Cubs U: As Cardinals await, Maddon's bunch still learning how to win


Cubs U: As Cardinals await, Maddon's bunch still learning how to win

Sometimes it seems like Joe Maddon is holding a life seminar rather than meeting with the press, working through the psychology of it all.

The Cubs manager is a sort of mad scientist who likes to go against the grain, hitting the pitcher eighth and turning road trips into costume parties.

[RELATED - Maddon trying to keep young Cubs loose through struggles]

Maddon's latest class at Cubs University is teaching young, inexperienced players how to win consistently and instilling a winning culture in a franchise nicknamed "The Lovable Losers.'

"[Learning how to win] is really important," Maddon said. "It's important to think that as the game gets deeper and it's close, that you're going to win it somehow. There's also the alternative side, where, as the game gets deeper and closer, you feel like you're going to lose it somehow.

"That's the culture you definitely don't want to create. I've been on teams where you just can feel that. They know that and then sure enough, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy in a negative way. You don't want that.

"Right now, the needle is pointing in the right direction."

Maddon said this all before his team dropped the final two games to the Milwaukee Brewers, who left the weekend series at Wrigley Field with the worst record in baseball, even after the back-to-back victories. The Brewers responded to the series win by firing manager Ron Roenicke Sunday evening.

But Maddon was still positive even after Sunday's loss, sounding almost chipper while sporting his personalized Blackhawks sweater.

It's that attitude that helped lure veteran catcher David Ross to Chicago's North Side.

"[A winning culture] starts at the top," veteran catcher David Ross said, crediting the Cubs front office with making moves that have improved the clubhouse dynamic. "Joe definitely is a huge influence. That's one of the reasons I came here is because it made a statement on how much they were wanting to win.

"Joe's doing a great job. He's been on a ton of winning teams, has a great track record and it's because, I believe, he's positive. When in doubt, find a positive outlook on something.

"It's easy to look at the negative, especially as a coach or manager. He doesn't do that. He knows how hard this game is. He's a very detailed person, which is nice. He's not anal in the sense of just nitpicking every small mistake. He sees the big picture."

[RELATED - Kris Bryant keeping his head up despite recent struggles]

Ross and Jon Lester won a championship in Boston in 2013 and they headline a group of veteran voices in the Cubs clubhouse that passes along messages from Maddon and the coaching staff.

That's key on a roster packed with young guys who are still trying to figure out their identity as players, let alone how to win on a consistent basis.

"I can't overstate how important the veterans have been to this whole thing as far as leading the charge in the clubhouse and on the bench during the game," Maddon said. "These guys have been spectacular.

"Our veterans are great at staying in touch with our kids and really encouraging them. I'm very fortunate as a manager to have that kind of help in the clubhouse.

"It's one thing for the staff to put [a message] out there. It's another for the veteran players to put it out there. That's when it really sticks."

Lester is a good example for Maddon to point to as the Cubs manager tries to instill the right habits in the young players.

After struggling through four starts to being the 2015 campaign, Lester finally showed why he earned that $155 megadeal with a dominant performance in a 1-0 win Friday.
Still, after the game, you couldn't tell he had just won. His message was still the same, like the chorus of that Jay Z song - "On to the next one."

[MORE - Maddon, Cubs trying to 'unearth' Soler with lineup switch]

Lester refuses to get complacent and continues to keep the same work ethic, win or lose. He's loving the youthful energy with the Cubs right now and the dance parties in the locker room after victories.

"It's fun. Especially for us older guys. I've never really been around anything like it," Lester said. "... It's hard to win a game in the big leagues. You should celebrate it. Regardless of how pretty or how ugly it is.

"You enjoy it and the thing I've really liked - especially from these young guys - is they're able to separate it. They're able to have their fun, celebrate their wins.

"Tomorrow is a new day. You show up the next day and you do it all over again. That's the beginning of a really good team when you're able to separate each individual day. It's a long season. You have to separate the losses with the wins, then show up the next day and try to do the same thing."

That's the type of process and mindset Maddon points to as examples of what sets winning teams apart.

"You win hard for 30 minutes, you lose hard for 30 minutes and move on," Maddon said. "I love the guys like that - [Lester] probably had a beer or two and thought about it. So he gets over the moment, he's thinking about the next team he's going to pitch against and how he's gotta be better.

"Twenty-four hours can make a huge difference in anybody's life and and in anybody's game. If anything, I want our guys to turn the page, get to the next game, good or bad. That's one thing I've learned - what a difference 24 hours can make. It's incredible."

One of the staples of Maddon's style is each game carrying the same amount of weight. Whether it's a spring training contest, a regular season game or a postseason series.

