Dave Martinez

Wade Davis is the big-game hunter Cubs need now - and maybe in the future

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USA TODAY

Wade Davis is the big-game hunter Cubs need now - and maybe in the future

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The origin story of Wade Davis transforming into a dominant closer goes back several years ago and involves a black bear on Canadian hunting grounds about 90 minutes outside of Toronto.

This is the rare animal that didn’t make the video tribute the Tampa Bay Rays cut for Cubs manager Joe Maddon when their ex-zookeeper returned this week to Tropicana Field. But if Davis could stay cool facing a 300-something-pound beast, Maddon reasoned, then a late-inning jam shouldn’t seem so daunting.

“You don’t get much reaction from Wade,” Dave Martinez, Maddon’s longtime bench coach, said on the Cubs Talk podcast. “What you see is what you get. I (asked): ‘Hey, I got a place to go bear hunting, you guys want to go?’

“If you can imagine (Wade) and Jeff Niemann — Jeff Niemann’s 6-10 — they sat up in a tree stand. They saw a black bear come out and he shot it. I wish we had the video. The video’s floating around somewhere.

“We were just talking about it the other day. (Former Rays travel director) Jeff Ziegler went with us, too, and he never did get his bear rug. And he got a little bent out of shape about it.”

Martinez doesn’t know where that trophy wound up. But Davis remains the big-game hunter the Cubs need now — and maybe for the future.

“I’m not thinking past the next two weeks, honestly,” team president Theo Epstein said. “It’s bad form to be talking about offseason stuff at this time of the year.

“He’s had a great year. He’s been perfect in save situations. He’s been a leader out there. Any team would love to have him. But we’re not into the winter yet.”

Are the Cubs willing to pay the price for an All-Star, World-Series-tested closer? Can they afford not to?

Epstein’s front office has been philosophically opposed to making long-term investments in closers. But the Cubs are running out of young hitters to trade for short-term fixes, shipping an elite prospect (Gleyber Torres) to the New York Yankees in last summer’s blockbuster Aroldis Chapman deal and getting Davis by moving a diminishing asset (Jorge Soler) to the Kansas City Royals in a winter-meetings swap.

The Cubs also haven’t seen that alternative ninth-inning solution organically develop this season. It’s hard to picture the Cubs just handing Carl Edwards Jr. the closer’s job heading into his second full season in the big leagues. Pedro Strop also looks more like a very good setup guy than a first-choice candidate to be the 2018 closer.

Justin Wilson (5.79 ERA) hasn’t distinguished himself since coming over from the Detroit Tigers at the July 31 trade deadline, the Cubs now using the lefty reliever in low-leverage/mop-up situations to help restore his game. Hector Rondon — who has 77 saves in a Cubs uniform and a checkered medical history — is dealing with right elbow inflammation.

All those moving pieces make Davis (32-for-32 in save chances) an anchor heading into the four-game showdown against the Milwaukee Brewers that begins Thursday night at Miller Park, where Jake Arrieta will be making his first start since straining his right hamstring on Labor Day and limited to 75-80 pitches.

The Cubs have a 3.5-game lead on a Brewers team that hasn’t gone away yet and a single-digit magic number (eight) to clinch the National League Central. Maddon has already signaled that he will deploy Davis for multiple innings when necessary.

“It’s a good feeling to know that he can do it,” Martinez said. “But all in all, you still have to have these other guys contribute, which they have, and get all the bullpen onboard.

“Now each moment is critical and moving forward they’re going to be put in some pretty tough situations. Each one of them has to step up and do their jobs.

“Do we count on Wade? Absolutely. But we also count on these other guys to go out there and perform.”

During the All-Star festivities in Miami, Davis said “some of that seems unrealistic” when asked about the massive free-agent contracts the Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers gave Chapman (five years, $86 million) and Kenley Jansen (five years, $80 million) last winter.

But this October will be another huge platform for Davis, who said it already felt like that all season at Wrigley Field.

