Examining Cubs new coaching additions and how Chili Davis got his unique name

Examining Cubs new coaching additions and how Chili Davis got his unique name

Charles Theodore Davis is not a household name in Wrigleyville.

But "Chili" Davis, on the other hand, is a name that resonates with baseball fans everywhere.

The former slugger is now tasked with coaching up the most important assets the Cubs have — a stable of young hitters.

Davis was hired Thursday afternoon as the Cubs' new hitting coach, taking over for hometown hero John Mallee, who helped guide the team to its first World Series championship in 108 years last fall.

Davis has instant clout that comes with racking up nearly 10,000 plate appearances (9,997 - 87th all time) over the course of a 19-year MLB career, playing for the San Francisco Giants, California Angels, Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals and New York Yankees.

The Jamaican native also carries one of the most unique names in baseball history. Davis' dad gave him that moniker at age 12:

“My dad gave me a haircut...and it wasn’t a very good one. When I went out of the house, my friends got on my case and said it looked like someone put a chili bowl over my head and cut around it.” One friend in particular coined it, Shawn Shephard – a cousin of Shane Mack, Chili’s future teammate with the Minnesota Twins. Although the “Bowl” part dropped away over time, “Chili” stuck for good. Davis himself wound up becoming a barber on the side. In 1985 he said, “I like playing with’s a hobby, I guess.”

Davis' hobby now blends with the Cubs' main focus, ensuring their young hitters take that next step forward.

Joe Maddon and Davis crossed paths for three years in California: 1994-96, when Davis was smashing 74 homers while Maddon was working on the Angels coaching staff.

Davis played until age 39 in 1999 and began his coaching career in 2010 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He spent three seasons (2012-14) as the hitting coach of the Oakland A's before taking the same position with the Boston Red Sox for the 2015-17 seasons.

During his three years in Boston, the Red Sox scored the most runs in baseball, saw the most pitches and had the highest on-base percentage. 

They finished 10th in baseball in runs and 22nd in OPS in 2017, but in 2016 — before David Ortiz retired — they scored 33 more runs than any other team in the league.

Of course, that helps when you have Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts leading a young core at Fenway to blend with Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez and 2017 newcomers Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers.

Davis' experience in Boston working with all those young hitters will help in Chicago as he tries to develop an offense that just turned in the lowest batting average in postseason history this fall.

"Here's another guy that is really good with regards to helping our hitters get to the next level possibly situationally," Maddon said on a conference call Thursday.

Situational hitting is the main area of improvement needed for a Cubs offense that scored the second-most runs in the National League in 2017 and led baseball with 5.7 runs per game in the second half while awakening from a World Series hangover.

Maddon talked about the offense ad nauseam throughout the year and Theo Epstein addressed the desire for their team to have consistent, tough, team at-bats in his 2017 postmortem last week.

"Grinding at-bats where we perform well with situational hitting, where we perform well with runners in scoring position," Epstein said. "Where we have a dependable, consistent, two-strike approach. Where we're no fun to pitch against. And really, really good pitchers — elite pitchers — feel the same way.

"We did a lot of things really well offensively this year, but at times and in the postseason when we came up against elite pitching, it became tough. And that's usually what happens against elite pitching.

"But to be a consistent championship organization and to win multiple World Series, you have to get to a point where your at-bats are so mature and so consistent that you even give the good pitchers fits. If we're honest about it, we didn't get to that point this year."

The Cubs and Maddon clearly think Davis will help the offense progress more than Mallee was going to, in part because it's a different person delivering the message.

Brian Butterfield joined Davis in the pilgrimage from Boston to Chicago, where he will serve as the new third-base coach, pushing out Gary Jones.

Butterfield has spent 22 seasons as a big-league coach, including 17 as a third-base coach. He has worked with the Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays.

"I've known Butter for a long time and part of his background is that he's an excellent third-base coach," Maddon said. "But beyond that, he's a really outstanding baserunning coach, too, and we wanted to add that skillset to our group."

Cubs feel Yu Darvish is 'on a mission' to return and provide boost in pennant race

Cubs feel Yu Darvish is 'on a mission' to return and provide boost in pennant race

Yu Darvish cursed and snapped his head in frustration.

He had just spiked a fastball in the dirt to Cubs backup catcher Victor Caratini as Tuesday morning's sim game was winding down.

A couple moments later, Darvish fluttered one of his patented eephus pitches way up and out to Caratini and again let an expletive slip out.

Darvish threw about 55 pitches in three "innings" worth of a simulated game (meaning he sat down and rested for a few moments in between each "inning") while facing Caratini and David Bote with a host of onlookers including a gaggle of Chicago media, Joe Maddon and his maroon Levi's and Van's kicks, Theo Epstein and a group of Cubs coaches.

"It was good," Epstein said minutes after Darvish wrapped it up. "He was competing well out there, spinning the ball really well. Maybe his best spin of the year. That was good to see.

