Cardinals-Cubs: 'Boring' vs. fun?


Cardinals-Cubs: 'Boring' vs. fun?

The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry isn't quite new school vs. old school, but it is "fun" vs. "boring," in a sense.

The Cubs are a bunch of kids who hold dance parties in the clubhouse after each win and are all about having fun (which can be easy to do with Joe Maddon as a manager).

The Cardinals are in the postseason almost every year as one of baseball's consistently elite franchises. They handle the playoffs in a professional - almost boring - manner and they don't plan on changing that in advance of Game 3 of the National League Division Series against Jake Arrieta and the Cubs Monday evening for the first playoff game at Wrigley Field in seven years.

[RELATED - Turning point for The Plan: Cubs get October close-up at Wrigley]

"[We'll approach this] the same boring way we've been doing it all year," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said before his team's workout Sunday afternoon. "Guys who have been here before and been able to play in different settings - maybe not necessarily at Wrigley - but they've been in a lot of other cities where it's a lot of excitement.

"Part of it is the experience of understanding as much as it's built up that we go play the game. We don't deny this stuff is special. We don't deny that not everybody gets to play on this stage, so don't be afraid to look around and take advantage of the atmosphere and take advantage of how unique this is.

"But when it comes down to it, it's baseball and our best chance to be successful isn't to try and be superhuman. It's to go out and do exactly what we've been doing all season long. We have enough voices that are kind of repeating that same story to how they've been successful in the postseason that I think the younger players buy in."

The Cardinals understand the culture of winning. Apart from a few curtain calls in front of their home fans at Busch Stadium after big home runs during the first two games of the NLDS, this team isn't very flashy and doesn't spend a lot of time celebrating on the field.

"Obviously, boring meaning we're professional about it," Cardinals reliever Carlos Villanueva said. "We do what we do. A lot of people might not like it. Other people might want to see it more exciting, more showmanship.

"But we just don't operate that way. We're confident in our abilities. There are guys out there that are fiery and yell and roar every time they get somebody out or get a hit. I was told, 'just act like you've done it before.' Or, 'don't act surprised when you get a big out.'

"Get your guy out, do your job, high five and cheer on the next guy. I think this is a philosophy that's instilled in these guys from the time they sign until the time they get here [in the big leagues]. And you can't argue. It works."

[MORE: Cubs counting on Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant to start producing in playoffs]

Villanueva spent the last two seasons on fifth-place Cubs teams before signing with the Cardinals as a free agent over the winter.

You probably won't see him fist-pumping or beating his chest out on the mound.

"I can't act surprised when I get the job done on what I'm needed to do," Villanueva said. "That's just the approach we take. Your job is to go out and stop the game right there and after you're done, you can celebrate at home.

"On the field, we're business. The difference for us is taking care of what we need to do to win a ring. Anything else falls short of our goal."

The Cubs go about things in almost the opposite way. Whether it's Pedro Strop letting out a roar and pounding his chest after a big out or Anthony Rizzo rubbing his helmet after a big hit or the entire team clapping along to Starlin Castro's uber-catchy walk-up song, the young Cubs enjoy having fun on the field as much as they do in the clubhouse after victories.

[MORE: Jake Arrieta emerges as October star and gets locked in for Cubs-Cardinals]

A lot of that is on Joe Maddon, a manager who marches to the beat of his own drum, lets players just be themselves and drops Michael Scott quotes from "The Office" or describes his Steak 'n Shake order in press conferences.

"Joe has been a huge part of [the loose, fun-loving persona of the team]," Jake Arrieta said. "We've bought in to the way he likes to structure his coaching style, how he likes to manage the season and he lets the players dictate kind of how things run.

"He allows us to hold each other accountable, and I think we've thrived in this environment."

Maddon is as quirky as big-league managers come, his big personality creating the perfect distraction for the Chicago media away from the young players who have enough pressure as an inexperienced group getting used to life in the majors.

After back-to-back bold calls on squeeze bunts to help jumpstart the Cubs offense in Game 2 of the National League Division Series, Maddon talked a lot about how he's been keeping things light since spring training, where he made the team work on fundamentals over and over and over again.

While the Cardinals spent almost two hours on the field working out and taking batting practice Sunday, Maddon kept the Cubs' workout to less than an hour and instead devoted time for his team to get breakfast on Wrigley Field and watch NFL action on the big video board in left field.

[NBC SHOP: Buy Cubs playoff gear]

"Part of it is the camaraderie component, the bringing the group together and having them relax and just being normal human beings," Maddon said. "I just think that sometimes, we overreact to our game and our status in the world. It's just a baseball game. It's a game.

"We're trying to win the World Series. We're trying to be the best. But at the end of the day, it is a game, and I want our guys to come out here and be themselves, be normal.

"I think if we do that, they're going to play the better game of baseball. That's where I'm coming from."

