Cubs

Cubs want another shot at Andrew Miller after shutout loss

Cubs want another shot at Andrew Miller after shutout loss

CLEVELAND - The Cubs didn't look like a team that just got shut out and struck out 15 times in Game 1 of the World Series in the visiting clubhouse at Progressive Field.

Maybe it's because they have endured offensive slumps before this postseason - 21 straight scoreless innings against the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series - and bounced back just fine to score 23 runs in three games to clinch the NL pennant.

Or maybe it's because they nearly got to Andrew Miller, who has taken over title of Best Pitcher on the Planet.

"I hope we [get to see him tomorrow]," Cubs shortstop Addison Russell said. "We got beat by a pretty good ballclub today. On paper, they beat us. It leaves a sour taste in our mouth, but tomorrow's a new day."

That's the Cubs' attitude normally and that spirit has only strenghtened with Kyle Schwarber back in the lineup.

The Cubs obviously didn't score against Miller - who ran his career posteason scoreless streak to 22 innings - but they did force him to throw 46 pitches in two innings and had the best overall outing against the dominant left-hander of any team in 2016:

The first two batters Miller faced - Kyle Schwarber and Javy Baez - worked a walk and then laced an 0-2 single to left field to load the bases. 

Miller then worked out of the bases loaded jam with a shallow pop-out and back-to-back strikeouts, but the next inning, the Cubs made him work again with a Kris Bryant walk and Ben Zobrist single.

Miller avoided that jam by striking out Schwarber to end the inning.

"We put some really good at-bats against these guys today," Schwarber said. "We just didn't come up with the knock when we needed to, but that's baseball."

It was the most pitches Miller has thrown in an outing since September 2011 and the Cubs tallied five different full counts against him in the two innings. 

"Guys getting to see him in the first game I think is always to a hitter's advantage," Anthony Rizzo said. "He's as advertised. He bears in when needed to and gets outs and that's the name of the game."

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With a taxing outing and another game right away Wednesday night, the Cubs feel confident they can get to Miller if he does come back and work again in Game 2.

"That's huge. I'm sure he's going to be a little tired," Bryant said. "He was doing his job, going max effort. 

"Any time you can get their best guy out of the bullpen to throw a lot of pitches and have good at-bats off of him, it gives us a bunch of confidence."

Even if Miller feels fine physically, the Cubs hitters have all seen him now and they can learn from watching his stuff and how he approached hitters in Game 1.

The Cubs had a rough showing against Corey Kluber - only four hits and nine strikeouts in six innings - but he's a Cy Young contender and there are major question marks surrounding the Indians' Game 2 and 3 starters (Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin).

In general, the Cubs came away feeling confident despite putting a goose egg in the runs column.

"I'm a believer," manager Joe Maddon said. "I know we're going to be fine. ... [Kluber], he's in a different league. So if we can continue to work these same kind of at-bats, I feel good moving forward.

"And that's not to denigrate anybody we're going to face. I just thought we actually did better than that all looked tonight. So I'm eager to get back out there and play again tomorrow."

According to Javy Baez, the Cubs need to improve their pregame focus

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USA Today

According to Javy Baez, the Cubs need to improve their pregame focus

While the Cubs’ decline has been talked about over and over again, it’s always been framed in relatively vague terms. Perhaps in the interest of protecting a former manager who is still well-liked within the clubhouse, specifics were always avoided. It was just a change that was needed.

That is, until Javy Baez spoke on Sunday morning. In no unclear terms, Baez took a stab at explaining why such a talented team has fallen short of expectations in back-to-back seasons. 

“It wasn’t something bad, but we had a lot of options – not mandatory,” Baez said from his locker at Sloan Park. “Everybody kind of sat back, including me, because I wasn’t really going out there and preparing for the game. I was getting ready during the game, which is not good. But this year, I think before the games we’ve all got to be out there, everybody out there, as a team. Stretch as a team, be together as a team so we can play together.”

Related: What to love, and hate, about the Cubs heading into 2020

The star shortstop's comments certainly track. Maddon is widely considered one of the better managers in baseball, but discipline and structure have never been key pillars of his leadership style. He intrinsically trusts players to get their own work done – something that's clearly an appreciated aspect of his personality... until it isn't. World Series hangovers don’t exist four years after the fact but given Maddon’s immediate success in Chicago, it’s easy to understand how players let off the gas pedal. 

