Cubs

Joe Maddon defends Jorge Soler’s hustle as Cubs try to get back to normal in World Series

Joe Maddon defends Jorge Soler’s hustle as Cubs try to get back to normal in World Series

Instead of simply crediting the Cleveland Indians for another high-wire victory in October, the blame game can also go in so many different directions after a 1-0 playoff loss: What if Jorge Soler sprinted out of the batter’s box?

That’s not a hypothetical question Cubs manager Joe Maddon spent a lot of time thinking about after Cleveland’s Lonnie Chisenhall jumped and misjudged the flyball Soler drove into right field on Friday night at Wrigley Field. Soler – a player with a history of leg injuries throughout his career – didn’t wind up with a fluky inside-the-park home run but still ran hard enough to get a triple.

“Honestly, I heard about that – I was kind of surprised by it,” Maddon said Saturday. “What happens sometimes – and I think this is what I saw – is you’ll see a guy hit a ball and their head’s down. They don’t even know where it is.

“I think when he saw it from our perspective, it was in the stands, and it kind of blew back. So I’m not trying to make excuses for him. I’m just saying the best he could have done was get to third base, anyway.

“Nothing else was going to happen beyond that. I’m glad he got to third. If he had gotten to second, that would have been a problem.”

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These issues are much bigger than just Soler, the Cubs going 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position in Game 3, getting shut out for the fourth time in eight playoff games and maybe feeling anxious during the franchise’s first World Series event in Wrigleyville in 71 years.

Soler accounted for two of the team’s five hits against a dynamic Cleveland pitching staff that already eliminated the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, two teams built around explosive offense. 

With John Lackey going up against Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber in Game 4, Maddon went with a defense-first lineup, putting Soler on the bench, starting Gold Glover Jason Heyward in right field and hoping the Cubs will slow down mentally and play their game again.  

“I thought that once we got here there would be no issues regarding how we would approach the day,” Maddon said. “(But) I’m not 24. So when a guy walks into the ballpark or drives to the ballpark and sees this increased whatever – just the magnitude of everything – it could have been a little bit unsettling. I didn’t read that among our guys. But I’m not naïve enough to say that it’s not possible.” 

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

The Cubs and Braves got through roughly one inning of Stranger Things Night at Wrigley Field before Willson Contreras made the evening his own. 

The catcher went 2-4 with three RBI, and provided the most notable moment from the game: a 2nd inning solo homer that caused both benches to clear. Contreras had taken issue with a few of the called strikes earlier in the at-bat, and said something to home plate umpire John Tumpane about it. Contreras continued to make his feelings known as he left the box, drawing the ire of Braves catcher Tyler Flowers.

“To be honest, those pitches weren’t even close to the strike zone,” he said. “[Flowers] got mad because I was talking to the umpire about that, and he jumped into the conversation. 

Contreras then proceeded to shout in the direction of Atlanta’s dugout while rounding first base, and the two catchers exchanged more words as he crossed home plate. The benches quickly emptied, and after a few moments of posturing, returned to their dugouts. 

“It was a lot of emotions together,” he said after the game. “I was having a conversation with the umpire, and it ended up with [Flowers], so that’s all I can say. I just basically told him to do his job and I’ll do mine. I don’t know why he got pissed off because that’s all I said - you do your job and i’ll do mine.”

“I was kind of amused by the whole thing,” Joe Maddon added. “I don’t really know Mr. Flowers - we had a nice conversation, walked away, and it was over. It really wasn’t worth more than what happened.

The confrontation was just one of a few testy moments between these two teams. In the top of the 2nd inning, Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson was caught on cameras shushing the Cubs dugout: 

Two innings later, it was Javy Baez who returned serve by blowing the Braves a kiss after stealing second on Flowers: 

“It’s fun because they’re good,” Maddon said. “And we’re good - that’s the fun part. Monday night, at 7:05, to have that kind of attitude and atmosphere is outstanding. That’s what baseball needs.” 

On the mound, Jon Lester bounced back from a run of three straight underwhelming performances. June hasn’t been kind to Lester, as the lefty had allowed 14 runs over the last 23 IPs prior to Monday’s start, good for a 5.93 FIP. He threw 94 pitches against the Braves, lasting six innings while allowing two runs -- both unearned, though -- and striking out seven. He only threw 94 pitches, but his control (0 BB) was excellent. Lester spotted his strikeout pitch well all night, getting four of his six right-handed K’s on the low outside corner:

“I just tried to stay down there, and had the backdoor cutter to those guys,” Lester said. “We were able to kind of exploit that, and then when we felt that guys were reaching out there a little bit, I ran the cutter in on some guys too. I was just able to command both sides of the plate tonight, which is huge against an offense like that.” 

“Great job by Jon,” Maddon added, “Jon had great stuff. Coming off of [throwing 114 pitches], he’s been throwing a lot of pitches on regular rest, so I wanted to limit that tonight. He was lobbying to go back out, but I didn’t feel good about it based on the longevity of the season and we had a rested Kintzler.

“But Jon was really good, and really good against a tough lineup.”

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night

Ozzie Guillen and Doug Glanville join Leila Rahimi to talk all things Chicago baseball as the Cubs take on the Braves and the White Sox look to get a win in Boston.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below: