Cubs

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

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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."

Cubs Talk Podcast: A Whole Roster of Issues

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: A Whole Roster of Issues

Tony Andracki, David Kaplan, and Kelly Crull dive into everything going on with the Cubs at the moment, including Addison Russell's struggles and the team's other personnel issues (1:10), whether some trade targets are realistic for the Cubs to acquire (7:30), the ultimate role for Robel Garcia (11:15), how the Cubs will structure the bullpen with Pedro Strop's struggles (14:30), and what the roster could look like after the trade deadline (18:30).

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

Cole Hamels makes rehab start for Triple-A Iowa Cubs

Cole Hamels makes rehab start for Triple-A Iowa Cubs

Cole Hamels took a step towards his return to the Cubs on Tuesday, but showed he is still working his way back to full strength.

Hamels made his first rehab start with Triple-A Iowa. It was his first game action since leaving with an oblique injury during a start on June 28.

For the Iowa Cubs, Hamels went 2 1/3 innings without giving up a run, but he struggled to throw strikes. Hamels threw 17 of his 35 pitches for strikes. He had two strikeouts, three walks and allowed one hit.

If Hamels is only throwing 35 pitches and not having much command, he isn’t that close to a return. It has been about three and a half weeks since his injury.

Alec Mills made two starts for the Cubs after the all-star break, including one on Monday, with Hamels out. Mills was sent down before Tuesday’s game in San Francisco. Lefty reliever Tim Collins took his spot on the roster.

The Cubs have off days on Thursday and Monday so they could skip a spot in the rotation, buying more time until Hamels is ready to rejoin the rotation.

 

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