Cubs

Joe Maddon's up-and-down roller coaster with Cubs: 'I'm enjoying it in a perverse way'

Joe Maddon's up-and-down roller coaster with Cubs: 'I'm enjoying it in a perverse way'

Every morning, Joe Maddon tries to block out 20 minutes for meditation, making the room as dark as possible, laying down in bed with a pillow on top of his face and focusing on slowing things down.

Zen doesn’t come easily for Cubs managers. But Maddon has too many outside interests to be consumed by this up-and-down start, sitting down with Charlie Rose last week in New York and showing a “Dateline” crew around his blue-collar hometown in Pennsylvania.

Maddon has perspective at the age of 63, the job security from a long-term contract that will pay him $6 million this season and the World Series ring that should silence any second-guessers.

So what if the Cubs haven’t run away from the rest of the National League Central?

“I’m enjoying it in a perverse way,” Maddon said. “Of course, I’d rather we be 10 games up, but I’m good with what’s going on right now, because it is challenging, and every year presents differently.”

Then Maddon should take sick pleasure in this: After Wednesday afternoon’s 3-2 loss to the San Diego Padres, the Cubs won’t play again at Wrigley Field until the Fourth of July.

This 11-game road trip through Miami, Washington and Cincinnati could be a playoff preview (Dusty Baker’s Nationals), a revealing window into how aggressive Theo Epstein’s front office should be at the trade deadline or more of the same with a 36-35 team.

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“Right now, there’s been a lot of micro stuff, injury-wise, going on,” Maddon said, “nothing horrible, but guys being banged up a little bit. And then you’re trying to situate a lot of youth, giving them more opportunity to play.

“Ian Happ is just showing up. (Albert) Almora is still trying to create his everyday chops here in the big leagues. (Kyle) Schwarber’s been struggling. A lot of youth that you’re trying to get really involved.”

In a game where a strained right foreman forced Miguel Diaz to leave in the third inning, the Cubs generated all their offense with one swing — Happ’s two-run homer into the right-center field bleachers. Otherwise, what can be an all-or-nothing lineup went 1-for-27 against a 29-44 Padres team.

The day after Mike Montgomery shut down the Padres through six scoreless innings, Eddie Butler couldn’t get one out in the fifth, another bad sign for a rotation that doesn’t know when Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks (right hand tendinitis) will be able to come off the disabled list.

All this day-to-day stress might finally break a strong bullpen, with reliable veteran Koji Uehara forcing in the go-ahead run with a two-out, bases-loaded walk in the eighth inning.

What do you see when you close your eyes and think about the Cubs? The group that made history last year or the team that can be hard to watch this season?

“It’s a different method this year, there’s no doubt about it,” Maddon said. “I think primarily — I’ve talked about it from the beginning — it’s the inexperience of a lot of the players that I’m aware of and how it plays on a daily basis. The youthful mistake will show up, and you have to teach through it and eventually hope that it would go away.

“It is challenging, but I am kind of enjoying it.”

Willson Contreras commissions heart-warming painting commemorating his relationship with Joe Maddon

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USA Today

Willson Contreras commissions heart-warming painting commemorating his relationship with Joe Maddon

Joe Maddon’s time with the Cubs may be over, but the memories made in his five years on the North Side will live on in Chicago sports lore forever. No matter how frustratingly his tenure may have ended, the outpouring of support and appreciation from management, fans and players alike throughout the process of Maddon’s departure are evidence of that.

“I love him like a dad,” Anthony Rizzo said

“I personally never could have imagined having such a wonderful partner,” Theo Epstein later added, standing beside Maddon as they delivered joint reflections on the end of the era.

Maddon touched the lives of so many within the organization and without in his time with the Cubs, but not many more so than catcher Willson Contreras, who burst onto the scene as one of the best young sluggers in baseball under Maddon’s guidance. Maddon — a catcher himself in his short time as a player — never shied away from criticizing Contreras in times he thought it earned, but it’s clear that the two forged a real bond over the last four years. 

Sunday afternoon, artist Austin Ploch revealed that Contreras reached out to him shortly after the end of the 2019 season to commission this heart-warming piece, commemorating the mutual respect and adoration between mentor and pupil:

The painting is derived from a photo of the two that Contreras posted to his Instagram account after it was officially announced that Maddon would not return as the Cubs manager:

Ploch has commissioned work for Contreras before, but now Willson will have a tangible memento to remember his first manager (along with his 2016 World Series ring). We’re not crying, you’re crying.

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Cubs to reportedly conduct second interview with Joe Espada for managerial opening

Cubs to reportedly conduct second interview with Joe Espada for managerial opening

Astros bench coach Joe Espada has two days off before Houston hosts Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday, but it looks like some of that time will be spent in Chicago.

According to multiple reports, the Cubs will interview Espada a second time for their managerial opening. MLB Network's Jon Heyman reports that the interview is happening on Sunday.

Espada is one of the more sought after managerial candidates this offseason, as he's spent the last six seasons with two of baseball's leading franchises. The 44-year-old has been Astros bench coach since 2018, and prior to that, he spent four seasons with the Yankees — 2014 as a front office assistant, 2015-17 as third base coach.

David Ross was the presumed favorite for the Cubs' opening, when the process got underway. However, by landing a second interview, Espada has clearly given the team something to think about. In fact, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan reported on Thursday the Cubs came away "exceptionally impressed" from Espada's first interview on Monday. 

MLB prefers teams not to make managerial announcements during the World Series. So, it might be a few more weeks before the Cubs announce their decision, unless they do so on Sunday or Monday.

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