon thinks that growth is right around the corner.

“I want to believe you’re going to see that this year,” Maddon said. “They’ve had enough major league at-bats now, they should start making some significant improvements that are easy to recognize. The biggest thing normally is pitch selection, I think that’s where it really shows up. When you have talented players like that, that are very strong, quick, all that other stuff, if they’re swinging at strikes and taking balls, they’re going to do really well. And so it’s no secret with Javy. It’s no secret with Addy. Addy’s been more swing mode as opposed to accepting his walks. That’s part of the maturation process with those two guys. Albert I thought did a great job the last month, two months of getting better against righties. I thought Jason looked really good in the cage today. And Willson’s Willson.

“The natural assumption is these guys have played enough major league at-bats that you should see something different this year in a positive way.”

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

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USA TODAY

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

Could 2018 be the year that the Cubs finally see a top pitching prospect debut with the team? 

Thursday, MLB.com released its list of the Cubs' 2018 Top 30 Prospects, a group that includes six pitchers in the Top 10. The list ranks right-hander Adbert Alzolay as the Cubs' No 1. prospect, projecting him to debut with the team this season. 

Alzolay, 22, went 7-4 with a 2.99 ERA in 22 starts between Single-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee last season. He also struck out 108 batters in 114 1/3 innings, using a repertoire that includes a fastball that tops out around 98 MPH (according to MLB.com).

Following Alzolay as the Cubs' No. 2 overall prospect is 19-year-old shortstop Aramis Ademan. Ademan hit .267 in just 68 games between Single-A Eugene and Single-A South Bend, though it should be noted that he has soared from No. 11 in MLB.com's 2017 ranks to his current No. 2 ranking. He is not projected to make his MLB debut until 2020, however.

Following Alzolay and Ademan on the list are five consecutive pitchers ranked 3-7, respectively. Oscar De La Cruz, No. 3 on the list, slides down from his 2017 ranking in which MLB.com listed him as the Cubs' top overall prospect. De La Cruz, 22, finished 2017 with a 3.34 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) between the Arizona League and Single-A Myrtle Beach.

De La Cruz is projected to make his MLB debut in 2019, while Jose Albertos (No. 4), Alex Lange (No. 5), Brendon Little (No. 6) and Thomas Hatch (No. 7) are projected to make their big league debuts in 2019 or 2020. All are right-handed (with the exception of Little) and starting pitchers.

Hatch (third round, 2016) and Lange (30th overall, 2017) and Little (27th overall, 2017) were all top draft picks by the Cubs in recent seasons.

Having numerous starting pitchers on the cusp of the big leagues represents a significant change of pace for the Cubs. 

Since Theo Epstein took over as team president in Oct. 2011, a plethora of top prospects have debuted and enjoyed success with the Cubs. Majority have been position players, though.

The likes of Albert Almora, Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell all contributed to the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016. Similarly, Ian Happ enjoyed a fair amount of success after making his MLB debut last season, hitting 24 home runs in just 115 games.

Ultimately, Alzolay would be the Cubs' first true top pitching prospect to make it to the big leagues in the Theo Epstein era. While him making it to the big leagues in 2018 is no guarantee, one would think a need for pitching will arise for the Cubs at some point, whether it be due to injury or simply for September roster expansion.

The Cubs have enjoyed tremendous success in recent years in terms of their top prospects succeeding in the MLB. If the trend continues, Alzolay should be a force to reckon with on the North Side for years to come.