Dave Martinez

Will Dave Martinez's inside knowledge on Cubs impact this weekend's series?

Will Dave Martinez's inside knowledge on Cubs impact this weekend's series?

When the Arizona Diamondbacks were in town last month, a couple Cubs players pointed out how well veteran catcher Alex Avila knew the lineup.

Avila played in just two games in that series and he only spent two months with the Cubs late last season, but that was apparently enough for the 31-year-old to build up a cache of important scouting intel.

The Cubs rallied to split that series with the NL West leaders thanks to ninth inning heroics from David Bote and Anthony Rizzo, but the Avila angle was still something that stuck with me after the D-Backs left town.

With all the advanced scouting, camera angles and info at teams' disposals nowadays, how much can one guy like Avila really impact the gameplan?

The Cubs are about to truly find out this weekend at Wrigley with Davey Martinez in town, though Game 1 went in favor of the North Siders 3-2 in yet another come-from-behind victory.

Martinez spent the last three years as the Cubs bench coach before graduating on to this managerial gig with the Washington Nationals. He has spent a ton of time in the clubhouse and coaching this Cubs roster — 18 of the 25 players active Friday played under Martinez.

Going beyond just the players on the field, Martinez has been working alongside Joe Maddon for over a decade, dating back to their days with the Tampa Bay Rays.

"Obviously he knows us pretty well," Maddon said. "Not just me, he knows eveybody in that room pretty well. But at the end of the day, really what it comes down to is Kyle [Hendricks] pitching well, us hitting the ball when we can and catching it on defense.

"It really is about the players themselves. There might be a moment now and then, but it's just that he would know personalities really well. ... It's about your guys and once you get over it and realize it's about your players, that's really what it is.

"I just think it's a great experience for him to come back to Wrigley and managing in this ballpark and managing against the group that he had been a part of. That's the part that's different."

Martinez mostly brushed aside any notion that he could have an inside edge on scouting his former team, but he did allow a moment to be coy.

"They're still gonna compete and try to beat us," Martinez said. "Yeah, I do know them, but we gotta execute. The biggest thing is execution. We can see a lot of things during scouting, but if you don't execute, it doesn't matter. 

"It's nice to have some tidbits and know these guys and we want to win at the end of the day. We might exploit some things that I know, but we'll see."

Martinez's first season as a manager has had his fair share of adversity, as the uber-talented Nationals roster came into the weekend series with just a 58-56 record and a 5.5 game deficit in the NL East.

Still, he said managing has been everything he thought it would be and more and enjoyed catching up with former players and colleagues that he won a championship with.

"He's been a big part of my career, because of being around in the Tampa Bay days and everything," Ben Zobrist said. "He did a lot of teaching. When I was young in my career, he was the guy when I would come off the field and I knew I made a mistake, he helped me kinda figure out what could've been done differently and how to continue to grow as a player.

"All those teaching moments for me, he was right in the middle of them and I'm grateful for that. He always had a smile on his face, he always had that bubbly laugh around the clubhouse and everything. 

"So great teacher, great coach, but I think everybody was happy for him to finally get an opportunity to manage. I'm glad to see he's getting to do what he's always been wanting to do."

Pythons, magicians, breakdancing, power sources and 'The Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All Time'

Pythons, magicians, breakdancing, power sources and 'The Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All Time'

It's official: Anthony Rizzo is the latest magician to enter the Cubs clubhouse. 

Though, we've known his propensity for magic for a while:

Joe Maddon is a huge fan of mixing things up for his teams from the monotony of an exceptionally-long season. That's why he brings in zoo animals or magicians or any of his "Madd Scientist" drills.

Tuesday, he decided to employ Rizzo as the "distraction" of sorts by taking the slugger from the heart of the Cubs order to the top.

Thus marked the second run of "The Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All Time."

"I really thought we needed something like a 20-foot python, a magician or a breakdancer in the clubhouse, so instead, I chose to hit Rizzo leadoff," Maddon said. "I thought it might pick the boys up a little bit. Tough series against Milwaukee. I didn't think we were on top of our game [Monday]."

It worked immediately, as Rizzo sent the first pitch from Rockies starter Jon Gray high into the night sky and out into the first couple rows of the left-field bleachers for a wind-aided homer (StatCast predicted only a hit percentage of only 1 percent on the ball). But that was all for Rizzo, as he grounded out twice and popped out his other three times up.

"Obviously i got a little lucky there with the wind," Rizzo said. "You go up there, it's 2-0, you should probably take a pitch, but Joe put me up there to swing and hit. Just go up there loose and have fun."