“Every game, there’s always a constant buzz here,” Davis said. “They’re into it. They’re getting loud. It’s a great atmosphere all year long.”

A look at the wild numbers behind the White Sox breakout day

A look at the wild numbers behind the White Sox breakout day

They still reside nearly 30 games under .500, but the White Sox continue to make things interesting.

The White Sox produced double-digit base hits for a sixth straight game Thursday afternoon and tied a club-record with 21 singles in a 17-7 rout of the Detroit Tigers. Yoan Moncada and Avisail Garcia each reached base six times for the White Sox, who finished with 25 hits and have outscored opponents in the past six games 57-18. Moncada scored five runs and Garcia had five hits and a career-high seven RBIs.

-- In reaching base six times, Moncada became the first player under 23 to do so in a game since Mike Trout in 2013, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

-- Garcia is the first White Sox player to have at least six RBIs in a game twice in a season since Tadahito Iguchi, according to CSN’s Chris Kamka.

-- The team’s 25 hits were its most in a game since May 25, 2009, according to Kamka.

-- Moncada and Garcia are the first White Sox players to each reach base six times in a game since Luis Aparicio and Billy Goodman in Game 2 of a June 29, 1958 doubleheader.

-- Moncada, Jose Abreu and Garcia is the first White Sox trio with a four-hit game each since Ray Durham, Dave Martinez and Ron Karkovice on Aug. 11, 1996.

-- Moncada’s first three hits, including a solo homer in the first inning, came off left-handed pitcher Chad Bell. Moncada is now hitting .250/.328/.404 slash line against southpaws after carrying a .397 OPS as recently as last week.

-- Moncada has been red hot since switched he bats on Friday after Abreu ordered him some new ones. He’s 10-for-19 with a triple, home run, three walks, three strikeouts and eight runs in his last 23 plate appearances.

-- Moncada is hitting .229/.353/.407 with five homers and 22 RBIs in 167 plate appearances and has a wRC+ of 108 this season.

-- Abreu went 4-for-5 and drove in two runs, which has him only five shy of reaching the 100-RBI mark for the fourth straight season.  

Joe Maddon's "Step Brothers" moment led to wacky shift on Joey Votto

Joe Maddon's "Step Brothers" moment led to wacky shift on Joey Votto

Joe Maddon and Davey Martinez might have to start going by "Nighthawk" and "Dragon."

They already came as a package deal in the workforce, as Martinez joined Maddon in the trek from Tampa Bay to Chicago before the 2015 season.

When gameplanning for the Cincinnati Reds series, the celebrity manager and his bench coach had a "did we just become best friends??" moment.

The two had the same thought at the same time: Play four outfielders against red-hot Joey Votto.

"Davey and I were talking. It was almost like that scene in 'Step Brothers' — 'Did we just become best friends?'" Maddon said. "Thought the same thing at the same time — four outfielders! It was kinda like that.

"Sometimes it can be that extemporaneous. They're telling me all this stuff about how many days in a row he's been on base two times. That's crazy. You know he's gonna get on base, whether it's a walk or a single. 

"So go ahead. Just try something differently and see if it influences what he's thinking a little bit. But it obviously didn't [Monday]. Pulls the ball down the right-field line. That's the last thing you were looking for right there and it happened."

Maddon emphasized that part — just giving Votto a different look. At the very least, it may mess with his head a bit if not his swing.

The Cubs were only worried about the bunt or the popup down the left-field line with the wacky shift and alerted shortstop Javy Baez about that as third baseman Kris Bryant moved out to left-center.

There was also the added factor that Jose Quintana gives up more fly balls than grounders and Votto rarely hits the ball on the ground the opposite way.

"Why cover where the guy doesn't hit the ball?" Maddon asked. "Whereas you can cover more where he does. That's the essence of the shift.

"I wanted them to attempt to hit a groundball over there as opposed to driving the ball. ... You want to take them away from what they do best."