The simple solution for Cubs' hot start to the second half

The simple solution for Cubs' hot start to the second half

After all the hand-wringing over the Cubs heading into the All-Star Break, they began the second half with an impressive sweep over a Pirates team that entered the weekend playing really well. 

And with Milwaukee's loss Sunday, the 50-43 Cubs now have a 2.5 game lead in the NL Central.

There's plenty of baseball left to be played, but the Cubs passed the first test of a crucial homestand with flying colors and have given their front office plenty of reason for optimism with more than two weeks to go before the MLB trade deadline.

Manager Joe Maddon was running out of superlatives to give his team after Sunday's 8-3 victory, lauding the "wonderful" focus and was confident the Cubs could actually play even better than they did over the weekend.

So what's been the biggest difference for a Cubs team that had struggled for weeks leading up to the All-Star Break?

"I mean, it's rest," Maddon said. "People don't want to listen to that because it's way too simple. It's a simple concept. If you're more rested, you tend to do what you do better. If you're not, you tend to do it not as good. 

"They don't let pilots fly too long. They don't let bus drivers drive too long. I don't like to drive my RV more than six or seven  hours. You lose something. We all do. It's just difficult because it's one of those nebulous concepts where you just can't wrap your mind around it except it's true."

Prior to the All-Star break, the Cubs played 52 games in 54 days from mid-May until last Friday's off-day leading into the final installment of the Crosstown Classic (or whatever it's called nowadays). 

For the players, the four days off during the break was more of a mental reset than anything else — even for the guys who went to Cleveland for the Midsummer Classic.

"You can play through the physical tiredness, but when you're going at it every day, getting beat up, it's more of a mental grind," Kris Bryant said. "So I think we're mentally rested and that's a good thing."

That mental rest showed up all weekend, as the sloppy play and the mistakes that had plagued the Cubs for the last few weeks was absolutely nowhere to be found.

There was Javy Baez motoring around from first to third base on Bryant's bloop single in the sixth inning Sunday — an aggressive read on the bases that eventually led to another important insurance run when he scored on Anthony Rizzo's sacrifice fly. 

Defensively, Baez made a few nice plays on the afternoon, including teaming up with second baseman Robel Garcia on a couple of nifty double plays.

That stellar play defensively and on the basepaths was evident all weekend as they played the "cleaner" style of play they had been talking about for the last couple of weeks.

Quite simply, the Cubs just looked more like the Cubs this weekend.

"[Feeling fresh mentally] shows up in your overall game," Bryant said. "My body's still tired, but my mind is pretty sharp. I know when I'm like that, I'm approaching each and every day the way I should be and I'm not worrying about what happened the previous game.

"If we can all do that as a team, we'll be really good. And there's plenty of stretches where we have done that and it's just been really fun coming to the field, winning a lot of games like that."

As the Cubs move the season forward and try to get this level of play to show up on a consistent basis, they know they need to keep the focus on themselves and not worry about scoreboard watching or what other teams are doing. 

But as far as starting off the second half on the right foot, you couldn't draw it up any better for the Cubs than what played out at Wrigley Field this weekend.

"We just want to keep the games close," Jason Heyward said. "Biggest thing about our first half is we're always in the game and we need to remember that. We can't get too down, we can't let things get away from us, we can't get sloppy. Don't take a break, because it's right there for us to take. Today was a good example of that."

Dexter Fowler was racially profiled by nightclub while with Cubs teammates

Dexter Fowler was racially profiled by nightclub while with Cubs teammates

Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler shared a story on his Instagram Tuesday of a time he was racially profiled while at a club with his then-Cubs teammates.

Fowler, who played on the North Side from 2015-16, explained how he wasn't allowed into a club in Arizona with other members of the Cubs because he was wearing a gold chain. He said he was dressed nice and added the profiling of his attire didn't apply to his teammates, some who were dressed more casually.

When the club turned Fowler away, the group, which included first baseman Anthony Rizzo, left to show their support for him.

'What can I do'

Let me tell you a little story

A club in AZ turned me away because I had a gold chain on. While my friends had on shorts & vans & flip flops.

I was dressed nicely.

[Anthony Rizzo] and my friends with the [Cubs] left the club for me.

That's what you can do. Every day. It happens. EVERY DAY. There are opportunities EVERY DAY to help enforce change.

Fowler has been outspoken on social media regarding racial profiling amid nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. He described the hardships black people endure due to racism in a heartfelt Instagram post on Thursday.

View this post on Instagram

Here’s the thing. I know it’s hard to fully grasp why black people are outraged. It’s hard to grasp unless you’ve seen people hold their purses tighter when you walk by, when you have people refer to you as “not black” when you’re not “ghetto”. When your parents have to give you a talk when you’re just a kid. “you can’t act like your white friends. you’ll get killed. they won’t” This is a generational discussion EVERY black family has. It terrifies you as a kid, and as an adult. You don’t understand why we know, those officers didn’t flinch at murdering that man, because he is black. The race card. We hold it. You tell us “it’s not about race” if we ever hold you to it. You don’t want us to have even that 1 bone chilling “privilege” of defense. You don’t want us to hold any privilege. We don’t hold the privilege of being a criminal, making a mistake, or simply taking a jog, the same as a white man, and being treated the same. He couldn’t breathe. He was murdered. They were gently fired from their jobs. This isn’t right. This can’t go on. (if you assume “you”, is you, and you’re upset about the generalization...... just think about that for a second)

A post shared by Dexter Fowler (@dexterfowler) on

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Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts 'optimistic' 2020 MLB season will happen

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts 'optimistic' 2020 MLB season will happen

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts expressed confidence MLB and the players union will come to terms for a 2020 season despite his suggestion some teams might lose more money playing even a short season than by not playing at all.

"I'm pretty optimistic we'll get games back on the field," Ricketts told ESPN’s Jesse Rogers on Tuesday. "I have full faith and confidence in the commissioner. How we get there is yet to be written, but I'm pretty sure we'll get there."

RELATED: Why Scott Boras' comments on Cubs suggest optimism MLB, union can make deal

Ricketts isn’t the only owner to suggest in recent weeks it makes more financial sense to not play this season. The players are seeking their full prorated salaries, which they agreed to take in March. The owners, however, have cited a clause in that agreement where they can reopen negotiations if games are played without fans. That is the expectation for most of the season (should the two sides come to terms) due to the coronavirus.

Ricketts said MLB owners aren’t looking at not playing, however, echoing comments he made on CNBC last week stating the Cubs “definitely” would rather play.

"There are scenarios where not playing at all can be a better financial option, but we're not looking at that," Ricketts told Rogers. "We want to play. We want to get back on the field. ... I'm not aware of any owners that don't want to play. 

“We just want to get back on the field in a way that doesn't make this season financially worse for us."

The league sent the union its financial proposal for 2020 last Tuesday, and the players countered with a proposal on Sunday to play 114 games compared to the owners’ 82-game plan. The aforementioned March agreement allows the league to mandate a shorter season if it sees fit.

RELATED: How deferrals in MLBPA counterproposal could provide Cubs financial relief

ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported Monday MLB could propose something along the lines of a 50-60 game season in which they’d pay players prorated salaries. That would still represent a pay cut for the players, however. In any case, a shortened season means significant revenue losses for the league.

"The scale of losses across the league is biblical," Ricketts said. "The timing of the work stoppage, the inability to play was right before the season started. We're looking at 30 teams with zero revenue. To cover the losses, all teams have gone out and borrowed. There's no other way to do it in the short run. In the long run, we may be able to sell equity to cover some of our losses but that's in the long run.”

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