Cubs

Defense wins championships: Joe Maddon sees Gold Glove potential all over Wrigley Field

Defense wins championships: Joe Maddon sees Gold Glove potential all over Wrigley Field

When Joe Maddon looks out from his spot in the home dugout, the Cubs manager sees five potential Gold Glove winners all around Wrigley Field, a defensive makeover that has become part of the identity for a team with World Series ambitions.

“That’s legit,” Maddon said before Wednesday night’s crisp 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels, “without trying to oversell our guys.”

All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo is already playing at that level and has the eye-popping offensive numbers to help win that popularity contest: “For sure,” Maddon said. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”

Jason Heyward has already won three Gold Gloves and is living up to his defensive reputation — while underperforming offensively — in the first season of a $184 million contract: “Right field is spectacular,” Maddon said.

All-Star shortstop Addison Russell “should be,” Maddon said, given his range, explosiveness and steady up-the-middle presence during his second year in the big leagues.

“I think if (Willson) Contreras played enough, he’d have that opportunity to be considered, too,” Maddon said, praising the rookie catcher with a rocket arm who has gone 5-for-14 in throwing out runners (while veteran Miguel Montero is only 2-for-50 in those situations).

Javier Baez makes highlight-reel plays all over the infield: “If Javy played every day, he would,” Maddon said, agreeing with the idea that there should be Gold Glove recognition for super-utility players.

“I’d love that,” Maddon said. “I love the Super-U everything. That should be a position on the All-Star team. There should actually be somebody voted as that guy. I’ve thought that since 2009 with (Ben) Zobrist. The fact that we have so many guys that have played varied positions well — that’s got to start happening in other places (with) other organizations.

“It’s so beneficial game in progress, the things that you can do, whether it’s the pinch-hit, accelerate your defense, make it stronger for the last play of the game. We’re able to do all these different things because of the athleticism and the adaptability. Of course, Javy really sets that up.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Meaning an All-Star third baseman (Kris Bryant) or an All-Star second baseman (Zobrist) can move to the outfield and the Cubs don’t feel like they are sacrificing anything defensively or playing anyone out of position.

“We’re almost spoiled everywhere,” winning pitcher Jason Hammel said after shutting down the Angels for seven innings. “The guys go out there, and they play nine hard innings for us and they take hits away. As long as we’re in the zone, throwing strikes, putting the ball in play, guys are going to make plays.”

The Cubs lead the majors in defensive efficiency, according to Baseball Prospectus. FanGraphs also measures this group as the leaders in Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Above Average.

“Addison is just playing with so much confidence now that you’re actually seeing how good he can be,” Maddon said. “‘KB’ no longer pats the ball. Dexter (Fowler’s) just playing deeper and now is considered a better center fielder.

“I think just through natural progression maturity-wise, some guys have just gotten better because they’re good. We’re making the routine play routinely, and we’ve made some pretty spectacular plays almost all around the field.”

Along with current coaches Chris Bosio and Mike Borzello, ex-manager Dale Sveum helped design the game-planning system that once relied heavily on defensive shifts. Maddon had also been an early proponent of shifting as Mike Scioscia’s data-friendly bench coach with the Angels and the small-market manager for a Tampa Bay Rays franchise trying to compete with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

“We don’t shift, obviously, nearly as much,” Maddon said. “But, again, I think that’s a product of the league and the teams in the division that we’re playing against, not necessarily that we don’t want to.”

The Cubs don’t need to get by with gadget plays and smoke and mirrors.

“They’re young, athletic,” Maddon said. “They work. They care. Our coaches do a great job in the prep. We keep everything simple. You’ve heard me say that a thousand times. I really think a big part of our success is the simplicity with which we do things out there. There’s nothing complicated, I promise you.

“So if everybody likes us in the metrics, whatever, that’s great. I just think from an old-school perspective — technically — I really like the way we mechanically are moving. The feet have gotten better. The arm strokes have gotten shorter. Addison’s arm has gotten stronger. I’m seeing all these different things this year.”

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

With the Milwaukee Brewers about to kick off the NLCS, many Cubs fans and pundits have taken to comparing them to the 2015 Cubs.

At first glance, it's easy to see why — they're in the playoffs for the first time as something of an underdog and "surprise" team — but that's not the recent Cubs squad we should be comparing the 2018 Brewers to.

This Milwaukee team is a lot more like the 2016 Cubs.

Here's why:

1. They're not a surprise.

Nobody expected the 2015 Cubs to win 97 games and wind up in the NLCS. They were expected to compete very soon, but everything went right in a red-hot August, they rode Jake Arrieta's right arm to the NLDS and then toppled the Cardinals to get to the LCS, where they ran into the brick wall that was Matt Harvey and and the Mets pitching staff.

