Willson Contreras

The Cubs are perfectly fine with how they police themselves

The Cubs are perfectly fine with how they police themselves

Joe Maddon didn't sound defensive and it sure didn't seem like he was engaged in a war of words.

There was no "Sopranos" reference from the Cubs manager and he wasn't trying to fire his team up to shed the "little brother" mindset.

This was a manager calmly and rationally protecting his guys and letting the world know his team can police itself, thank you very much. Though at the time Maddon met with the media ahead of Thursday's series finale with the Pirates, the pointed comments of Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle had not yet been made public.

The issue in question was Javy Baez's bat-flip in the seventh inning of Wednesday night's 13-5 Cubs victory. Baez popped up to the shortstop and sent his bat sailing 20 feet in the air and almost halfway down the first-base line in frustration.

That prompted Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle to sound off Thursday morning on how MLB players should police their own clubhouses (h/t The Athletic):

“Where is the respect for the game?” Hurdle said. “He’s hit four homers in two days, does that mean you can take your bat and throw it 15-20 feet in the air when you pop up, like you should have hit your fifth home run? I would bet that men went over and talked to him, because I believe they’ve got a group there that speaks truth to power.”

But it didn't stop there. An unnamed Pirates player also commented on the matter before Hurdle went on to discuss Willson Contreras' at-bat early in Wednesday's game where he was called out on strikes with runners on base:

“That’s just the Cubs being the Cubs,” one player said. “It could be a little less sometimes, maybe.”

“The catcher, I mean … he’s a talented young man,” Hurdle said. “There is a day, he would have been thrown out as soon as he (gestured) that the ball was high. Those are things you try to help your young players with as they go through it that’s not respect for the game, that’s not the way we do things here.”

Even if Maddon had heard these comments before his press conference, he's fine with where his team is at.

After all, it was a player who came up to Baez and told him that was the right way to act,  and Baez immediately owned up to his mistake after Wednesday's game, spending more time talking about how embarrassed he was at the bat-toss than on discussing his second stright two-homer game.

Maddon is a very hands-off manager, known for letting his players be themselves. There are almost no rules in Camp Maddon and players are encouraged to handle matters internally without getting any coaches involved.

"That's actually a proud moment," Maddon said of the incident where a Cubs player approached Baez in the dugout. "Those are the kind of things that if the players feel strongly that they're free in a sense — not only from my perspective, but Theo [Epstein] and Jed [Hoyer], etc. — that they could have these kinds of convos independent of us to really attempt to galvanize the culture even further, that is wonderful.

"Then, in practice, here comes a guy — 'Javy, we don't do that here.' Javy: 'You're right, I made a mistake.' What else could you possibly ask for?

"I don't think that's going away. I wanna believe through both good and bad, you're gonna see that method incorporated."

The season is only a few weeks old, but the Cubs are already marveling at the "chemistry" that is brewing within the clubhouse.

Some pundits deny any possible boost that clubhouse chemistry can provide, but players and coaches around the game swear by it and constantly refer to how a team meshes together.

Ben Zobrist is in his 13th MLB season and said this 2018 Cubs group is conversing at a higher level than any other team he's been on before. Brian Duensing — a 10-year veteran — said the same thing. 

Maddon — a 64-year-old baseball lifer — is on the same wavelength and pointed to how the moment indicates the maturation of Baez.

"That's definitely the needle moving in the right direction," Maddon said. "There's no question. Listen, when you're accountable — which I believe our guys are as a group — they really do police each other well. They are unbelievably good at that.

"It's been going on the last couple years but more recently, this spring training was incredibly different in all the best ways, meaning that they were getting together just to talk about stuff. Not just baseball, but stuff.

"I've never been around that. Really impressed with where they're going mentally now as human beings, which is going to spill over into baseball and benefit us, too."

It typically takes time for chemistry to develop, but this Cubs core has been together since 2015 now with Maddon and a handful of coaches. So even when a bench coach, two hitting coaches, a pitching coach, a former Cy Young piece of the rotation, a veteran closer and a "glue guy" outfielder leave in the offseason, enough pieces remain to keep the culture intact.

"We have done a better job than I've ever seen any team do at bouncing ideas off of each other early in the season and in spring training and in the first week of a season," Zobrist said last weekend in Milwaukee.

"Everyone can rest assured that there are a lot of conversations happening behind closed doors. There's a lot of thought being put into what's happening on the field. You still have to go out and execute and you have to find a way to get things going."

Series with rival Brewers just what the Cubs needed to get going


Series with rival Brewers just what the Cubs needed to get going

MILWAUKEE - The Cubs are finally coming home.

