Cubs

Cubs believe Jason Heyward’s offense can catch up to his Gold Glove defense

Cubs believe Jason Heyward’s offense can catch up to his Gold Glove defense

MILWAUKEE – Jason Heyward doesn’t look at WAR or Defensive Runs Saved or Ultimate Zone Ratings or really any of the metrics that have graded him out as one of the most valuable players in baseball.

Heyward doesn’t study spray charts and then decide where he should be positioned in right field. He doesn’t watch video to pick up tendencies and visualize game situations.

“It doesn’t matter to me,” Heyward said. “I’m going out there playing the game of baseball the way I always have. Defense is something (where) you pay attention to the game, pay attention to who’s hitting, who’s pitching, things like that. I have a feel for what I need to do and what I can control. After that, just let the game happen.”

It’s all about instincts, accumulated experience, thinking on your feet and anticipating the next big moment for the three-time Gold Glove winner. It’s not about compartmentalizing the game and using defense to help you get through an offensive drought in the first season of an eight-year, $184 million megadeal.

It took 34 games and 153 plate appearances, but Heyward finally got his first home run in a Cubs uniform during the ninth inning of Tuesday night’s 4-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Maybe now everything will click into place for a hitter manager Joe Maddon compared to Hall of Famer Paul Molitor.

"Molly really had very little or no movement prior to the pitch, and J’s kind of like that a little bit,” Maddon said. “There’s a little bit going on, but it’s kind of a static approach and he’s been very successful with it.

“I think part of his slow starts are just getting this rhythm and timing mechanism down. You just got to be patient with him, because I know watching him in (batting practice) everything looks really good. It’s just a matter of getting that thing started on time.”

Even if Heyward admitted he might have been pressing a little bit with the new contract – and still had his right wrist taped up on Wednesday afternoon, a lingering issue that can be traced back to early April – he also has a nine-game hitting streak and an on-base percentage hovering around .340.

“I just be myself,” Heyward said. “I know what I can bring on both sides of the baseball. I try and do that every night. If I’m not trying to do that, I’m not trying to help my team win. If I have to do something on the field, I’m going to do it, (whether) it’s taking an extra base or stealing (it) or playing defense or being a cheerleader in the dugout.

“We’re going to have ups and downs with hitting. It’s always going to happen.”

Heyward’s grinding approach to offense may never match quite his highlight-reel defense or the enormous expectations that followed him while coming up with the Atlanta Braves as Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect heading into the 2010 season. But this is also a self-aware self-starter who’s still only 26 years old.

“Timing, for me, is everything,” Heyward said. “Being on time at the plate helps you make better decisions, helps you get off better swings and gives yourself more chances to hit the ball hard.

“That’s something that I’ve always gotten better with as time goes (on). Understanding yourself is a big part of getting out of a slump or controlling slumps or minimizing them. Injuries (also) happen. But there’s no excuse. It’s just a part of the game. You can deal with it. You go out there every day with what you have and give it your best.”

Willson Contreras commissions heart-warming painting commemorating his relationship with Joe Maddon

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USA Today

Willson Contreras commissions heart-warming painting commemorating his relationship with Joe Maddon

Joe Maddon’s time with the Cubs may be over, but the memories made in his five years on the North Side will live on in Chicago sports lore forever. No matter how frustratingly his tenure may have ended, the outpouring of support and appreciation from management, fans and players alike throughout the process of Maddon’s departure are evidence of that.

“I love him like a dad,” Anthony Rizzo said

“I personally never could have imagined having such a wonderful partner,” Theo Epstein later added, standing beside Maddon as they delivered joint reflections on the end of the era.

Maddon touched the lives of so many within the organization and without in his time with the Cubs, but not many more so than catcher Willson Contreras, who burst onto the scene as one of the best young sluggers in baseball under Maddon’s guidance. Maddon — a catcher himself in his short time as a player — never shied away from criticizing Contreras in times he thought it earned, but it’s clear that the two forged a real bond over the last four years. 

Sunday afternoon, artist Austin Ploch revealed that Contreras reached out to him shortly after the end of the 2019 season to commission this heart-warming piece, commemorating the mutual respect and adoration between mentor and pupil:

The painting is derived from a photo of the two that Contreras posted to his Instagram account after it was officially announced that Maddon would not return as the Cubs manager:

Ploch has commissioned work for Contreras before, but now Willson will have a tangible memento to remember his first manager (along with his 2016 World Series ring). We’re not crying, you’re crying.

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Cubs to reportedly conduct second interview with Joe Espada for managerial opening

Cubs to reportedly conduct second interview with Joe Espada for managerial opening

Astros bench coach Joe Espada has two days off before Houston hosts Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday, but it looks like some of that time will be spent in Chicago.

According to multiple reports, the Cubs will interview Espada a second time for their managerial opening. MLB Network's Jon Heyman reports that the interview is happening on Sunday.

Espada is one of the more sought after managerial candidates this offseason, as he's spent the last six seasons with two of baseball's leading franchises. The 44-year-old has been Astros bench coach since 2018, and prior to that, he spent four seasons with the Yankees — 2014 as a front office assistant, 2015-17 as third base coach.

David Ross was the presumed favorite for the Cubs' opening, when the process got underway. However, by landing a second interview, Espada has clearly given the team something to think about. In fact, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan reported on Thursday the Cubs came away "exceptionally impressed" from Espada's first interview on Monday. 

MLB prefers teams not to make managerial announcements during the World Series. So, it might be a few more weeks before the Cubs announce their decision, unless they do so on Sunday or Monday.

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