Earlier this week, when the Chicago Cubs were 21 games over .500 (72-51), in sole possession of the second Wild Card and generating all-around good feelings. After a nearly historic stretch of baseball, Cubs VP and GM Jed Hoyer hopped on Kap & Haugh to remind us that the Cubs really do have a chance to do something special if they keep up their winning ways. Below, are some of the highlights, together with my thoughts, from that interview…
- Right off the bat, Hoyer mentions that, while it’s nice to be 21 games over .500, it’s not something you think about on a daily basis. Implying that the season is a marathon, not a sprint, he cautioned against getting too high with the good times or too low with the bad times. Specifically, he mentioned that the Cubs long home stretch – sandwiching a series on the South Side – was extremely beneficial and made the winning even more fun.
- More importantly, Hoyer warns us not to put temporary goals on anything – something of which I am certainly guilty. I find myself pining for particular wins during particular series, or, worse, scoring runs in particular innings against particular pitchers. Operating this way does not yield a practical set of expectations and skews the perceived talent level of the team. Results can be affected by things out of the team’s control; so we should all try to root for a good approach and hope that good baseball follows.
- When asked if the changing (and increasing) expectations have any impact on Hoyer’s decisions, the Cubs’ GM answered rather interestingly. Expectedly, he loves and appreciates the fan enthusiasm, but does not allow those expectations have any effect on how he manages the team. He does mention, however, that the team’s performance and progress can change the plans.
- Specifically, the recent hot streak has put him in a position where every avenue and path must be explored. And while he would generally love to improve the team in August, via trade, waivers have been especially clogged this year, and not many guys have gotten through (specifically, from some teams “blocking” others). He also mentions that they have the financial backing to make any of the reasonable in-season moves they’d want to.
- Jorge Soler’s injury hurts, especially because he had been playing well of late, but returns from oblique injuries are hard to pin down. Sadly, Hoyer mentions that you almost have to assume the worst when it comes to oblique injuries because of the rotational nature of the injuries in a rotational sport like baseball.
- Asked whether Javier Baez – who has been playing great recently – figures into the plans on replacing Soler, Hoyer clarifies something we’ve been guessing for a while: they are moving him around the diamond on purpose, so that he can help all over the field this September. Whether or not he becomes a full-time player at one position next year, that versatility might be the best way to utilize Baez for this team right now.
- Anthony Rizzo is having a fantastic year and a lot of it is due to his research on how Joey Votto plays the game. After his first year in Chicago, the front office explicitly told Rizzo to take a closer look at Votto’s game and, apparently, it stuck with him. Hoyer is most impressed with the improvements in his approach against lefties and he thinks that his ability and success closing holes in his game will be a great example for the rookies on the team.
- Jon Lester puts a lot of pressure on himself, which is very obvious, to earn the contract that the Cubs gave him this past offseason. Despite actually having a pretty strong year, Hoyer believes Lester can sometimes be too hard on himself, ultimately affecting how he plays. At the same time, that is precisely the reason they felt comfortable giving him such a large contract; Lester is a guy that keeps working, even after he got the big payday.
- In a nearly identical review to what I wrote about yesterday, Hoyer believes that Maddon’s biggest strength is letting his players play without fear of making mistakes. He lets his guys play, be comfortable and have fun. Additionally, Hoyer adds that Maddon has kept the team strong when they were struggling, and never let any sense of desperation or discouragement show through. It’s pretty clear guys like playing for Maddon, and front offices like his style.
- Further, Hoyer loves that Maddon prioritizes winning every single day and is exceedingly well prepared. Regardless of the situation or the player, getting the team a win trumps all other decisions. When every player is aware of this methodology and it is enforced equally across the board, no one gets down if they are relieved, pinch hit or double switched out for defense. Did I mention how awesome Maddon is?
The overall theme of the interview is that this team is having a ton of fun and meshes together very well. The young guys, many of whom are here for the first time, are being silly and having fun, and the veterans are feeding off their excitement and providing guidance. Hoyer really believes that everyone acts as one, and there is a very strong team-first mentality. It’s difficult for us to quantify these sort of things, but after hearing it from the players, the manager/coaches and the front office, it’s hard to argue it’s not a factor. Go ahead and give the interview a listen, because there is even more in there than I addressed above. It’s plenty educational, but mostly, it’ll make you even more excited after a couple down-ish days.