Joe Maddon manages like Cubs are already in playoffs


Joe Maddon manages like Cubs are already in playoffs

Joe Maddon managed like the Cubs are already in the playoffs.

After so many years of talking about the future, the Cubs are in the moment now, a reflection of their Zen manager, a rookie-heavy lineup and a pitching staff that’s being conditioned for October.

Maddon followed his killer instinct in Thursday night’s 5-4 win over the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field, yanking Jason Hammel with no outs in the fifth inning and using five different relievers to beat the defending World Series champs.

With that sense of urgency, the Cubs (59-48) moved into the second wild-card position, a half-game ahead of the Giants (59-49), passing the first test in what will be a difficult four-game series. 

“We did not want to let it slip away tonight,” Maddon said.

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Maddon had already watched the Giants chip away at a 5-0 deficit with Brandon Belt’s two-run homer in the fourth inning. Maddon had seen enough after Hammel walked back-to-back Giants on nine pitches and signaled for Justin Grimm.

“I did not want to let them back into that game right there,” Maddon said. “It’s been my experience when you get (to) the playoffs, there’s some really, really great work done in the fifth, sixth and seventh inning by relievers that never get any credit for it. 

“As we get into this particular juncture of the season, you don’t want to just give anything away, especially when you have a lead like that.”

The Giants built their dynasty on pitching, defense and clutch hitting, winning three World Series titles and 34 playoff games since 2010. Their underrated farm system keeps producing talent while manager Bruce Bochy adds to his Hall of Fame resume.

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“They’re a very experienced team,” Maddon said. “You could feel or sense that they were feeling pretty good about where they were at. I thought we had to do something differently, just based on (how) I thought ‘Hammer’ had great velocity and stuff, but the command was not there tonight.”

Hammel looked visibly frustrated while walking off the mound after only 76 pitches and requested to speak with Maddon after the game.

Did you understand the decision?

“Yes and no,” Hammel said. “I felt like I had earned the right to get out of that situation. It is what it is. He leveled with me and we’re on the same page.  

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“I understand the magnitude of the situation and I don’t want to make a big deal of it. Obviously, as a competitor, I want to be out there cleaning up my own mess.”

Hammel is a good clubhouse guy who played on Maddon’s 2008 Tampa Bay Rays team that reached the World Series. Hammel is enjoying another good season on the North Side (6-5, 3.17 ERA, 120 strikeouts in 122 innings) and said he felt great physically after dealing with a hamstring issue last month.  

“It’s not a lack of confidence by any means,” Maddon said. “It’s just the moment. Every game has its own unique characteristics. If we didn’t have that rested of a bullpen, I probably would have chosen to do something differently.”

Maddon didn’t want to waste the 5-0 lead the Cubs built up with Jorge Soler’s two-out, two-run, line-drive single into left field in the first inning and Kyle Schwarber’s first career home run at Wrigley Field, a three-run bomb in the second.

The bullpen took it from there, with Grimm, Jason Motte, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon (17th save) combining to allow zero hits in four scoreless innings. (Tommy Hunter – the hard-throwing reliever the Cubs acquired from the Baltimore Orioles at the trade deadline – gave up a two-run homer to Brandon Crawford in the sixth inning.)   

“The bottom line is we won the ballgame,” Hammel said.

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening


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.