Cubs

Maddon trying to keep young Cubs loose through struggles

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Maddon trying to keep young Cubs loose through struggles

It's hard to stay negative in Joe Maddon's clubhouse.

The Cubs may have dropped two out of three to the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field over the weekend, but they left the stadium in style, sporting personalized Blackhawks sweaters for the trip to St. Louis.

That's just another way Maddon likes to keep things loose and fresh during the grind of a long season.

The Cubs scored just five runs in the series and have only six runs in the last four games after averaging 5.5 runs a game on a four-game winning streak from April 24-28.

Following the Cubs' 5-3 loss to the Brewers Sunday, Maddon said he felt the hitters' approaches were "OK."

"We had some opportunities, but we're not stringing [hits] together," Maddon said. "We're not really driving the ball like we can. We're definitely a team with more power than that.

"It's gonna come. As these young hitters get to understand what these other pitchers are trying to do against him and get their feet on the ground a little bit more, you're going to see them all become more consistent with their power.

"In the meantime, I love the fight. We didn't get it done today, but I'll take the effort."

[MORE: Cubs show support for Blackhawks with customized sweaters]

While Anthony Rizzo maintains his consistent production in the middle of the Cubs' lineup, a quartet of young players around him are enduring some struggles.

Addison Russell is on a modest six-game hitting streak and homered in Friday's win, but struck out five times in the series and is still hitting just .211 with a .599 OPS.

Kris Bryant remains homerless in his first 15 big-league games and apart from a gift double that popped out of the glove of Milwaukee second baseman Elian Herrera, Bryant was a non-factor in the series, going 0-for-9 with six strikeouts in his other at-bats against Brewers pitchers.

Jorge Soler entered the series in the midst of a 2-for-26 stretch, but showed signs of life against Milwaukee by going 5-for-12 with a double and a walk.

Starlin Castro may be in his sixth big-league season, but he's still just 25 and constantly refining his approach at the plate. He is mired in a 2-for-15 slump that has seen his average dip from .342 all the way to .309.

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This Cubs lineup has had a lot of success already this season and Maddon isn't stressing about the lack of success lately.

He wants to keep the pressure at bay, which is how things like the Blackhawks-themed road trip can wash away the negative feelings.

"From my perspective, I've been around stuff like this before," Maddon said. "With young hitters like these, you've got to be patient, just keep trying to give them the right information, keep them kinda loose, actually.

"That's the only way to do it. You can't be uptight on the major-league level. You have to go up there with a nice approach and a plan and we do. We have all that.

"But it'll come to fruition. Just one of those moments where some guys are struggling a bit right now, but it'll come back to us."

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

The Cubs and Braves got through roughly one inning of Stranger Things Night at Wrigley Field before Willson Contreras made the evening his own. 

The catcher went 2-4 with three RBI, and provided the most notable moment from the game: a 2nd inning solo homer that caused both benches to clear. Contreras had taken issue with a few of the called strikes earlier in the at-bat, and said something to home plate umpire John Tumpane about it. Contreras continued to make his feelings known as he left the box, drawing the ire of Braves catcher Tyler Flowers.

“To be honest, those pitches weren’t even close to the strike zone,” he said. “[Flowers] got mad because I was talking to the umpire about that, and he jumped into the conversation. 

Contreras then proceeded to shout in the direction of Atlanta’s dugout while rounding first base, and the two catchers exchanged more words as he crossed home plate. The benches quickly emptied, and after a few moments of posturing, returned to their dugouts. 

“It was a lot of emotions together,” he said after the game. “I was having a conversation with the umpire, and it ended up with [Flowers], so that’s all I can say. I just basically told him to do his job and I’ll do mine. I don’t know why he got pissed off because that’s all I said - you do your job and i’ll do mine.”

“I was kind of amused by the whole thing,” Joe Maddon added. “I don’t really know Mr. Flowers - we had a nice conversation, walked away, and it was over. It really wasn’t worth more than what happened.

The confrontation was just one of a few testy moments between these two teams. In the top of the 2nd inning, Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson was caught on cameras shushing the Cubs dugout: 

Two innings later, it was Javy Baez who returned serve by blowing the Braves a kiss after stealing second on Flowers: 

“It’s fun because they’re good,” Maddon said. “And we’re good - that’s the fun part. Monday night, at 7:05, to have that kind of attitude and atmosphere is outstanding. That’s what baseball needs.” 

On the mound, Jon Lester bounced back from a run of three straight underwhelming performances. June hasn’t been kind to Lester, as the lefty had allowed 14 runs over the last 23 IPs prior to Monday’s start, good for a 5.93 FIP. He threw 94 pitches against the Braves, lasting six innings while allowing two runs -- both unearned, though -- and striking out seven. He only threw 94 pitches, but his control (0 BB) was excellent. Lester spotted his strikeout pitch well all night, getting four of his six right-handed K’s on the low outside corner:

“I just tried to stay down there, and had the backdoor cutter to those guys,” Lester said. “We were able to kind of exploit that, and then when we felt that guys were reaching out there a little bit, I ran the cutter in on some guys too. I was just able to command both sides of the plate tonight, which is huge against an offense like that.” 

“Great job by Jon,” Maddon added, “Jon had great stuff. Coming off of [throwing 114 pitches], he’s been throwing a lot of pitches on regular rest, so I wanted to limit that tonight. He was lobbying to go back out, but I didn’t feel good about it based on the longevity of the season and we had a rested Kintzler.

“But Jon was really good, and really good against a tough lineup.”

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night

Ozzie Guillen and Doug Glanville join Leila Rahimi to talk all things Chicago baseball as the Cubs take on the Braves and the White Sox look to get a win in Boston.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below: