Cubs

Buzz is back for Cubs-Mets as Jake Arrieta upstages Noah Syndergaard

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Buzz is back for Cubs-Mets as Jake Arrieta upstages Noah Syndergaard

A buzz is back at Wrigley Field, with MLB Network and ESPN setting up here on back-to-back nights to showcase two of the National League’s X-factor teams.

By now, the Cubs have heard enough about the New York Mets and all their young power arms, but they better get used to the attention if Jake Arrieta keeps pitching like this.

Arrieta upstaged Noah Syndergaard’s big-league debut on Tuesday night, facing the minimum through seven innings and leading the Cubs to a 6-1 victory that underlined all their potential.

After collecting all these young power hitters, importing veterans with World Series rings and hiring a star manager, the Cubs are turning the corner in their multiyear rebuild.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs need Jon Lester, the perfectionist, operating at full strength]

“Once you taste it, once you get that blood in the water, man, you want some more,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Once you get to the playoffs, there’s nothing else that satisfies you going into a season. You got to get there the first time. You got to learn how to do it.

“And once you learn how to do it, nothing — nothing — satisfies you during that baseball season, unless you get back to the dance. It’s pretty simple, man. I use the term: ‘A mind once stretched has a very difficult time going back to its original form.’”

Syndergaard is 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds with a “Thor” nickname and bright blond hair flowing out from his cap. The Mets made Syndergaard the centerpiece in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays after R.A. Dickey’s 2012 Cy Young Award-winning season.

Almost seven months later, the Cubs flipped one-year rental Scott Feldman in a deal with the Baltimore Orioles that involved Arrieta, who had been stuck in neutral at the Triple-A level.

[MORE CUBS: Why haven’t Cubs made a deal with Mets yet?]

Arrieta never got quite as high as Syndergaard (No. 11 heading into this season) on the Baseball America lists, but he had been a well-regarded prospect who wound up needing a change of scenery.

At the age of 29, Arrieta (4-3, 3.00 ERA) continues to blossom into a frontline starter. He delivered eight strong innings, limiting the Mets to one run on three hits in a dominant 10-strikeout performance.

“We knew it was going to be a tight game,” Arrieta said. “(Syndergaard) was electric. We kind of knew what we were up against. He came out strong.

“That was a great team victory, from start to finish.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

The Cubs knocked out Syndergaard in the sixth inning after 103 pitches. Starlin Castro — the All-Star shortstop linked to the Mets in so much trade speculation — hammered a Syndergaard slider into the left-field corner for an RBI double that easily scored Jorge Soler from first base.

The next batter, Chris Coghlan, launched a 96 mph fastball into the under-construction bleachers in right field for a two-run homer as the Cubs (17-15) wore out the first-place Mets (20-13) and continued to imagine the possibilities.

“Once you’ve stretched the mind, man, it’s tough to not be in that playoff situation on an annual basis,” Maddon said. “Our guys got to taste it, feel it, understand it, and then you really crave it. That’s when good things happen.”

MLB Source: Cubs 'got fat and happy' after World Series, culture must change

MLB Source: Cubs 'got fat and happy' after World Series, culture must change

Fact: The 2019 Chicago Cubs wildly underachieved, finishing with an 84-78 record and finishing third in the NL’s Central division. Fact: The Chicago Cubs didn’t fail because they didn’t spend enough money. The Cubs were 2nd in all of baseball in payroll finishing behind only the Boston Red Sox. Both of those teams failed to make baseball’s postseason.
 
Fact: The Cubs front office has done a lousy job acquiring players since winning the 2016 World Series and they have done a poor job in developing quality, big league caliber pitching through their minor league system.

But, it is also a fact that former manager Joe Maddon allowed his comfort level with players interfere with how much he held them accountable and the result was a team that paid little attention to detail and spiraled out of contention. That's the mess Maddon left the Cubs.
 
The reasons the Cubs are struggling are not mutually exclusive. There is no singular reason why they have seen their window of contending for another World Series start to close. But, for people to blame everything on either a lack of spending by ownership or a lousy job by the front office misses a main factor in the Cubs decline.

Multiple sources told me the Cubs have had a lack of attention to detail over the past three years. One person in the organization said, “on the field we got fat and happy and that cannot be allowed to continue.”

When I asked the front office about this perception, Theo Epstein and other members of the Cubs' front office praised Maddon. They have not taken any shots at their World Series winning manager, a first class move when it would be easy to make him the scapegoat.

"Sometimes it's just time. We're going through some transitions in various levels of the organization and think change will be good for this group," Epstein said at the end of the 2019 season.
 
So what does a lack of accountability mean? How does that get fixed?

It starts with every player coming into camp in better physical condition than they ever have been before. The vibe at the recent Cubs Convention is that players are working exceptionally hard and it happened in concert with the player development, strength and conditioning staff that the Cubs have spent the past six months upgrading. Anthony Rizzo for one looked like he is in the best shape I remember him being in since he came to the Cubs.
 
Yes, the Epstein and Jed Hoyer led front office have to be much better in upgrading the roster. Epstein can walk into any room and set his three World Series championship rings on the table and lay out his vision for the future and every owner in baseball would sign up for his plan.

But there is no short cut to fixing what ails the current edition of the Cubs. They have very little payroll flexibility and until the service time grievance of Kris Bryant is settled the Cubs cannot engage in substantive trade talks for him because they don’t know if they are trading one year or two years of team control.
 
