Why Cubs playing greedy down the stretch is a good thing


Why Cubs playing greedy down the stretch is a good thing

The Cubs’ five-game lead for the second wild card spot could, perhaps should, afford them a bit of leeway.

It could be a reason to back off, rest a few regulars, pull starters early, or give the four stalwart rookies a bit of a break.

But with the Pirates just three games ahead for the top wild card spot, Cubs manager Joe Maddon was hearing none of it on Sunday morning. Following back-to-back comeback wins, including a thrilling one on Saturday that featured a bevy of basket home runs, the Cubs have a chance to register their fourth four-game sweep of the season.

Having already swept four-game sets from the Mets, Brewers and Giants this year, Chicago can sweep Atlanta on Sunday. The Cubs haven’t swept four, four-game series in a single season since 1945. A win would also put the Cubs at 71-51, a high watermark for the season.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

“We weren’t satisfied with splitting the series after we won the first two. I love that,” Maddon said. “That was obvious yesterday by the comeback that we had. And so now you go for it. You go for it. You’re not, ‘Oh, we won the series.’ No, no, no. You don’t do that. You can never think that way. That’s the trap that really prevents you from being as great as you can be. This is where you really go for it.”

The Cubs, who are 18-4 in their last 22 games, are testing the limits of how good they can be. Part of the excitement is that the answer to that question is largely unknown. But they’re hardly content with the fourth-best record in the big leagues to this point, because given their NL Central opponents, a solid year simply won’t make the postseason cut.

Jason Hammel gets the start on Sunday, looking to rebound from an awful outing in his last appearance against the Tigers.  Hammel, who hasn’t won at home since April 27th, allowed nine hits and three home runs on a blustery day at Wrigley last Tuesday. He hasn’t gotten through six innings since July 3 – a span of 7 starts – so the Cubs’ bullpen may be taxed yet again.

[MORE: Maddon is still all-in on Dan Haren]

In the three wins vs. the Braves thus far, Cubs relievers have been responsible for 11 2/3 innings of work. Maddon’s quick hooks are yet another indication of how important he views each game, whether the opponent is Atlanta (which owns the most road losses in the majors) or a postseason hopeful.

The contenders – San Francisco and Los Angeles – are on deck, but on Sunday, the Braves had Maddon’s undivided attention even with the series in hand. 

“It’s Sunday," Maddon said. "That’s all I’m worried about is Sunday. We’re playing the Dodgers and the Giants next week. Fine. But I’m worried about Sunday. … I think the trap is when you start getting caught up in this rush to the finish line as opposed to taking care of the moment. I think if you’re able to maintain that mindset, success follows.” 

A shortsighted perspective ensures the Cubs won't get caught up in the frenzy of a September pennant chase. Although, like it or not, that time is rapidly approaching. 

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Why can't a trade be looked at as a win-win? 

There doesn't always have to be a clear winner and loser.

Prior to Jose Quintana taking the ball for Saturday's game against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field, Joe Maddon was asked about the players (Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease) the Cubs gave up to acquire Quintana as well as the deal with the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman in July 2016.

Gleyber Torres is absolutely killing it in New York, hitting .323 with a 1.014 OPS, 9 homers and 24 RBI in only 29 games. Six of those homers have come in the last week alone. 

With the White Sox, both Jimenez and Cease have found success in Double-A and Advanced Class-A, respectively.

Jimenez is hitting .331 with a .992 OPS, 9 homers and 35 RBI in 35 games. Cease is 6-2 with a 2.83 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 47.2 innings.

As the Cubs work to get their offense settled into a consistent groove, some Cubs fans have been looking at what might've been with guys like Torres and Jimenez.

"You can't have it both ways, man," Maddon said. "I'm happy for Gleyber. When he left, we talked about it. And we talked about the kids that went to the White Sox. It's good stuff. 

"I'm really disappointed if anybody's disappointed in the fact we won the World Series in 2016 and the fact that the guy we're talking about that we had to give up Gleyber for was so instrumental in that happening. That's bad process if you're gonna get stuck on something like that. Be happy for Gleyber. Be happy for him."

Maddon has been a fan of Torres' since he saw him in spring training in 2015, Maddon's first year in the Cubs organization.

"This kid's 21, with high, high baseball intellect," Maddon said. "He's very similar to Javy on the field. I've had some great conversations with him in the past. 

"The first time I saw him in spring training, I thought this guy's for real. It was like one at-bat, line drive to RF, I said who is this guy? And then you have a conversation with him. He's solid."

Maddon's point is a great one — would Cubs fans prefer to still have Torres and NOT have the 2016 World Series championship? Because that title doesn't happen without Chapman, regardless of how you feel about him as a person or what the Cubs had to give up to acquire him.

"Don't play that game," Maddon said. "Be happy for [Torres]. I'm gonna be happy when Eloy and Dylan make it up here. All these dudes, I want them to get here and be really good. And the guys that we get, I want them to be really good. 

"I don't understand why somebody's gotta lose all the time. This is an absolute classic example of what was good for both teams."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998


Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

An off-day did nothing to slow down the 1998 National League MVP as Sosa collected his second straight 2-homer game May 27 of that season.

He went deep in the eighth and ninth innings of a Cubs' 10-5 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field, driving in 3 runs. 

The first homer - off Darrin Winston - was an absolute blast, traveling an estimated 460 feet. The second shot was tame in comparison with only 400 feet as a recorded distance.

In a matter of two games, Sosa raised his season OPS from .930 to .988 and his slugging percentage from .521 to .577 thanks to a pair of 2-homer contests.

Fun fact: Doug Glanville - former Cubs outfielder and current NBC Sports Chicago analyst - was the Phillies leadoff hitter that day in 1998, collecting three hits and scoring a pair of runs.