“I mean I would just get to the field and instead of going outside and hit BP, I would do everything inside, which is not the same,” he said. “Once I’d go out to the game, I’d feel like l wasn’t ready. I felt like I was getting loose during the first 4 innings, and I should be ready and excited to get out before the first pitch.” 

“You can lose the game in the first inning. Sometimes when you’re not ready, and the other team scores by something simple, I feel like it was because of that. It was because we weren’t ready, we weren’t ready to throw the first pitch because nobody was loose.” 

Baez also promised that this year would be far more organized and rigid. They will stretch as a team, warm up outside as a team and hopefully rediscover that early-game focus that may have slipped away during the extended victory lap. That may mean less giant hacks, too. 

“Sometimes we’re up by a lot or down by a lot and we wanted to hit homers,” he said. “That’s really not going to work for the team. It’s about getting on base and giving the at-bat to the next guy, and sometimes we forget about that because of the situation of the game. I think that’s the way you get back to the game – going pitch by pitch and at-bat by at-bat.” 

Baez was less specific when it came to his contractual discussions with the team, only saying that negotiations were “up and down.” He’d like to play his whole career here and would be grateful if an extension was reached before Opening Day – he’s just not counting on it. The focus right now is on recapturing some of that 2016 drive and the rest, according to him, will take care of itself.

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He may have lost the service-time battle, but Kris Bryant's got eyes on winning the war

He may have lost the service-time battle, but Kris Bryant's got eyes on winning the war

He always knew it was going to be an uphill battle. Kris Bryant just expected the climb to last a couple weeks, not a couple years. 

“Yeah, jeez. That took forever,” he said on Saturday, in regards to the grievance he filed against the Cubs back after the 2015 season. “It really did. At the beginning of it, I was told that it’d take maybe a couple weeks, so I was ready for it. And then the off-season kept going on and I was like, ‘All right, come out with it, let’s go.’”

Fast-forward 200 or so weeks, and the Cubs’ star third baseman got an answer – just not the one he, his agent Scott Boras, and the MLB Players Association was looking for. An independent arbitrator disagreed with the notion that the Cubs had manipulated Bryant’s service time in order to keep him under contract longer, and ruled that he would remain under team control until after the 2021 season. While many felt that what the Cubs did violated the spirit of the law, ultimately they didn’t infringe on the letter. 

“Obviously we had a disagreement. We handled it respectfully,” Bryant said. “I’m very thankful that Theo and the team saw it through. I saw it through to the end because it was something that I really believed in. My Mom and Dad told me to always stand up for what I believed in, and I was going to see the process through, and I saw it through. Respect on both ends, there’s definitely no hard feelings, so let’s definitely put that narrative to bed.” 

Despite one of the strongest cases in the history of these contractual disputes, there were ultimately too many ambiguities involved to reward Bryant with free agency one year earlier. Getting a substantial raise would have been nice, but much of Bryant’s motivation behind filing the grievance in the first place came from a sense of responsibility to bring to light what many feel are unfair labor laws within the current collectively-bargained agreement. It’s certainly not one extra year of market value salary, but as baseball barrels towards a contentious stretch of negotiations, bringing the issue to light – according to Bryant – is a win within itself. 

“I definitely felt that responsibility to take it on and be like, I want to be the guy that fights for this because I believe this is right,” he said. “And it’s going to help us in 2 years.

“I think it’s good for us to go through stuff like this. You identify the problems that you see, and you try to make it better. This last round, I think we, as players, really took a whoopin’. It’s up to us to fight for things that we think are right.” 

Don’t be surprised when Bryant continues to be a public figure throughout the next 24 months (or more) of discussions. He’s one of the game’s most recognizable faces, and from the very start, his five-year career has been tied to the hip of MLB’s service time manipulation controversy. He was vocal about squashing any idea that he held ill-will towards the Cubs front office, but did concede that the gray area which many front offices love to exploit has opened the door for uncomfortable, unnecessary friction. 

“The team doesn’t want to go through it,” he said. “I mean, Theo doesn’t want to have to make decisions like that, and cause … I wouldn’t say problems, but disagreements between players and the front office. I don’t want to be put in that situation either, so let’s just make it black and white. It’d make things a whole lot easier.” 

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