Cubs

Cubs: Joe West's cowboy act still bothers Joe Maddon

Cubs: Joe West's cowboy act still bothers Joe Maddon

ST. LOUIS — Joe Maddon hadn’t heard from Major League Baseball’s New York headquarters by the time he met with reporters before Tuesday night’s rivalry game at Busch Stadium.

“Not yet,” Maddon said. So MLB officials might as well put this on his tab after the Cubs manager spent roughly half of a media session that lasted 10-plus minutes criticizing the way umpire Joe West handled the end of Kyle Hendricks’ near no-hitter.

West started trending on Twitter after ejecting Maddon in the ninth inning of Monday night’s 4-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman had already started warming up in the bullpen when Jeremy Hazelbaker led off with a home run, which led to catcher Miguel Montero checking in on Hendricks.

When Montero returned to home plate, West tapped him on the shoulder and told him to go back out to the mound, and then warned it would count as a visit. Instead of rolling with the stall tactics, Maddon felt like “Cowboy Joe” became a distraction from a brilliant pitching performance.

“Absolutely,” Maddon said. “I mean this: St. Louis fans are really, obviously, intelligent baseball fans. The way they reacted to Kyle coming to the plate (in the seventh inning), I’m certain that had he pitched a no-hitter, they really would have given him like a St. Louis reception.

“(It’s) having to take him out of the game properly. He would have left the field in the right manner. So that was so unnecessary what occurred. There was a detraction, I thought, in regards to what the moment should have really felt like for everybody.”

West argued that an umpire has the power to count a catcher walking out to the mound as a visit, saying he’s done this before when Tony La Russa managed the Cardinals.

“Of course you can,” Maddon said. “Technically, there’s a lot of things you can do that aren’t done. Technically, if you ask a player to go speak to a pitcher from the dugout — which you do almost every night with every umpiring crew — (then it’s a visit). Technically, if you relay information from the dugout to a player to the mound, that could be considered a trip. Absolutely, if that’s what you choose to do.”

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Have you seen this rules interpretation before?

“No,” Maddon said. “That’s what I’m saying — it happens all the time. It’s just a method. Let’s give you the full monty right here: We needed time for Aroldis, only because this guy’s pitching a no-hitter. It’s a four-run lead. I don’t want Aroldis just to get totally amped up yet, because it wasn’t necessary.

“I.e., if (Kyle) walks the first guy and the no-hitter’s still intact, Aroldis is still not in that game. So you don’t want Aroldis to get to that level until it’s absolutely necessary. So there’s an 0-2 pitch that goes in the seats, it becomes necessary.

“(Aroldis) was close. Needed about 60 seconds. That’s not an exaggeration – 30 to 60 to get him properly ready for the game. That’s all we needed. That’s why I wanted the guys to go and talk to (Kyle).

“I would have taken the slow walk out there. He would have walked in. The game would (have ended) and nobody would have been wiser for it — or less than for it. That’s exactly what happened. There’s no other explanation.”

Maddon got in West’s face and made an appearance on the mound, leaving the ball in first baseman Anthony Rizzo’s glove and killing enough time for Chapman.

“My only resort was to do what I did to make sure that Aroldis got ready,” Maddon said. “That was absolutely a conscious thought on my part. I will not deny that.”

With the Cubs on the verge of clinching the division, and the Cardinals going through a bridge year, this rivalry needed a little drama and some more entertainment value.

“The fact that I got thrown out of the game — I don’t care,” Maddon said. “Big deal. It’s just something that I had to do in the moment based on an inappropriate reaction by the umpire. That’s it.

“It’s normal protocol. I’m not asking for anything extraordinary. I think any manager ... I’m almost certain the other 29 would have done exactly the same thing. There’s no question.”

Joe Maddon on MLB's absurd home run rate: 'The wind’s being broken here. It’s really weird'

Joe Maddon on MLB's absurd home run rate: 'The wind’s being broken here. It’s really weird'

Cubs manager Joe Maddon usually isn’t one for conspiracy theories, but even he’s wondering what’s going on. MLB teams are hitting home runs at an absurd rate, including the Cubs, who are hitting them at a historic rate for the franchise’s standards.

Entering Saturday, here’s where MLB teams stand in average home run rate and total home runs in 2019 compared to recent seasons:

2017: 1.26/game, 6,105 total
2018: 1.15/game, 5,585 total
2019: 1.33/game, 2,009 total

While the MLB season is just over 30 percent finished, teams are on pace to hit a combined 6,483 long balls in 2019. This would absolutely obliterate the 2017 total, which, like the 1.33 home runs per game figure, would be an MLB record.

