'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."

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

The day after Kris Bryant suggested that first-time fatherhood and the dramatic reality of world events have changed how he looks at his future with the Cubs, general manager Jed Hoyer outlined why it might be all but moot.

Setting aside the fact that the Cubs aren’t focusing on contract extensions with anyone at this time of health and economic turmoil, the volatility and unpredictability of a raging COVID-19 pandemic in this country and its economic fallout have thrown even mid-range and long-term roster plans into chaos.

“This is without question the most difficult time we’ve ever had as far as projecting those things,” Hoyer said. “All season in projecting this year, you weren’t sure how many games we were going to get in. Projecting next season obviously has challenges, and who knows where the country’s going to be and the economy’s going to be.”

Bryant, a three-time All-Star and former MVP, is eligible for free agency after next season. He and the club have not engaged in extension talks for three years. And those gained little traction while it has looked increasingly likely since then that Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, would eventually take his star client to market — making Bryant a widely circulated name in trade talks all winter.

MORE: Scott Boras: Why Kris Bryant's free agency won't be impacted by economic crisis

The Cubs instead focused last winter on talks with All-Star shortstop Javy Báez, making “good” or little progress depending on which side you talked to on a given day — until the pandemic shut down everything in March.

Báez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are both also eligible for free agency after next season, with All-Star catcher Willson Contreras right behind them a year later.

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None has a multiyear contract, and exactly what the Cubs are willing to do about that even if MLB pulls off its 60-game plan this year is hard for even the team’s front office executives to know without knowing how hard the pandemic will continue to hammer America’s health and financial well-being into the winter and next year.

Even with a vaccine and treatments by then, what will job markets look like? The economy at large? The economy of sports? Will anyone want to gather with 40,000 others in a stadium to watch a game anytime soon?

And even if anyone could answer all those questions, who can be sure how the domino effect will impact salary markets for athletes?

“There’s no doubt that forecasting going forward is now much more challenging from a financial standpoint,” Hoyer said. “But that’s league-wide. Anyone that says they have a feel for where the nation’s economy and where the pandemic is come next April is lying.”

The Cubs front office already was in a tenuous place financially, its payroll budget stretched past its limit and a threat to exceed MLB’s luxury tax threshold for a second consecutive season.

And after a quick playoff exit in 2018 followed by the disappointment of missing the playoffs in 2019, every player on the roster was in play for a possible trade over the winter — and even more so at this season’s trade deadline without a strong start to the season.

Now what?

For starters, forget about dumping short-term assets or big contracts for anything of value from somebody’s farm system. Even if baseball can get to this year’s Aug. 31 trade deadline with a league intact and playing, nobody is predicting more than small level trades at that point — certainly not anything close to a blockbuster.

After that, it may not get any clearer for the sport in general, much less the Cubs with their roster and contract dilemmas.

“We have a lot of conversations about it internally, both within the baseball side and then with the business side as well,” Hoyer said. “But it’s going to take a long time and probably some sort of macro things happening for us to really have a good feel for where we’re going to be in ’21 and beyond.”


Cubs' GM Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

Cubs' GM Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

Veteran umpire Joe West made waves Tuesday downplaying the severity of COVID-19 in an interview with The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. 

“I don’t believe in my heart that all these deaths have been from the coronavirus," West said. "I believe it may have contributed to some of the deaths.”

As far as the Cubs are concerned, those comments don’t represent how to treat the virus. In fact, they’ve gone out of their way to ensure everyone treats it with equal severity.

“That’s one of the things we've really tried internally to instill in our players and our coaches,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday, “[that] everyone here has to take it equally [serious].”

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Hoyer noted like the world, MLB isn’t immune to people having different viewpoints on the virus — those who show concern and those who don’t. This echoes comments made by manager David Ross earlier on Tuesday, and Hoyer said those he’s talked to with the Cubs don’t feel the same way as West.

The Cubs had an up close and personal look at pitching coach Tommy Hottovy’s battle with COVID-19 during baseball’s shutdown. It took the 38-year-old former big leaguer 30 harrowing days to test negative, and in the past week many Cubs have said watching him go through that hit home. 

“When you get a 38-year-old guy in wonderful health and he talks about his challenges with it,” Hoyer said, “I think that it takes away some of those different viewpoints.”

To ensure everyone stays safe and puts the league in the best position to complete a season, MLB needs strict adherence to its protocols.

“I think that's one of our goals and one of the things that we feel is vital is that we have to make sure everyone views this the same way, because we can't have a subset of people within our group that don't view it with the same severity,” Hoyer said.

“That’s not gonna work. We're not gonna be successful."