Cubs

Maddon blows up at Cardinals: 'We're not going to put up with that'

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Maddon blows up at Cardinals: 'We're not going to put up with that'

Joe Maddon was just itching for a reporter to ask him about Anthony Rizzo's hit-by-pitch in the seventh inning.

The Cubs manager was all prepared and used the platform with media and a half-dozen TV cameras to send the Cardinals a message: "We're not going to put up with that."

When Cardinals slugger Matt Holliday pinch-hit in the fifth inning, he took a pitch in the helmet from Cubs pitcher Dan Haren, who insisted over and over that it was an accident. After all, the Cubs were only winning 3-2 at the time and the tying run was already on second base.

The Cardinals retaliated by plunking Rizzo in the seventh, and pitcher Matt Belisle and St. Louis manager Mike Matheny were both ejected.

"I'm really disappointed in what the Cardinals did right there," Maddon said. "Absolutely. We did not hit their guy on purpose at all. It was an absolute mistake; there was no malicious intent on Dan Haren's part. None.

"So to become this vigilante group that all of a sudden wants to get their own pound of flesh, that's absolutely insane, ridiculous and wrong. We don't start stuff, but we will stop stuff."

Maddon went on to say that his team plans on stealing bases late in blowout games against the Cardinals if they refuse to hold runners on the bases.

Maddon cited a desire to score more runs and ensure important relievers like Hector Rondon can just get a rest and not have to worry about warming up.

[MORE: Heads up: The Cubs are coming after the Cardinals]

"I never read this book the Cardinals have written on how to play baseball," Maddon said. "That particular book that you guys got was written right around the turn of the last century. Like 1900, when it took several singles to score runs as opposed to one big guy coming up to hit a home run.

"So that all has changed. You can take that book and you can read it yourself. 'Cause I don't give a crap about that book. I want everybody there to understand that. We don't start stuff, but we stop stuff."

Maddon is known for his mild temper and positive, patient nature. It's a major reason why the Cubs thought he'd be a perfect fit on a young team getting their first taste of winning at the big-league level.

Friday's postgame press conference was probably the most fired up Maddon has been all season.

He refused to believe Belisle's pitch may have been an accident.

"Of course not. That is ridiculous," Maddon said. "I don't want to hear that. I don't want to hear about pitching inside. I don't want to hear any of that crap.

"The pitch [Haren] hit their guy with was an absolute mistake. It was awful. We all hated it in the dugout. I'm happy that he's fine, absolutely, but you don't do that under those circumstances.

"We don't start stuff, but we finish stuff."

That one-liner will probably end up on a T-shirt in the Cubs clubhouse before the homestand is over.

When Rizzo was hit, he started walking toward the mound slowly, but other than that, there was no altercation between the two teams or any players. Maddon stayed at his perch on the top step of the Cubs' dugout.

[RELATED: Redemption: Starlin Castro has game of his life as Cubs beat Cards]

Maddon mentioned he didn't have any personal history with the Cardinals organization prior to Friday, but ask him again in a week.

"I don't know who put out the hit - I don't know if Tony Soprano was in the dugout; I didn't see him in there," Maddon said. "We're not gonna put up with that from them or anybody else.

"I didn't cause a ruckus out there because I have a lot of respect for the umpire crew that was out there. I thought they did a great job. ... I just want people to know just because we didn't go out there in that particular moment is not a sign of weakness. We didn't go out there out of respect to the umpires."

Haren came up in the Cardinals organization and said he expected there to be retaliation, to the point where he even apologized to Rizzo right after the fifth inning in case the Cardinals went after him.

Haren talked about how it was ingrained in their minds in the Cardinals organization to protect the big guys - like Holliday or Albert Pujols - when they were hit.

"They've been known for doing these types of things and policing it that way," Haren said. "Sometimes they take it to a little bit of an extreme, but you just hope that they know it wasn't on purpose. I don't know if they do [know].

"They were yelling at me pretty good from the dugout. I didn't know what to say; did they want me to say 'I'm sorry'?"

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry didn't need much of a spark now that the Cubs are competitive and coming after the Cardinals in the divisional race.

But this will be an added point of contention between the two teams for at least the rest of this season.

With emotions running high, it's fair to ask: Is the beanball done for the weekend?

"I think it's up to them," Haren said. "I certainly don't think anyone on our side is going to come out and throw at anybody, that's for sure. Since I've been here, there's never been any type of order to hit anybody or anything like that.

"It's up to them. If they want to continue, that's on them. Like I said to you guys, it was an accident and hopefully they threw at Rizzo and it's done with.

"You don't want to see someone get hurt, especially on two teams that are likely to be playing baseball a little bit deeper."

Reds acquisition of Sonny Gray is the latest notable addition to the NL Central

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USA TODAY

Reds acquisition of Sonny Gray is the latest notable addition to the NL Central

The NL Central keeps getting better this offseason.

According to multiple reports, the Reds have traded for pitcher Sonny Gray from the Yankees.

The Reds have been active this offseason and adding a former all-star to their rotation would be another big step towards turning the Reds into contenders in what is shaping up to be a very tough NL Central in 2019. They already added Alex Wood, Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp in a blockbuster deal with the Dodgers.

