Cubs

Playing mind games, Joe Maddon fires back at frustrated Cubs players

Playing mind games, Joe Maddon fires back at frustrated Cubs players

PITTSBURGH – Joe Maddon’s job is an endlessly complex maze of egos and insecurities. His players want to make history and know they will be judged in October. His boss just signed a five-year extension in the neighborhood of $50 million, making Theo Epstein perhaps the highest-paid personnel executive in the game. Reporters covering this team will consider this season a failure if the Cubs don’t win the World Series.  

But moments like this are why Maddon has his own $25 million deal, three Manager of the Year awards and the platform to become a multimedia star, liquor-store pitchman and T-shirt tycoon (for charity).

Maddon fired back after star pitcher Jake Arrieta and veteran catcher Miguel Montero questioned the manager’s in-game strategy during Wednesday night’s 8-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates – wondering why rookie Willson Contreras showed up behind the plate at PNC Park in the fifth inning – and overall spring-training philosophy since the Cubs clinched a National League Central title two weeks ago.

“My answer to that is we’re 7-2 in our last nine games,” Maddon said during Thursday’s pregame media session. “I don’t see any kind of real negative patterns right there. They all knew what was going to happen before that game. There were no surprises. And there has been no surprises.”

Except Arrieta had already done his paid weekly radio appearance on WMVP-AM 1000, telling “Waddle and Silvy” this: “Going into the game, I was really unaware we were going to go with a catching change.”

Still think this is entirely a media creation or something beat writers imagined while two established players made unsolicited comments?

The spring-training feel continued as the rain kept pouring down on PNC Park, with Thursday night’s game suspended and ending after five innings in a 1-1 tie. Major League Baseball considered this an official game – its first tie since it happened to the Cincinnati Reds and Houston Astros on June 30, 2005 – and stats will still count after an 83-minute delay.

But there is no need to make it up with the Cubs having already clinched the NL’s No. 1 seed and the Pirates eliminated from wild-card contention. The last time the Cubs finished in a tie – a 2-2 draw with the Montreal Expos on May 28, 1993 at Wrigley Field.

“Anything that changes your routine a little bit is a little frustrating,” said Ben Zobrist, who sat while Munenori Kawasaki started at second base in a Cactus League lineup. “Because this is such a routine-oriented game.

“Obviously, it’s frustrating at times. But I get it. I understand the overall goal of these games is not the same as it’s been the last six months of the year.”

[SHOP: Get your NL Central champions gear right here]

Arrieta described himself as “a little bitter” on ESPN Radio and also admitted that he “let my emotions get away from me” and could have handled the situation differently. But this has been building, from the awkwardness of three catchers to the six-man rotation concept to starting pitchers getting pulled early to relievers now working on a set schedule and players wanting to stay in a rhythm.

“You probably heard some things last night – I think if they had more time to think about it, they probably would not have said those same things,” Maddon said. “Up until (John Jaso’s three-run homer), I thought (Jake) was throwing the ball really well.

“And with the catching situation, we didn’t change that until they had four runs. So there’s really not a whole lot of credence to that, as far as I’m concerned.

“I don’t think it was attributable to a spring-training attitude as much as the Pirates had a good approach.”

Maddon isn’t going to alter his big-picture outlook after hearing about some of the clubhouse grumbling and manage Games 160, 161 and 162 any differently against the last-place Reds this weekend at Great American Ball Park.

“No, why would I do that?” Maddon said. “I utilized the word ‘spring training’ on several occasions, just to indicate the context regarding getting guys in and out of the game, not from the perspective of not trying to win.

“It’s still going to be scripted. They’re going to get their at-bats. Again, when you talk about recreating a ‘feel,’ that would be individualistic. It’s hard to replicate fighting for a playoff spot if you’ve already clinched it and you’re playing against a team that is not playing for anything either.

“These are all mind games you have to play with yourself in order to replicate what you want.”    

Of course, any portraits of frustration and miscommunication will be swept aside by those fun-loving Cubs posting photos on their social-media accounts of the football-jersey-themed road trip to Cincinnati. But this is a real issue for professionals who care about their craft and want to perform on the biggest stage of their lives.

“It’s a different kind of ‘on’ you have to be as a player,” Zobrist said. “That’s just weird for everybody right now to be experiencing that kind of feeling.”

Zobrist – who spent parts of nine seasons with Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays, knows the manager as well as any player in the clubhouse and won a World Series ring with the Kansas City Royals last year – admitted the Cubs are getting a little stir crazy before their first postseason game at Wrigley Field.

“We’re all looking so forward to next Friday, but that’s over a week away still,” Zobrist said. “So we have to try to stay in the moment, even though our minds want to go in the future.

“That’s the tough thing right now – staying in the moment. It’s even tougher now than it is when you’re in the playoffs and everybody’s talking and there’s a lot of stuff going on off the field. It’s even tougher now, I think, because there’s not enough going on.”

