Brian Butterfield

The unsung hero of the Cubs' 15-inning win over Brewers


The unsung hero of the Cubs' 15-inning win over Brewers

When everybody looks back on the Cubs' 15-inning victory over the division-rival Brewers Saturday, they'll remember Willson Contreras' walk-off homer, Tyler Chatwood's gutsy performance in relief and the cold/rainy weather.

They might even remember Cole Hamels' dominant start or David Bote's "El Mago-esque" slide.

All those guys deserve the credit they'll get, but it was Cubs third-base coach Will Venable who will go down as an unsung hero of the 5-hour affair. 

In the bottom of the fifth inning with the Cubs trailing 1-0 in the game, Bote reached on an infield single with two outs. Albert Almora Jr. came up next and served a soft liner into the gap in right-center and Bote motored all the way around from first to score, even though Brewers right fielder Christian Yelich cut the ball off well before it reached the wall. 

The ball beat Bote home, but his incredible slide dodged the tag from Yasmani Grandal and the Cubs had their first run against the Brewers in the series. (It wound up being the only run until Contreras' walk-off blast in the bottom of the 15th inning.)

As Bote rounded third, past baserunning advice from Cubs hitting coach Anthony Iapoce echoed through his head: "Don't just slide, slide to be safe." Bote said he was thinking to himself: "Find a way to get safe and that was just how my body decided to do it."

You don't often see a guy score from first base on a hit that doesn't even get by an outfielder, but this wasn't a conventional play and the Cubs don't even make it to extra innings without it.

With Hamels on deck and the Cubs offense struggling to score runs, Venable was sending Bote all the way to try to make something happened.

And it worked.

"He let me know early we were going," Bote said. "In my head, I'm like 'Score.' I go until he stops me. About halfway to third base, I see we're going, so it wasn't a hesitation — he was convicted about it. It was a great, great call. Obviously it ends up being a huge run for those last 10 innings."

Venable is normally the team's first-base coach, but has seen a lot of time over at third base the last couple weeks while veteran coach Brian Butterfield has battled illness. This is only the second season for the 36-year-old Venable on a coaching staff of any kind after playing in the big leagues from 2008-16. 

"Tremendous," Joe Maddon said. "He knew who was on deck, he knew the out situation, he knew everything about it. Bote had it in his head, also. Albert with a nice piece of hitting. That was absolutely the right thing to do and I know Butter was very proud of the whole moment."

The Cubs also seemed to catch the Brewers by surprise a bit on the whole play, as Yelich kind of nonchalantly got the ball back into the infield and it didn't look like second baseman Hernan Perez was initially planning on going home with the relay.

Part of that can be credited to Venable, who may have let Bote know to keep motoring home, but wasn't cluing the rest of Wrigley Field onto the decision. He motioned to Bote once and then kind of casually put his hands on his knees and watched as Bote flew past him. You typically see third-base coaches waving their arms around like crazy in situations like that to get the message across that they want the guy to score.

Venable was unavailable for comment after the game, but Maddon didn't think he was trying to purposely deke the Brewers at all.

"Probably not," Maddon said, smiling. "There might've been consternation, concern — 'what should I do here?' kind of a thing. If you've never coached third base and you do it here [in the big leagues] for the first time, that ain't easy. The guys that do it for a long period of time, I have so much respect for."

Maddon has coached third just one game in the majors while filling in and admitted "it's weird." But he has coached it a bunch in the minor leagues and knows how it can take some getting used to, so he empathizes with the difficult on-the-job training Venable has had to go through in a very short period of time.

Things are easier at Wrigley, however, as the Cubs dugout is very close to where Venable stands, so Maddon can often relay messages to his coach without even signing.

"I can just say it to him, which we've been doing, so that helps a little bit," Maddon said. "But he's done well. There was a sequence in Miami [last month] where I did a whole bunch of different things — he nailed every one of them and we came out pretty good. 

"He's a very sharp guy. This just adds to his resume. This makes him a better coach — the mind once stretched has a difficult time going back to its original form. All this matters for him. He's doing wonderfully."

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How the Cubs are stealing bases without stealing bases


How the Cubs are stealing bases without stealing bases

The Cubs may not have the fastest team in the league, but they're definitely going to try to force the issue on the basepaths this season.

They've always been aggressive running the bases, with guys like Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Addison Russell and Jason Heyward all earning positive marks with their legs the last two seasons.

But they've taken things to another level on the basepaths in 2018, courtesy of new third base coach and baserunning specialist Brian Butterfield.

