Cubs

Joe Maddon has no choice but to ignore the noise and put his faith in young Cubs lineup: ‘If you want to freak out, freak out’

Joe Maddon has no choice but to ignore the noise and put his faith in young Cubs lineup: ‘If you want to freak out, freak out’

LOS ANGELES – A radio guy crammed into the manager’s office asked Joe Maddon what he would say to Cubs fans who might be freaking out at home.

“Oh, please, let them freak out,” Maddon said after Sunday’s 9-4 loss at Dodger Stadium. “If you want to freak out, freak out.”

After back-to-back shutouts and an emphatic three-game sweep that showed all the different ways the Dodgers can neutralize this lineup, Maddon has no choice but to block out the noise, trust all this young talent and believe in the players who delivered last October.   

Right around the time Theo Epstein was asked when the Cubs might consider sending Kyle Schwarber down to Triple-A Iowa, Ian Happ became the new shiny object for fans and the Chicago media.

In less than 200 at-bats, Schwarber went from World Series legend to dropping from the leadoff spot to being a platoon player to getting shipped away in a fantasy-baseball trade for pitching.

Unless the Cubs moved Javier Baez, because Gold Glove-caliber middle infielders on a 25-homer, 90-RBI pace just fall from trees. Not to mention someone already proven on the biggest stages as a National League Championship Series co-MVP and World Baseball Classic star.

[MORE: Dodgers sweep Cubs as Lester vs. Kershaw doesn't live up to expectations]

Even Happ is coming back down to earth as the league adjusts to him. The Cubs already played their top-prospect card for this season.

“The best I can do is talk to the player himself, which I’ve done with ‘Schwarbs,’” Maddon said. “That’s just the nature of the industry. That’s a part of it that makes it so much fun, too, for the fan, the fact that they can interact and throw out their conjecture like that.

“Internally, it has nothing to do with how we react to anything. And you have to talk to the player, because he’s always feeling these outside sources pressing down on him. He really shouldn’t, but they’re human beings.

“How do you prevent that from really infiltrating? It’s just conversation with the guys themselves. That’s about it. You ask the player to really not pay attention and listen to that.

“But, again, with all the tablets and the different sources available to follow what’s going on, it’s almost inevitable they’re going to hear or read something. So you got to stay positive with them. And we have to have that conversation with them to maintain their confidence.”

The Sunday lineup constructed to face Clayton Kershaw featured eight position players between the ages of 22 and 27: Baez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Happ, Jason Heyward, Willson Contreras, Addison Russell and Albert Almora Jr.

A team built around offensive firepower woke up that morning ranked eighth and ninth in the NL in runs scored (231) and OPS (.736). A .222 batting average with runners in scoring position placed the Cubs 15th out of the NL’s 15 teams. 

“The best explanation I can offer is that we’re hitting young,” Maddon said. “You look at the end of last season and how well a lot of the guys that are struggling right now performed under those circumstances. I believe we’re going to come back and do that.

“In the meantime, they need our support. They need our conversations, so nobody’s left in the dark or wondering what everybody’s thinking about around here. They need openness. And if you get that, they’ll come back.”

The Cubs have bigger problems, like an inconsistent rotation that has kept this team hovering around .500 and prevented any real sense of momentum. This is still largely the same group of hitters that beat Johnny Cueto, outlasted Madison Bumgarner, eliminated Kershaw and wore down Corey Kluber during last year’s World Series run.

“They’ll get it together,” Maddon said. “We haven’t even come close to hitting that real offensive ‘go’ moment. We haven’t been there and we’re still paddling pretty well. That moment’s coming.

“Whether it’s Happ making adjustments, Contreras making adjustments, Addison making adjustments, these guys were pretty good at the end of last season in some really difficult moments, so they’ll be back.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Is Kris Bryant the new Curt Flood?

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Is Kris Bryant the new Curt Flood?

This has been the offseason of Kris Bryant rumors and with his grievance still unresolved Cubs fans can only speculate what will happen to the MVP. Is Kris Bryant trying to change the system like Curt Flood did? Host David Kaplan is joined by ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers to discuss Bryant's future as a Cub, and the lackluster offseason the Cubs have had.

(1:50) - Why the Cubs have not made any moves so far

(3:32) - Is Kris Bryant the new Curt Flood?

(6:26) - Cubs need upgrades, specifically in the bullpen

(9:10) - Will the Cubs make a big move before the season starts?

(11:30) - Does Javy Baez get the big extension?

(14:45) - Will the Cubs get to 86 wins this year?

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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Cubs close to deal with free agent outfielder Steven Souza, per report

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USA TODAY

Cubs close to deal with free agent outfielder Steven Souza, per report

The Cubs have made a roster move.

According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, the Cubs are reportedly close to a deal with free agent outfielder Steven Souza.

Souza, 30, missed the 2019 season after suffering a torn left ACL and LCL at the end of spring training. He also missed a chunk of 2018, playing 72 games while hitting the injured list on multiple occasions.

Souza had a career year with the Rays in 2017, slashing .239/.351/.459 with 30 home runs, 78 RBIs and a 121 wRC+. Those figures were career-bests for Souza, minus his batting average. He sported a walk rate (13.6 percent) above league average (8.5) that season, though his strikeout rate (29 percent) was worse than the MLB average (23).

The signing of Souza likely rules out a return of fan favorite outfielder Nicholas Castellanos. The Cubs have been linked to Castellanos throughout the offseason, but since they're looking to stay under MLB’s luxury tax threshold, re-signing Castellanos would require some financial maneuvering.

Souza has spent most of his career in right field (3,608 career innings) but has minimal experience playing center (33 1/3) and left (20). He’s above average in right (career 6 Defensive Runs Saved) and posted a career best 7 DRS in 2017.

The Cubs have a five-time Gold Glove right fielder in Jason Heyward, so Souza will see time at all three outfield spots. Heyward moved to center full-time last season after the Cubs acquired Castellanos and has played center at times throughout his career.

Assuming he stays healthy, Souza is a low-risk, high-reward move for the Cubs. He’ll add power to the middle of the order and add a proven bat to an outfield with some question marks. Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ have each struggled offensively at times since 2018. Souza offers another bat in case those two slump again.