What runs through Joe Maddon’s mind with Cubs back in San Francisco and making a playoff surge


What runs through Joe Maddon’s mind with Cubs back in San Francisco and making a playoff surge

SAN FRANCISCO – Joe Maddon always talks like a Haight-Ashbury philosopher and gets to play dress-up with the black leather motorcycle vests the Cubs wore for this “Easy Rider” road trip. But Major League Baseball’s hippie manager – the one who became rich and famous beyond his wildest dreams – definitely vibrates on this city’s frequency.

The memories came rushing back for Maddon seeing the San Francisco Giants again, thinking about how the Cubs staged an epic comeback in Game 4 of last year’s National League Division Series and unleashed a wild celebration inside AT&T Park visiting clubhouse, relieved to not have to face Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner in an elimination game that would have created so much anxiety in Wrigleyville.       

“It’s crazy how the human mind works,” Maddon said before Monday night’s 5-3 win highlighted by Jake Arrieta dealing like it was October and Javier Baez dashing for an inside-the-park home run. “First of all, no time elapsed. What was it, nine months ago? It’s incredible how we as humans – time just evaporates on us.”

It was actually 10 months ago. But forget it, he’s rolling.

“So the nine months evaporated,” Maddon said. “It was like we had just walked in yesterday. Driving in, the sky here always has a different method of blue. I don’t know if it’s the ocean being right here, the coolness to the air. But there’s a different method to the blue here. It’s not blue-blue. It’s just kind of like pale blue.

“And then it feels crispy. So it’s always got that feel. And when we walk in – even though it was nine months ago – we were just here yesterday. So that was very familiar as we drove up today.”

This is also where Maddon worked as Mike Scioscia’s bench coach when the Anaheim Angels outlasted Barry Bonds in the 2002 World Series.   

“The Giants – you always have a ton of respect,” Maddon said of the proud organization that has cratered to 44-70 after winning World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 and creating such a vibrant atmosphere inside and around a stadium that became an instant classic. “It’s a tough place to play, but I’ve had some good memories here. Last year probably can’t be topped.

“I thought that victory here last year really set up the entire postseason. I thought (about) all that stuff. To beat them here and not have to take it back to Chicago, I thought, was pretty much the whole linchpin, the key point, the seminal moment in last year’s postseason that permitted us to win.”

That ninth-inning rally saw the Cubs erase a three-run deficit by scoring four runs again five different San Francisco relievers. The Cubs then survived a 21-inning scoreless streak vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Championship Series and climbed out of a 3-1 hole against the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.

The been-there, done-that confidence contributed to the championship hangover that saw the 2017 Cubs at the .500 mark 21 different times and as recently as July 15. But the muscle memory will help in a division race the Milwaukee Brewers probably didn’t expect to be in, where the St. Louis Cardinals are at .500 and the Pittsburgh Pirates are two games under.

“I just went through that whole thing, but it doesn’t matter right now,” Maddon said. “This is a whole new situation. We’re trying to write a whole entirely different chapter. We’re writing this chapter in a much different way than we did last year.

“So regardless of all the nostalgia and all the warm fuzzies, it’s an entirely different moment right now – for them and for us. They’re having an entirely different moment themselves. So it’s just a different method right now. Last year is last year. It’s just a totally different day.”

The schedule will also ease up after this weekend’s series against the Arizona Diamondbacks amid the noise pollution at Chase Field. At that point, the Cubs might not face another team with a winning record until Labor Day in Pittsburgh, and one game above .500 on July 21 has so far been the high-water mark for the Pirates.   

The Cubs have more home games left on their calendar this season (26) than any other Central team. Of their 51 remaining games overall, 39 are against teams with a record of .500 or below. Now up 1.5 games on the Brewers, FanGraphs calculates the playoff odds for the defending champs at 91.5 percent.

“Personally, I never take anything or anybody for granted in anything, in any walk of life,” Maddon said. “I learned that from ‘The Godfather.’ Mario Puzo taught me that.”

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?


Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant,'s Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers


Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

During the middle of Jake Arrieta’s 2015 Cy Young Award campaign, super-agent Scott Boras compared the emerging Cubs pitcher to another client – Max Scherzer – in the first season of a seven-year, $210 million megadeal with the Washington Nationals.

Now don’t focus as much on the money – though that obviously matters – as when Scherzer arrived for that Washington press conference to put on his new Nationals jersey: Jan. 21, 2015.

It might take Boras a while to find a new home for his “big squirrel with a lot of nuts in his trees.” Teams have been gearing up for next winter’s monster Bryce Harper/Manny Machado free-agent class for years. Mystery surrounds Shohei Ohtani, Japan’s Babe Ruth, and the posting system with Nippon Professional Baseball. Major League Baseball’s competitive balance tax may also have a chilling effect this offseason.

As expected, Arrieta, All-Star closer Wade Davis and pitcher Alex Cobb were among the group of free agents who went 9-for-9 in declining the one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer before Thursday’s deadline.

With that formality out of the way, if Arrieta and Davis sign elsewhere, the Cubs will receive two third-round picks in the 2018 draft.

By staying under the $195 million luxury-tax threshold this year, the Cubs would have to give up a second-round draft pick and $500,000 from their international bonus pool to sign Cobb, an obvious target given their connections to the Tampa Bay Rays, or Lance Lynn, another starter on their radar who turned down a qualifying offer from the St. Louis Cardinals.

That collectively bargained luxury-tax system became a central part of the Boras media show on Wednesday outside the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, where he introduced “Playoffville” as his new go-to analogy at the end of the general manager meetings.

“The team cutting payroll is treating their family where they’re staying in a neighborhood that has less protection for winning,” Boras said. “They’re not living in the gated community of Playoffville. Certainly, they’re saving a de minimis property tax, but the reality of it is there’s less firemen in the bullpen. There’s less financial analysts sitting in the press boxes.

“The rooms in the house are less, so obviously you’re going to have less franchise players. When you move to that 12-room home in Playoffville, they generally are filled with the people that allow you to really achieve what your family – your regional family – wants to achieve. And that is winning.”

Boras also represents four other players who rejected qualifying offers – J.D Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Greg Holland – another reason why this could be a long winter of Arrieta rumors, slow-playing negotiations and LOL metaphors.