Cubs

The second-guessing follows Joe Maddon from World Series to winter meetings

The second-guessing follows Joe Maddon from World Series to winter meetings

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — At least 10 cameras lined up in a cramped corner of a huge hotel ballroom to capture Joe Maddon’s media session late Tuesday afternoon. For almost six minutes, reporters fired off Game 7 questions as the Cubs manager explained his thinking during the World Series.

And then a beat writer abruptly switched topics and asked who would hit leadoff once Dexter Fowler is gone.

“I don’t know, that’s a really good question,” Maddon said. “We’ve talked. There are some brilliant people standing around me right now.”

For a moment, Maddon sounded a little annoyed and defensive during Day 2 of the winter meetings. But the guy who designed “The Process is Fearless” T-shirts will point to the results from that instant classic against the Cleveland Indians.

“It’s fascinating to me regarding the second-guessing, because the only reality I know is that we won,” Maddon said at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, D.C.

“We have oftentimes in the past talked about ‘outcome bias.’ Or if people would anticipate, had you done something differently, would it have turned out better?

“But better than winning — I don’t know what that is.”

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There won’t be enough space on Maddon’s Hall of Fame plaque to bullet-point all the twists and turns during those 10 innings in Cleveland, how he pulled Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks in the fifth and brought $155 million reliever Jon Lester into the game with a runner on base, a situation the Cubs wanted to avoid, in case that triggered the yips.

Maddon wrote off Aroldis Chapman giving up a game-tying, two-run homer to Rajai Davis in the eighth inning as a matter of location — not velocity — even though the closer wound up throwing 97 pitches in Games 5, 6 and 7 combined.

If anything, Maddon might have to do more of the convincing within his own clubhouse. Jason Heyward watched from third base as the manager ordered Javier Baez to bunt on a 3-2 count in the ninth inning and felt compelled to call a players-only meeting inside a Progressive Field weight room during the 17-minute rain delay.

“You can’t control the narrative when the game is in progress,” Maddon said. “I’ve talked about the barroom banter. And I definitely know that I was able to fill up — based on my decision-making in that game — a lot of barroom banter throughout the Chicago area, or nationally, internationally.

“But the point is, when you work a game like that, there’s not an eighth game. There’s only a seventh game. Everything that you saw us do that night, I planned out before the game ever began and felt really strongly about it — and still do.

“Just take away one hit by Davis, it worked out pretty darn well. But then you have to give our guys credit for the way we withstood the onslaught and eventually won the game.”

Ultimately, an 8-7 victory ended the 108-year drought, meaning Maddon should someday have his own spot in Cooperstown.

Instead of taking a public victory lap — the way his players have celebrated on “Saturday Night Live” and the talk-show circuit — Maddon went into decompression mode. Maddon bought a Dodge Challenger Hellcat muscle car, saw “Hamilton” on Broadway and partied at the Zeta Psi fraternity house for the Lafayette-Lehigh football game at his old stomping grounds in Pennsylvania.

Without Maddon, the Cubs don’t win 97 games and two playoff rounds last year, which opened the floodgates for nearly $290 million to spend on free agents. But after “Embrace The Target,” Maddon will have to come up with a new message for the 2017 Cubs, a group that might find some of his tactics a little old.

“You still want to ‘Try Not To Suck,’ but you can’t wear that out,” Maddon said. “I really feel confident. I like our group a lot. If you look at our core group and what we did last year — the youth, the inexperience turning into experience, the authenticity of our players — I want to believe (in) the humility of our players.

“All those things (are) what I’m going to rely on. That’s going to permit us — beyond our skill abilities — (to) be good for a period of time.”

Jake Arrieta full of appreciation in return to Wrigley mound: ‘I’ll never forget this city’

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USA TODAY

Jake Arrieta full of appreciation in return to Wrigley mound: ‘I’ll never forget this city’

The last time Jake Arrieta pitched at Wrigley Field, his night ended with Cubs fans giving him a rousing standing ovation. The former Cubs right hander tossed 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball, leading the Cubs to victory in Game 4 of the 2017 NLCS—their only win against the Los Angeles Dodgers that series.

Arrieta returned to Wrigley Field as a visitor on Monday night, making his first start against the Cubs since joining the Philadelphia Phillies last season. Ironically, Arrieta’s counterpart for the night was Yu Darvish, who ultimately replaced Arrieta in the Cubs starting rotation.

Despite now donning Phillies red, Cubs fans once again showed their love for Arrieta, giving him a lengthy standing ovation ahead of his first plate appearance. Darvish even stepped off the mound in respect for the moment.

“I loved it, absolutely loved it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said to reporters postgame. “[I’m] very happy that our fans would acknowledge him like that. Yu stepped away from the mound nicely. Jake deserved it.”

