Cubs

Joe Maddon received a first-place vote for NL Manager of the Year

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USA TODAY

Joe Maddon received a first-place vote for NL Manager of the Year

Joe Maddon's future beyond 2019 remains unclear, but his 2018 performance was good enough in someone's eyes to warrant a first-place vote in NL Manager of the Year voting.

Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker won the award, receiving 17 of the 30 first-place votes in the process. Meanwhile, Maddon also added a third-place vote to finish fifth overall, behind Milwaukee's Craig Counsell, Colorado's Bud Black and St. Louis' Mike Shildt.

Members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America vote for the award and two representatives from each market vote, adding up to the 30 voters (see the full list of 2018 NL voters here). Jayson Stark tweeted out that it was in fact 670 The Score's Bruce Levine who voted for Maddon with a hometown pick.

A large number of Cubs fans are disappointed that 2018 was the worst postseason run the team has had in the current run of four straight playoff appearances, but that doesn't factor into the voting. Maddon led the Cubs to 95 wins, second best in the league to the Brewers after Milwaukee won the NL Central playoff at Wrigley Field. He did so while Yu Darvish pitched only 40 innings, Kris Bryant was limited to 102 games and had his worst season in the majors and closer Brandon Morrow didn't pitch after July 15.

That is a decent argument to make for Maddon, but expectations have never been higher on the North Side and Theo Epstein saying the Cubs won't renew his contract this offseason isn't the highest vote of confidence.

Maddon's future with the Cubs will be a talking point until he either leaves or gets a new contract, but he has one believer in Chicago.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Lineups and leadoff men

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Lineups and leadoff men

Luke and Kap discuss the latest goings-on from Cubs camp, including Joe Maddon's recent talk about how he's going to handle his lineup card this season (0:45), the lack of a true lead-off hitter impacting the batting order (3:00), how Jose Quintana is working to improve his pitch arsenal (6:30) and what to watch for as the exhibition schedule begins (11:00).

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded player below.

Cubs Talk Podcast

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The art of leadership: How Cole Hamels is teaming with Jon Lester to run Cubs clubhouse

The art of leadership: How Cole Hamels is teaming with Jon Lester to run Cubs clubhouse

"He works out A LOT. Like 10 times a day," a Cubs staffer told me as we discussed a good time to set up a spring training feature with Cole Hamels. 

The 35-year-old lefty is oftentimes one of the first guys to arrive at the facility and there are plenty of days where he's one of the last to leave, as he gets in multiple workouts. It's no secret the guy who goes by "Hollywood" on Players Weekend, spends an inordinate amount of time keeping his body in tip-top shape. His routines and work out techniques are already trickling down and catching the eyes of his Cubs teammates.

David Bote, for example, said Hamels suggested egoscue exercises, to help with his posture and aid in putting his body back into balance.

"Instantaneous results. I really haven't put on weight, maybe 3 pounds. But, I'm apparently 2 inches taller. I was just measured!" Bote said, chuckling. "It's amazing the effects better posture has on your daily routine. I'm more open in the chest and I have a better range of motion." 

That's just one example of the 20 million reasons the Cubs thought it was worth picking up Hamels' $20 million option this offseason, as we got into more detail here:

How about Ian Happ? He not only loves hitting the golf course with Hamels, but also picking his brain about the Philadelphia Phillies teams that kept their winning core together for a window contention from 2007-11.

"[He's explained to me] how, when you have a group that's been together for 4 years, you don't let things get stale," Happ said. "How do you keep things fresh and be able to keep learning from each other and keep playing together and keep getting better together?

"That's really an interesting discussion because they had that in Philly. They were good for six years all together and he was part of that young core. So, to learn from him on how that's managed by veterans, how accountable you have to hold guys and in what situations you can be firm, is really intriguing."

Meanwhile there's Jon Lester, the other veteran southpaw who has been asked to step up with Hamels and take on more of a vocal leadership role this year with the team. It's a topic the two might have discussed over a recent round of golf or at the Coyotes game they took in together on Valentine's Day:

Hamels may not be David Ross or John Lackey (who would have never put on that sweater), but he is a guy Lester respects immensely and one who can push him on the mound and as that "vocal leader" the brass is searching for. 

"Like Jon said, it is our time to kind of be that sort of person," Hamels said. "I know we're ready to do so. It's kind of an honor. When you're able to play the game as long as we have, that's the role that you get thrust into. There's some respect that you have towards that, especially from the guys that came before you. It's something that I know Jon and I are really going to take as far as we possibly can and getting the best out of everyone."

It's a fine line to walk as a starting pitcher and not a guy in the lineup every day, but it's apparent Hamels and Lester already have the attention of the Cubs young core. And it helps that group has made it clear they want to be coached and held accountable.

"It's a tough generation in what we can do and say now," Hamels said. "I know from when I came up, it was a lot different, but it's about understanding how to deal with it, understanding personalities and also understanding constructive criticism. I think for all of us, if you want to win, if you want to be a world champion, an MVP, the Cy Young, you have to play to a certain level and you have to maintain it.

"If you want to be that, you have to act like it and then you have to hold up your end of the bargain for eight months. And if we can all push each other to do that, you're going to see some amazing things." 

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