Cubs keep building character as big series with Cardinals looms


Cubs keep building character as big series with Cardinals looms

The Cubs only had three hits Sunday afternoon, but that's all they needed.

The Cubs (44-36) continue to build their character and find ways to win with a slumping offense as they held on for a 2-0 win over the visiting Marlins (35-48) in front of 37,764 fans Sunday at Wrigley Field.

"We did well today," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I am not concerned about the offense. I know it's gonna show up. As long as you can pull some of this magical stuff out while you're waiting for the offense to come, I'll take it."

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Following a stretch of offensive inefficiency (17 runs in 10 games), Kris Bryant and the Cubs exploded for seven runs in the first two innings Saturday. But after Bryant's grand slam with two outs in the second inning of that game, the Cubs have managed only three hits in the last 14-plus innings.

In the first inning of the series finale Sunday, Chris Coghlan drew a one-out walk (his 13th free pass in the last 11 games) and Bryant singled, moving Coghlan to third. Coghlan then came around to score on a wild pitch to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead that they held all game.

The Cubs now have a pair of 2-0 victories to go with a 1-0 win over the last week. It helps that Cubs starting pitchers have given up just five earned runs in the last 41.2 innings (1.08 ERA).

"It's gonna get better," Maddon said. "We're gonna hit. We're definitely gonna hit. You have to go through these stretches. It's obviously always good when you go through a stretch like this that you're able to win in spite of it.

"We'll take it. That's how this game ebbs and flows. You gotta pitch. The game could have been called 'pitching' instead of 'baseball.' So when you do that, you catch the ball, you do good things on the basepaths and play the entire game of baseball, then you have a chance to win under these circumstances."

Chris Denorfia led off the eighth with a pinch-hit double (just the Cubs' second hit in a stretch spanning more than 13 innings) and Coghlan drove him home with a two-out single to provide some insurance and account for the rest of the Cubs offense on the day.

Denorfia doesn't believe the youth and inexperience of the Cubs' lineup is the main culprit of the offensive issues right now.

"Every team goes through periods like this where the offense dries up a little bit," Denorfia said. "Our guys have been so good, all the young guys are learning on the fly and they're dealing with the ups and downs of any season.

"I think the course of the season to have moments like this where you kinda build your character a little bit and rely on the pitching when we have to, which has been outstanding."

Denorfia thinks all these close games are "fun," not taxing or exhausting.

"To be prepared for the postseason, you're going to need pressure games like this," he said. "The more experience we get with these, the more comfortable you are in these situations when that one at-bat or that one pitch means so much."

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One run was all Kyle Hendricks needed as he tossed 7.1 shutout innings, lowering his ERA to 3.82 on the season. The 25-year-old righty kept the Marlins at bay, allowing just five hits and a walk while striking out six.

Hendricks hasn't allowed a run in his last 15.1 innings and the Cubs are 9-0 all-time when he pitches at least seven innings.

The Cubs starting rotation has picked a good time to be clicking on all cylinders - even if the offense hasn't been - with the St. Louis Cardinals coming into town for a big four-game series before the Cubs' Crosstown matchup with the White Sox to close out the first half before the All-Star Break.

"We're just trying to play good baseball," Hendricks said. "We've been playing good lately. We're just trying to keep it rolling. The pitching staff, we've been doing our job, keeping the runs off the board of late and the offense has been providing just enough. ... We're excited about [the week ahead]."

The Cubs will enter play Monday in third place in the National League Central, 8.5 games behind the Cardinals, who have the best record in baseball at 53-28.

A strong showing during this seven-game stretch at Wrigley Field could do wonders for the Cubs' confidence heading into the All-Star Break.

Still, Maddon insists he isn't getting too carried away with looking at the big picture.

"I don't look in clumps. I try to stay with the daily approach," Maddon said. "I know you're supposed to be more concerned about winning within your division. I'm just concerned about winning every night. I know I get disagreed with on that a lot.

"But I want our guys to just really approach the day and that's it. Let's try to win. We won today's game ... So go ahead and enjoy the night, be a human being and then come back tomorrow and play again."

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening


Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

Is this the offseason that Cubs executive Jason McLeod finally becomes an MLB general manager?

According to Bruce Levine, the Giants are reportedly interested in McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development, for their vacant general manager position.

McLeod joined the Cubs' front office in 2011 alongside Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Before the Cubs, he spent six years in the Red Sox front office and two in the Padres' (with Hoyer, who was San Diego's general manager from 2010-2011). 

Of course, the Giants' reported interest in McLeod doesn't necessarily mean that he will interview for the job. However, it's worth noting that McLeod interviewed for the Twins' general manager job in 2016; he also withdrew his name from consideration for the Padres' general manager job in 2014. 

In addition to the Giants, McLeod's name has been linked to the Mets' general manager vacancy. This is more speculation, but the point is that it seems to be only a matter of time before McLeod is hired as general manager elsewhere.

For what it's worth, though, McLeod is under contract through 2021 and has previously said that he is grateful to be with the Cubs. 

“I’m exceptionally grateful,” McLeod said. “All of us are. Look at where we are at this moment in time with this team," McLeod said in 2016. "I can’t imagine a better environment, a better culture to work at in baseball.

"We’ve been together a long time. We’re friends. We’re good. We embrace the fact that we are good. And we challenge ourselves to be even better.”

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

The Cubs are heading into a new season with a different hitting coach for the second straight winter, but the most recent choice is a familiar face.

Anthony Iapoce is set to join Joe Maddon's coaching staff this week after serving in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers for the last three seasons. The Cubs confirmed the move Monday afternoon shortly after the news broke out of the Rangers camp.

The Cubs fired Chili Davis last week after just one season as the team's hitting coach.

Entering the final week of the season, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister, leaving Iapoce and the rest of the Texas coaching staff in limbo.

As such, Iapoce is rejoining the Cubs, where he served as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-15 focusing on player development, particularly in the hitting department throughout the minor leagues.

Iapoce has familiarity with a bunch of the current star offensive players on the Cubs, from Willson Contreras to Kris Bryant. 

Both Bryant and Contreras endured tough 2018 seasons at the plate, which was a huge reason for the Cubs' underperforming lineup. Bryant's issue was more related to a left shoulder injured suffered in mid-May while Contreras' offensive woes remain a major question mark after the young catcher looked to be emerging as a legitimate superstar entering the campaign.

Getting Contreras back to the hitter that put up 21 homers and 74 RBI in only 117 games in 2017 will be one of the main goals for Iapoce, so the history between the two could be a key.

With the Rangers, Iapoce oversaw an offense that ranked 7th, 9th and 14th in MLB in runs scored over the last three seasons. The decline in offensive production is obviously not a great sign, but the Rangers as a team have fallen off greatly since notching the top seed in the AL playoffs in 2016 with 95 wins only to lose 95 games in 2018, resulting in the change at manager.

Iapoce has worked with an offense backed by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo the last few seasons.

Under Iapoce's tutelage, former top prospect Jurickson Profar shed any notion of a "bust" label and emerged as a budding star at age 25, collecting 61 extra-base hits with a .793 OPS in 2018.

When the Cubs let Davis go last week, they provided no update on assistant hitting coach Andy Haines, who just finished his first season in that role and is expected to remain with the team for 2019. The same offseason Iapoce left for the Rangers, Haines took over as the Cubs' minor league hitting instructor.