Cubs

Imagine the possibilities if Cubs hire Maddux

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Imagine the possibilities if Cubs hire Maddux

Mike Maddux had everyone laughing with his one-liners, and silent when he cut short questions about why he didnt interview in Boston. It sounded like hed have to think about it if he was offered the job.

But most of all, Maddux had an edge that would serve him well if he becomes the next Cubs manager. That presence seemed to keep open the long-shot possibilities that his brother Greg could join the staff and that Carlos Zambrano might be saved.

The Rangers pitching coach met with Cubs executives for roughly four hours on Tuesday night, and continued interviewing on Wednesday at Wrigley Field. They discussed what role his brother could play in the organization, though Maddux declined to elaborate, calling it a private family matter.

Theres a lot of dynamics in every decision we make, and family not only extends to my wife and my daughters, but also my brother and his family.

Maddux and Nolan Ryan pushed their pitchers in Texas, an old-school philosophy that led the Rangers to the World Series twice in the past two years. So how would you handle Zambrano?

I heard hes a big teddy bear, Maddux said, so might pick him up and just burp him.

Those 18 minutes inside the PNC Club were far more entertaining than anything Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin or Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum gave us during their media sessions.

No one knew what Theo Epstein or Jed Hoyer thought of the performance, because the Cubs executives left the room as soon as it was over, unavailable for comment. Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. will interview on Friday at Wrigley Field.

Maddux almost sounded like Zambranos agent, talking up the enigmatic pitcher who could use a fresh start elsewhere. This was more of a hypothetical question hoping to get a headline. But by hiring an expert, the Cubs could reinvent their pitching staff, with or without their 91.5 million man.

I saw Carlos Zambrano from across the field seven, eight years ago, Maddux said, and he was the best thing since sliced bread. Hed beat you on the mound. Hed beat you at the plate. Hed beat you on the field.

Total package, great competitor. He was the best pitcher in the National League, and thats what I have in my mind about him. Ive seen him dominate.

In Maddux, the Cubs would be getting a strong voice to say buy or sell on any pitcher, someone who could find internal solutions and shape the vision for an entire organization.

It takes no talent to be in shape that takes desire, Maddux said. Your window of opportunity is short, man. So if youre going to be out of shape and not give yourself every opportunity to be the best that you can be, well, shame on you, because you only get one crack at it.

That message could resonate with Epstein, who recently had to answer questions about the culture of fried chicken and beer in the Red Sox clubhouse. Either way, the Cubs will have to upgrade their rotation this winter. Among the qualities Maddux would look for in a pitching coach: Somebody who could put up with my second-guessing.

Maddux prepared for the interview by getting background information from his brother, who worked as a special assistant to Jim Hendry before the general manager was fired last summer. Family considerations could prevent the future Hall of Famer from taking on a full-time role.

Family concerns also forced Maddux, 50, to withdraw from the Red Sox managerial search this week, but he would not go into details: Were not in Boston right now, so talk about Chicago.

When Maddux was done playing in 2000 after 15 seasons, his two daughters were eight and 10 years old. They all moved to Wisconsin for his six seasons as Brewers pitching coach through 2008. His older daughter moved with him for college when he took the job with the Rangers, while his wife and other daughter stayed back. They all reunited last summer in Texas.

Thats pretty special, Maddux said. There does come a time (when) you got to stop and smell the roses and it was a pretty big gut check for me this year being with my family. The situation is nice both my kids are in school down there. (So) there are a lot of tough decisions that would have to be made.

Maddux seems willing to listen. All these years, he never stopped to analyze why the Cubs have gone more than a century without a World Series title. He might have to start coming up with some theories soon.

When I was with the opposition, I did everything I could to keep the Cubs from winning, Maddux said. I despised the song Go Cubs Go after theyd kick our butts. But Ive always admired this town. Its a very, very unique setup, very historic. And whoever becomes the manager of this ballclub is in a good spot.

Some perspective on Pedro Strop's tough outing and struggles

Some perspective on Pedro Strop's tough outing and struggles

Pedro Strop has had a tough go of it lately, but that doesn't mean it's time to panic on one of the most consistent relievers in Cubs history.

After blowing the game Monday night in San Francisco — his third blown save of the month — Strop now has a 5.47 ERA on the year and an 8.22 mark in July alone. In fact, nearly half the runs he's allowed in 2019 have come this month — 7 of 16.

But Strop has been pitching better than his ERA indicates — his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is nearly a full run lower than his ERA this season. His strikeout rate (27.4 percent) and walk rate (8.5 percent) are the lowest they've been since 2016. 

