Cubs

Cubs: Joe Maddon doesn’t like Junior Lake’s ‘punk’ move

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Cubs: Joe Maddon doesn’t like Junior Lake’s ‘punk’ move

MIAMI – It’s easy to picture the Cubs turning into a team that people love to hate.

Junior Lake stood at home plate on Wednesday night, admiring the flight of the ball he launched out toward the left-field seats inside Marlins Park.

Gripping the bat in his left hand, Lake walked at least five steps before beginning his home-run trot. He tossed the bat aside, far enough that it almost landed on the dirt track by the visiting dugout.

As Lake rounded third base, he looked into Miami’s dugout and held his right index finger up to his lips, as if to say: “Ssshh!”

Until that big swing in the sixth inning, the Cubs trailed by six runs…in a game they would lose 7-3…to a dysfunctional team that’s now 10 games under .500.

“We don’t do that here,” manager Joe Maddon said afterward, “and that will be the last time you see it.”

Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto said something to Anthony Rizzo as he crossed home plate. Jose Fernandez – the Miami ace still recovering from Tommy John surgery – looked like he couldn’t wait to jump over the dugout railing.

Both benches emptied as Rizzo tried to restrain Lake, who waved his arms and yelled right back at the Marlins. Maddon has talked a lot about the Cubs playing with confidence and taking the fight to the National League, stressing that nothing will be handed to them.

“I don’t want us to take the fight there by acting like a punk,” Maddon said. “I don’t want that at all. I want us to take the fight there by playing the game properly and hard and fundamentally sound.

“You know that we’re coming after you – that’s what I want. I don’t want us to take a page out of ‘Major League’ and flamboyantly flip a bat after a long home run. I don’t want that at all. That has nothing to do with us ascending.

“I’d like to use this moment for our minor-league guys – that doesn’t play. For kids watching – that doesn’t play. Don’t do that. That’s not cool. That’s very, very much not cool. If you’re watching the game back home in Chicago tonight, don’t do that if you hit a home run. Don’t do it. It’s not cool.”

[MORE: Cubs could change the equation with Kris Bryant in left field]

Maddon delivered that message to Lake, who seemed genuinely contrite as he stood at his locker. Lake wanted catcher Miguel Montero to be his interpreter, to accurately express his feelings and make sure nothing got lost in translation.

Lake wanted to apologize to Dan Haren, because he respects the Miami pitcher and didn’t mean to “pimp” that home run. Lake also confirmed he doesn’t have a history of bad blood with Fernandez or any of the Marlins.

Lake – who’s been given an opportunity to prove he belongs in The Show with outfielder Jorge Soler (sprained left ankle) on the disabled list – admitted he got caught up in the emotions.

“After I crossed first, I knew I didn’t do it right,” Lake said through Montero. “But after that, I heard them chirping from the other dugout, and that’s why I kind of lost control a little bit. I already knew I didn’t do it right.”

[MORE: The Javier Baez Watch is heating up]

Lake then wanted to make a point in English: “I give it everything when I play. I don’t want to (have) people yell at me like I’m scared. I’m not scared of anybody. But I recognize (what I did) was a bad thing.”

Montero next translated another takeaway for Lake: “I don’t want to be a bad influence.”

The crowd of 22,962 booed Lake during his next at-bat, cheering when he struck out to end the seventh inning. He also grounded out to end the game. But at the age of 25, he has shown a much more disciplined approach at the plate. And he can always fall back on his defensive versatility and the physical gifts that once made him an intriguing prospect.

Lake’s bat-flipping show is just the tip of the iceberg as The Plan accelerates.

Theo Epstein’s front office represents an Ivy League influence that creates some resentment – maybe jealousy – among the old-school types inside this industry.

The Tampa Bay Rays pushed Major League Baseball to launch a tampering investigation after the Cubs hired Maddon, a star manager who loves playing to the cameras and hates all these unwritten rules.

The Cubs keep telling everyone how great their farm system is, how they’re so young and so talented. They want to play loose and free and plan postgame dance parties in the clubhouse.

There also could have been some spillover from Monday night at Marlins Park after “SportsCenter” timed Starlin Castro’s home-run trot at 30 seconds.

To learn how to win and finally get through October, the Cubs will have to develop some sense of swagger, almost an arrogant vibe around the team.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

That’s part of the reason why the Cubs gave Jon Lester six years and $155 million guaranteed. Their ace didn’t look particularly sharp against the Marlins – giving up six runs in five innings – but he knows what it takes after winning two World Series rings with the Boston Red Sox.

The Cubs (27-24) just lost a series to a reality-show team on the brink, and now head to the nation’s capital for a four-game series against the Washington Nationals, a World Series favorite that might show them how far they still have to go.

“This game’s competitive,” Lester said. “Nobody wants to – in their minds – get shown up.

“I don’t know if you can compare this one instance to a team that’s in it at the end. I know that we talk about tonight, and then get on a plane, and move on and play tomorrow. That’s what makes a good team.

“Tonight stunk. Move on. And we’ll come get Washington tomorrow.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

[MORE: The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason]

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below:

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess, as we discussed on the latest CubsTalk Podcast.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.