How Cubs can jumpstart slumping offense at Dodger Stadium

How Cubs can jumpstart slumping offense at Dodger Stadium

LOS ANGELES - Toward the end of the regular season, a reporter asked Joe Maddon if he would consider changing the batting order around with a couple guys struggling.

Maddon looked at the reporter incredulously, laughed and then said the lineup is staying as is. After all, the Cubs had the best record in baseball. Why mess with a good thing?

Fast forward a few weeks and Maddon fielded two separate questions about possible lineup changes during his media sesson on Monday's workout day and both times he admitted alterations could be on the way.

"You don't have 75 games left in the season to play where you can catch up from a bad moment," Maddon said. "You have to try to make your best guess right now to take advantage of the moment.

"So yeah, moving forward, there are certain things we may attempt to do, absolutely. But it won't be wholesale."

[RELATED - Joe Maddon sees good things coming for slumping Rizzo]

On the one hand, the Cubs woke up Monday morning with the second-most runs scored in the postseason, only three behind the high-powered Toronto Blue Jays offense.

The Cubs are averaging 4.1 runs a game, down a decent amount from the 4.98 runs per game they averaged during the regular season. The Los Angeles Dodgers, meanwhile, are averaging only 3.4 runs per contest.

But of the Cubs' 25 runs scored, nine came in two late-game rallies (four in the ninth in the epic NLDS-clinching comeback in San Francisco and five in the eighth of the NLCS opener - four of which came on one swing).

Another six of those runs were driven in by pitchers in the NLDS. Even though the Cubs boast an athletic group of hurlers, it's not plausible to expect them to continue to drive in 35 percent of the team's runs in each series.

The Cubs have won four of their six postseason games based on timely hitting and elite pitching, a great formula for success.

The problem is: The Cubs have the lowest batting average (.193) and on-base percentage (.251) of the eight teams that advanced beyond the wild-card games.

After getting shut out and tallying just two hits and a walk against Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen in Game 2 Sunday night, the Cubs admitted they are a little surprised by their lack of offense after scoring the third-most runs during the regular season.

But they also pointed to some bad luck, like Javy Baez crushing Kershaw's offering with a runner on base in the seventh inning only to see the ball settle into Joc Pederson's glove in the deepest part of the park.

They aren't striking out at a much higher rate - 8.83 whiffs per game compared to 8.26 strikeouts per game in the regular season.

"They're not always gonna fall," Jason Heyward said. "You're gonna hit 'em at people at times. Pitchers are gonna make their pitches. Guys are gonna be in the right spot. 

"But you want to keep having at-bats. You want to keep having opportunities to do so. That's all you can ask for."

The Cubs understand each new day presents a chance to reset and know they need to get back to that American League-style lineup that wears down opposing starting pitchers.

Low offense is also just a product of the time of the year with only the best pitchers getting in games and thanks to so many built-in off-days, elite relievers can appear in nearly every game.

The four teams left alive right now - Cleveland (.238), Toronto (.230), Los Angeles (.218) and the Cubs (.193) - all have batting averages well below the .255 MLB average in the regular season.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

At the same time, the urgency has ramped up in the playoffs and inside the clubhouse, the Cubs know some changes could be coming.

"Just because it's the postseason doesn't mean we're going to change our M.O.," Ben Zobrist said. "I mean, Joe changed the lineup all the time during the season. So if he changes it now during the postseason, it shouldn't be any different to us.

"It's actually more different if nothing changes. That's kinda the way the things have always operated with our team."

Entering a three-game set in Los Angeles, the Cubs are choosing to look at the glass as half full, understanding they've won two-thirds of their postseason games despite five everyday starters batting .182 or below.

"It's such a small sample size right now that you don't even want to look at the numbers, 'cause that really doesn't matter," Zobrist said. "All that matters is the wins and losses. I think even the guys that are hitting well would tell you that.

"For the guys that maybe feel like they're scuffling a little bit, turn the page right now. If you're thinking about yesterday, then it's already passed you by. You need to focus on the next at-bat, the next pitch.

"You can turn that around at any point because that's in the future. What's in the past is in the past. We don't really care about stats or numbers up to this point. We really just care about the wins and losses."

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening


Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

Is this the offseason that Cubs executive Jason McLeod finally becomes an MLB general manager?

According to Bruce Levine, the Giants are reportedly interested in McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development, for their vacant general manager position.

McLeod joined the Cubs' front office in 2011 alongside Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Before the Cubs, he spent six years in the Red Sox front office and two in the Padres' (with Hoyer, who was San Diego's general manager from 2010-2011). 

Of course, the Giants' reported interest in McLeod doesn't necessarily mean that he will interview for the job. However, it's worth noting that McLeod interviewed for the Twins' general manager job in 2016; he also withdrew his name from consideration for the Padres' general manager job in 2014. 

In addition to the Giants, McLeod's name has been linked to the Mets' general manager vacancy. This is more speculation, but the point is that it seems to be only a matter of time before McLeod is hired as general manager elsewhere.

For what it's worth, though, McLeod is under contract through 2021 and has previously said that he is grateful to be with the Cubs. 

“I’m exceptionally grateful,” McLeod said. “All of us are. Look at where we are at this moment in time with this team," McLeod said in 2016. "I can’t imagine a better environment, a better culture to work at in baseball.

"We’ve been together a long time. We’re friends. We’re good. We embrace the fact that we are good. And we challenge ourselves to be even better.”

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

The Cubs are heading into a new season with a different hitting coach for the second straight winter, but the most recent choice is a familiar face.

Anthony Iapoce is set to join Joe Maddon's coaching staff this week after serving in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers for the last three seasons. The Cubs confirmed the move Monday afternoon shortly after the news broke out of the Rangers camp.

The Cubs fired Chili Davis last week after just one season as the team's hitting coach.

Entering the final week of the season, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister, leaving Iapoce and the rest of the Texas coaching staff in limbo.

As such, Iapoce is rejoining the Cubs, where he served as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-15 focusing on player development, particularly in the hitting department throughout the minor leagues.

Iapoce has familiarity with a bunch of the current star offensive players on the Cubs, from Willson Contreras to Kris Bryant. 

Both Bryant and Contreras endured tough 2018 seasons at the plate, which was a huge reason for the Cubs' underperforming lineup. Bryant's issue was more related to a left shoulder injured suffered in mid-May while Contreras' offensive woes remain a major question mark after the young catcher looked to be emerging as a legitimate superstar entering the campaign.

Getting Contreras back to the hitter that put up 21 homers and 74 RBI in only 117 games in 2017 will be one of the main goals for Iapoce, so the history between the two could be a key.

With the Rangers, Iapoce oversaw an offense that ranked 7th, 9th and 14th in MLB in runs scored over the last three seasons. The decline in offensive production is obviously not a great sign, but the Rangers as a team have fallen off greatly since notching the top seed in the AL playoffs in 2016 with 95 wins only to lose 95 games in 2018, resulting in the change at manager.

Iapoce has worked with an offense backed by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo the last few seasons.

Under Iapoce's tutelage, former top prospect Jurickson Profar shed any notion of a "bust" label and emerged as a budding star at age 25, collecting 61 extra-base hits with a .793 OPS in 2018.

When the Cubs let Davis go last week, they provided no update on assistant hitting coach Andy Haines, who just finished his first season in that role and is expected to remain with the team for 2019. The same offseason Iapoce left for the Rangers, Haines took over as the Cubs' minor league hitting instructor.