The Cubs, meanwhile, couldn't manage another run Tuesday night in a 3-1 loss to the Rockies.

Before Maddon wrote out the lineup card, the Cubs woke up Tuesday riding the high of a five-game winning streak, but the offense was certainly not firing on all cylinders over that stretch — setting a franchise record for wins in a row while scoring 3 runs or less in each game.

Rizzo also has been mired in a season-long slump sandwiched around a stint on the disabled list for a low back issue. He finished Tuesday's game with a .154 batting average and .489 OPS in 78 at-bats.

Maddon also wanted to give Albert Almora Jr. and Javy Baez — who have been filling the top of the order the last week-plus — a day off and somebody had to be that "power source" to give the lineup energy from the leadoff spot.

The Cubs' unofficial captain was all for it, smiling and joking at his locker before the game about getting back to the spot he filled admirably in the middle of last season for about a week.

"Probably be a little bit more loose, just leading off," Rizzo said. "It's something I don't get to do all the time."

That's exactly what Maddon's hope was — to loosen Rizzo up. And it worked to an extent.

"The whole thing is [a mental adjustment]," Maddon said. "It's all about the mind. He really hasn't been doing that badly. He's hit the ball pretty well — hitting into the shift decently. He's fouled off his pitch a couple times.

"For the most part, he does like [leading off]. That's a big part of it and he is a big kid. He understands the fun about the game."

As a funny side story, Maddon's protege Davey Martinez decided to run the same gamut with the Nationals lineup Tuesday, leading off Bryce Harper (who also homered). Though, that was more strategy-based in hopes of avoiding intentional walks to Harper.

From a Cubs perspective, it's gotta be a tough look for Rockies picher Jon Gray to immediately start Tuesday's game off by facing the two toughest hitters in the lineup — Rizzo and Kris Bryant — though Gray was unstoppable after Rizzo's leadoff dinger, allowing only two other hits.

Maddon is hoping something light-hearted and fun like this will be the mental reset Rizzo needs to get going.

It's also coming on a perfect day, as the calendar flipping to May and the weather warming up could also be the triggers Rizzo needs. A new month often brings new feelings of hope for baseball players.

"Winning definitly helps cope with [individual struggles]," he said. "In the game of baseball, you have good days, you have bad days, you have good weeks, bad weeks, good months, bad months. I'm hoping to look at April as a quote-unquote best month of just learning, learning what happened.

"Hopefully May 1st is a new story, right?"

Miguel Montero signs with team that stole seven bases off him last summer


Miguel Montero signs with team that stole seven bases off him last summer

The world can be a funny place sometimes.

Late last June, Miguel Montero was catching for the Cubs against the Washington Nationals. With Jake Arrieta on the mound, the Nationals stole seven bases in just four innings, ultimately winning the game 6-1. The night ended with Montero famously calling out Arrieta for his inability to hold on runners. 

“It really sucks because the stolen bases go on me,” Montero said. “When you really look at it, the pitcher doesn’t give me any time. It’s just like: ‘Yeah, OK, Miggy can’t throw nobody out.’ Yeah, but my pitchers don’t hold anybody on. It’s tough, because it doesn’t matter how much work I put in.

“If I don’t get a chance to throw, that’s the reason why they were running left and right today, because they know he was slow to the plate. Simple as that. It’s a shame that it’s my fault because I didn’t throw anybody out.”

Ironically enough, the Nationals signed Montero Thursday to a minor league deal with an invitation to MLB Spring Training. The move reunites him with former Cubs' bench coach and new Nationals' manager Dave Martinez.

The Cubs designated Montero for assignment for his comments, eventually trading him to the Toronto Blue Jays a few days later. He hit a subpar .216 with six home runs and 16 RBIs in 76 games between the Cubs and Blue Jays while also surrendering a woeful 58 stolen bases in 63 attempts.

The Nationals already have a starting catcher in Matt Wieters, so Montero will compete for a backup position. He could prove useful in Washington, as he is a left-handed hitter that can hit for power. At this point in his career, though, his best days might be behind him.

Montero's stay in Chicago ended poorly, but he will always be remembered for his contributions that helped the Cubs win the World Series in 2016.

The veteran backstop hit a grand slam in Game 1 of the 2016 NLCS, propelling the the Cubs to a 1-0 series lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers. He also hit an RBI single in the 10th inning of Game 7 of the World Series, putting the Cubs ahead 8-6 in a game that they won 8-7 to clinch their first championship since 1908.