After the longest road trip to begin a season since 1899, the Cubs will get to sleep in their own beds this week. Beds they haven't been in since before they left for spring training in mid-February.

Think about that: This road trip was not only nine games long, but it spanned 11 days (plus an extra three days before the season began in Florida) and the Cubs haven't been home in two months. While it would've been awful to play in Chicago in sub-freezing temperatures over the past week, this is the longest road trip to start a season in 119 years. 

They're also returning to Wrigley Field winners, boasting a 5-4 record.

For all the panic and comparisons to last season's slow start, the Cubs are sitting in a fantastic spot entering a long homestand.

They just won three of four from a very good Brewers squad, where they took advantage of all the Milwaukee mistakes, received quality starts in all three victories and saw their bullpen shut down an offense that very well may border on "elite," even without Christian Yelich.

The Cubs also did all this without Anthony Rizzo for the final three games of the series, as the All-Star first baseman is dealing with a back injury and may not be ready for Monday's opener at "The Friendly Confines" given the chilly forecast doesn't mesh well with a balky back.

"We just played quality baseball the last four games," Ben Zobrist said. "It's a good team, so good to get off to a good start against them this year and hopefully we can continue that this coming week."

Joe Maddon called it before the series started, giving his usual spiel about how he loves playing good teams, especially early on.

After going 2-3 against the Marlins and Reds - two teams expected to be competing for the No. 1 overall pick next summer - the Cubs came out and stomped their new division rivals, giving the fans who battled the "Wisconsin residents only" presale plenty to cheer about all weekend.

The Brewers scored just 7 runs in the four games, plating tallies in only four innings of the 36 played. 

Milwaukee also made 7 errors in the series, allowing the Cubs to take advantage.

"We did," Maddon said. "We've been playing aggressively. We've been playing smart for the most part."

The Cubs still didn't look quite like themselves, struggling to play situational baseball from an offensive perspective (particularly with runners on third base and less than two outs).

But they also will take a series win against an up-and-coming divison rival who figures to be in playoff contention for the next several years. 

"We know they're deep, they're a resilient bunch," Kyle Hendricks said. "What they did last year kinda brought them together. We have to be on it, game-in, game-out, regardless of who we lose or who they lose."

There's also a budding rivalry between the two teams in terms of off-field drama and wars of words. Take the Willson Contreras issue in the eighth inning Sunday.

Or the social media spat between the two teams over the last few months, culminating in an absolutely epic takedown by @Cubs Thursday:

Either way, this was exactly what the Cubs needed to light a fire.

"Always going to be a tough battle," said Kris Bryant, who is off to a blistering start. "They seem like a fun group over there, having a lot of fun.

"Sure, it can get a little annoying, but we do the same thing. It's a nice little rivalry and they're gonna be a tough one this year."

Willson Contreras explains his expletive-laden reaction toward Brewers after big hit

Willson Contreras explains his expletive-laden reaction toward Brewers after big hit

MILWAUKEE — Willson Contreras never backs down from a battle.

The Cubs' fiery catcher was caught on camera in the eighth inning of Sunday's game with an expletive-laden reaction while standing on third base after hitting a triple off Brewers reliever Adrian Houser:

While it initially appeared as if Contreras was mouthing that at Houser, he clarified after the game it was meant for a Brewers player in the dugout:

"Not with him. I have nothing against the pitcher," Contreras said. "He's doing his job. He can do whatever he wants. But there was one person from them that I don't like and that was something that came out.

"We battled, I won the battle and that feels good. I'm excited. And also one of them doing different things towards me and I took it personally. We had an incident back in Venezuela back in 2014 and he knows who he is."

Contreras said Houser was quick-pitching him throughout the 10-pitch at-bat. After Houser's 3-1 delivery, Contreras threw the bat down, thinking it was Ball 4, but the pitch was actually called Strike 2 and the at-bat resumed.

On the pitch he roped for a triple, Contreras admitted he was actually trying to call for time from home plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth, but time was not granted and so the Cubs catcher was forced to swing.

"He was throwing fastballs at 96, 97 (mph) and I was calling time out and he didn't give me a time out, so I was able to put a barrel on it," Contreras said. 

The 25-year-old catcher had a big series, collecting 6 hits in 14 at-bats in Milwaukee, raising his season slash line to .286/.375/.429 (.804 OPS) on the year. 

He also caught every inning of the four-game series as the Cubs pitching staff limited the Brewers to just 7 runs across 35.1 innings.