Cubs

Joe Maddon not expecting a shake-up of Cubs coaching staff

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USA TODAY

Joe Maddon not expecting a shake-up of Cubs coaching staff

Unless Joe Maddon gets blindsided by top-down changes or a personal decision, it sounds like the Cubs manager expects his entire coaching staff to return for the 2018 season, keeping together the group that has made three consecutive trips to the National League Championship Series.

“Of course,” Maddon said Wednesday at Wrigley Field, where the defending World Series champs were facing an elimination game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, on the verge of getting swept out of the NLCS. “Listen, the staff’s done a great job. Our staff’s been awesome. It’s a tightly-knit group. Really, there’s a lot of synergy involved.

“Nobody knows everything. Everybody helps everybody. There’s a lot of cross-pollination. Nobody’s on their own little island. I really like that.”

Pitching coach Chris Bosio – who would be an in-demand candidate after helping develop Jake Arrieta into a Cy Young Award winner and turn Kyle Hendricks into last year’s major-league ERA leader – also told WSCR-AM 670 that he believes the staff will remain intact.

Maddon – who only brought bench coach Dave Martinez over from the Tampa Bay Rays after the 2014 season – is a hands-off boss and a baseball lifer who did a lot of grunt work before becoming rich and famous.

“I don’t think any of them ever withhold saying something to me that they have on their mind, which I really appreciate,” Maddon said. “They don’t feel like they can’t say it. That’s the one thing I always wanted to build, that kind of a method where: ‘If you got something, say it. Don’t hold it back. Just say it. You know you can.’

“There’s nothing held against you for doing it. I think in some places that isn’t the case, so there’s a lot of positive messaging going on.”

This would be a connect-the-dots scenario, but Maddon ruled out the idea of hiring Jim Hickey, the longtime pitching coach who has roots in Chicago and parted ways with the Rays this month. Hickey’s influence helped turn the Rays into a viable small-market contender, coaching up young pitchers like David Price and Chris Archer.

“I called him to console a friend,” Maddon said. “We have not discussed (anything else). I just wanted to know how he was doing, purely because it kind of surprised me, and it surprised a lot of us. So I did talk to ‘Hick,’ but we talk all the time.

“He sends me texts when he’s driving over the causeways down there, because he knows how much I love looking for dolphins driving over the Howard Franklin or the Gandy Bridge. So he (texts): ‘I saw a couple dolphins this morning.’ And I try to get him to come to our parties – he’s a funny guy.

“We had a great relationship and he’s going to turn out just fine. He’s going to be well-sought-after.”

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

A year ago, the Cubs were struggling to float above .500, sitting 1.5 games behind the first-place Brewers.

Two years ago, the Cubs were10.5 games up on the second-place Cardinals in the division and already in cruise control to the postseason.

As they entered a weekend series in Cincinnati at 42-29 and in a tie for first place, the Cubs are feeling quite a bit more like 2016 than 2017.

The major reason? Energy, as Joe Maddon pointed out over the weekend.

That energy shows up most often on defense.

The 2016 Cubs put up maybe the best defensive season in baseball history while last year they truly looked hungover.

After a big of a slow start to 2018, the Cubs are feelin' more of that '16 swag.

If you watched either of the wins against the Los Angeles Dodgers this week at Wrigley Field, it's clear to see why: the defense.

"I like the defense," Maddon said of his team last week. "I'm into the defense. There's a tightness about the group. There's a closeness about the group. Not saying last year wasn't like that, but this group is definitely trending more in the '16 direction regarding interacting.

"If anything — and the one thing that makes me extremely pleased — would be the continuation of the defense. We've fed so much off our defense in '16. We've been doing that more recently again. We do so much good out there, then we come in and it gets kinda electric in the dugout. I'd like to see that trend continue on defense."

The Cubs scored only 2 runs in 10 innings in the second game against the Dodgers Tuesday night and managed just 4 runs in the finale Wednesday. Yet their gloves helped hold the Dodgers to only 1 run combined between the two games.

Wednesday's game was a defensive clinic, with Jason Heyward throwing out Chris Taylor at home plate with an incredible tag by Willson Contreras while Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber all hit the ground to make sprawling/diving plays.

"[Almora] comes in and dives for one and I'm just like, 'OK, I'm done clapping for you guys,'" Jon Lester, Wednesday's winning pitcher, joked. "It's expected now that these guys make these plays. It's fun on our end. It's the, 'Here, hit it. Our guys are really good out there and they're gonna run it down.'"

The Heyward throw, in particular, jacked the team up. 

Maddon compared it to a grand slam with how much energy it provided the Cubs. Almora said he momentarily lost his voice because he was screaming so much at the play.

There was also Baez making plays in the hole at shortstop, then switching over to second base and turning a ridiculous unassisted double play on a liner in the 8th inning.

"That's what we're capable of doing," Maddon said. "In the past, when we've won on a high level, we've played outstanding defense. It never gets old to watch that kind of baseball."

The Cubs are back to forcing opposing hitters to jog off the field, shaking their head in frustration and disbelief.

"It could be so dispiriting to the other side when you make plays like that," Maddon said. "And also it's buoyant to your pitchers. So there's all kinds of good stuff goin' on there."

A lot of that is the play of the outfield, with Almora back to himself after a down 2017 season and Schwarber turning into a plus-rated defensive outfield.

After finishing 19th in baseball in outfield assists last season, the Cubs are currently tied for 6th with 14 outfield assists this year.

Schwarber has 7 alone, which is already as many as he tallied in the entire 2017 season.

"I feel like they'll learn quickly on Schwarber, if they haven't yet," Heyward said. "You gotta earn that respect. You gotta earn that sense of caution from the third base coach.

"But please keep running on me in those situations. I want it to happen."

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow's body may not be healthy, but his sense of humor sure isn't on the disabled list.

The Cubs closer had to go on the DL Wednesday after he injured his back changing out of his pants early Monday morning when the Cubs returned home to Chicago after a Sunday night game in St. Louis.

The story made national rounds, not only in the baseball world, but resonating with non-sports fans, as well. After all, it's not every day a guy who gets paid millions for his athletic endeavors injures himself on a mundane every day activity.

But it's all good, because even Morrow can find the humor in the situation, Tweeting this out Thursday afternoon:

Morrow's back tightened up on him and didn't loosen up enough the next two days, making him unavailable for the Cubs doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

The team decided to put him on the shelf Wednesday morning so an already-gassed bullpen wouldn't have more pressure during this stretch of 14 games in 13 days.

The Cubs are in Cincinnati this weekend for a four-game series with the Reds. Morrow is eligible to return from the DL next Wednesday in Los Angeles as the Cubs once again take on the Dodgers — Morrow's old team.

The 33-year-old pitcher is 16-for-17 in save chances this year while posting a 1.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in 22.2 innings. He's only given up a run in 2 of his 26 outings as a Cub.