Arrieta tipped his helmet in appreciation for the crowd, taking in the moment for more than 30 seconds before stepping into the batter’s box. After the game, he told reporters that moment brought back memories of his time with the Cubs.

“That was something that really brought back great memories of getting that same sort of ovation pretty much on a nightly basis,” Arrieta said. “[I’m] very appreciative of that. I can’t say thank you enough to the city of Chicago, I really can’t.”

Arrieta took fans back to his Cubs tenure on Monday, throwing six innings of one run ball in the Phillies’ 5-4 10-inning win. Although the 33-year-old didn’t pick up the victory, he matched Darvish—who threw six innings of three-run ball—pitch by-pitch.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler noted how well Arrieta handled his emotions throughout the night.

“I thought he handled the emotions really well. I thought he was in control of the game even when we were down,” Kapler said to reporters. “He always maintained his poise and he just got stronger as the outing went on and that’s why we were able to have him take down the sixth inning for us.”

It’s well-documented how Arrieta’s career improved for the better after the Cubs acquired him in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles in July 2013. When the Cubs acquired him, Arrieta held a career 5.46 ERA in 69 games (63 starts). He finished his Cubs career with a 2.73 ERA in 128 regular season starts. He also won five postseason games with the Cubs, including Games 2 and 6 of the 2016 World Series.

Despite moving on in free agency, Arrieta spoke highly of his time with the Cubs, their fans and the city of Chicago.

“Cubs fans all across the country, all across the world, they really respect and appreciate what guys are able to do here for them,” he said. “It means a lot, it really does.

"I’ll never forget this city, the fan base, the organization, everything that they did for me. It was 4 1/2 incredible years of my career.”

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Yu Darvish crashed Jake Arrieta's party, but Cubs bullpen falters

Yu Darvish crashed Jake Arrieta's party, but Cubs bullpen falters

Yu Darvish was one pitch away.

Holding onto a 1-0 lead with two outs in the sixth inning, Darvish threw Phillies catcher JT Realmuto a 2-2 cutter. It made sense - Darvish had been spotting that pitch well all night, and the Phillies were averaging a paltry 79.8 mph exit velocity against it.

With one strike standing between Darvish and a 6-inning shutout, Realmuto took Darvish’s cutter and sent it back up the middle for a game-tying RBI single. A 2-RBI triple from César Hernández followed. In the blink of an eye, what was shaping up to be one of Darvish’s finest moments in Chicago was instead reduced to yet another start spent searching for silver linings.

“Really good. He was outstanding tonight,” Joe Maddon said. “He pitched really well.

“He had really good stuff. He had command of his stuff, he had command of himself. I thought he was outstanding - even better than what he looked like in Cincinnati. I thought that was probably his best game for us to date.”

Darvish has continued to lean heavily on his cutter this season, more so than any year prior. After throwing it 13 percent of the time last season, he’s going to that pitch almost 25 percent of the time now. If that holds, it’d beat his previous career-high, set in 2013, by six percentage points.

All things considered, that pitch has actually been good for him this season. It’s his go-to offering when he needs to induce weak contact, and batters are hitting .125 against it so far. He gets batters to chase cutters 29.5 percent of the time, the most of any pitch he throws. While he has admitted in games past that he relies too heavily on his fastball, Maddon sees no issues with the new trend.

“I have no concerns with that whatsoever,” he said. “There’s different ways for pitchers to attack hitters, and if it's successful, I really would not change a whole lot.”

Though the night was dedicated to celebrating one of the franchises most beloved pitchers, it was one of their most maligned that continued to show signs of figuring it out. He’s put together back-to-back starts with three or less walks for the first time this season, and has allowed two or less runs in three of the last five.

The pitcher even stepped off the mound during Arrieta’s first at-bat, in order to let the standing ovation continue on.

“He’s is a legend in Chicago,” Darvish said after the game. “And I pitched against him and pitched pretty good, so it makes me confident.”

The bullpen again struggled on Monday night, as the trio of Mike Montgomery, Brad Brach, and Kyle Ryan allowed two runs on five hits, including the game-winning solo home run from Realmuto in the 10th. For a moment it looked like the Cubs had a win wrapped up when Brach got outfielder Andrew McCutchen to bite on a two-strike slider, but was (probably incorrectly) called a checked swing.  He would eventually draw a walk, leading to Jean Segura’s game-tying single.

“On the field, I thought for sure [that McCutchen swung],” Brach said. “Looking at the first base umpire, I was a little taken aback. That’s why I went off the mound - just to regather myself, because I didn’t want to let the emotion get to me there.

“It’s a 50-50 call, and unfortunately it didn’t go my way.”

 

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