Maddon’s playoff message to Cubs and Schwarber's role in wild-card game


Maddon’s playoff message to Cubs and Schwarber's role in wild-card game

MILWAUKEE – The Cubs should run all the numbers, analyze where the Pittsburgh Pirates will probably hit the ball against Jake Arrieta and break down every possible lineup combination and bullpen matchup.

But the National League wild-card game will likely hinge on Arrieta pitching like a Cy Young Award winner, whether or not he can do what Madison Bumgarner did to the Pirates last year, carrying the San Francisco Giants to their third World Series title in five seasons.

Yes, manager Joe Maddon wanted another look and played Kyle Schwarber in right field against the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday night at Miller Park. That could be a wild-card preview, especially since PNC Park’s dimensions mean there is less ground for a part-time catcher to cover in right field than in left.

[MORE: Jake Arrieta gets one more shot to make Cy Young case]

Maddon also started Kris Bryant in left field, still experimenting and maximizing versatility at Game 160 to get a better feel for Game 163.

“All these guys have been all over the map,” Maddon said. “I wanted to make sure they’re aware of all the different parts. I wanted to see what it looked like.”

The buildup to this one-game playoff has intensified the obsession Cubs fans and the Chicago media have with the daily lineup. But on some level, the Cubs know this is overkill after playing the Pirates 19 times already this season – and winning 11 of those games.

“I’ve asked for our geeks to send me some stuff to just look at,” Maddon said. “I’m always looking for other people to give me opinions.

“(It’s more) the skills that we have, whether we’re looking for more offense – or more defense – and how that plays. But to break down all the minutia…

“I’ve learned that the scouting reports at that time of the year – if you could grab a nugget or two – don’t even give them to your players. They just need to go play. Now if there’s something in-game you can remind somebody about, that’s probably the best way.

[RELATED: What if Cubs had traded for Jonathan Papelbon?]

“Believe me, it sounds like you’re nuts. They should be able to handle this. They’re big-league players. They’ve been doing this for a long time.

“Our game really requires kind of an open, free mind to play. And if you’re bogging it down with stuff, man, it can only get in the way.”

That’s how Starlin Castro has been playing since losing his job to Addison Russell. The three-time All-Star shortstop has looked sharp defensively at second base, carefree in the clubhouse and locked in at home plate in September (1.202 OPS).

Castro should also feel confident facing Gerrit Cole (19-8, 2.60 ERA), going 6-for-17 with a walk and a sacrifice fly in 19 plate appearances against Pittsburgh’s ace.

“He definitely plays in a very non-uptight manner,” Maddon said. “I love the fact that he goes out there and he’s tension-free.”

[NBC SHOP: Get your Cubs postseason gear right here]

Ultimately, it took four years for the Theo Epstein administration to build a playoff roster. The rest is fringe stuff, which could still be important in an elimination game featuring two stud pitchers and two teams with at least 190 wins combined.

But the Cubs already made their biggest decisions, drafting big bats like Schwarber and Bryant and trading for foundation pieces in Russell and Arrieta and hiring the manager you would want making all those decisions in real time.

“It’s the team that plays the better game that night, catches the ball, works a better at-bat,” Maddon said. “Your pitcher’s going to be in charge of the moment, primarily. That’s how I look at it.”

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


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.”