Joe Maddon already has a new job, signs on with Angels

Joe Maddon already has a new job, signs on with Angels

Barring a Cubs-Angels World Series, the Wrigley Field faithful might not have much of an opportunity to welcome Joe Maddon back to The Friendly Confines.

It didn't take long for Maddon to find a job, as he reportedly agreed this week to join the Los Angeles Angels as their next manager. This was a widely speculated move after the Angels let go of manager Brad Ausmus just one year into a three-year contract immediately after the Cubs announced they were parting ways with Maddon. 

According to ESPN's Jesse Rogers, Maddon's deal will likely be for three years at $4-5 million a season:

Maddon came up as a coach in the Angels system, referencing his three decades there often during the course of his five years in Chicago.

Once the Cubs got rid of Maddon, it was obvious he would have plenty of suitors, as just about any team with a managerial vacancy would be interested in the future Hall of Famer. But instead of going to an up-and-coming team like the Padres or a squad on the cusp of the playoffs like the Phillies, Maddon opted to return to his baseball home.

That means he will most likely not face off against the Cubs over the next couple of seasons, as the Cubs hosted the Angels in 2019 and are not slated to play each other again until 2021 (which will take place in L.A.). Barring the aforementioned World Series meeting, Maddon and the Cubs likely won’t cross paths in Chicago for the next few seasons.

It also means Maddon will get to team up with the best player in the game (Mike Trout) and an exciting young two-way star (Shohei Ohtani) while inheriting a roster that otherwise has some major flaws. The Angels have struggled to build up a roster around Trout over his nine seasons, making the playoffs just once in 2014 and getting bounced from the ALDS by the Kansas City Royals that season.

But the Angels do have some intriguing prospects coming up the system — led by outfielder Jo Adell — and Maddon has experience taking a team and elevating them to contender status immediately. He also carries immediate clout that will help draw free agents to L.A., as he did in Chicago with Jon Lester.

Maddon will be reunited with former Cubs fan favorite Tommy La Stella, who was starring for the Angels earlier this season before a leg injury sent him to the shelf for several months.

In many ways, this is an ideal fit for Maddon, who will get to stay in a big market with a team willing to spend and a roster that at least has some incredible talent from Day 1. It would obviously be a difficult task to try to overtake the juggernaut Houston Astros in the AL West, but he accomplished a similar feat in Chicago when he led the Cubs past the Cardinals in Year 1 (and kept the Cards out of the playoffs for the next three years until their return to October baseball this fall).

The Cubs, meanwhile, have not yet announced a new manager, though David Ross still looms as the favorite to take over Maddon's former gig. Theo Epstein's front office interviewed Mark Loretta, Will Venable, Joe Girardi and Ross earlier this month and also planned to talk to Joe Espada and Gabe Kapler this week.

Epstein said the Cubs are "full speed ahead" to hire a new manager, so expect them to move quickly to finalize Maddon's heir.

Bold predictions for the Cubs' 2019-20 offseason


Bold predictions for the Cubs' 2019-20 offseason

The Cubs are just a couple of weeks away from a pivotal offseason that could see a lot of change coming to Chicago's North Side.

Then again, we thought the same thing a year ago and it turned out Theo Epstein's biggest move last winter was signing Daniel Descalso to a two-year deal.

But after missing the playoffs in 2019, the Cubs are now at a crossroads as an organization. 

The NBC Sports Chicago crew previewed the offseason on the latest CubsTalk Podcast with some bold predictions for the winter.

Listen here and check out the fearless calls below:

(Note: Rationale and more context on each bold prediction in the podcast.)

David Kaplan

1. Cubs are going to take a page out of the Yankees' book and retool on the fly rather than go all-in to contend in 2020.
2. Jose Quintana has thrown his last pitch as a Cub.
3. This will be the second-to-last offseason for Theo Epstein as the Cubs president of baseball operations.

Kelly Crull 

1. Cubs re-sign Nick Castellanos and trade away Kyle Schwarber.
2. Tyler Chatwood will be in the 2020 rotation.
3. John Lackey will be named quality assurance coach on David Ross's coaching staff. (Kidding, but only kind of...)

Tony Andracki

1. Before the Cubs play a Spring Training game, Javy Baez will sign an extension that will keep him in Chicago through at least 2023.
2. Willson Contreras will be traded this winter and the Cubs will get some much-needed pitching help in return.
3. Cubs sign Howie Kendrick this winter as the professional bat and lefty-masher they craved in 2019.
4. Ben Zobrist will return on a one-year deal and finish his playing career in a Cubs uniform.
5. David Bote, Albert Almora Jr. and Addison Russell will all be traded or non-tendered this winter as the Cubs remake their bench/depth.

Jeff Nelson

1. Willson Contreras will sign a contract extension.
2. Ben Zobrist will return as a player/coach.
3. Jose Quintana will be traded for minor league depth.
4. Terrance Gore will be signed to be the 26th man on the roster under the new rules.