Cubs

No clear answers for Cubs' road woes: 'We have to draw it out of ourselves'

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USA TODAY

No clear answers for Cubs' road woes: 'We have to draw it out of ourselves'

The Cubs' Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde act has made the 2019 season like watching two different teams. Since the beginning of the year, they have played like the Dodgers at Wrigley Field and the Marlins away from the Friendly Confines.

"It’s just frustrating to all of us," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before Friday's game against the Brewers. "To be two different teams completely is very awkward."

The Cubs have gone 36-18 at home but just 21-33 away from Chicago. As a whole, they're still six games above .500, but there's no question that even a slightly better road record would be making a significant difference to where the team is in the division. Going into this weekend's series against Milwaukee, the Cubs are a game behind the Cardinals and a game ahead of the Brewers. 

There are six games at home coming up, but as the Cubs hit the road again on August 8 for a 10-game trip through Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh, they know that something about how they're playing their away games has to change. 

They just don't seem to be certain of what that should be.

"The guys are very capable, we have to extract it from them somehow," Maddon said. "I don’t have any solid answers, and I hate to tell you that, but the process has been the same, the work’s the same, their attitude has been good.

"We have to draw it out of ourselves. Just go out there and continue to work the process, go out there and play it hard, enjoy the moment."

But Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein suggested Friday that it will take more than that. 

"I just think we're trying the same thing over and over again, but it's not working," Epstein said. "We can try to look to shake some things up, either with our preparation or our patterns or whether it's time for more work, less work, I don't know."

Maddon said that the plan is for the Cubs to take their traditional "American Legion Week" -- when they simply show up and play and avoid the typical pregame work like batting practice -- during the next homestand, but beyond that, there were no clear ideas from the manager about what he, the coaches, or the team can do differently beyond just continuing to do what they've done how they've done it so far.

"I would love for us to chill and just go play a little bit," Maddon said. "I’ve never done anything well uptight in my life, and I don’t think a baseball player can either, especially if they play every day."

There's some incongruity coming from Maddon and Epstein about how the team needs to handle the last two months of the season, but there's no secret at least about what's gone wrong on the road. The offense, despite being on paper one of the more talented in baseball, doesn't score. The pitching staff, despite a solid rotation and bullpen, has an ERA that's a full run higher than when they pitch at Wrigley.

In a division race that's as tight as the NL Central has been, that's a huge problem, especially when the Cubs aren't beating the Brewers and Cardinals in their home parks.

"We've lost every single road series against a division opponent this year. Seven series, and seven series losses. As talented as we are, if we don't fix that, we're not going anywhere," Epstein said. "That's a huge priority for us, and I think we all feel like we've underperformed on the road and that needs to change. That's the reality of it, there's no sugarcoating at this point in the year. You can't just look past it, we have to try some different things in order to improve our performance on the road."

But what those different things might be is still unclear. Kris Bryant said that the team hasn't resorted to holding any sort of player meetings to try and self-assess the team's road struggles. Doing that, he said, only leads to worse play. Instead, he encouraged what has been Maddon's approach to managing since he came to Chicago. Keep it light, relax, and play ball.

"If anything it's more we need to be more lighthearted and goof around more rather than making everything life or death," Bryant said, "because I think when you put it in that perspective, you get the absolute worst product out of each and every one of us."

Whatever the fix ends up being, whether it's staying consistent in their process or trying something new and different, the Cubs need that fix to come. They have a lot of road games left this season, including two very important series in September in Milwaukee and St. Louis. If they continue to play like characters out of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel, the season might end with a whimper.

Before he was a Cub,, Kyle Schwarber was a high school singer, football player

Before he was a Cub,, Kyle Schwarber was a high school singer, football player

Kyle Schwarber will go down in Cubs lore for his dramatic return from a torn ACL and LCL in time for the 2016 World Series. Despite not facing big league pitching in six months, the catcher-turned-left fielder put on a hitting clinic that series.

Schwarber hit .412 in five games, which includes the rally-inducing single to leadoff the 10th inning of Game 7. That game, of course, was played in Cleveland, which is a perfect Segway for a few off-the-field facts about the Cubs slugger.

1. Schwarber was born in Middletown, Ohio and grew up a Cincinnati Reds fan. As a former catcher, his role model was Johnny Bench — the Reds Hall of Fame backstop.

2. Schwarber attended Middletown High School, where he was a linebacker on the football team. Here’s a legendary photo of him trying to tackle future Ohio State quarterback and NFL wide receiver, Braxton Miller.

3. Not only was he an athlete in high school, but Schwarber was also a member of his school’s show choir. You need this content in your life, and I’m happy to provide it to you.

There’s Schwarber, front and a bit off-center:

For good measure, the Cubs had Schwarber and other players reenact the performance back in 2016 — with future manager David Ross taking a playful shot at Schwarber:

Like I said, you need this content.

4. Schwarber has one brother and three sisters. His dad is a retired police chief, a big inspiration for the Schwarber’s Neighborhood Heroes campaign — which recognizes first responders and their sacrifices.

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The 16 most underrated players in Cubs franchise history

The 16 most underrated players in Cubs franchise history

Banks. Sandberg. Sosa. Rizzo.

In addition to being a potential “Cubs Mount Rushmore,” these players are synonymous with ones who fans remember — and likely cheered for — the most. Odds are you’ll find more Ryne Sandberg jerseys in the stands than, say, Terry Mulholland or Steve Trout.

But an astute fan of the 2016 club would mention that John Lackey nearly had as many strikeouts that season as Jon Lester or Jake Arrieta. Or that fan favorite Mark DeRosa led the 97-win 2008 team in runs scored (103). 

These are the glue guys. The grinders. The players that hold teams together.

So, with a nod toward the 2016 World Series champs, here is the list of the 16 most underrated Cubs of all-time:

The 16 most underrated players in Cubs franchise history 

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