The 2018 Brewers are not — and should not be — a surprise. Anybody who was caught off guard by this team being so good hasn't been paying much attention. The Brewers were leading the NL Central in 2017 for much of the year before a late-season fade that coincided with the Cubs' late-season surge.

This Milwaukee squad was always supposed to be one of the top teams in the NL in 2018 and they really hit their groove in September to chase down the Cubs. Still, it took a Game 163 to force a changing of the guard atop the division.

2. They greatly improved expectations with a big free-agent OF signing over the winter.

The Cubs had Jason Heyward in between 2015 and '16. The Brewers had Lorenzo Cain.

Cain has provided quite a bit more offense in the first season of his 5-year, $80 million contract but both Cain and Heyward provided leadership in the clubhouse and elite defense in the outfield in the first years with their new teams.

3. The Brewers have the NL MVP.

This one's an easy comparison to make, though Cubs fans will hate it.

Christian Yelich is this season's NL MVP. Sorry, Javy Baez fans. "El Mago" had a great season, but it's impossible to give the award to anybody but Yelich.

Yelich winning the league's most coveted accolade would be another perfect tie-in to the 2016 Cubs, who had Kris Bryant take home NL MVP.

4. They have a dominant LHP out of the bullpen.

Josh Hader has been doing his best Aroldis Chapman impression in 2018 as an absolutely dominant southpaw out of the bullpen. Unlike Chapman, Hader's spent all season with the Brewers, but like Chapman in '16, Hader will be leaned on heavily for multiple innings throughout the rest of the playoffs.

5. They picked up some valuable in-season assets.

The 2016 Cubs dealt for Chapman, but they also traded for reliever Joe Smith and called up Willson Contreras in the middle of the year, who provided a spark for the offense.

The 2018 Brewers have acquired plenty of valuable assets along the way this season from Mike Moustakas to Jonathan Schoop to Erik Kratz (more on him later) to Gio Gonzalez. But one of their most important additions (especially in October) was the promotion of top prospect Corbin Burnes, a flame-throwing right-hander who posted a 2.61 ERA in 30 regular-season games and allowed only 1 hit in 4 shutout innings in the DS.

6. They're on a mission with a chip on their shoulder.

The 2015 Cubs had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder as they attempted to take down the divisional powerhouse that was the St. Louis Cardinals. But again, they were a surprise contender - even within that clubhouse (especially early in 2015). But after falling short in the NLCS, the Cubs retooled over the winter and came back with one goal in mind - to win the World Series.

It was a goal they accomplished. We'll see if the Brewers will be able to do the same, but they certainly came to play in 2018 with a chip on their shoulder and the ultimate goal of winning the final MLB game of the year.

The Brewers didn't lead the division from Day 1 and weren't able to coast into October, but they still wound up with homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs.

7. They have journeyman catcher who is winning over fans' hearts.

This is a fun one.

The 2016 Cubs had David "Grandpa" Rossy who still elicts deafening cheers whenever he's shown on the giant video board at Wrigley Field. The 2018 Brewers have Kratz, who has become a fan favorite recently and was mic'd up for the final out of the NLDS.

Ross was 39 when he helped lead the Cubs to the 2016 World Series and Chicago was his eighth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey. Kratz is 38 and on his ninth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey.

In fact, Ross and Kratz are so intertwined, they've already been compared to each other by MLB.com.

But the major difference is Kratz has zero postseason playing experience until a week ago. Will he be able to ride off into the sunset with a championship ring on his finger the way Ross did?

We'll have an answer to that over the next few weeks in the final chapter of the Brewers' 2018 season, though Cubs fans surely wouldn't be too happy to see their division rivals celebrating with a World Series parade just 90 minutes north of Wrigley Field.

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

hyde-1011.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

The Cubs just lost one coach with hitting coach Chili Davis getting fired. Another opening on Joe Maddon's coaching staff could also open up.

According to report from MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed with the Rangers on Thursday.

Rangers farm director Jayce Tingler was the first candidate the club interviewed, but Hyde and Astros bench coach Joe Espada were also interviewed.

The 45-year-old Hyde has been with the Cubs since 2014. He was a bench coach in 2014 under Rick Renteria before moving to first base coach from 2015-17. This past season he moved back to his original role as bench coach.

He played four seasons in the minors for the White Sox.

The Rangers job opened up when Jeff Banister was fired on Sept. 21. Banister won AL Manager of the Year in 2015 and guided the Rangers to back-to-back playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016, but couldn't get out of the ALDS either year. A 78-84 season in 2017 was followed by an even worse 2018, which led to his firing late this season.