Showing no panic, Cubs shift pressure onto Cleveland and force must-see Game 7

Showing no panic, Cubs shift pressure onto Cleveland and force must-see Game 7

CLEVELAND – Just get back to Cleveland. Even at the lowest point of their season, the Cubs sensed the building World Series narrative would flip if they could force a Game 6. The Indians would suddenly feel a different pressure and weight of expectations. 

Just like that, the Indians unraveled on Tuesday night at Progressive Field, looking a lot like those outdated perceptions of the Cubbies and bringing back memories of their franchise’s tortured history. With a dominant 9-3 victory that created little drama or suspense given the stakes, the Cubs forced a must-see Game 7.

It will be Corey Kluber vs. Kyle Hendricks on Wednesday night, the only guarantee being one championship drought (68 years) or the other (108 years) will end, turning Cleveland or Chicago into a mixture of Times Square on New Year’s Eve and Mardi Gras in New Orleans. 

“There’s no tomorrow after tomorrow,” Anthony Rizzo said. “You lose, you go home. You win, you’re a hero.”

As oblivious to history as these Cubs can sometimes seem to be, they also have an innate understanding of how ridiculously talented they are now. Down 3-2, there would be no need to panic, with time to go trick-or-treating with the kids built into the travel itinerary before a Halloween night flight out of O’Hare International Airport. 

The longer this World Series went, the more the young Cubs could get acclimated to the overstimulation and slow down their at-bats. It meant a patient lineup would see more pitches and a get a better feel for Cleveland’s plan of attack.

It didn’t take long this time. A “Let’s go, Cubs!” chant broke out in the sellout crowd of 38,116 with two outs in the first inning when Kris Bryant launched Josh Tomlin’s 0-2 curveball 433 feet into the left-field seats. Rizzo and Ben Zobrist’s back-to-back singles off the finesse right-hander started the “TOM-LIN! TOM-LIN!” chants.

Addison Russell – who dressed up as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle for Halloween and made another splash on social media – then lifted a catchable flyball out toward right-center field. Lonnie Chisenhall cut over from right while Tyler Naquin charged in from center and the ball fell in between them. Hustling all the way from first base, Zobrist delivered the forearm shiver to Roberto Perez, knocking over the Cleveland catcher. Zobrist stood up screaming and smacked Rizzo’s hand.

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“Look, it’s been 108 years since this organization has won,” Zobrist said. “If we’re going to come back and win (from) down 3-1, then what better way to do it?”

At some point, Cleveland’s thin pitching staff would make more mistakes. Future Hall of Fame manager Terry Francona couldn’t push the right bullpen button every single time within this matrix of decisions. The deeper, more talented team could impose its will.

With Tomlin in trouble in the third inning, Francona summoned reliable right-hander Dan Otero to face Russell, who took two pitches before crushing the next one over the wall in left-center field for a grand slam. The Cubs handed Jake Arrieta a 3-0 lead before he threw his first pitch, and the Cy Young Award winner had a 7-0 lead by the time he gave up his first hit leading off the fourth inning.

Arrieta earned his second World Series win by pitching into the sixth inning, and that’s another reason why the Cubs didn’t overreact, expecting Jon Lester to take care of business in Game 5 and positioning ERA leader Kyle Hendricks for Game 7.  

“It kind of allows you to take a deep breath and say: ‘Hey, we’re still very much in this,’” Arrieta said. “When you look at the circumstances being down 3-1 – and having the guys that we did lined up – it makes us feel a little bit better about it. Whether our offense struggles or not in a particular game, we know that at any point in time, a guy like Addie can hit a grand slam.”

After handling some of the softer spots in the Cleveland pitching staff, the Cubs will now see Kluber for the third time in nine days, with Andrew Miller and Cody Allen reading and waiting to run in from the bullpen.

“We’ve overcome adversity all year,” catcher David Ross said. “Even going back to last year where it was all these things: ‘Could you do this? Could you do that?’ We answered most of those. And then the Mets beat us and you had to hear all about that for a full season, even when you win 103 games.

“It’s always something – I’ve learned that in the game. There’s always something to overcome. It’s always: ‘How are you going to do this? How are you going to do that?’ And this group has answered the bell. It’s in Game 7 of the World Series.”

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening


Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

Is this the offseason that Cubs executive Jason McLeod finally becomes an MLB general manager?

According to Bruce Levine, the Giants are reportedly interested in McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development, for their vacant general manager position.

McLeod joined the Cubs' front office in 2011 alongside Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Before the Cubs, he spent six years in the Red Sox front office and two in the Padres' (with Hoyer, who was San Diego's general manager from 2010-2011). 

Of course, the Giants' reported interest in McLeod doesn't necessarily mean that he will interview for the job. However, it's worth noting that McLeod interviewed for the Twins' general manager job in 2016; he also withdrew his name from consideration for the Padres' general manager job in 2014. 

In addition to the Giants, McLeod's name has been linked to the Mets' general manager vacancy. This is more speculation, but the point is that it seems to be only a matter of time before McLeod is hired as general manager elsewhere.

For what it's worth, though, McLeod is under contract through 2021 and has previously said that he is grateful to be with the Cubs. 

“I’m exceptionally grateful,” McLeod said. “All of us are. Look at where we are at this moment in time with this team," McLeod said in 2016. "I can’t imagine a better environment, a better culture to work at in baseball.

"We’ve been together a long time. We’re friends. We’re good. We embrace the fact that we are good. And we challenge ourselves to be even better.”

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

The Cubs are heading into a new season with a different hitting coach for the second straight winter, but the most recent choice is a familiar face.

Anthony Iapoce is set to join Joe Maddon's coaching staff this week after serving in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers for the last three seasons. The Cubs confirmed the move Monday afternoon shortly after the news broke out of the Rangers camp.

The Cubs fired Chili Davis last week after just one season as the team's hitting coach.

Entering the final week of the season, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister, leaving Iapoce and the rest of the Texas coaching staff in limbo.

As such, Iapoce is rejoining the Cubs, where he served as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-15 focusing on player development, particularly in the hitting department throughout the minor leagues.

Iapoce has familiarity with a bunch of the current star offensive players on the Cubs, from Willson Contreras to Kris Bryant. 

Both Bryant and Contreras endured tough 2018 seasons at the plate, which was a huge reason for the Cubs' underperforming lineup. Bryant's issue was more related to a left shoulder injured suffered in mid-May while Contreras' offensive woes remain a major question mark after the young catcher looked to be emerging as a legitimate superstar entering the campaign.

Getting Contreras back to the hitter that put up 21 homers and 74 RBI in only 117 games in 2017 will be one of the main goals for Iapoce, so the history between the two could be a key.

With the Rangers, Iapoce oversaw an offense that ranked 7th, 9th and 14th in MLB in runs scored over the last three seasons. The decline in offensive production is obviously not a great sign, but the Rangers as a team have fallen off greatly since notching the top seed in the AL playoffs in 2016 with 95 wins only to lose 95 games in 2018, resulting in the change at manager.

Iapoce has worked with an offense backed by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo the last few seasons.

Under Iapoce's tutelage, former top prospect Jurickson Profar shed any notion of a "bust" label and emerged as a budding star at age 25, collecting 61 extra-base hits with a .793 OPS in 2018.

When the Cubs let Davis go last week, they provided no update on assistant hitting coach Andy Haines, who just finished his first season in that role and is expected to remain with the team for 2019. The same offseason Iapoce left for the Rangers, Haines took over as the Cubs' minor league hitting instructor.