Cubs

Cubs won’t look outside for leadoff hitter when they have Anthony Rizzo and pitching priorities

Cubs won’t look outside for leadoff hitter when they have Anthony Rizzo and pitching priorities

This conventional idea of a leadoff hitter is an endangered species, a rare commodity like the young, top-of-the-rotation starter the Cubs will prioritize at the July 31 trade deadline. 

“You never rule out anything,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “If it makes us better, then we’ll talk about doing it. But pitching’s the priority, now and this winter. We know that’s organizationally where we need to go.” 

Plus, the Cubs already have the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time. Just ask Anthony Rizzo, who’s clearly enjoying an experiment that manager Joe Maddon doesn’t plan to end anytime soon.

Rizzo’s leadoff streak of getting on base in seven straight games — home run, home run, walk, single, double, single, home run — ended Wednesday afternoon when he flied out to right field against Miguel Diaz during a 3-2 loss to the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field. No other Cub since 1946 had done that except for Richie Ashburn near the end of his Hall of Fame career in 1960. 

“Honestly, I’m just keeping an open mind,” Maddon said. “I did not have a set number of days to do it. Just watch it and let it play out. Just see where it goes eventually.

“A lot of it’s dependent upon other guys surfacing. If somebody all of a sudden gets hot – and you think you can do something differently – then I might. But otherwise, I’m just going to leave it alone for a bit.”

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In anointing Kyle Schwarber as his leadoff guy in spring training, Maddon pointed to the Geek Department projections and the intimidation factor in seeing a hitter who can do damage with the first pitch. Schwarber — who’s hitting .174 and doesn’t have the same presence that made him a World Series legend — didn’t last in that role.

But the game is trending away from batting average and stolen bases. There really aren’t many prototypical leadoff talents like Lou Brock and Tim Raines available. That’s why the St. Louis Cardinals gave Dexter Fowler a five-year, $82.5 million contract. 

Rizzo is a good leadoff hitter because he is a good hitter. This snapped a career-high 14-game hitting streak, and he had already been heating up long before Maddon’s desperation move, posting a .445 on-base percentage in his previous 39 games since May 7.

“I’ve always thought that there are certain guys that have the leadoff mentality,” Maddon said. “Some guys just don’t like to be the first guy up there. They want to see other guys hit first. They want that information coming back to the dugout.

“It’s just a mindset. It’s somebody that obviously has the tools, meaning they probably see some pitches. They get on base a lot. They’re willing to accept their walks. And it’s nice when they also have some power, too. But I think, more than anything, it’s mindset. And having said that, Anthony likes to do this.”

Willson Contreras commissions heart-warming painting commemorating his relationship with Joe Maddon

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USA Today

Willson Contreras commissions heart-warming painting commemorating his relationship with Joe Maddon

Joe Maddon’s time with the Cubs may be over, but the memories made in his five years on the North Side will live on in Chicago sports lore forever. No matter how frustratingly his tenure may have ended, the outpouring of support and appreciation from management, fans and players alike throughout the process of Maddon’s departure are evidence of that.

“I love him like a dad,” Anthony Rizzo said

“I personally never could have imagined having such a wonderful partner,” Theo Epstein later added, standing beside Maddon as they delivered joint reflections on the end of the era.

Maddon touched the lives of so many within the organization and without in his time with the Cubs, but not many more so than catcher Willson Contreras, who burst onto the scene as one of the best young sluggers in baseball under Maddon’s guidance. Maddon — a catcher himself in his short time as a player — never shied away from criticizing Contreras in times he thought it earned, but it’s clear that the two forged a real bond over the last four years. 

Sunday afternoon, artist Austin Ploch revealed that Contreras reached out to him shortly after the end of the 2019 season to commission this heart-warming piece, commemorating the mutual respect and adoration between mentor and pupil:

The painting is derived from a photo of the two that Contreras posted to his Instagram account after it was officially announced that Maddon would not return as the Cubs manager:

Ploch has commissioned work for Contreras before, but now Willson will have a tangible memento to remember his first manager (along with his 2016 World Series ring). We’re not crying, you’re crying.

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Cubs to reportedly conduct second interview with Joe Espada for managerial opening

Cubs to reportedly conduct second interview with Joe Espada for managerial opening

Astros bench coach Joe Espada has two days off before Houston hosts Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday, but it looks like some of that time will be spent in Chicago.

According to multiple reports, the Cubs will interview Espada a second time for their managerial opening. MLB Network's Jon Heyman reports that the interview is happening on Sunday.

Espada is one of the more sought after managerial candidates this offseason, as he's spent the last six seasons with two of baseball's leading franchises. The 44-year-old has been Astros bench coach since 2018, and prior to that, he spent four seasons with the Yankees — 2014 as a front office assistant, 2015-17 as third base coach.

David Ross was the presumed favorite for the Cubs' opening, when the process got underway. However, by landing a second interview, Espada has clearly given the team something to think about. In fact, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan reported on Thursday the Cubs came away "exceptionally impressed" from Espada's first interview on Monday. 

MLB prefers teams not to make managerial announcements during the World Series. So, it might be a few more weeks before the Cubs announce their decision, unless they do so on Sunday or Monday.

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