Walking off an important part of Cubs' lesson in winning


Walking off an important part of Cubs' lesson in winning

If you were still awake after that nearly three-hour weather delay during Saturday night’s game, you saw a finish that’s becoming more and more frequent on the North Side.

The Cubs walked off for the seventh time this season Saturday night, with Starlin Castro again playing hero with a game-winning basehit to beat the Reds in the bottom of the ninth.

There were a pair of walk-off wins in April, four more in May. Saturday night marked June’s first, and it’s apparent this is becoming a habit for the young Cubs. Joe Maddon was brought in, tasked with, among other things, teaching this team of top prospects to win at the major league level. Walking off is a part of that, according to one Cubs veteran.

“I think it just builds confidence. I think that’s part of when you hear the term ‘learning how to win,’ that’s one of the aspects as a team, as a player, learning how to win those type of games,” Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan said before Sunday’s series finale with Cincinnati. “And once you do it, it’s like anything, ‘Oh, OK, that’s how we did it. Let’s do it again.’ And obviously you can’t come through all the time, but your confidence is a lot higher when you’ve already done it. You’re like, ‘We’ve already done that. We’ve been there, done that. We know how to do it, let’s stick with what we do.’”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs hoping to capture some of the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup buzz]

Saturday, it was the youngsters coming through in the clutch. Kris Bryant led off the bottom of the ninth with a double. Then after Miguel Montero was hit by a pitch, Castro delivered the game-winning single. Cubs win.

But it’s about more than just having the talent to do it. It’s about having guys that want to do it and guys that can inspire the rest of their teammates to grab a dramatic “W.”

“When you get in that situation in the ninth inning, you’re like, ‘We can walk it off right here,’” Coghlan said. “Then when KB hits the double, or whoever hits the double or gets a hit, it mounts more and more. The pitcher feels more and more pressure because he knows he’s in a tougher spot than if there’s nobody on. And we feel more confident in that situation because we have a guy in scoring position already. And the way that things roll, our lineup’s so deep that anybody has a chance to win the game.

“I think we have a lot of guys like that. That’s what makes it fun, and that’s why we have so many walk-off hits is because we’re in that situation. We can’t get to that situation without defense, without pitching, but offensively, being able to come through, why there’s been different guys to get game-winning hits, it’s because that’s the type of team we are offensively. That’s a good talent to have.”

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Castro is the first Cub with a pair of walk-off hits this season. He previously came through with one to beat the Padres back on April 18. For all the guff the shortstop gets from fans, he’s made two of the most clutch plays of the season thus far, and he’s earning a reputation in the clubhouse as someone who can deliver.

“I think he is,” Coghlan said. “I think Star, he’s such a good offensive player. He takes a lot of heat, too, here, but I think that a lot of times people forget how good offensively he is, how young he is, too. It seems like in those situations this year — I’ve only been here two years, but it seems like he comes up a lot of times with an opportunity to win a game. I think he relishes that opportunity, knowing his personality. That what makes him able to come through in those situations.”

“Castro is just a good hitter. He’s a really good hitter. I’ve faced him a lot in my career, and this guy’s a really good hitter,” Montero said. “It’s good to be a part of this team and play with young, talented guys. The ceiling’s still pretty high for them. They’re still growing, and they’re still getting better. And they’re going to be even better every day. Every day they’re just going to get better.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get a Starlin Castro jersey right here]

Don’t expect the Cubs’ ninth-inning dramatics to go away any time soon. Winning ballgames late is becoming a trend, and figuring out how to come through in the clutch is an extremely valuable lesson for a young team looking to do enough damage to get into the playoffs. And the playoffs: There’s a time of year where being clutch really matters.

“We play hard, we go about our business,” Montero said. “And when you get a few wins here and there like that, it kind of motivates you and kind of increases your confidence level knowing that you can do it again.”

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


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.