Cubs

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Cubs

Joe Maddon rattled off all the elements he liked about the Milwaukee Brewers – explaining how much year-over-year growth he’s seen in a surprise first-place team – before the Cubs manager landed near one of his favorite Ricky Bobby quotes from “Talladega Nights.”      

“With all due respect to everybody,” Maddon said, the usual joke being that you can say whatever you want after that qualifier, “it’s about how we play. That’s what I’m always concerned about.”

Maddon is taking the Brewers seriously, and the Cubs are a 42-42 team that can’t assume anything anymore, even in a National League Central where it might take 84 wins to grab the division title.

If Maddon’s Cubs needed a reminder of what a small-market team with talent, attitude and a creative front office can do, they could have looked across Wrigley Field and into his past on Wednesday afternoon, the hope being this 7-3 comeback victory over the Tampa Bay Rays finally sparks the defending World Series champs.

“Back in the other league, other division, everybody’s worried about the powerhouses and this and that,” Maddon said. “But it’s about how you play. And if we just get back to playing our game naturally and normally like we can…we’ll start winning the appropriate number of games to get us back to where we want and need to be.

“But I don’t worry about what the other teams are doing. I really don’t. I know we’re a couple games back right now, but that’s not a concern, because I do believe if we play our game, that’ll take care of itself.”

 

The Brewers will be back in Wrigleyville on Thursday afternoon for a makeup game postponed by the storm that never came on May 20, which led to this money quote from manager Craig Counsell in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “First time, for us, that we’ve had players treated for sunburn after a rainout.”

The Brewers also sounded irked by cryptic comments from Cubs personnel questioning Eric Thames, who’s launched 23 homers in 76 games since returning from a three-season journey in the Korea Baseball Organization.

Even during an 89-loss rebuilding season, the Brewers played the Cubs tough last year, going 8-11 against a 103-win team, losing twice in extra innings and only getting outscored 79-75 in the aggregate.  

“Remember last year I was often saying how much I thought they had improved,” Maddon said. “I liked their bullpen a lot. This year, some of the young guys are doing better offensively and they’ve added some offense, too.

“I like some of their starting pitching also. Yeah, I’m not surprised that they’ve done better, not at all. They have a lot of physical guys out there (in the bullpen) and they can match up with you pretty well, too. They had speed, so there was other ways to score besides just homers. I thought they played the game hard and right. They’re really good on defense. Their shifting has been right on.

“So all those little components, I thought I saw last year. Now this year, they are playing a little bit better, too.”

Not that Maddon will be sweating the deficit – three games heading into Milwaukee’s matchup against the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday night at Miller Park – or how much this could swing the race and frame the All-Star break.

“Of course, you want to get as close as you possibly can,” Maddon said. “But honestly, man, it’s about today. I know I’m redundant and I get boring with that comment, but it’s about today. We just got to take care of today’s game and then worry about what the Cubs are doing – and not what the Brewers are doing. That’s the worst possible way to go about this.”