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Why Cubs believe clubhouse chemistry matters

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Why Cubs believe clubhouse chemistry matters

There is no statistic to measure clubhouse chemistry.

You can't head over to FanGraphs or Baseball Reference to check metrics on a guy's impact in the clubhouse. There's no way to prove it effects the game being played between the white lines on the field.

Because of that, sabermetricians and statheads will tell you clubhouse chemistry is overrated, that it doesn't matter.

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Yet the Cubs know what they feel and they insist chemistry does bleed out onto the diamond.

"One hundred percent," reliever Jason Motte said.

"I've always believed that clubhouse chemistry can be created," manager Joe Maddon said. "There's a lot of people that would disagree with that. And I think people that disagree with that have never really attempted to do it. You mock what you don't understand.

"Of course, winning always breeds that kind of stuff. But if you've not won, what do you do?"

For the first time under Theo Epstein's front office, the Cubs are actually winning: They're five games over .500 and sitting atop the National League wild-card standings in mid-May.

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The culture inside the clubhouse has changed. It's palpable the second you step into the cramped home locker room at Wrigley Field. There's energy, confidence and a sense of a team on the rise, even if they're still learning how to win consistently.

Maddon has had a huge impact. But he's also so complimentary of veterans like David Ross and Jon Lester, to the point where the star manager is praising them on a near-daily basis.

"How do you create chemistry?" Maddon asked. "You bring in David Ross, [Miguel] Montero, Jon Lester, [Chris] Denorfia, these kind of guys.

"Those are kind of like the chemistry majors, man. They know what they're doing and they set a different tone. I'm telling you, the bench during the game when Monty and Rossy are not playing - wow. Those other guys better be heads up."

Guys like Ross, Lester and Motte all carry the instant credibility that comes with their World Series rings.

Lester won two championships with the Boston Red Sox. Motte was a part of the St. Louis Cardinals teams that has made it to the last four NL Championship Series, including a title in 2011.

At 38, Ross is a 14-year veteran who has played with seven different teams and also won a World Series with the Red Sox in 2013.

It's that kind of experience that has helped these guys earn their degrees in clubhouse chemistry.

"I try to pass along the experiences I have had with winning and all that encompasses that," Ross said. "There are a lot of questions that get fired my way and I talk from experience of winning.

"I say things like, 'This is what I saw from the team that won.' Obviously, there is more than one way to win, but the group I was with in Boston and the way I saw things done, that's what I talk about.

"I don't come to the field or to an organization trying to instill anything. I try to come and be me and I try to support my teammates.

"I only know one way to come to work and that's to come and say 'hello' to my teammates, enjoy them and try to have fun with them and compete at the highest level."

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The Cubs talk a lot about the synergy in the clubhouse and how that breeds chemistry.

During the team's recent six-game winning streak, Maddon mentioned how much he loved the energy in the dugout during games and how each guy on the 25-man roster is pulling in the same direction, picking each other up.

Motte credited rookies like Kris Bryant and Addison Russell for coming up to the big leagues and not acting like they're all that, instead looking to the veterans for an example on how to act, how to carry themselves.

Motte and Ross believe it's important for a team to get along as it helps keep things loose during the grind of a 162-game season.

"Clubhouse chemistry doesn't matter if you have a lot of selfish players - guys that only worry about themselves and only go out there to produce for themselves," Ross said. "I think it matters if guys get along, care about one another, want to sacrifice for the betterment of the guys in the group.

"Let's say I don't like a lot of my teammates. I may choose to do what's best for me rather than what's best for the team.

"If you get along and care about one another and have fun, I feel like you have a better chance of having the group play for one another. And I think that's one of the keys to winning."

Maddon credits the veterans with instilling that "team-first" mindset in the clubhouse, saying the young players are being "properly overseen by the veterans" on a daily basis. Which is necessary, because they boast one of the most inexperienced lineups in all of baseball.

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The Cubs have three guys - Bryant, Russell and Jorge Soler - who could finish in the Top 5 in NL Rookie of the Year voting and two other everyday stars - Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo - who are still just 25.

All that youth has led to some fun moments in the first six weeks of the season. The locker room turns into a night club after victories, complete with a fog machine and dance parties.

"Every game's important," Motte said. "The celebration after the game - that's awesome. But the one time it's going to be truly good to celebrate is when we make the playoffs.

"Then we'll be popping champagne. That's what we're all here for, to play PAST October 4."

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”