Cubs

This is the thanks Joe Maddon gets for Cubs winning the World Series?

This is the thanks Joe Maddon gets for Cubs winning the World Series?

Amid all the euphoria surrounding the franchise's first World Series title in more than a century, the first question from the audience to Theo Epstein and a panel of Cubs executives on Saturday morning involved why Joe Maddon pulled Kyle Hendricks with two outs in the fifth inning of Game 7.
 
In the next Q&A session inside the same massive hotel ballroom, another fan raved about Maddon's style, how he had envisioned him as the perfect personality to manage this team: "That being said, now Game 7…"
 
"There's always a big but in the room," Maddon said into the microphone.
 
Another fan at the Sheraton Grand Chicago wondered: "If (Aroldis) Chapman was here, would you ask him to do one hour of autographs last night, two hours today and three hours tomorrow?"
 
Welcome to Cubs Convention.
 
"He's definitely in shape – he's in good enough shape to do something like that," Maddon said. "This is the best-conditioned baseball player I've ever been around."
 
To be clear, this didn't sum up the overall mood at a fanfest that could produce giddy vibes and this-is-the-year optimism coming off a last-place season. It's just fascinating that this is the thanks Maddon gets after doing what no Cubs manager had done since 1908.    
 
"Listen, honestly, I love the second-guessing," Maddon said. "I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. I hung out at Bellhops bar all the time. And if you don't have these kinds of conversations – that's a big part of why our game is so popular and is as great as it is." 
 
Could you imagine Bill Belichick or Gregg Popovich sitting up on stage at an event like this for 60 minutes – and patiently explaining their decision-making yet again – after the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl or the San Antonio Spurs won an NBA title?  
 
Maddon welcomed Chapman to Chicago after a 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball's domestic-violence policy and a controversial midseason trade from the New York Yankees. Maddon went along with the closer's one-clean-inning-at-a-time preferences during the regular season before having him throw 97 pitches combined in Games 5, 6 and 7 against the Cleveland Indians.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]
 
Chapman repaid Maddon by telling New York reporters – on the conference call to officially announce his five-year, $86 million contract with the Yankees last month – that the manager misused him in the playoffs.
 
"We do kind of manage along with Joe in the stands," said Epstein, who felt like he died about three different times during Game 7. "I'll be the first to say I don't always agree with everything, but he's always got a reason for everything. 
 
"Before the game, he had a real strong feeling. The way he saw it going was Hendricks for five or so, (Jon) Lester for a couple and then Chapman, which is different because Joe usually really makes sure he watches the game. 
 
"He likes to anticipate all different scenarios before the game, but he's really big on watching the game and seeing how the game's going and managing the game that he sees – not the game that he thought he had anticipated. 
 
"We forget that Kyle had some hard-hit balls in the second, third inning and he had to get Lester up early. A big part of that decision…was that once he got Lester up he couldn't wait too long to then get him in the game. 
 
"From the scouts' section, it looked to me probably like it looked to you at home – Hendricks was rolling and probably could have gone seven or something. But there are other things a manager has to consider – like the fact that he already had Lester up – that you don't necessarily think about at home. 
 
"The bottom line is that I'm usually a process-based person – not outcome-based – but when you win the World Series, I love being outcome-based."   
 
There's no telling how this rebuilding project would have turned out if the Cubs hadn't lucked into Maddon using an escape clause in his contract and leaving the Tampa Bay Rays after the 2014 season. 
 
But the Cubs absolutely needed the force of Maddon's personality to win 200 games and five playoff rounds across the last two years. It's his faith in young talent, embrace of data, the ability to charm, distract and defuse the media and an overall "When It Happens" confidence that he projected to the entire organization.   
 
"Listen, the great part about the game is everyone manages along with the manager and second-guesses," Epstein said. "Everyone GMs along with the GM and second-guesses. It's their right. But ultimately to do a great job and win – that kind of speaks for itself – so he's got the ultimate defense.
 
"No one's perfect, right? I've messed a lot of things up. Our players mess up from time to time. A manager's not going to get everything right. Or at least certainly he's not going to make decisions that please everyone all the time. 
 
"But in a great organization, people pick each other up to get to a point where you can win."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Flashback to Jake Arrieta's second no-hitter

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Flashback to Jake Arrieta's second no-hitter

Luke Stuckmeyer takes a trip down memory lane on the 3rd anniversary of Jake Arrieta's no-hitter against the Reds in Cincinnati. You'll hear all the biggest calls of the game from Len & JD, plus Jake's immediate reaction after tossing his second no-no in a span of 11 regular season starts.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

Yu Darvish still searching for results, but maintains he's on the cusp of putting it all together

Yu Darvish still searching for results, but maintains he's on the cusp of putting it all together

Yu Darvish accomplished something Saturday he has never done in a Cubs uniform — he pitched at least 5 innings in three straight starts for the first time since signing that $126 million deal more  than 14 months ago.

That's not exactly an indicator that Darvish will be contending for the National League Cy Young this season, but it's certainly a step in the right direction from his previous 10 starts in Chicago.

Darvish lasted just 5 innings in Saturday's 6-0 loss to the Diamondbacks, needing 88 pitches to get through those frames before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fifth inning. 

He retired 12 of the final 14 batters he faced, including a pair of strikeouts to end his last inning. 

Does he feel like he's still moving forward?

"I think so, especially that last inning," Darvish said. "The fifth inning — mentally — was very good. It's good for next start."

The end line Saturday wasn't great — 5 innings, 5 hits, 3 runs, 3 walks, 7 strikeouts, 2 homers — but he kept his team in the ballgame after giving up back-to-back homers to the second and third hitters of the afternoon.

He was still hitting 96 mph in the fifth inning and acknowledged he could've easily gone another inning if the Cubs weren't trailing 3-0 when his spot in the batting order came up.

"The fastball velocity came up as the game was going on, the breaking ball got sharper," Joe Maddon said. "...They got him quickly and then [Zack] Greinke pitched so well. I thought keeping it at 3, which Yu did do, and that's really not a bad thing after the beginning of that game. We just could not get to Greinke. 

"Had we been able to get back into the game, I think Yu's performance would've been looked on more favorably, because he actually did settle down and do a pretty good job."

Still, the Cubs need more than moral victories every time Darvish takes the ball.

Theo Epstein said earlier this month he doesn't think it's fair to issue a "start-to-start referendum" on Darvish, but this is 5 starts into the season now for the 32-year-old right-hander, who's walked 18 batters and served up 6 homers in 22.2 innings so far. 

Forget the salary or the big free agent deal. This is a four-time All-Star who has twice finished in the Top 10 in Cy Young voting, yet fell to 2-6 with a 5.31 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in 13 starts in a Cubs uniform. 

In those 13 starts, Darvish has walked multiple batters in 11 of them and allowed at least 3 earned runs in 8 outings. He's also averaged less than 5 innings a start overall, and that number is down to just 4.5 innings per outing in 2019. 

Darvish said he wants to pitch into the seventh inning (something he's never done as a Cub) and believes that would be great for his confidence that's been building — slowly but surely — since the start of the season. But he still has to get over that hump.

"His stuff's nasty — plain and simple," Jason Heyward said. "Any time I pitch with Yu in a video game, guarantee at least a 1-hitter. I feel like his confidence is just another thing he'll have to keep building on for himself. 

"Every game is different. Today was — I guess you could say — a step back or whatever. Last start was pretty good and next start, I know he's gonna come out and be hungry again. ... Today was one day. We got a long season. Hopefully next time we can scratch a few runs across."

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