Cubs

Joe Maddon ready to unleash Justin Wilson out of Cubs bullpen built for October

Joe Maddon ready to unleash Justin Wilson out of Cubs bullpen built for October

Joe Maddon ended the World Series drought that lasted more than a century, made a dream come true for generations of Cubs fans and cemented his own Hall of Fame status – and still got hammered for the way he managed his bullpen last October into early November.

Think Maddon is pumped and already running through ways to deploy Justin Wilson and maximize the Cubs bullpen?

Maddon could never put up a “Help Wanted” sign in the dugout and send that negative message to the clubhouse. But during his media sessions over the weekend, the manager clearly laid out the reasons why Theo Epstein’s front office should add a big-time reliever before Monday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline in Chicago.

Alex Avila is the bonus from that deal with the Detroit Tigers: A respected veteran catcher with some left-handed pop (11 homers, .869 OPS this season) who can help prevent Willson Contreras from breaking down.

“Both of them add a lot of veteran presence to our already existing good group,” Maddon said at his charity golf event at Bryn Mawr Country Club in Lincolnwood. “This time of the year, when you add people like that – and the players in the clubhouse know that it’s going to make you better – it makes the vibe even greater than.”

As good as the bullpen has been so far this season – ranking second in the National League in ERA (3.34), batting average against (.212) and opponents’ OPS (.652) – the Cubs don’t have the same express lane to the postseason that they did last year.

That is when every moment is magnified and trusted relievers become even more valuable. Wilson notched 13 saves for the Tigers this year, putting up a 2.68 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP with 55 strikeouts in 40-plus innings, giving Maddon another option in front of All-Star closer Wade Davis.

This is Maddon’s ideal of neutrality, someone who can get out right-handed (.131 batting average) and left-handed hitters (.220) and has already made four playoff appearances with the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees.

“I’ve seen Wilson pitch in the American League – I’ve always liked his stuff. How could you not?” Maddon said. “When you get another guy like Justin, what it permits you to do is rotate the stock a little bit and not burn anybody out.”

[RELATED: Cubs loaded for another World Series run with Justin Wilson and Alex Avila]

To keep riding that momentum from a 13-3 run since the All-Star break, Maddon knows he will beat up the bullpen. Pedro Strop (46) and Carl Edwards Jr. (46) are already top-25 NL relievers in terms of appearances. Koji Uehara is 42 years old and has given up three homers in his last six appearances after allowing only one through his first 29.2 innings this season.

By this October, will Strop and Hector Rondon be in or out of Maddon’s circle of trust? Wilson will also become another left-handed look to go with Brian Duensing (2.47 ERA, 49 strikeouts, 10 walks in 43.2 innings) and Mike Montgomery (who got the last out in last year’s World Series).

“If you have multiple late-inning, high-leverage kind of dudes at the end of the game, then you don’t burn anybody’s candle out,” Maddon said. “You can’t do that, because we still have a couple months left – and then you have the postseason to follow – so you want to be careful with your guys.”

Wilson and Avila will arrive at Wrigley Field just in time for a six-game homestand that begins Tuesday night against two potential playoff opponents – the Arizona Diamondbacks and Washington Nationals – for a team that isn’t messing around and wants to win another World Series.

“We do enjoy this moment at this time of the year,” Maddon said. “I’ve said it a thousand times that situations like this should bring out the best in everybody – players, coaches, managers, organizations. I know our guys are going to love it.”

Cubs fight back after Javy Baez ejection: 'We're not animals'

Cubs fight back after Javy Baez ejection: 'We're not animals'

If baseball wants stars that transcend the game, they need guys like Javy Baez on the field MORE, not less.

That whole debate and baseball's marketing campaign isn't the issue the Cubs took exception with, but it's still a fair point on a nationally-televised Saturday night game between the Cubs and Cardinals at Wrigley Field.

Baez was ejected from the game in the bottom of the fifth inning when he threw his bat and helmet in frustration at home plate umpire Will Little's call that the Cubs second baseman did NOT check his swing and, in fact, went around. 

Baez was initially upset that Little made the call himself instead of deferring to first base umpire Ted Barrett for a better view. But as things escalated, Baez threw his bat and helmet and was promptly thrown out of the game by Little.

"I don't think I said anything to disrespect anything or anyone," Baez said after the Cubs' 6-3 loss. "It was a pretty close call. I only asked for him to check the umpire at first and he didn't say anything.

"I threw my helmet and he just threw me out from there. I mean, no reason. I guess for my helmet, but that doesn't have anything to do with him."

Baez and the Cubs would've rather Little check with the umpire who had a better view down the line, but that wasn't even the main point of contention. It was how quickly Little escalated to ejection.

"We're all human," Baez said. "One way or the other, it was gonna be the wrong [call] for one of the teams.

"My message? We're not animals. Sometimes we ask where was a pitch or if it was a strike and it's not always offending them. I think we can talk things out. But I don't think there was anything there to be ejected."

Upon seeing his second baseman and cleanup hitter ejected in the middle of a 1-0 game against a division rival, Joe Maddon immediately got fired up and in Little's face in a hurry.

Maddon was later ejected, as well, and admitted after the game he was never going to leave the field unless he was tossed for protecting his guy.

"He had no reason to kick him out," Maddon said. "He didn't say anything to him. I mean, I watched the video. If you throw stuff, that's a fine. That's fineable. Fine him. That's what I said — fine him — but you cannot kick him out right there.

"He did nothing to be kicked out of that game. He did throw his stuff, whatever, but he did not say anything derogatory towards the umpire.

"...You don't kick Javy out. If he gets in your face and is obnoxious or belligerent or whatever, but he did not. He turned his back to him. That needs to be addressed, on both ends."

Maddon and the Cubs really want Major League Baseball to get involved in this situation. 

There are many other layers to the issue, including veteran Ben Zobrist having to come into the game as Baez's replacement. Maddon was not keen on using the 37-year-old Zobrist for 1.5 games during Saturday's doubleheader and now feels like he has to rest the veteran Sunday to lessen the wear and tear of a difficult stretch for the team.

There's also the matter of the groundball basehit in the eighth inning that tied the game — a seeing-eye single that just got past Zobrist as he dove to his left. It tied the game at 3 and the Cardinals took the lead for good the following inning.

Does Baez make that same play if he were out there instead of Zobrist? It's certainly possible.

"The dynamic of our defense was lessened by [the ejection]," Maddon said. "Again, listen, if it's deserved, I'm good. It was not. They don't need me out there, we need Javy out there.

"And it surprised me. I stand by what I'm saying. It was inappropriate. MLB needs to say something to us that it was inappropriate because it was and it could've led to the loss of that game."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 37th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 37th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa's 37th homer of the 1998 season was a big one, an opposite field blast off the front row of fans in right field and into the basket at Wrigley Field.

The eighth-inning 3-run shot gave the Cubs some insurance in a game they ultimately won 9-5 and the Wrigley faithful responded by throwing a bunch of trash on the field.

Earlier in the contest, Sosa tied the game with an RBI single in the fifth inning. He finished with 4 RBI, giving him 93 on the season with more than 2 months left to play.

Fun fact: Vladimir Guerrero was the Expos' No. 3 hitter for this game an dhe also hit a homer (his 20th). Now, Guerrero's son is nearing his MLB debut as a top prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays system.

Fun fact No. 2: Mark Grudzielanek - who later played for the Cubs in 2003-04 - was Montreal's No. 5 hitter for the game at Wrigley. He was traded 10 days later from the Expos to the Los Angeles Dodgers for another fellow Cub - Ted Lilly.