Joe Maddon's message for the Cubs entering the season's second half won't be turned into a T-shirt anytime soon.
"Ignore the outside negativity" doesn't have quite the same ring to it as "embrace the target."
After a stretch in which the Cubs won just six games out of 21 in the three weeks leading up to the All-Star Break, Maddon and Co. insist there's no panic, especially after a much-needed four-day break.
"The only people that are panicking about this team is the media," Anthony Rizzo said. "No offense to [the media], but all the comments coming out of everybody's mouth has been pretty negative except in this clubhouse. We feel great. Everyone feels great to be back together. We're ready to go."
Rizzo is in his fifth season in Chicago and has endured a 100-loss season with the Cubs, so he isn't surprised at the panic in the market.
"I just think it's July whatever the date is and you need stories to write about and what better story to write about than why are the Cubs struggling?" he said. "The only people that are worried about it are outsiders, not what's going on inside this clubhouse."
Maddon took a more measured approach in response to the recent negativity surrounding the team with baseball's best run differential (+139), saying it makes for better TV and newspaper stories to blow a tough stretch out of proportion. Maddon also thinks it's a fan's right to panic or ride the emotional roller coaster.
The Cubs manager chooses to look at the glass half-full, admitting he gladly would have taken a seven-game lead in the division to kick off the second half if the current scenario was proposed to him in spring training.
"What really matters — and I try to get this point across to [the players] from Day 1 in spring training two years in a row now — I've always believed in the 'circle the wagons' theory," Maddno said. "In other words, it really doesn't matter what's coming from outside to within. It really matters what's happening from within — the clubhouse itself, ownership, front office, coaches, etc.
"The noise coming from outside, that's necessary. It can serve as motivation. It's also fans just being fans who show up and pay money and permit us to do this wonderful thing called playing baseball. I think it's about how you channel all that.
"...It's like any other job, man. What's coming from outside to in; you should feel confident knowing that what you're doing is the right thing. From our perspective, I believe the work's great, the caring's great, the effort's great. All that stuff is in place, so that's all we can control."
Maddon has spent his entire adult life in professional baseball, but said he has never felt as tired and worn out heading into an All-Star Break as he did this season playing 24 games in 24 days.
"Understand how this happened," Maddon said. "We got off to that wonderful start and then there's really reasons why maybe we backed off a little bit prior to the break. Now we've caught our breath, we're still looking to get 100 percent well and we have a lot of confidence we're going to have a really nice run in this second half."
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein actually sees the team's stretch as a good thing — a way to rise above adversity.
"That's what defines a baseball team is how it responds to adversity that crops up during the season," Epstein said. "That's what defines a baseball player — not when he's going well — but how locked in is he, how does he respond after he goes through a slump? Same thing for teams.
"This is a good opportunity for us to show what we're all about. I think that sort of internal response and adjustment is more significant than whatever the public narrative might be. I don't think people in this organization attach too much meaning to it.
"When we were 25-6 and the media was asking us questions about how we balance players getting their rest and going for the all-time wins record, I attached zero meaning to that and called BS on the questions. The same way if I think that people are getting too down on us when we're not playing well or falsely call us out for stuff, I'll call BS on that, too.
"I just think all that matters is how we respond to that adversity and how we handle that success, not what's being said about us at the time."
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Epstein said the Cubs are focused on getting back to the level they were at coming out of spring training before getting off to that record-breaking start.
"It's undeniable that we didn't play well for a long stretch of time," he said. "So once you go through that as a club, then you know it's possible. So you get to the edge of the abyss, you can stare right in and realize, 'Hey, we're not just gonna rack up the wins because we're good or because we can. We have to go out and earn it.'
"And I think that can be a good thing for a team. The focus that we had when we ended spring training and started Opening Day — how palpable that was — we know we need to tap into that again to get ultimately where we want to get.
"But that's not a surprise. That's life. That's baseball. That's why this season's 162 games long. The season shows you things about yourself that you need to see at times. It's all about how you respond."