Kyle Hendricks takes in a Blackhawks game with... Bastian Schweinsteiger?

hendricks-schwein-1018.jpg
NBC Sports Chicago

Kyle Hendricks takes in a Blackhawks game with... Bastian Schweinsteiger?

A Cubs pitcher taking in a Blackhawks game in a suite is nothing special, but doing so with a World Cup winner is... different.

Kyle Hendricks was spotted by the cameras of Thursday's Blackhawks-Coyotes broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago. The guy he was standing next to was none other than Chicago Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, a World Cup with Germany and Champions League winner with Bayern Munich.

Hendricks is known for being reserved on the mound and in his interviews with the media. Meanwhile, Schweinsteiger was filmed yelling "Bear Down" in the hallway of Toyota Park after a Fire practice earlier in the day.

There's no telling what inspired Schweinsteiger to do this, but he has definitely embraced Chicago sports teams since joining the Fire in March of 2017.

Makes you wonder what Hendricks and Schweinsteiger were talking about. Best places to get brats in Chicago?

Ben Zobrist provides a hilarious glimpse into how he's spending a free October

Ben Zobrist provides a hilarious glimpse into how he's spending a free October

Ben Zobrist won't win the Comeback Player of the Year award this winter, but maybe he can take home a Grammy for Best New Artist?

The Cubs veteran infielder/outfielder posted a hilarious video on his Instagram Wednesday night showcasing how he's been spending October after the Cubs were unceremoniously ousted from the playoffs after on the third day of the month.

It's a fantastic music video of Zobrist lip-syncing to Mumford & Sons' "I Will Wait" while he nearly knocks the TV off the wall of his home by swinging the bat indoors pretending to hit off Clayton Kershaw and frolicking around a field that looks shockingly similar to Hershel's farm from the second season of "The Walking Dead":

View this post on Instagram

It always takes me a few weeks to process the season and begin the offseason. Here are my thoughts.....along with a unique way of making light of the postseason that should have been......... (special thanks to @dimtillard for help with Video) Maybe you feel the way I do. It was a very quick and abrupt ending to a good season for us. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But let’s not forget all the good that happened. This game and this team gives us something to pass the time, to express our love and passion, to feel the joy of the wins and the pains of the losses, and it calls us to unity when we so easily can be divided about so many other things. Each game is a microcosm of life. The game itself is not Life, but it helps us deal with life in a way. I’m thankful for even the painful losses at the end. The game can be a great teacher. I felt privileged to play with this team and play for our fans all year. We were stretched and we grew in new ways as individuals and as a group and that is always a good thing. We strive to win championships, but more often the process is the goal. We will be stronger because of all that we went through this year. What will I do now? I will travel and watch my wife crush her book tour. I will be in and out of Chi-town. I just got back home to Franklin, TN. I will find joy in raising and watching my kids grow and continue becoming their own person. I will rest and begin preparing for next season. I will work hard in mind, body, and spirit. I will help other players with @patriotforward and @showandgo. I will focus on personal growth and charitable endeavors and become a better man, teammate, friend, and player. To Baseball and Fans: For the next 5 months until I play next year.... I will wait for you....

A post shared by Ben Zobrist (@benzobrist18) on

Zobrist also posted a lengthy caption on his perspective on the Cubs' disappointing end to the season:

It always takes me a few weeks to process the season and begin the offseason. Here are my thoughts.....along with a unique way of making light of the postseason that should have been......... (special thanks to @dimtillard for help with Video) 
Maybe you feel the way I do. It was a very quick and abrupt ending to a good season for us. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But let’s not forget all the good that happened. This game and this team gives us something to pass the time, to express our love and passion, to feel the joy of the wins and the pains of the losses, and it calls us to unity when we so easily can be divided about so many other things. Each game is a microcosm of life. The game itself is not
Life, but it helps us deal with life in a way. I’m thankful for even the painful losses at the end. The game can be a great teacher. 
I felt privileged to play with this team and play for our fans all year. We were stretched and we grew in new ways as individuals and as a group and that is always a good thing. We strive to win championships, but more often the process is the goal. We will be stronger because of all that we went through this year. 
What will I do now? I will travel and watch my wife crush her book tour. I will be in and out of Chi-town. I just got back home to Franklin, TN. I will find joy in raising and watching my kids grow and continue becoming their own person. I will rest and begin preparing for next season. I will work hard in mind, body, and spirit. I will help other players with @patriotforward and @showandgo. I will focus on personal growth and charitable endeavors and become a better man, teammate, friend, and player. 
To Baseball and Fans: For the next 5 months until I play next year....
I will wait for you....

Come for the Zobrist lip sync, but stay for the 37-year-old using a bat as a guitar while wearing a sleeveless shirt and rocking an old-timey top hat.

A year ago, Zobrist completely reshaped his offseason workout plan after three straight years of playing deep into October. It appears he's added another new trick to his winter workout — hopping over fences even though there is a clear opening just a foot away.

Hey, whatever works...