Cubs

Joe Maddon promises Cubs will party hard once playoff spot is clinched

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Joe Maddon promises Cubs will party hard once playoff spot is clinched

Joe Maddon established the freewheeling atmosphere around this team during his first press conference at The Cubby Bear, a Wrigleyville bar opposite the iconic marquee. The shot-and-a-beer manager offered to buy the first round last November.

Almost 11 months later, the Cubs are on the verge of clinching the playoff spot Maddon talked about during his media blitz. A team that already leads the league in zoo animals had its magic number move to two even with Wednesday night’s 4-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field.

But it’s only a matter of time — a combination of Cubs’ wins and San Francisco Giants’ losses — even if Maddon said during his pregame media session that he didn’t know the magic number at that point.

Publicly, Maddon doesn’t want to give up the long-shot hopes of catching the St. Louis Cardinals, though the Cubs are seven games back in the National League Central with an elimination number of four.

[MORE CUBS: Kris Bryant proves he's even better than the hype]

And the Cubs still want to chase down the Pittsburgh Pirates for home-field advantage in the wild-card game. It will be another huge series this weekend at Wrigley Field, with the Pirates lining up Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett.

But that doesn’t mean the Cubs will act like they’ve been there before or downplay the celebration once they clinch the second wild-card spot.

“As big as it could possibly be,” Maddon said. “You celebrate achievement all the time. So I love the fact that we celebrate every night. It has this bonding effect among the group. And then when you go beyond that, celebrate just a little bit harder.”

The Cubs already blow it out after every win, chanting and dancing to loud music. There’s a fog machine and DJ lighting in the home clubhouse at Wrigley Field.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs silenced by Zach Davies, can't complete sweep of Brewers]

“It could go longer,” Maddon said. “We have like constraints in a sense. We got to get home. We got a game the next day.”

“I don’t know how much bigger it can get,” pitcher Kyle Hendricks said. “But I guess there’s always room for improvement in anything.”

With 89 wins and the third-best record in the majors, the Cubs aren’t going to change now.

“Listen, the word ‘party’ has taken on a negative connotation in our country these days,” Maddon said. “It’s really bumming me out. There’s nothing wrong with having a good party.

“So if you have an opportunity to have a good party, go out and have one. All right? It’s OK to have a good time.”

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.