MILWAUKEE – A Milwaukee reporter asked Joe Maddon the standard out-of-town question about how the Cubs are handling expectations and if they are ignoring or embracing all the attention.
“Have you seen our T-shirts?” Maddon said during Tuesday’s pregame media session in Miller Park’s visiting dugout.
Uh, no, so the writer asked a follow-up: “What do they say?”
“Well, they say ‘Embrace The Target,’” Maddon responded, launching into his stump speech about not running away from pressure, freeing the mind from outcome bias and simply focusing on the process.
The Cubs manager actually tailored that message for teams like the Brewers, the trade-deadline sellers trying to stay out of last place and looking for motivation. As if on cue, a struggling right-hander named Chase Anderson retired the first 16 batters he faced, brought a no-hitter into the eighth inning and finished one out short of a complete-game shutout.
“He pitched well, but I was not displeased with our at-bats,” Maddon said after a 4-2 loss that still left the Cubs (27-10) with the best record in baseball. “When we play anybody right now – outside of the teams that already have targets on their backs – we’re going to see that kind of performance.”
For what it’s worth, the Cubs are 11-2 so far against the Pirates, Nationals and Cardinals combined this season – and have already lost series to the Rockies and Padres. Playing up or down to the level of the competition had been an issue during parts of last year’s breakthrough into the playoffs.
“Any team we play, they’re going to bring their best game for us,” said losing pitcher Kyle Hendricks (2-3, 3.51 ERA). “When we play the really good teams, we expect that more. I think maybe we just need to put in our minds against these other teams that they’re coming for us, no matter what.”
Miguel Montero – who caught Anderson with the Diamondbacks and sees his ceiling as a good fifth starter – put it this way: “The pitchers that we face are going to have a little bit of extra giddy-up.”
The next stops are San Francisco and St. Louis on this nine-games-in-nine-days road trip, which means big crowds, ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” and more questions about T-shirts at Busch Stadium. But first the Cubs have to deal with the 17-22 Brewers.
“The teams that are struggling a bit are the teams that worry me even more,” Maddon said. “(We’re) going to bring out the best in them. I went through that as a Devil Ray. Not that we did really well against anybody else as Devil Rays. But nevertheless, when you go to Yankee Stadium or Boston and you’re struggling, at least you’re playing in Yankee Stadium and Boston.
“When you come to Wrigley, even if you’re struggling, you’re at Wrigley. So I’m always concerned about that – that we take care of business against everybody. Don’t apply any more weight to any particular game. It should always remain the same.
“The threat is that the other team’s going to apply more (weight). So you just got to be ready to play. You can’t just show up.”