The Chicago Cubs have begun their season of urgency in a 1-3 deficit against a bad Rangers team and quality Braves team, who had otherwise just been swept by the Phillies.
Yesterday’s game was particularly ugly – which is saying a lot after dropping two straight games in Texas, despite averaging a little over a run per inning – and Cubs manager Joe Maddon showed up to discuss all of it on 670 the Score (the interview is embedded at the bottom of this post).
Here are his comments, alongside some thoughts of my own …
- The Cubs played a bad one yesterday – a game Maddon says he wants the players to crumble up and throw out – but otherwise believes the team as a whole player very well during the first three games. He acknowledges the pitching issues, but suggests that a stricter look would more accurately reveal a few bad innings and a failure to put things away than any serious problems. I tend to agree with that. It doesn’t make any of it less painful – and the bullpen questions are very real, as they existed before that series – but the Texas Cubs were killing the ball and there were some fine pitching performances.
- On the six errors yesterday, Maddon separates them into two buckets: physical mistakes and mental mistakes. Physical mistakes are going to happen and are somewhat unavoidable, but mental mistakes “have no part in our game.” He also said he’ll talk to a player about a mental mistake, but would largely let a physical error slide by. I couldn’t agree with Maddon more on that point. And I’ll also add that the two of the three biggest mental mistakes (Anthony Rizzo’s flip that wound up out of play, and David Bote’s bad flip) came at very bad times *and* involved some misfortune. Rizzo’s flip, for example, could’ve easily stayed in play a thousand other times and wouldn’t have resulted in an extra base.
- Maddon thinks a little too much was made about him being “more involved” this season than he was in the past, as he indicates he was basically always a hands-on manager. But he does add that he participated a lot more with hitting during Spring Training. Specifically, he mentions situational and opportunity hitting as well as the pitchers hitting practice. Beyond that, he also says that his new approach to planning for an entire series ahead of time, as opposed to just one game ahead of time, is a big change from his first four years with the Cubs.
- That last bit, sounds like a really good change, by the way: “It seems like they like the idea of knowing a little bit sooner what it’s going to look like over the next couple days.” Having players know the schedule in advance helps clear up a lot of confusion over why certain players are starting one day, but not the next. According to Maddon, some guys have thought that a bad day at the plate on Day 1 led to their bench on Day 2, when in reality nothing could be further from the truth. Eliminating that misunderstanding is probably pretty great for a player’s psyche.
- Maddon says he tries to never say anything bad about players in public and/or to the media, because whenever he has done that, he’s felt like he was ultimately just defending himself. He says he’s still growing as a manager and has learned to accept criticism more, but to not take it personally. Listening, he says, is a very hard, but very important skill to develop.
- Despite how external conversations may go, Maddon doesn’t want to be somewhere where pressure and expectations are not part of the equation.
- An umpire, Bill Miller, did bring up Carl Edwards Jr.’s now-jettisoned delivery during Spring Training, pointing out that unlike Kenley Jansen, Edwards touched the ground a little more noticeably and consistently (and for a longer period of time), which is where problems arise. Maddon says that while he will defend Edwards, because some of the time his delivery is just fine, he actually liked Edwards’ other delivery better. For what it’s worth, Maddon said the initial change was all driven by Edwards – the Cubs didn’t suggest it.
- The biggest difference in the clubhouse from the start of Maddon’s time in Chicago until now: young players ascending into leadership roles. Upfront, Maddon mentions the obvious help from veteran guys like Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Ben Zobrist, and to an extent Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward, but I thought his inclusion of Javy Baez was a nice compliment. And if you remember, Baez was actually the first guy out defusing the on-field dust-up yesterday. Maddon thinks that the group of young guys will be great stewards for the next generation (in 3-4 years), as well.
- Maddon ended on a note about how the best advice one player/manager/coach can give to a player is always going to be through communication, not intimidation, which he says used to be the process back in the day.