Gray is 29 and has a career ERA of 3.66, but isn't coming off a good year. With the Yankees he had a 4.90 ERA, the second-highest of his career, and didn't pitch in the postseason. The last time Gray had a bad year, he bounced back. Gray had a 5.69 ERA in 2016, the year after his breakout all-star campaign in 2015, but was solid in 2017 with the A's and Yankees.

Coming off a 95-loss season, the Reds had a long way to go, but look to be improved on paper with those additions.

Elsewhere in the division, the Cardinals already added Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller and the defending division champion Brewers added marquee free agent catcher Yasmani Grandal.

Meanwhile, it has been mostly crickets for the Cubs this offseason. Owner Tom Ricketts recently defended the team's financial situation, which has led to the team appearing to be less aggressive this winter.

It looks like the Cubs will face increased competition in the division this season. Will that force the team's hand to be more aggressive before spring training?

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Cole Hamels is healthy and ready to be the ace of the 2019 Cubs

Cole Hamels is healthy and ready to be the ace of the 2019 Cubs

Ask any Cubs player about 2019 and it's hard not to notice the urgency in their voice. 

After just about the least-enjoyable summer that 95 wins and a playoff appearance can buy, the normal winter platitudes that they tend to reel off have taken on additional weight. Rosters with as much potential as the Cubs don't come around often, and most of those players aren't going to get any cheaper down the road. Things can change quickly in baseball. 

Perhaps no one on the Cubs knows this quite like Cole Hamels, a World Series champion who has been a part of multiple different playoff-caliber rosters. Hamels revived his career after a disappointing tenure in Texas ended with a late-July trade, posting a 2.36 ERA over 76 innings on the North Side. The lefty went 4-0 with a 0.78 ERA in his first five games here (all of which they won), a far cry from the dreadful performances he was putting up with the Rangers. Sometimes a change of scenery is needed, but getting healthy always helps too. 

"I had a really tough time with the oblique injury I had two years ago and trying to get my mechanics back on track," Hamels said. "I just don’t think I was able to identify and correct what was going on. I was fighting it the whole season, until I kind of looked at a little bit deeper film and then really just made some more drastic changes, and went with it."

His oblique injury in 2017 derailed Hamels for the better part of a calendar year. The strain originally landed him on the 15-day DL, but he actually ended up missing eight weeks of games. In the 19 starts after, Hamels posted a 4.42 FIP with a 1.22 WHIP, walking over three batters per nine innings. He admitted to pitching through lingering discomfort at times, instead choosing to try and grit through a game - even if that meant ignoring how it would derail his healing process. As a result, the start of 2018 didn't treat him much better. It wasn't until a longer-than-usual film study with the Cubs that Hamels found his fix. 

"Basically, I was coming out of my whole front side," he added. "My hips - you know I was really landing open. I don’t do that - I’m a closed-off guy that really kind of hides the ball. It also maintains my distance down the mound and allows me to have a little bit more velocity. So I think that was really the big change and what I’ve been focusing on this offseason." 

Looking at the numbers, the adjustment is clear as day:

Adding three miles an hour to your fastball, midseason, is pretty significant. The reinvention of his fastball was one of the driving forces behind his turnaround last season, and there's no reason to believe Hamels -- now with a full offseason of healthy workouts under his belt -- can't be that type of pitcher for an entire season. If he can, the Lester-Hamels-Darvish rotation the Cubs dreamed of might be one step closer to fruition. 

As it stands now, however, there are *plenty* of questions about the Cubs' rotation. Their youngest starter is 29. Lester had his worst season in almost a decade and the year-by-year trends don't look great. Health AND regression have dogged Yu Darvish. Jose Quintana's been fine, but is a 4.05 FIP and 1.25 WHIP in 258 innings worth losing Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease?

"I think we all know how to get ready for a game and what’s expected out of us," Hamels said. "We know how to get good results and if we have a bad game we have guys that will pick of the pieces the next day and that’s comforting. I don’t think there are going to be too many bad stretches because we have guys that are going to be able to take care of business and stop streaks and we’re going to see some pretty fun winning streaks because of what we’re going to be doing as a pitching staff." 

Being an ace certainly wouldn't hurt, but if Hamels wants to live up to the $20 million option the Cubs picked up, he'll need to fill a larger void as one of the team's leaders. ("I think in general, MLB is doing pretty well for themselves," he replied when asked if the decision financially hamstrings the Cubs. "So I don’t necessarily buy it as much, but I understand people have to work within the certain system that they set.") Though this is still a tightly-knit clubhouse, many players and coaches admitted that there needs to be a new approach to leadership in 2019. Hamels, a World Series MVP and four-time All Star, fits the bill. It can be uncomfortable for players of even his pedigree to come into a new team and immediately be a leader, and Hamels knows how far a full spring around the same group of guys will go towards fixing that. 

"I’m 35, I’ve been in this game a long time, so I think that’s where I need to be. That’s sort of the role that’s directed towards you if you’ve played the game long enough. That’s kind of where you fit. I understand that, I’ve had a couple years to really do what I need to do in order to be that leader, and I guess now that means be a little more vocal instead of just letting the play out on the field be the leader."