Cubs

How a team meeting in San Diego helped the Cubs hit the reset button and sweep the Cardinals at Wrigley Field

How a team meeting in San Diego helped the Cubs hit the reset button and sweep the Cardinals at Wrigley Field

It wasn't quite a rain delay before extra innings in Game 7 of the World Series, but the Cubs had another crucial team meeting last week and they've once again found immediate success after.

Prior to the final game on an 0-6 road trip, the Cubs players all got together in San Diego and hashed some things out.

Of course, the Cubs wound up losing to the Padres that day, but they've since stopped the bleeding and put the finishing touches on a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals Sunday night at Wrigley Field.

"We just talked," Kyle Hendricks said. "It was good stuff, just getting back to focusing on what we do. Inside the clubhouse, focusing on the guys and playing the game."

Jason Heyward was the leader of that now-famous Game 7 weight room meeting. He downplayed the San Diego meeting as standard regular maintenance.

"We're not gonna dwell on it," Heyward said. "It's just checking in. You gotta check in. You gotta be on the same page, regardless of how things are going.

"That's something we're going to continue to get better at and do a great job of. Not to say it's a lack of this and that. It's just nice to be on the same page. It's nice to hear how everybody's doing.

"Everybody just kinda saying whatever you need to say. If you feel like you need to say something, voice it. You just want to hear each other. You just want to check in and say, 'Hey, what we got, guys?' 

"... Regardless of what our coaches tell us, regardless of whatever kind of work you put in, if you're not on the same page as a team, you're not gonna go anywhere."

The Cubs scored just nine runs in six games on the road trip, but put up 15 on the board in three games against St. Louis over the weekend.

One of the main issues on the West Coast last week was a lack of timely hitting, but the Cubs went 3-for-4 with runners in scoring position Sunday night, including Ian Happ's three-run homer in the fourth inning and pinch-hits from Albert Almora Jr. (third inning) and the game-winner from Jon Jay (seventh inning).

"It's always good to just slow things down and just talk," Jay said. "That's what we did — slowed things down, talked a little bit and just reminded ourselves how good we really are. 

"You look around, you look at a lot of guys' baseball cards here. They've done a lot of good things. The younger guys, they've done stuff and they're gonna continue to get better. That's kind of how the season is. There's 162 games for a reason."

Jay also downplayed the meeting as "nothing big. Just reminding ourselves what we really can do. We all have each other's backs."

Prior to Sunday's game, Joe Maddon spoke about how he stands on the top step in the dugout every night to get a feel for his players.

And the Cubs manager noticed a difference in his team this weekend at Wrigley Field compared to the West Coast trip, citing a certain "believability" that has returned.

Hendricks has noticed the same thing.

"There has been a little mindset change," Hendricks said. "I don't know what to attribute it to, honestly. The guys kinda got together and talked amongst ourselves. Maybe it's just that team confidence that's back.

"Everybody's just a little bit more relaxed, focused on ourselves and what we're doing moreso than what's coming from the outside. It's just what we needed to get back to — playing our brand of baseball."

Joe Maddon is liking the look of Cubs 'backwards' lineup

Joe Maddon is liking the look of Cubs 'backwards' lineup

No matter how much people complain and Tweet, Joe Maddon will never go with a set lineup every game.

But that doesn't mean he won't let certain spots in the lineup settle in for a couple weeks in a row.

That's what may be occuring right now with Anthony Rizzo holding serve as the "Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All-Time" once again.

Rizzo made his 5th straight start atop the Cubs order Friday after collecting a pair of doubles and a walk in Thursday's 9-6 victory.

Initially, moving Rizzo from the heart of the order to the top was in part to help the Cubs first baseman get going. Maddon is a big fan of hitting guys leadoff to help them reset mentally and find their stroke again.

But it is working — Rizzo entered play Friday 8-for-16 with 5 doubles, 3 walks, 3 runs and 3 RBI in the leadoff spot over the last week. The promptly reached on a hit-by-pitch and walk his first two times up Friday.

He's also been the team's biggest cheerleader:

So how long will Maddon keep this unconventional lineup?

"I don't know," he said, smiling and shaking his head. "I don't know. He came up again in crucial moments [Thursday]. He looks really good out there. I don't know. That's my exact answer."

Yes, Rizzo is looking good in the leadoff spot, but his insertion atop the order has given the Cubs lineup a new dynamic. 

With Rizzo first and Kris Bryant second, the guys that are historically the Cubs' top two run producers are hitting atop the order and "behind" the pitcher's spot. 

But they're also the Cubs' top two on-base guys and Maddon is liking the look of Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist — two high-contact guys — following Bryzzo in the order, as they have done recently. (It doesn't hurt to have the NL leader in RBI — Javy Baez — hitting cleanup, either.)

"It's almost a backwards way of doing this right now that I'm finding fascinating," Maddon said. "So I'm just gonna let it play for just a little bit and see where it takes us."

It's taken the Cubs on a 4-game winning streak endcapping the All-Star Break, though the Cardinals got up big early Friday afternoon.

For a team that leads the NL in just about every important offensive category, it's going to be a huge key moving forward if Rizzo gets going on a consistent basis in the second half.

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

The Cubs didn't wait long to make Joe Maddon's words come true.

Roughly 5 hours after Maddon said the Cubs are definitely in the market for more pitching, the front office went out and acquired Jesse Chavez, a journeyman jack-of-all-trades type.

It's a minor move, not in the realm of Zach Britton or any of the other top relievers on the market.

But the Cubs only had to part with pitcher Class-A pitcher Tyler Thomas, their 7th-round draft pick from last summer who was pitching out of the South Bend rotation as a 22-year-old.

Chavez — who turns 35 in a month — brings over a vast array of big-league experience, with 799 innings under his belt. He's made 70 starts, 313 appearances as a reliever and even has 3 saves, including one this season for the Texas Rangers.

Chavez is currently 3-1 with a 3.51 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 50 strikeouts in 56.1 innings. He has a career 4.61 ERA and 1.38 WHIP while pitching for the Pirates, Braves, Royals, Blue Jays, A's, Dodgers, Angels and Rangers before coming to Chicago.

Of his 30 appearances this season, Chavez has worked multiple innings 18 times and can serve as a perfect right-handed swingman in the Cubs bullpen, filling the role previously occupied by Luke Farrell and Eddie Butler earlier in the season.

Chavez had a pretty solid run as a swingman in Oakland from 2013-15, making 47 starts and 50 appearances as a reliever, pitching to a 3.85 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 across 360.1 innings.

"Good arm, versatile, could start and relieve," Joe Maddon said Thursday after the trade. "I've watched him. I know he had some great runs with different teams. 

"The word that comes to mind is verstaility. You could either start him or put him in the bullpen and he's very good in both arenas."

It's not a flasy move, but a valuable piece to give the Cubs depth down the stretch.

There's no way the Cubs are done after this one trade with nearly two weeks left until the deadline. There are more moves coming from this front office, right?

"Oh yeah," Maddon said. "I don't think that's gonna be the end of it. They enjoy it too much."