The Cubs are no exception to this home run wave. Including Saturday (game No. 50 of the season), the team has hit 80 home runs (and counting) in 2019. Only the 2000 Cubs (83) hit more home runs in their first 50 games in franchise history.

“We’re having home runs hit here into some firm breezes, which has not happened before,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said to reporters before Saturday’s game against the Reds. “That’s the thing that stands out to me. It’s been crazy.

“Even [Kyle] Schwarber’s home run, I know that was hit well, but dang, that wind was blowing pretty firmly across at that point.”

Schwarber absolutely crushed his home run yesterday, a 449-foot blast that needed little help getting into the bleachers. However, Maddon has a valid point regarding home runs being hit despite the wind. Entering Saturday, 54 total home runs have been hit at Wrigley Field this season, 29 of which have come with the wind blowing in.

By the eighth inning of Saturday’s game, the Cubs and Reds had hit a combined six home runs, one of which appeared to be a routine fly ball hit by Jason Heyward that wound up in the left field basket thanks to the wind. At the same time, Yasiel Puig hit one 416 feet onto Waveland Ave. that had a 109 mph exit velocity. The wind blowing out at Wrigley Field helps, but it isn’t everything.

MLB players have questioned time and time again if baseballs are “juiced,” including Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester. And while Maddon didn’t flat out say that he thinks the baseballs are juiced, he notices a difference in how they're flying off the bat.

“I don’t know, I’m normally not into the subplot component of all of this and the conspiracy theorists, but I’m telling you right now, it’s jumping,” he said. “It’s absolutely jumping.

“Nobody is ever going to admit to it. The wind’s being broken here. It’s really weird.”

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Yu Darvish's Cutter Might Be What Turns His Season Around

Yu Darvish's Cutter Might Be What Turns His Season Around

Over the past two starts, Yu Darvish has walked three batters. That stat isn’t going to catch too many eyes until you realize that in the two starts prior, he walked 11. And the two starts before those? 7. 

Control issues have plagued Darvish all season, and if the season ended today, he’d set a career-high in BB% (16.6). He’s walked at least four batters in all but three of his starts. It’s been a mess so far, but it might not be for much longer. Look at how Darvish’s pitch selection has changed over the last eight weeks:


That’s a mighty big increase in two-seamer usage. Darvish was throwing his cutter barely 5% of the time at the start of the season, and now he’s throwing it basically once every four pitches. The cutter seen a 10% increase over the first two months as well. A game-by-game breakdown shows you just how much Darvish’s approach has changed of late: 


So, things look a little different now. That spike in sinker usage came against the Marlins, when he only got through four innings while allowing a run with six walks and seven strikeouts. He admitted after the game that he got too cozy with the pitch. 

More notably, Darvish’s cutter usage continues to steadily rise. That’s good news for the Cubs, because since over the last two years, it’s been one of his more effective pitches. 

It’s also probably not a coincidence that in Darvish’s best years, his cutter has been one of his most accurate pitches. The stretch from 2013-2016 (he missed all of 2015) saw some of the lowest BB% for his cutter: 

“I just think he has better command of that pitch,” Joe Maddon said. “I think he has a better idea of where that pitch is going. I think that’s the biggest difference with it. Because of that, it’s been more effective because he can throw it where he wants to. I think that’s the primary difference. 

News and notes

  • The Cubs called up Tim Collins and Dillon Maples before Saturday’s game. Collins was up briefly in mid-April, pitching 3.1 IPs in four outings. This is also Maples second time up this season, after making three appearances in late-April/early-May. “We had to,” Joe Maddon said about calling up the pair. “There’s a lot of stuff going on right now, a lot of usage. We’ve been in nearly every game we’ve been playing, so it’s difficult to give guy breaks.”
  • The corresponding move saw the Cubs option OF Mark Zagunis to Triple-A Iowa. In 29 games this season, Zagunis slashed .257/.333/.343 with a .676 OPS. “We’ve had these young guys that have not had a chance to play with regularity,” Maddon said. “It’s wonderful for them to be in the major leagues, but developmentally sometimes it can really hurt them. He’ll be back.” 
  • With a short bench, Maddon admitted that pitcher Tyler Chatwood could be a pinch hitter. “He’s legit,” he said. “I don’t know when or how, but he definitely has to have his spikes on.”
  • Pedro Strop is scheduled to throw a bullpen on Saturday. They have another one scheduled in a couple of days. Maddon noted that he’s getting close, and mentioned the end of next week as a potential timeline to when they’d more about his rehab assignment plans.