Cubs

Willson Contreras apologizes to Cubs fans on Twitter and again makes his presence felt in World Series

Willson Contreras apologizes to Cubs fans on Twitter and again makes his presence felt in World Series

CLEVELAND — Willson Contreras became the first Cub in franchise history to apologize on social media for pimping a double in a World Series game.

These Cubs are trying to write their own history with a group of young players who love the game and play it with flair and a definite sense of swagger. That raw talent and those emotional sparks helped this team win 103 games and its first National League pennant since 1945. Major League Baseball desperately needs more personalities, and the Cubs are delivering that hoped-for surge in TV ratings, with Fox no doubt rooting for the drama of a Game 7.

As much as the Cubs run on adrenaline, they also don’t crash hard, bouncing back with a 5-1 win over the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday night before the World Series shifts to what will be a wild scene in Wrigleyville this weekend.

Contreras made his presence felt in Game 2 by helping Jake Arrieta flirt with a no-hitter, holding the Indians to zero stolen bases, getting on base three times and learning from his mistake the night before. Facing Indians closer Cody Allen — with his team down six runs in the ninth inning on Tuesday — Contreras hammered a 92-mph fastball and watched it fly at Progressive Field.

Contreras flipped his bat aside, took about five steps and then started to realize that he needed to hustle and follow manager Joe Maddon’s “Respect 90” philosophy.

“I swear I didn’t see it,” Maddon said. “I guess we’re setting a record for the most guys under 24 years of age. And I want to believe that (with) a lot of our youngsters — as they gain more experience — you’re going to see a lot of that stuff go away.

“But I did not notice it. I jumped out to see the flight of the ball and I saw it hit the wall. But I did not see what he was doing. So I would not have known that had you not brought it up.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

It did not go unnoticed within the clubhouse, which has already seen Javier Baez do the same act during the playoffs. A veteran Cub said something to Contreras, who posted a message on his Twitter account:

Contreras has been a quick study, absorbing a sophisticated scouting/game-planning system and learning how to work with a veteran pitching staff filled with different personalities. Maddon paired Contreras with a Cy Young Award winner — keeping Miguel Montero on the bench — and will rely on the rookie catcher with a rocket arm to help control the running game against an aggressive Cleveland team.

“He’s an energizer, there’s no question,” Maddon said. “When you talk to him, he definitely engages you. He looks right at you when you’re speaking to him. He’s passionate about his job and very bright.”

Lesson learned: When Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis misplayed a groundball with two outs in the fifth inning, Contreras sprinted to first base and reached safely on the error. That pushed Bryan Shaw — Cleveland’s second of six relievers out of the bullpen — to keep working. Back-to-back walks to Jorge Soler and Addison Russell then forced in an insurance run that made it 5-0.

“I want to compete,” Contreras said. “It feels good when you win the (battle) against one of the best closers in the big leagues. (But) I was wrong. My first thought was get the phone, tweet it out. I knew it was my fault. But it won’t happen again.”

With essential contributions from Baez (NL Championship Series co-MVP) and Contreras (9-for-25, .949 OPS in playoffs), the Cubs have obliterated the narratives about this team playing too tight and worrying about what happened in the past and expecting something to go wrong.

“We all are like brothers,” Contreras said. “We support each other. Either way, Americans or Latin players, we are one team. We’re able to be ourselves because of that confidence that they give us. Maddon gives you the confidence to go out there and play your baseball and do what you got to do.

“That’s important for us — feel freedom.”

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

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USA TODAY

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.