It's still very early obviously, but the Cubs have jumped from 24th in the league (2017) to 12th in baserunning value to kick off the 2018 campaign despite entering the day tied for last with only three stolen bases.

How are they doing it?

They're taking the extra base whenever possible, putting pressure on the opposing defense.

"We talked about that a lot in spring training," Joe Maddon said. "We want to be that group. You don't have to be fast to be a great baserunner. So we don't have impressively great team speed, but you can still run the bases smartly and I think we've done that to this point.

"You don't want to run into outs. Just being aggressive, opportunity arises and you want to be opportunistic. I think we've been that so far."

Aggressive baserunning helped give the Cubs the lead Wednesday night as Baez reached on a dropped third strike, moved to second on a fielder's choice, stole third and then motored home on Tommy La Stella's groundball to a drawn-in infield.

The baserunning helped lead to several runs and seven Brewers errors throughout the course of the four-game series in Milwaukee last weekend, most notably with Baez's highlight-reel trip around the bases Thursday.

In the first inning last Friday, the Cubs went first-to-third on three straight hits, jumping out to a 2-0 lead on the Brewers.

Aggressive baserunning also keyed a comeback in that wild ninth-inning comeback Saturday in Milwaukee.

It wasn't taking an extra base, but 36-year-old Ben Zobrist busting it down the line on an infield grounder snared by diving Milwaukee first baseman Eric Thames helped keep the inning alive.

"Good, hard baserunning from us," Ian Happ said. "I think we've been doing that all year. And just keep pushing that pace there. Awesome by Ben Zo getting down the line there and everybody moving around, making it tough on them."

Of course, the good does come with the bad when you're talking about a high-risk, high-reward endeavor.

Willson Contreras tried to take third base on Kyle Schwarber's single through the shift on the left side in the first inning Tuesday night and the Cubs catcher was initially ruled safe on the play before replay showed his foot came off the bag.

It was a moment Joe Maddon pointed to as a turning point in a game the Cubs eventually lost 8-5, giving Pirates starter Ivan Nova a first-inning bailout when the Cubs felt like they had him on the ropes.

For a team that doesn't steal many bases and a young offense that often goes into quiet spells in the situational hitting department, aggressive baserunning is an under-the-radar way the Cubs can manufacture a few more runs a week.

Cubs name Brandon Hyde - not David Ross - new bench coach


Cubs name Brandon Hyde - not David Ross - new bench coach

The Cubs coaching staff is nearly complete and no, David Ross does not currently have a role.

Brandon Hyde — not Grandpa Rossy — will take over as Cubs bench coach in 2018, moving from the first base coaching box to Joe Maddon's right-hand man:

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer confirmed the news on 670 The Score Thursday morning.

The Cubs did not want to lose Hyde to New York and he will take over the bench coach position for the second time in his Chicago tenure (he also served in the same role under Ricky Renteria in 2014).

This is the latest in a major shakeup on the Cubs coaching staff this winter. Five coaches have left Maddon's staff, with two — Davey Martinez and Eric Hinske — getting promotions as the Washington Nationals manager and Los Angeles Angels hitting coach, respectively.

The Cubs finished 2017 and a third straight trip to the NLCS with this coaching staff under Maddon:

Bench coach — Davey Martinez
Hitting coach — John Mallee
Assistant hitting coach — Eric Hinske
Pitching coach — Chris Bosio
First base coach — Brandon Hyde
Third base coach — Gary Jones

That coaching staff now looks completely different, just three weeks later:

Bench coach — Brandon Hyde
Hitting coach — Chili Davis
Assistant hitting coach — Andy Haines
Pitching coach — Jim Hickey
First base coach — TBA
Third base coach — Brian Butterfield

Lester Strode (bullpen coach), Henry Blanco (quality control coach), Chad Noble (bullpen catcher) and Mike Borzello (catching coach) are expected to remain in their roles as well as advanced scouting coordinators Nate Halm and Tommy Hottovy.

Ross is still currently a special assistant in the Cubs front office. It would've been hard to see him move to a demanding coaching role and miss so much time with his young family after an extremely busy first year of retirement.

The promotion of Hyde to a key role on the Cubs coaching staff will help maintain a sense of familiarity for the players amid a wild offseason shakeup. Hyde was already a part of the daily lineup workflow - letting players know who was starting and where they were hitting - and has been around since the early stages of the rebuild. He also served as a bench coach with the Florida Marlins for two years from 2010-11.