When players start to look at some games as "bigger" or more important than others, it lets pressure creep in.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Still, the Cubs have a nice measuring stick in front of them this week - a four game series in St. Louis with a first-place Cardinals team that is rallying after losing ace Adam Wainwright for the season.

"This is a good test," Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel said. "We gotta win these games. To be the best, you gotta beat the best. These guys are playing hot and we're going into their territory now.

"We'll find out what we're made of in this series."

Yu Darvish thinks Houston Astros should be stripped of 2017 World Series title

USA Today

Yu Darvish thinks Houston Astros should be stripped of 2017 World Series title

The Astros' sign-stealing scandal is personal for a lot of players, though it probably hits a little differently for Yu Darvish. 

Darvish was a member of the 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers team that Houston beat in the World Series. Darvish didn't have his best performance in the series and when asked about the scandal, the Cubs' pitcher didn't hold back:

It's a weird feeling. Like, in the Olympics, when a player cheats, you can't have a Gold medal, right? But they still have as World Series title. That makes me feel weird. That's it. And one more thing. With [Carlos] Correra talking about [Cody] Bellinger. I saw that yesterday. So they cheat, and I think right now that they don't have to talk. They shouldn't talk like that right now.

You can watch the video of Darvish's comments, from ESPN's Jesse Rogers, it right here.

The comments took on a life of their own, as Astros' soundbytes have been known to do over the last few weeks or so. Darvish was ready for the clapback, though, and delivered a final blow to some poor 'Stros fan who thought he could compete with Darvish on twitter dot com. 

Sign a lifetime contract, Yu. Never leave us.

Related: Bryant crushes Astros for cheating scandal: 'What a disgrace that was' 

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Jason Kipnis comes home looking to write one final chapter of his career


Jason Kipnis comes home looking to write one final chapter of his career

Jason Kipnis, who’s potentially the Cubs’ new second baseman but indisputably the pride of Northbrook, said there’s one major reason why his possible reunion with Wrigley Field is so exciting.

“Now I don’t have to hate the 'Go Cubs Go' song,” he quipped.

Kipnis was a late addition to the Cubs’ roster, and still not even a guaranteed one at that. After almost a decade spent being one of the Cleveland Indians’ cornerstones, Kipnis arrived in Mesa on a minor league contract, looking to win a job. Ironically, being with his hometown team is unfamiliar territory for the two-time All-Star. 

“[Leaving Cleveland] was hard at first,” he said. “You get used to the same place for 9-10 years, and I think it’s a little hard right now coming in and being the new guy and being lost and not knowing where to go. But it’ll be fun. It’s exciting. It’s kind of out of the comfort zone again, which is kind of what you want right now – to be uncomfortable. I don’t know, I’ve missed this feeling a little bit, so it’ll be good.”

It was a slow offseason for the second baseman, but the second baseman said he was weighing offers from several teams. Opportunity and organizational direction dictated most of his decision-making, but Kipnis admitted the forces around him were all, rather unsubtly, pulling him in one direction.

“They were telling me to take a deal, take a cut, whatever. Just get here,” he joked. “... It made sense, it really did. I think I didn't fully understand it until it was announced and my phone started blowing up and I realized just how many people this impacted around my life. Friends and family still live in Chicago, so it’s going to be exciting.”

The theme of renewed motivation has hung around Sloan Park like an early-morning Arizona chill, and Kipnis said part of the reason he feels the Cubs brought him in is to set a fire under some guys. He talked with Anthony Rizzo during the offseason, who talked about how the Cubs had struggled at times to put an appropriate emphasis on each of the 162 games in a regular season. That’s not a new problem in baseball, and it struck a chord with Kipnis, who himself was on plenty of talented Cleveland teams that never got over the hump. 

“They got a good core here. I’m well aware of that, they’re well aware of that, too,” he said. “I texted him and called him and asked him what happened last year, because I look at rosters, I look at St. Louis’, I look at all that, and I’m like, ‘I still would take your guys' roster.’” 

As for his direct competition, Kipnis said he hasn’t had a chance to really get to know Nico Hoerner yet, but doesn’t feel like the battle for second base has to be a contentious one by any means. At 32, Kipnis has been around long enough to understand the dynamics an aging veteran vs. a top prospect, and doesn't feel like it’s a situation where only one of them will end up benefiting. 

“I know he came up and had a pretty good success, so I think [it’s] going to be a competition, but at the same time, I’m not going to try to put him down,” he said. “I’d like to work with him, kind of teach him what I know too and hopefully both of us become better from it.”