Cubs

Joe Maddon has built a Cubs bullpen that plays in October

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Joe Maddon has built a Cubs bullpen that plays in October

The only real sense of panic in the Cubs' bullpen these days comes when the phone rings and they can't hear what name is being called on.

Apparently there's some issues deciphering between "Rodney" (Fernando Rodney) and "Ronnie" (Hector Rondon).

That's about as high stress as it gets down in a bullpen that can be seen joking around with fans or stomping around and clapping when Starlin Castro's walk-up song comes on.

"I think a lot of it is just, there's no pressure on anybody because there's so much depth," said Trevor Cahill, who got the win in the NLDS-clinching Game 4 after pitching the sixth inning. "There's not really roles in the bullpen.

"[The fourth inning] is just as important as the eighth or ninth. [Manager Joe Maddon] realizes that and he knows the game is decided every inning, not just the eighth or ninth."

[MORE - Twitter reacts to Cubs' NLDS win over Cardinals]

Cahill talked a lot about Justin Grimm's performance in the fourth inning, crediting the Cubs "mid-innings closer" (as Maddon tabbed Grimm earlier in the season) with saving the game for the team. Grimm entered after a leadoff walk by Jason Hammel and the first batter immediately reached on an error by third baseman Kris Bryant.

But Grimm buckled down and struck out the next three batters in succession, pumping his fist and setting the tone for the bullpen.

Maddon emptied out his entire bullpen, utilizing seven relievers to shut down the Cardinals for six innings. They allowed two runs on five hits and a walk, striking out 13 batters.

"The bullpen was fabulous," Maddon said. "Grimmer really set the tone. ... From the beginning to the end, the bullpen was fabulous."

In the four-game series with the Cardinals, the Cubs relief corps boasted a 3.14 ERA, racking up 21 strikeouts to only one walk in 14.1 innings while picking up two wins, eight holds and a pair of saves.

[RELATED - Cubs finish Cardinals with Javier Baez starring in Addison Russell's absence]

How have they been able to find such success?

Well, one of Maddon's favorite phrases - "Do simple better" - has come into play.

"We try to be simple," Rondon said. "When we come into the game, we try to make a pitch. We don't try to do too much.

"I know the adrenaline gets ramped up, but we still have to make those pitches. We did a really good job today."

Maddon has spent all year building this "egoless" bullpen, not assigning any true roles to anybody and even moving Rondon (who finished the regular season with a 1.67 ERA and 30 saves) out of the unofficial closer's role at one point early in the season.

"We never know [when we are gonna go in] and I think that helps us," Cahill said. "Nobody's too relaxed. We're always good to go. We're always loose and stretched out.

"Guys say they like the routine or roles or whatever, but other than Ronnie, we just go out there and we're ready to go whenever the phone rings."

Maddon has been putting his guys in situations all year to prepare them for the playoffs, cranking the intensity up in moments like the series against the San Francisco Giants Aug. 9 when Rondon loaded the bases with nobody out and struck out the next three hitters to close out a four-game sweep.

"We absolutely learned from [situations like that]," Rondon said. "That helped us to be better and to learn to control ourselves."

[NBC SHOP: Buy Cubs playoff gear]

The crazy thing about the Cubs bullpen is how it was constructed. Only Grimm, Pedro Strop and Rondon began the season in the bullpen.

Travis Wood started the year in the rotation while the other three - Clayton Richard, Rodney and Cahill - were all designated for assignment by other MLB teams.

The Cubs picked them up off the scrap heap and formed a bullpen that plays in October.

"It does say a lot, the fact that you sometimes have to look underneath some stones, turn them over and see what's underneath there," Maddon said. "You have to research a little bit more deeply and find out."

After all, who thought two months ago that Cahill would be getting the win and Richard and Rodney would garner holds in the game that clinched the NLDS for the Cubs?

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

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USA TODAY

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.