Cubs ignoring outside negativity after recent rough stretch

Cubs ignoring outside negativity after recent rough stretch

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."

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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."

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

USA Today

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Joe Maddon needed Mike Montgomery to get through at least six innings given the circumstances presenting the Cubs' manager before Game 2 of Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Not only were the Cubs short a man in the bullpen (thanks to Brandon Morrow’s pants-related back injury), but Maddon had to use four relievers — including Pedro Strop for two innings — after Tyler Chatwood managed only five innings in Game 1 earlier in the afternoon. 

So when Montgomery — who had only thrown over 100 pitches once in the last two and a half seasons before Tuesday — saw his pitch count sit at 40 after two innings, and then 63 after three, he knew he needed to regroup to avoid creating a mess for the Cubs’ bullpen. 

What followed was a start that, statistically, wasn’t the most impressive of the five Montgomery’s made since re-joining the Cubs’ rotation earlier this year. But it was an important start in that the 28-year-old left-hander didn’t have his best stuff, yet didn’t give in to a good Dodgers lineup. And holding that bunch to one run over six innings was exactly what the Cubs needed in what turned out to be a 2-1 extra-inning win. 

“Especially when you don’t have have your best stuff, you always gotta — that’s when you really learn how to pitch,” Montgomery said. 

It’s also the kind of start that could be a major point in Montgomery’s favor when Maddon is presented with a decision to make on his starting rotation whenever Yu Darvish comes off the disabled list. Knowing that Montgomery can grind his way through six innings when his team needs it the most without his best stuff only can add to the confidence the Cubs have in him. 

Montgomery didn’t have his best stuff on Tuesday, issuing more walks (four) than he had in his previous four starts (three). He threw 48 pitches between the second and third innings, and only 25 of those pitches were strikes. Of the nine times the Dodgers reached base against Montgomery, six were the result of fastballs either leading to a walk or a hit. 

Even though the Dodgers were able to bother Montgomery a bit on his fastball, Maddon said that’s the pitch of his that’s impressed him the most over the last few weeks. 

“He never got rushed,” Maddon said. “In the past he would seem to get rushed when things weren’t going well, when he spot-started. Overall, fastball command is better — even though he was off a little bit tonight, the fastball command still exceeds what I’ve seen in the past couple of years on a more consistent basis. The changeup, really, good pitch. He got out of some jams but I think the fact that he knows where his fastball is going now is the difference-maker for him.”

Darvish will throw a simulated game on Wednesday after throwing two bullpen sessions last week. Maddon still doesn’t have a timetable for the $126 million right-hander’s return, and said he’s not entertaining what to do with his rotation until Darvish comes off the disabled list. But Maddon did mention Montgomery’s relative lack of an innings load — the most he’s thrown in a season in 130 2/3, which he did in 2017 — as a reason to perhaps not rush him into a permanent starting role the rest of the season. Going to a six-man rotation is a possibility, too, Maddon said. 

But the over-arching point is this: Montgomery will remain in the Cubs’ rotation as long as he keeps earning it. That can be the product of strong outings in which he has good stuff, or games like Tuesday in which he shows the Cubs the kind of resiliency most starters need to get through a full season. 

“I pitch well, good things happen,” Montgomery said. “I’ve always thought that. Opportunities, you just gotta make the most of them.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th 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.

For the second time in 1998, Sosa went back-to-back games with multiple home runs. After going yard twice on June 19 of that season, Slammin' Sammy again sent two balls into the bleachers on June 20.

He singlehandedly beat the Phillies that night, driving in 5 runs in a 9-4 Cubs victory.

But that wasn't the most impressive feat of the day from Sosa. His second homer was actually measured at a whopping 500 feet! It was the longest of the season, but not the longest of his career. On June 24, 2003, Sosa hit a homer at Wrigley measured at 511 feet.

The back-to-back big games raised Sosa's season OPS to 1.083 with a ridiculous .685 slugging percentage. He began June 1998 with a .608 slugging percentage.

Fun fact: Kerry Wood struck out 11 batters in 7.1 innings on June 20, 1998 to pick up his 7th big-league victory. As Wood marched to the National League Rookie of the Year that season, he finished with a 13-6 record and 233 strikeouts in only 166.2 innings for a career-high 12.6 K/9 rate.