‘There’s no magic potion’ to fix Cubs team that looked lost during 0-6 West Coast trip

‘There’s no magic potion’ to fix Cubs team that looked lost during 0-6 West Coast trip

SAN DIEGO – Another city meant another round of hangover questions for Joe Maddon, this time the Cubs manager getting compared to John Wooden and Phil Jackson while his team is breaking down in all phases of the game.  

“Everybody looks good when things are going well,” Maddon said during Wednesday’s pregame media session at Petco Park. “You’d like to see who looks good when things aren’t going so well, who’s able to maintain their sense of decorum and composure and basically don’t lose their minds.”

We’re about to find out. The defending World Series champs are a lot closer to that breaking point than anyone would have imagined during the banner-raising ceremony and ring presentations, ending an 0-for-6 West Coast trip with a 2-1 loss to the San Diego Padres. 

There is no “Pyramid of Success” to follow or Zen Master around to fix this. The Cubs are clearly pressing and playing without the same confidence and crispness that had so many people thinking a dynasty along the lines of UCLA basketball or Jordan’s Bulls.       

“There’s no magic potion,” Maddon said afterward. “We just got to keep going out there and playing. I believe in our guys, 100 percent, wholeheartedly. These are good, young players. They’ve shown it in the past. They’re going to show it to you again.”  

Maybe the photos will trickle out later on social media, but several noticeable players in the visiting clubhouse weren’t wearing their “Anchorman” costumes and trying to match Maddon for the long flight back home to Chicago. The traveling press corps had essentially run out of different ways to ask the same question about the offensive spiral when Jason Heyward snapped at a reporter. 

“It’s part of the game, so I’m not going to say anything negative,” Heyward said. “If you’re trying to get me to say anything negative, I’m not going to say it.”

OK, then, the Cubs needed an infield single to score their only run through seven innings against Luis Perdomo, a Rule 5 guy last year who came into the game with a 5.61 ERA, wasting a quality start from 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta. 

The Cubs scored nine runs on this road trip – four off Clayton Kershaw, of all people – and went 3-for-40 with runners in scoring position against the surging Los Angeles Dodgers and last-place Padres.

“I feel like guys are battling,” said Anthony Rizzo, whose two hits through 22 at-bats in Southern California came against Kershaw. “It’s just that you grip that bat a little bit harder. And it’s not as easy – myself included – for all of us.

“The good thing is it means we’re due. The law of averages means we’re due for a big outbreak. And I think once it does come, we’ll be on for a while.”

Until then, the Cubs played with almost no margin for error against a franchise that’s tanking for the future, starting another Rule 5 pick (catcher Luis Torrens) who had never played above the Class-A level until this season. San Diego’s leadoff guy (Franchy Cordero) had been called up Memorial Day weekend to make his big-league debut and delivered the game-changing hit in the eighth inning, driving a 78-mph Koji Uehara pitch off the right-center field wall for a one-out triple.

Cordero scored the go-ahead run when Yangervis Solarte bounced a ball toward drawn-in second baseman Ian Happ, who popped up and made a high throw to Willson Contreras. Cordero slid safely through the catcher’s legs, the Cubs looking like a 25-27 team that needs Thursday’s day off to decompress and feels fortunate enough to be playing in a weakened NL Central. 

Rest up, get away from it, blow off some team, whatever, because the St. Louis Cardinals are coming to Wrigleyville this weekend.

“From spring training to the last game of the year, you always have to keep the mindset of you never know what’s going to happen in a season,” Heyward said. “Don’t get too high. Don’t get too low.

“Look up and still be thankful we still got a chance to win our division.”

ESPN to broadcast two of Cubs first four games in 2020


ESPN to broadcast two of Cubs first four games in 2020

It won't be long before baseball fans get their first look at the Cubs under new manager David Ross.

ESPN announced Thursday they will broadcast two of the Cubs' first four games in 2020: March 29 against the Brewers in Milwaukee (Sunday Night Baseball) and March 30 against the Pirates (3 p.m. first pitch). The latter game is the Cubs' 2020 home opener.

Ross worked as a color analyst for ESPN from 2017-19 before the Cubs hired him as manager in October. So, not only will his club be in the national spotlight early in the season, but his former co-workers will be the ones analyzing him as his managerial career kicks off.

The Cubs open the season on March 26 against the Brewers.

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Willson Contreras’ trade value just spiked, thanks to White Sox signing Yasmani Grandal


Willson Contreras’ trade value just spiked, thanks to White Sox signing Yasmani Grandal

This is the best thing the White Sox have done for the Cubs in years.

The White Sox made a big splash in free agency Thursday, signing catcher Yasmani Grandal to a four-year, $73 million contract. Grandal joins the South Siders from the Brewers, where he played an integral role in Milwaukee making a second-straight postseason appearance in 2019.

Grandal led qualified catchers in on-base percentage (.380) last season, also posting career highs in home runs (28) and RBIs (77). He’s also an excellent pitch framer, tying for fourth in RszC (runs saved by catcher framing) among all catchers with 9.

Milwaukee’s payroll reached a franchise-high $122.5 million in 2019 and their farm system (No. 29 in MLB, per Baseball America) is lacking. How they replace Grandal’s production is a major question mark, which in turn is a win for the Cubs this offseason.

But besides plucking him from the NL Central, the White Sox signing Grandal early in the offseason helps the Cubs, who have important decisions of their own to make.

Although Cubs president Theo Epstein said to take any trade rumors with a “mouthful of salt,” multiple teams believe catcher Willson Contreras is available for trade. The Cubs need to retool their roster and replenish a farm system that has been depleted in recent seasons from numerous “win now” trades.

The Cubs and White Sox made the notorious José Quintana trade in July 2017, but it’s unlikely the two would have matched up for a Contreras trade. The Cubs need young assets; trading away young assets is the last thing the White Sox want to do as their championship window opens.

So, Grandal landed with a team that was unlikely to be involved in any potential Contreras trade talks. Grandal was the best free agent catcher; Contreras is the best catcher that can be had in a trade.

Other teams interested in Grandal — such as the Reds — can no longer turn to him in free agency. The Rays have made addressing the catcher spot this winter a priority, but they have one of MLB’s lowest payrolls each season. Signing Grandal wasn’t going to happen, but Tampa Bay has the farm system (No. 2 in baseball, per to make a big trade.

Contreras is the best catcher available — for the right price, obviously — so the ball is in the Cubs' court. They don’t get better by dealing their two-time All-Star backstop, but Contreras’ trade value is high. With Grandal off the market, it just got even higher.

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