'Anger is not a solution' for Cubs' struggles

'Anger is not a solution' for Cubs' struggles

There was an air of "Groundhog's Day" around the Cubs before Sunday's game against the Colorado Rockies.

Nobody would blame Joe Maddon if he said he felt like Bill Murray from that hit film.

In a lot of ways, it's the same story, different day for the 2017 Cubs.

Maddon fielded question after question from the media about the leadoff spot — a new option was in there Sunday in veteran outfielder Jon Jay, who promptly singled in his first at-bat and scored — and how to get past the offensive woesm, particularly with the young hitters.

The Cubs manager was as patient as ever, despite his team entering Sunday's game with a streak of 26 straight innings without an extra-base hit and leaving 31 men on base over the last four games.

"We've pitched well enough to win more. We've played defense well enough to win more. We've been inconsistent with the offense," Maddon said. "That's the part we have to focus on. And when your guys are struggling like that, the point is you gotta stay with 'em.

"It takes a lot of conversation. It takes a lot to help bring them back confidence-wise. They're missing their confidence right now more than anything. But anger is not a solution. Seat of the pants decisions are not a solution, either.

"These are our guys and I believe in these guys. They are good. They're gonna show it again relatively soon. We're struggling right now back and forth, but this is a great group of major-league players."

[RELATED - Joe Maddon's cure for Cubs' offensive woes]

Maddon has a way of being brutally honest without being overly negative or sounding the least bit insulting.

He hasn't sugarcoated anything through the Cubs' offensive woes and knows they have to improve their consistency all around, pointing to a roller coaster last month that has included: A 7-2 homestand, an 0-6 road trip, a five-game winning streak and now a four-game losing streak entering Sunday.

The result is a 30-31 record for the defending World Series champions, but they're also still somehow in second place in the National League Central, just two games behind the Milwaukee Brewers.

And that's with veterans Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist posting numbers below their career norms, consistent struggles from Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras and Addison Russell and up-and-down contributions from streak young hitters like Ian Happ, Javy Baez and Albert Almora Jr.

The only constants on offense have been Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Miguel Montero and Jay, which explains why Maddon had all four veterans in Sunday's lineup in an effort to salvage at least one game from the visiting Rockies.

Maddon and his coaching staff are trying to make sure they're not overwhelming the young hitters with too much information, especially since "Uber drives have been telling them how to hit right now."

[RELATED - Why Ben Zobrist won't give up switch-hitting despite sore wrist]

From Maddon's perspective, it's all about confidence.

"Confidence is such a fragile component of the human existence, especially when it comes to sports," Maddon said. "Regardless of what you've done in the past, it's so easy to forget that because you're really trying to do well in the present.

"And sometimes when things just aren't going properly and they start happening too quickly, all the sudden, you lose whatever that little thing is that permits you to slow things down and maintain your confidence. We're all subject to that. Every one of us.

"Our job as coaches right now is to understand that and try to nurture that back into our players. It has to come from their performance, absolutely. But in the mean time, they need our support and they need our consistency. They don't need inconsistencies coming from us right now because that would be the worst possible message to send them.

"I've been through it before. It's actually an interesting situation to be involved in. It tests what you believe in, which I think is a good thing. You have to have a consistent plan while maintaining flexibility at the same time, which I think we do."

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

When Ben Zobrist rejoined the Cubs active roster on Sept. 1, it was fair to wonder how much he could provide offensively. After all, he spent the previous four months on the restricted list while tending to a family matter, last playing a big-league game on May 6.

Zobrist did no baseball activities from May to mid-July, only working out to stay in shape. Although he eventually ramped things up, he played in just 12 minor league rehab games in August before returning to the Cubs, a small number compared to the length of his absence.

Even Zobrist admitted upon his big-league return that his timing at the plate wasn’t where he wanted it to be. And yet, what he did in September was nothing short of impressive. In 21 games, he posted a .284/.377/.388 slash line, performing at a level many couldn’t have expected, considering the circumstances.

Zobrist's impact on the Cubs' lineup goes beyond what you see in the box score, however. Not only is he a switch hitter with some pop, but he has a keen eye for the strike zone and frequently puts together professional at-bats.

On a Cubs team that tends to expand the zone, Zobrist’s presence mattered. In his second game back, for example, he went 3-for-3 with two walks, helping the Cubs beat the Brewers 10-5. After the game, Brewers starter Chase Anderson pointed out how different the Cubs' lineup looks with Zobrist in it.

"They play the matchups really well and Zobrist makes that team so much better," Anderson said on Sept. 5. "Just bringing his presence to the top of the lineup, it changes their dynamic a little bit."

Where Zobrist stands entering 2020, though, is currently unclear.

Zobrist is set to hit free agency after the World Series and will turn 39 next May. Therefore, it’s possible that he’s played his last game in the big leagues, as he has little, if anything, left to prove at this stage in his career.

Ahead of the Cubs’ season finale on Sept. 29, Zobrist told reporters in St. Louis that he hasn’t thought about how much time he’ll take before deciding what’s next for him. His family situation will obviously play a big role in his decision, but if September showed anything, it's that he still has something left in the tank.

“I’m 38 but I got that feeling all over again,” Zobrist said following the Cubs’ season finale, a 9-0 loss to the Cardinals in which he pitched a scoreless inning. “Just really fun, you know? It’s a fun game. Sometimes you don’t come out on the winning end, but you still gotta have fun with it and enjoy it. I enjoyed it today."

The Cubs roster is expected to undergo changes this offseason, with center field, second base and the leadoff spot being just a few areas the team will look to address. The latter two spots became revolving doors during Zobrist’s absence, as the Cubs struggled to replace what he brought offensively.

Zobrist is past the point in his career of being an everyday player. However, he still could be a useful asset for the Cubs in a supporting role, bringing his veteran approach to the lineup when he plays while still offering an experienced voice in the clubhouse.

“I take a lot of joy in that role, just being a supporting guy and being a part of winning clubs and part of winning atmospheres and cultures,” Zobrist said on Sept. 29. “The Chicago Cubs have been that since I’ve been around. This year we didn’t make the playoffs — we still have a winning record — (but) the kind of relationships that are built here and the culture that’s been built here is definitely a winning one.”

After the Cubs announced that they wouldn’t retain Joe Maddon for 2020, Zobrist acknowledged that more changes were likely coming in the offseason. Only time will tell what that means for the veteran utilityman — should he continue playing.

Whether he retires or joins a different team for 2020, though, Zobrist will look back on his four seasons with the Cubs fondly.

“(They’re) just the most passionate fans I’ve ever met,” he said of Cubs fans. “They’re very loyal, very passionate and it’s been such a pleasure to be a part of that team that beat the curse back in ’16, so I feel that still, when I see Cubs fans, there’s a lot of them that hug me and thank me for being a part of that.

“I’ll always look back at [my] time here — I don’t know what’s going to happen in the offseason — but look back at these four years and [be] very grateful to be able to be part of a group like this and be able to do what we did while I was here.”

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Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Tony Andracki, Kelly Crull, Scott Changnon and Jeff Nelson give us their memories of Joe Maddon's time with the Cubs and discuss David Ross and Joe Espada's candidacy to be the next manager.

01:30 Kelly's memories of Joe from the perspective of a reporter

06:00 Going back to Hazleton with Joe

07:45 Joe's legacy as manager of the Cubs

16:00 How Joe impacted Javy Baez' career

18:00 David Ross and Joe Espada may be the leaders to replace Joe Maddon.

Listen here or via the embedded player below:


Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.