Cubs

Joe Maddon flips out, comparing MLB home-plate rule to Chicago soda tax

Joe Maddon flips out, comparing MLB home-plate rule to Chicago soda tax

LOS ANGELES – John Lackey, baseball culture warrior, gave an instant analysis before walking through Dodger Stadium’s visiting clubhouse on Saturday night: “It’s sad that’s the direction our game’s gotten. That’s a textbook play by a kid and he got penalized for it.”

But did the seventh-inning play the Cubs kept talking about – and kept getting asked about – really matter? Eh, sort of. It meant one run and a momentum swing – against a Dodger team that looks much sharper than the Washington Nationals and still had star closer Kenley Jansen waiting for a four-out save.

At least it gave manager Joe Maddon a distraction – and a chance to vent – after he got ejected from a 5-2 loss that put the Cubs down 0-1 in the National League Championship Series.

“That was a beautifully done major-league play all the way around,” Maddon said. “That gets interpreted kind of like tantamount to the soda tax in Chicago, for me.”

To reset: Justin Turner, a .300 hitter, singles into left field off Lackey, who almost never pitches out of the bullpen. Kyle Schwarber, who’s worked hard to shed his reputation as a bad defender after the 2015 NLCS, gathers himself and fires the ball to catcher Willson Contreras.

Trying to score from second base, Charlie Culberson slides but does not touch home plate, where Contreras had set up a partial roadblock. After a Dodger challenge and a replay review that lasted 2 minutes and 45 seconds, the call on the field is overturned. Dodgers 5, Cubs 2. Maddon goes wild.

“I saw a great baseball play,” Maddon said. “I saw Schwarber come in on a grounded ball, use his feet perfectly, make a low, great throw to the plate that could have been cut off.

“Perfect skip-hop, great play by Contreras, the ball kind of taking Willson towards the line, towards foul territory. He catches the ball, and his technique was absolutely 100 percent perfect.

“I could not disagree more with the interpretation of that. However, I will defend the umpires. The umpires did everything according to what they've been told. But from Day 1, I have totally disagreed with the content of that rule. I think it's wrong.”

So is your objection to the specific call, or to The Buster Posey Rule, even though it was called correctly?

“See, I don't think the rule was called correctly, either,” Maddon said. “From what I saw, the ball took Willson toward that line. I disagree with that, so I disagree with it on both counts, Your Honor.”

Schwarber’s perspective as someone who came up as a catcher and could still get behind the plate if needed:

“I still think the rule’s pretty vague. I know you have to give them the lane. That’s what it looked like at first – Willson actually did give him the lane. And then the ball was coming in, he stepped into the lane. That’s pretty much how we’re taught.”

In the end, maybe that call wouldn’t have made a difference and Jansen simply would’ve closed out a 4-2 game. But this is also the eighth playoff round for the Cubs since 2015, so they know how much all the little things matter and how you can’t give an inch.

“I’m defending my plate,” Contreras said. “I would not change anything. If I had to do that again, I would do it again.”

If you can't wait for baseball to be back, take a look at the Cubs' spring training schedule

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USA TODAY

If you can't wait for baseball to be back, take a look at the Cubs' spring training schedule

Set your alarm, there are only three more months till baseball is back.

The Cubs announced their spring training schedule Monday, getting folks all amped up for the 34 exhibition games in February and March.

Spring game action gets started Feb. 23 out in Arizona, with the Cubs taking on the Milwaukee Brewers to kick off Cactus League play. The Cubs' first home spring game at Sloan Park in Mesa comes the next day, Feb. 24.

In addition to a 32-game Cactus League slate, the Cubs will take on the Cleveland Indians in a pair of exhibition games in Las Vegas. That 2016 World Series rematch comes March 17 and 18.

And of course, there will be three meetings with the White Sox, as both Chicago teams play their spring schedule out in Arizona. Those "Cactus Crosstown" games will be played Feb. 27 and March 10 in Mesa and March 16 in Glendale.

Here's the full schedule:

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

Jake Arrieta in a Brewers uniform?

That's not a sight Cubs fans would like to see, but the North Siders' I-94 rivals are apparently keen on trying to add Arrieta, the free-agent pitcher who's been one of the National League's top arms for the past several seasons.

The Cubs have their own decision to make on whether or not they're going to pursue re-signing Arrieta, a guy who over the past three seasons has posted a 2.71 ERA and struck out 589 batters, winning 54 games in 94 starts for a team that won the 2016 World Series and has advanced to three consecutive NL Championship Series.

The downside to losing Arrieta is obvious, as the Cubs would lose a huge part of their formidable starting rotation, but there would be an added downside if Arrieta were to remain in the NL Central and repeatedly haunt his former team.

Given Arrieta's track record, adding him would make sense for any team in the majors, but the Brewers in particular could use a front-of-the-line starting pitcher to boost their chances of besting the Cubs for the Central crown. The Brew Crew staged a surprising threat to do just that in 2017, perhaps proving that their rebuilding effort has yielded fruit ahead of schedule.

But there are questions in that rotation, with Jimmy Nelson expected to miss time next season after having shoulder surgery. Chase Anderson was great last season, and Zach Davies was solid, too. Brewers starters posted an ERA of 4.10 on the season, good for fifth in the NL. The four teams ahead of them, including the Cubs, all made the playoffs. Adding an arm as good as Arrieta's could make the difference in jumping past the Cubs in the Central and getting the Crew to the postseason for the first time since 2011.

And it'd be a plus for the Brewers to make it so Arrieta couldn't shut down their hitters anymore. In 15 career starts against the Crew, Arrieta is 8-4 with a 2.74 ERA. However, they'd surely love to have him call Miller Park home. He's never lost there in five starts, boasting a 2.03 ERA with 30 strikeouts.

There's an argument to be made that Arrieta would be able to seek revenge on the Cubs no matter what team he ends up pitching for, be it an NL team facing off against the Cubs in the playoffs or an American League squad meeting the Cubs in the World Series. After all, as Scott Boras put it, signing Arrieta is a ticket to "Playoffville."

But should Arrieta make the short drive to Wisconsin and set up shop in America's Dairyland, turning the Brewers into a legitimate playoff contender and challenger to the Cubs' grip on the NL Central crown? Well, consider the Cubs-Brewers rivalry cranked up to 11.