After building around hitters, Cubs don’t have magic to fix offense


After building around hitters, Cubs don’t have magic to fix offense

NEW YORK – The Cubs don’t have any magic tricks to fix their offense. Not hitting consultant Manny Ramirez, sports psychologist Ken Ravizza or even Simon the Magician, who all showed up here at Citi Field.

“I shook his hand,” Kris Bryant joked when asked if there’s any magic in the bats he inspected in the dugout before Tuesday’s 1-0 win over the New York Mets.

Mentalist/mind reader Simon Winthrop had just put on a magic show inside the visiting clubhouse to ease the tension. But the Cubs don’t have any quick fixes for this lineup. This is how Theo Epstein’s front office built the team, using trade chips and draft picks to try to create an American League-style lineup.

“They’re being schooled right now,” manager Joe Maddon said.

[MORE: Maddon magic tricks spark Cubs over Mets]

The Cubs were coming off a week in which they scored 11 runs in seven games, seeing a pair of Los Angeles Dodgers aces (Cy Young Award winners Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke) and getting swept by a St. Louis Cardinals staff that had an overall 2.61 ERA.

The return of Jorge Soler (ankle) should help – maybe by this weekend – but the focus leading up to the July 31 trade deadline will be on starting pitching. The Cubs understand the answers will have to come from within.

The Cubs began the day leading the National League in strikeouts by a wide margin, but that’s just part of this lineup’s DNA. They had also gone 2-for-27 with men in scoring position over the weekend, leaving 28 men on base against the Cardinals and looking overmatched at times.

“Everybody knows we do strike out a lot,” Maddon said. “As they get more experience, that’s going to come down. We have a lot of power. A lot of these guys haven’t hit to their power yet. That’s going to go up.

“It would be easy to get frustrated if you really didn’t understand development and what it takes, how you have to be patient with it. If you’re able to step back and really look at it in those terms, you go: Whoa, these guys are going to be really good the next couple years.

“That’s what I do. So if Soler’s having a tough stretch, or (Addison) Russell’s having a tough stretch, or Bryant’s having a tough stretch, whoever’s having a tough stretch: Chill, man. They’re going to be fine.”

[MORE: The Cubs' ongoing search for pitching]

The Cubs went for offense at a time when – as Maddon likes to say – pitching and defense gets all the shiny new toys. It’s advanced statistical analysis, extreme defensive shifts and extensive video databases (and tougher testing for performance-enhancing drugs).

“Yeah, they do the shift,” Ramirez said. “They got all this kind of stuff. But it’s the same game. Even the pitchers that throw 95-97 (mph), they still make mistakes. I don’t think the game is harder. Remember, you’re talking about guys that are 21, 23 (years old). All we got to do is be patient.

“I know they’re going to be good. They’re going to be maturing. They’re going to have their ups and downs. All we got to do is be patient, because I know they got an awesome team.”

Up next is 42-year-old Bartolo Colon, who won a Cy Young Award 10 years ago, followed by Jacob deGrom, the NL’s reigning Rookie of the Year.

“There’s good pitching everywhere,” Maddon said. “Look at the bullpens…every guy they bring out is throwing 97. It’s industry-wide right now, so I don’t see where the breaks are.”

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Why can't a trade be looked at as a win-win? 

There doesn't always have to be a clear winner and loser.

Prior to Jose Quintana taking the ball for Saturday's game against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field, Joe Maddon was asked about the players (Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease) the Cubs gave up to acquire Quintana as well as the deal with the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman in July 2016.

Gleyber Torres is absolutely killing it in New York, hitting .323 with a 1.014 OPS, 9 homers and 24 RBI in only 29 games. Six of those homers have come in the last week alone. 

With the White Sox, both Jimenez and Cease have found success in Double-A and Advanced Class-A, respectively.

Jimenez is hitting .331 with a .992 OPS, 9 homers and 35 RBI in 35 games. Cease is 6-2 with a 2.83 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 47.2 innings.

As the Cubs work to get their offense settled into a consistent groove, some Cubs fans have been looking at what might've been with guys like Torres and Jimenez.

"You can't have it both ways, man," Maddon said. "I'm happy for Gleyber. When he left, we talked about it. And we talked about the kids that went to the White Sox. It's good stuff. 

"I'm really disappointed if anybody's disappointed in the fact we won the World Series in 2016 and the fact that the guy we're talking about that we had to give up Gleyber for was so instrumental in that happening. That's bad process if you're gonna get stuck on something like that. Be happy for Gleyber. Be happy for him."

Maddon has been a fan of Torres' since he saw him in spring training in 2015, Maddon's first year in the Cubs organization.

"This kid's 21, with high, high baseball intellect," Maddon said. "He's very similar to Javy on the field. I've had some great conversations with him in the past. 

"The first time I saw him in spring training, I thought this guy's for real. It was like one at-bat, line drive to RF, I said who is this guy? And then you have a conversation with him. He's solid."

Maddon's point is a great one — would Cubs fans prefer to still have Torres and NOT have the 2016 World Series championship? Because that title doesn't happen without Chapman, regardless of how you feel about him as a person or what the Cubs had to give up to acquire him.

"Don't play that game," Maddon said. "Be happy for [Torres]. I'm gonna be happy when Eloy and Dylan make it up here. All these dudes, I want them to get here and be really good. And the guys that we get, I want them to be really good. 

"I don't understand why somebody's gotta lose all the time. This is an absolute classic example of what was good for both teams."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998


Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

An off-day did nothing to slow down the 1998 National League MVP as Sosa collected his second straight 2-homer game May 27 of that season.

He went deep in the eighth and ninth innings of a Cubs' 10-5 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field, driving in 3 runs. 

The first homer - off Darrin Winston - was an absolute blast, traveling an estimated 460 feet. The second shot was tame in comparison with only 400 feet as a recorded distance.

In a matter of two games, Sosa raised his season OPS from .930 to .988 and his slugging percentage from .521 to .577 thanks to a pair of 2-homer contests.

Fun fact: Doug Glanville - former Cubs outfielder and current NBC Sports Chicago analyst - was the Phillies leadoff hitter that day in 1998, collecting three hits and scoring a pair of runs.