And ownership has made a philosophical decision to reset the team’s luxury tax, so there is no magic pot of money Epstein and Hoyer can dip into to fix the multiple holes currently plaguing the roster.

New manager David Ross has to find a way to get more out of the roster than Joe Maddon did and that starts with holding his players far more accountable than Maddon did. When I questioned Maddon at the recent Winter Meetings about about dealing with his critics (most notably me) he said: “I am so self confident in what I do and how I do it, just because guys like you are wrong, I’m not gonna respond to that stuff when it happens.”
 
I neglected to tell Maddon during that interview that while I may have been hard on him at times, my primary criticism was that he did not hold his players accountable far too often. Maddon says I was wrong.

The Cubs effectively fired him and now he's the manager of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Maybe I wasn’t wrong. It sure seems like his bosses felt the same way.

Thank you for 2016 Joe. It was the thrill of a lifetime for all of Cubs Nation. It was time for a change too and that’s okay to admit.

Now it’s on Epstein, Hoyer and Ross to fix the Cubs without a bottomless pit of money. I hope they’re up to the task.

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Andy Green ‘fired up’ to be with Cubs, help David Ross any way he can

Andy Green ‘fired up’ to be with Cubs, help David Ross any way he can

It’s quite fitting Andy Green’s introduction to Cubs Nation came at the team’s annual fan festival this weekend.

Green, whom the Cubs officially hired as bench coach in December, grew up a Reds fan in his native Lexington, Ky. It wasn’t long before his allegiances changed to one of Cincinnati’s geographic neighbors, however.

“I went to [former Reds ballpark Riverfront Stadium] as a kid at like 5, 6, 7, first time I saw big-league baseball,” Green told NBC Sports Chicago on Saturday. “But my mom took me up to Wrigley at 12 or 13. I was like ‘This is big-league baseball.’

“I switched over allegiances that time as a Cubs fan, watched Ryne Sandberg — Mark Grace was somebody who jumped off the page to me at that point in time. It was late 80s, early 90s.”

After four years managing the Padres, Green’s childhood fandom has come full circle. Now, he’s David Ross’ right-hand man, brought in to use his own experience managing to help the first-year manager adapt to his new position.

When Green took the helm in San Diego in 2016, the Padres were in the thick of a full-scale rebuild. He holds a 274-366 won-loss record, but that isn’t indicative of what he’s bringing to the Cubs dugout.

“Andy so far for me probably [has been] the biggest help for me in directing my thoughts, getting things organized, getting prepared,” Ross said Saturday at a coaching staff panel. “This guy has been through the season, the National League, knows the details of what it takes to lead.

“Obviously, his resume and what he’s done building a young group over in San Diego speaks for itself. Who he is as a person, Andy right off the bat probably [has] been the biggest help for me. Sends me text messages, emails about leading, about coaching. I can’t say enough about this guy, and I’m very blessed to have him next to me in every game. You guys are gonna see a great product, and a lot of my big decisions, I’ll have a great mind next to me helping me make those.”

Green said he’s spent the last few months learning what Ross’ vision is as a manager and how he intends to execute it going forward. Managing games and preparing for them are different beasts, but Green can already see the intangibles that could make Ross successful.

“He’s fun to work with, he’s hungry to win, he can hold people accountable and smile at the same time, which is an unbelievable skillset that I don’t have,” Green said of Ross. “People feel it when I come down on them. They feel love when he comes down on them. He just has that [relatability] that very few people do, and that’s incredibly impressive to me.”

Accountability has been the word of the offseason for the Cubs. After five seasons with Joe Maddon as manager, the club felt it was time for a new voice in the dugout. They hired Ross not only to try and make the team greater than the sum of its parts, but also hold players accountable, putting them in their place and using tough love when needed.

Ross will have a lot on his plate this season, so he'll rely on Green to lead in areas as needed and take a load off his plate.

“For [managers], there’s a large number of tasks that if you have a capable staff, you can just delegate and not even think about,” Green said. “I want to take that kind of stuff off his plate, stuff that doesn’t have to have the manager’s attention, because you can get some decision fatigue, because it’s amazing what comes at you in that seat.

“I know what that feels like, so every now and again, it’s nice to have somebody who doesn’t just have the answer but has the feelings that come with the answer. I’ve enjoyed it, and honestly, it’s a whatever he needs type thing. My vision on him is I’ve watched him do so much prep work this offseason getting ready for game decisions. He’s going to be great. He’s going to be great.”

It also helps that Green has four years of managing under his belt. Ross can learn from his successes in San Diego, but also learn from Green’s failures to ensure he doesn’t make the same mistakes common in new managers.

“It takes a little minute to know where the best answer is on the bench, and he’ll figure that out pretty quickly,” he said of Ross. “Executing the game decisions, you have to find out in time how he processes those things.

“I made a lot of mistakes. He can learn from my mistakes without having to make them himself. If you can share things in humility, a lot of times it keeps somebody else from repeating your mistakes. There’s things I messed up on, things I did well too. Kinda share those visions along the way and make certain the whole way that this is David Ross’ team and he’s leading this team and all I’m here to do is support and help him and help the players perform at their top level.”

Green spent four years with a losing club. He’s joining a Cubs team full of star players — which, as functioning infield coach on a team with Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, excites him. He wants to win now and believes Ross is the man to lead the way.

And, again, the lure of being a Chicago Cub was strong.

“The fan base is one that you’re fired up to go to work for and bring a winner to,” he said. “Whatever part I can play in that, I’m fired up to do it.”

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