Cubs

Miguel Montero believes Cubs have what it takes to win big in October

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Miguel Montero believes Cubs have what it takes to win big in October

PITTSBURGH – The Cubs noticed the way Russell Martin helped change the culture around the Pittsburgh Pirates and targeted the free-agent catcher for his clubhouse presence, pitch-framing feel and take-charge style with a pitching staff.

When the Toronto Blue Jays outbid the Cubs last November – locking up Martin with a five-year, $82 million contract – it sort of created a here-we-go-again feeling for another lost offseason.

But the Cubs didn’t build an all-or-nothing team or ignore the weakened infrastructure that couldn’t withstand a 162-game season.

“We can win it all,” catcher Miguel Montero said.

The Cubs looked like legitimate contenders in beating the Pirates three times in roughly 50 hours and winning this four-game showdown series.

[MORE: Devastating injury for Kang, but Cubs are playing with an edge now]

When the Cubs open a 10-game homestand against the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday afternoon, their magic number will be nine, and Wrigley Field might not go dark in October.

“In the playoffs, it’s whoever gets hot at the right time and anything can happen,” Montero said, “so I like my chances with (Jon) Lester and (Jake) Arrieta. It’s random, (but) I still like my chances with my team. That’s it. That’s all I care about. I don’t care about anything else.

“I believe in my team. And I believe we can do something special. You just got to prove it.”    

After losing the Martin sweepstakes, Plan B became acquiring Montero from the Arizona Diamondbacks for two low-level pitching prospects and taking on the three years and $40 million left on his contract.   

Personal catcher David Ross became the $5 million insurance policy to Lester’s $155 million megadeal and a glue guy in the clubhouse.

Kyle Schwarber never stopped hitting from the moment the Cubs made him the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft, bashing his way from Indiana University through five minor-league affiliates and into a pennant race.

[ALSO: Arrieta will keep being a perfectionist]

The Cubs seemingly went from having not enough catchers to having too many catchers (with Welington Castillo getting traded away and Willson Contreras becoming a Double-A batting champion).

Montero didn’t think he would be in different three-catcher rotations at various points of the season or plan on spraining his thumb right before the All-Star break.

But Starlin Castro also doesn’t see a part-time second baseman when he looks in the mirror. And Chris Coghlan doesn’t want to go on vacation against left-handed pitchers.

The Cubs could go 5-11 the rest of the way and still finish with 90 wins because of their diverse portfolio and a star manager in Joe Maddon who has the juice to make it all work.  

“I would like to play every day, too,” Montero said. “But you know what, we can’t control that. It’s been a long year. There (has) been a lot of ups and downs mentally and physically. You got to go over those humps. When you’re winning…you can’t say much.

“You can’t be really mad about it because we’re winning. That’s what we’re looking for – winning. At this point, anything we can do to contribute to help the team to win. We’re all on board.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

“Would I like to play? Yeah, everybody wants to play, of course. If there are guys here (who) don’t want to play, might as well just pack it up and go home.”

To close out the final six innings in Thursday’s 9-6 win over the Pirates, the Cubs used a guy who escaped from Pittsburgh’s Triple-A affiliate (Clayton Richard), a workhorse reliever (Justin Grimm) and a one-time All-Star starter (Travis Wood).    

Montero contributed with a hit, a walk and two runs scored. He’s added some thump to this lineup (15 homers, 50 RBI and a .766 OPS), caught Arrieta’s no-hitter at Dodger Stadium and brought an edge to the clubhouse.

Montero isn’t for everyone – he probably needed a change of scenery and wouldn’t have been an ideal fit for that rebuilding situation in Arizona – but he has helped change a losing environment.

Montero’s messages went viral on Twitter and inspired the “We Are Good” T-shirts you see on TV and around the clubhouse.

“I don’t want people to get down on us,” Montero said. “I don’t want my teammates to get down on us. You’re going to go through tough times.

“You’re not going to be great every day. But as long as you believe that you’re a good player – and you know you can do it – that’s all that matters. It’s about confidence. It’s about belief in your abilities and let it play.”

Texas Rangers hire Cubs' Shiraz Rehman to be assistant GM

Texas Rangers hire Cubs' Shiraz Rehman to be assistant GM

The changing of the guard continues for the Cubs this offseason. 

After the team hired a new hitting coach yesterday, it was reported today that they're losing a front office member: 

Rehman, who has been with the Cubs in the same position for the last seven years, will reportedly head up the Rangers' analytics department. According to the Chicago Tribune, Rehman's role was " evaluating existing systems, and recognizing and applying solutions in an effort to create competitive advantages for the organization." 

All reports indicate that he'll be doing similar analytic-based work with the Rangers. 

Chili Davis after being ousted by Cubs: 'There were multiple players in there I didn't connect with'

Chili Davis after being ousted by Cubs: 'There were multiple players in there I didn't connect with'

Chili Davis didn't go all scorched earth on the Cubs in a recent interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, but he had quite a lot to say after being ousted by the organization after just one year as the hitting coach.

The Cubs made Davis the scapegoat for an offense that faded down the stretch, struggling for the entire second half and scoring just 1 run in three of the final four games of the year.

When he was hired a year ago, Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon talked up Davis' impressive resume that includes a 19-year MLB career, two separate stints as a successful hitting coach with the Oakland A's and Boston Red Sox and a philosophy that they hoped would withstand the test of time in the game today, preaching more contact and using the opposite field.

Throughout the 2018 season, Maddon often commended Davis for his ability to communicate with players, particularly in the area of mental approach to each at-bat.

Now that the dust has settled a bit on his firing, Davis felt he had some issues getting through to some Cubs players.

I learned a lot this year," Davis told the Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer. "I learned that the next situation I get in, before I say yes to a job, I need to make sure I know the personnel I'll be dealing with in the clubhouse. I hope the next guy connects better with the players, because I felt that there were multiple players there I didn't connect with. It wasn't that I didn't try; it just wasn't there.

The Cubs hired Anthony Iapoce as their new hitting coach Monday afternoon. Iapoce comes over from the Rangers and has a direct link to John Mallee, who was the Cubs' hitting coach for three seasons before being let go when Davis became available last winter. 

Iapoce also spent three seasons with the Cubs as a special assistant to the GM, overseeing the organization's minor-league hitting from 2013-15. Presumably, he found a way over those years to connect with the Cubs' top young hitting prospects — guys like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras that are now leading the big-league lineup.

Hopefully he has better success at this than I did," Davis said of Iapoce in the Sun-Times article. "But regardless of who's there, certain players there are going to have to make some adjustments because the game's changed and pitchers are pitching them differently. They're not pitching to launch angles and fly balls and all that anymore. They're pitching away from that. They're going to have to make that adjustment whether I'm there or not.

Davis had a whole lot more to say on the matter and I encourage you to read the full interview with Wittenmyer over at ChicagoSunTimes.com.

A healthy Bryant very likely could've changed everything for Davis and the Cubs' 2018 lineup. Contreras hitting like he's capable of in the second half would've made a huge difference, as well.

But the end result is a finish to the 2018 campaign that was viewed universally as a disappointment — particularly in the offensive department — and the Cubs are left with their third different hitting coach in three seasons.