That being said, the 34-year-old has also seen a precipitous spike in hard contact rate and his soft contact percentage is way down. He's been plagued by the home run ball this year more than ever before, serving up 1.7 dingers per 9 innings, the highest rate of his career (though the same can be said for many pitchers this season).

So Strop clearly hasn't been his typical dominant self this year, but he also deserves a better fate than he's had to this point in the season.

Take Monday night, for example. 

Strop came on to pitch the eighth inning of a game the Cubs were leading 4-2 and promptly gave up a leadoff double to Pablo Sandoval. On paper, that's obviously not a great start, but look at where this pitch was when the Giants third baseman hit it:

Strop followed that by striking out Stephen Vogt before executing a nice pitch to Brandon Crawford and inducing a groundball...only to see it sneak through the infield for an RBI hit:

Then came a groundout before Austin Slater's game-tying double that came just inches away from Albert Almora Jr.'s glove in center field. 

The final blow was the go-ahead double by Joe Panik...on a ball that was higher than Strop would've liked it, but still not a bad pitch off the plate outside:

These are not bad pitches; it's not like Strop was leaving the ball over the heart of the plate all inning.

How's this for bad luck — the Sandoval double was pegged for just a .070 expected batting average. 

Crawford's single was hit at 89.7 mph and had an expected batting average of .360. By comparison, Kyle Schwarber hit a grounder in the top of the inning at 102.9 mph with an expected batting average of .630 and it was an out. It was simply a matter of Crawford's ball finding a hole while Schwarber hit his right at a defender. 

No matter which way you slice it, this was a tough luck outing for the veteran setup man. 

But bad luck or not, Strop still hasn't been getting the consistent results the Cubs need in crucial innings of a tight playoff race, so it's understandable manager Joe Maddon was asked about the bullpen usage on his weekly appearance with 670 The Score Tuesday afternoon:

"When Pedro's in the game, I really feel good about it," Maddon said. "We all do. I think last night, it was more about pitch selection than it was necessarily about stuff. He was one pitch away from getting out of that thing. 

"If you replay and look at it, you see the hit by Sandoval — that ball literally almost bounced. It really did and it almost hit his back foot. I don't know how he kept that ball fair, but he did. Good for him. And then Crawford hits a slow ground ball up the middle that gets between two guys that are outstanding infielders and that's a hit."

Maddon went on to say the last hit — Panik's double — was the more concerning one because it was a sinker that just didn't drop enough. Maddon said he'd rather see Strop go to his wicked slider in that situation than lean on a pitch (the sinker/fastball) that has seen a dip in velocity and value this season.

"I don't think Pedro's that far off," Maddon said. "Maybe the velocity's down a little bit more than anything. To utilize his cutter/slider and really get that to where he wants it — those are the devastating pitches. So that was my bigger concern last night."

Moving forward, it doesn't sound as if Maddon will shy away from utilizing Strop in high-leverage situations again, but the Cubs also have the luxury of a pretty deep bullpen where they could utilize some other arms (Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler) to pitch the eighth inning and help bridge the gap to closer Craig Kimbrel.

Strop is 34 now and has dealt with some health issues over the last calendar year, but he has such a long track record of success that it wouldn't be surprising to see him once again emerge as a lights-out reliever before the season ends.

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Cubs lead Bears, Bulls on Forbes' Most Valuable Sports Teams 2019 list

Cubs lead Bears, Bulls on Forbes' Most Valuable Sports Teams 2019 list

The Chicago Cubs tied the Washington Redskins for 14th on Forbes' Most Valuable Sports Teams 2019 list with a $3.1 billion valuation. The Cubs' valuation grew by 7% year over year.

The Cubs are the fourth-most valuable franchise in MLB behind the Yankees ($4.1B), the Dodgers ($3.3B) and the Red Sox ($3.2B). Only seven MLB teams made the Top 50.

Two other Chicago teams, the Bears and the Bulls, are tied for 19th on the list with a value of $2.9 billion. The Bears' value grew just 2% while the Bulls' valuation grew by 12% year over year.

The rise of the pro sports teams valued over $2 billion has been pretty meteoric over the past decade. In 2012, only Manchester United was valued over $2 billion and in 2019 that number has risen to 52.

In 2012, only the Knicks and Lakers made the Top 50 list but in 2019 the Bulls are one of nine teams to earn a spot. The Bulls were the fourth-most valuable NBA franchise in 2019 behind the Knicks ($4B), Lakers ($3.7B) and Warriors ($3.5B).

Forbes credits the NBA's international prospects and worldwide revenue growth for the league's rise in the list.

No NHL teams made the list, the New York Rangers were the most-valued hockey team at $1.55 billion, 72nd highest.