Cubs

What sort of job has Joe Maddon done with this Cubs team?

What sort of job has Joe Maddon done with this Cubs team?

At different points throughout a disappointing season, Cubs president Theo Epstein has used the code words you would normally hear about a manager on the hot seat. Epstein vented his frustrations while the Cubs kept staggering around the .500 mark, admitting the team didn’t have a clear identity or play with the same edge.

But Joe Maddon is a future Hall of Famer, the only manager to lead this franchise to a World Series title since the Theodore Roosevelt administration and a larger-than-life personality in the middle of a long-term contract that will pay him in the neighborhood of $28 million.

Maddon oversees an ultra-talented team that overall has been one of the healthiest in the majors this season. The Cubs play in a mediocre division with three small-market franchises that ranked in the bottom eight in terms of Opening Day payroll – and in a big city where even athletes on last-place teams get treated like royalty.

Is there anything Maddon could have done differently – or can do now – with the defending champs?

“Collectively, from top to bottom, I think obviously we haven’t had the same kind of year as last year, or even the year before,” general manager Jed Hoyer said before Monday night’s 15-5 win over the Cincinnati Reds pushed the Cubs out to a 1.5-game lead on the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central. “That assessment is on everybody. I wouldn’t single anything out about Joe that he hasn’t done.

“But in general, as a group, starting with Theo and me, I think we haven’t played as well. We haven’t been as sharp. And that’s something we have to find. But the good thing about baseball is that we still have 46 games left to find it. Starting now.”

Maddon’s “American Legion Week” began with the Wrigley Field clubhouse opening to the media at 4:30 p.m., or almost an hour later than normal for a 7:05 game. Before doing his pregame press briefing, Maddon unfurled a blue-and-gold “Palatine Post No. 690” flag in the interview room and held it up for the cameras. The fine for a player, coach or manager getting to work too early this week is handing over a $100 bottle of wine (with receipt).

“Just show up a little bit later, a little bit more rested mentally,” Maddon said. “Go out and just play the game of baseball like it was intended to be played.

“Data, extra work, all that kind of stuff – it’s the middle of August. We’ve had since the beginning of February to get all that stuff in the barn. So I just want us to play.”

[MORE CUBS: Will Cubs make another deal in August with Willson Contreras sidelined?]

The Cubs have given up 91 runs in the first inning this season – or almost 30 more than any other inning – and seen their defense slip from a historic level to a point where Maddon keeps harping on mental mistakes and making the routine plays routinely. Though the Cubs are still a top-three team in terms of defensive efficiency, even Maddon admits they have not passed the eye test.

Maddon is also a progressive thinker who takes the entire 162-game schedule into account, believes in rest and recovery, tries to keep role players involved and keeps sending positive vibes into the clubhouse and through the media.

“Good or bad, it would have nothing to do with us showing up early or late,” Maddon said. “Taking 50 swings or 100 swings tonight or not has nothing to do with our success or not. When it comes to the offensive side of our team right now, more than anything, it’s about swinging at bad pitches. So if you want to go out there and practice taking pitches, that might be more beneficial.

“There are so many disconnected thoughts in our game regarding work and how you work. When it comes to data and video and information, I’m all about it. But at some point, you got to turn it down just a little bit and go out there and play unencumbered.”

Maddon projected so much confidence and pushed all the right buttons in 2015 when the Cubs went 42-18 in August, September and early October combined, surging to 97 wins and into the NL Championship Series.

All the first- and second-guessing over how Maddon managed last year’s World Series Game 7 overshadowed the way he got the Cubs to “Embrace The Target” and play loose yet focused under enormous pressure.

Maybe Maddon’s sense of calm is the best way to handle this three-ring circus and he will be proven right if a 62-55 team corrects itself and finally takes off. “American Legion Week” started a run where the Cubs will face last-place teams for 13 straight games and 70 percent of the remaining schedule is against teams currently at or below .500.

This is how it works: The manager will either get credit for steering the team toward another division title – or the blame for a stunning collapse – whether or not he thinks like that.

“I just try to treat every game with equal amount of respect,” Maddon said. “I don’t apply any more weight to one game over another. I’ve always said that. I mean it.

“You got to play it right every night. And please don’t take anything for granted in this game, or in any part of your life. I’m just not that guy. We got to come out and play our best game.”

Andre Dawson reportedly about to rejoin Cubs organization

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USA TODAY

Andre Dawson reportedly about to rejoin Cubs organization

Andre Dawson is about to get a welcome back to Sweet Home Chicago.

The Hall of Famer is reportedly about to rejoin the Cubs organization in some capacity, according to a Monday-morning tweet from USA Today's Bob Nightengale.

Nightengale didn't specify what Dawson's role will be, but the former Cubs outfielder has plenty of front-office and organizational experience after spending years with the Florida/Miami Marlins.

Dawson spent 21 seasons in the big leagues, six of those on the North Side. He was named to the National League All-Star team in five of those six seasons and won the NL MVP as a Cub in 1987.

Dawson went into the Hall of Fame in 2010, though he's sporting a Montreal Expos hat on his plaque after playing 11 seasons north of the border.

His longtime ties to the Marlins organization started when he spent the final two seasons of his career in Florida, appearing in 121 games for the Fish in 1995 and 1996. His relationship with that organization lasted until this year's ownership change.

There's no doubt that Dawson will be happily welcomed back to Chicago, both by the Cubs and by Cubs fans, no matter what his new position entails.

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

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USA TODAY

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, MLB.com'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.