"We'll see how he feels tomorrow, but seems like he's just about ready for the next step, which should be rehab games."

Nobody knows how many rehab outings Darvish may need at this point and there's still no timetable for when the Cubs will get him back in the rotation. 

Epstein acknowledged that at this point in the season — with less than seven weeks left until playoffs begin — the Cubs have just one shot to make this work with Darvish. Any setback now is essentially the dagger in any hopes of a comeback.

You can get giddy about the spin rate all you want, but the real telling sign to the Cubs was Darvish's attitude. Instead of worrying about his arm or any lingering pain out there, he was getting pissed at himself for missing spots as he started to tire in the sim game.

It was a sign to both Epstein and Maddon that Darvish is getting back in the right head space to return to a big-league field in the middle of a tight pennant race.

"I think he wants it," Epstein said. "The guys that are around him every day feel like he's really eager to get out there and compete. Even in the sim game today, when Vic had a good swing on the fastball, he came back on the next one a little bit harder and was mixing all his pitches.

"He's going about his business like someone who's on a mission to come back and help this team."

Maddon concurred.

"Totally engaged, looked really good, was not holding back," the Cubs skipper said. "...We were all very impressed."

All that being said, the Cubs still aren't in a place where they feel confident enough to just plug Darvish back into the rotation for the final few weeks of September and into October (assuming they make it there). 

Darvish has said himself he feels like he turned a corner a couple weeks ago and is back in a good place physically.

Still, his journey back has already experienced several hiccups and there's no telling everything will be perfect from here.

At the end of the day, Maddon and his staff have no choice but to try to win ballgames with the guys who are on their active roster and can't worry about what "might be" with Darvish, Kris Bryant, Brandon Morrow or even Drew Smyly.

Of course, getting those guys back healthy would be a heck of a boon to this Cubs team, but it's not something they can count on.

"I don't think you ever get to that point," Epstein said. "... Anytime a player's injured, there's a certain probability that he returns and on a certain timetable and there's a spectrum of outcomes when he comes back. From being significantly better than he was before he went down to performing the same to not being effective.

"None of us can predict exactly what the outcome is gonna be, so you have to be prepared for all the possible outcomes. You never want the performance of any one player to be the linchpin of the success of the club. Because if you are, you're being irresponsible and setting yourself up to fail.

"At the same time, you're never gonna be as good as you might be if one of your most talented players returns and returns in really good form. We're hopeful and we're trying to do everything we can to put him in a position to succeed and right now, there've been a lot of good signs, which is certainly better than where we were six weeks ago."

Brewers' faltering bullpen not doing them favors in NL Central race


Brewers' faltering bullpen not doing them favors in NL Central race

At a time when the Cubs are missing their closer and continuing to hold their lead on the division anyway, the Brewers are in a very different place. 

Coming in to a short but weighty series at Wrigley Field, Milwaukee has dropped two games via bullpen meltdown in their last four. Corey Knebel, who saved 39 games for the Brewers in 2017 with a 1.93 ERA, has seen much more limited time in the closer's role this year. But getting him right will probably make the difference for Milwaukee down the stretch.

"It’s important that we get him going," Brewers manager Craig Counsell told reporters before Tuesday's game. "Getting Corey on track is probably the bigger equation in this that kind of normalizes the bullpen."

Last Thursday, Knebel loaded the bases in the 9th when Milwaukee was leading, 4-2, and eventually left for Joakim Soria after allowing a run on a single. This set the stage for Hunter Renfroe's grand slam that cost the Brewers the game. In his next appearance, Knebel pitched in the 5th inning against the Braves and gave up a run in Milwaukee's eventual 8-7 loss.

Without a reliable Knebel, the Brewers have had to play mix and match with their bullpen, a recipe that doesn't usually work. It's been successful so far for the Cubs in the absence of Morrow, but that hasn't been the case for Milwaukee lately. 

The Brewers acquired Joakim Soria from the White Sox on July 26 in hopes of shoring up their bullpen, but after giving up the grand slam to Renfroe last week, Soria hit the DL with a right quadriceps strain. Counsell said that it isn't likely for Soria to return very soon, however.

"We’re not going to be at 10 days, I’ll tell you that," Counsell said, adding that Soria is still only doing stationary bike work at this point.

But help might be on the way. Taylor Williams, who was placed on the 10-day disabled list on August 3, is eligible to return. For now, the Brewers opted to keep outfielder Keon Broxton on the roster, but Williams could prove to be a boon for the Milwaukee reliever corps. Before being shelved, he was averaging more than a strikeout per inning. 

Otherwise, the Brewers have Matt Albers rehabbing in Biloxi, Mississippi, where they plan to let him appear in at least a couple games before activating him.

Milwaukee has a chance to cut the division lead to a single game these next two days, but without a reliable bullpen, that could prove especially difficult.