For the Cubs, an Urgency to Keep Their Glorious Window Open
MESA, Ariz. — So, what occurs whilst you assist ship a workforce’s first championship in additional than a century? Do thankful fanatics in point of fact purchase your foods and beverages for the remainder of your existence?
“Sometimes that happens — oh yeah, definitely,” stated Kyle Schwarber, the Chicago Cubs’ left fielder, prior to an exhibition sport the different day. “We’re not here always trying to take advantage of people, but it’s a nice gesture and we get it. We always make sure we try to take care of ’em.”
On the box, the Cubs have persevered rewarding fanatics since their magical championship run in 2016. They have returned to the playoffs in every of the two seasons since, a part of a four-year stretch through which they’ve received extra video games than every other main league workforce, with 387.
But the requirements have modified in Chicago, the place the entrance administrative center wonders how a lot more it could possibly get from this core. The Cubs’ 95-win common season felt awfully empty after it crashed and burned in a two-day fiasco at Wrigley Field ultimate October: First the Milwaukee Brewers stole the National League Central crown in a one-game playoff, after which the Colorado Rockies eradicated the Cubs in a 13-inning wild-card sport.
“I think everybody, including me, we were trying to do everything ourselves instead of as a team,” 2d baseman Javier Baez stated. “You only make it harder for us and for the team. I think we waited until the season was over to look at it and try to make the adjustments, but obviously, there was no game that day.”
The Cubs have been the first workforce kicked off the postseason degree, which changed into any other exhibit for Theo Epstein’s former workforce, the Boston Red Sox, who received their fourth championship this century. Epstein’s affect on that roster stays — Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts all signed whilst he was once basic supervisor — however his Cubs lack a significant other piece for his or her 2016 trophy.
To get it, Epstein, the Cubs’ president of baseball operations, introduced again just about the whole roster from 2018, losing no important gamers and including handiest at the margins: infielder Daniel Descalso and relievers Brad Brach and Xavier Cedeno. But this staff will run out of possibilities, Epstein stated, if it continues to fight because it did down the stretch.
“In the second half, we completely fell apart offensively,” Epstein stated. “We went to the worst quartile you’ll be able to be in: We have been hitting the ball softly, hitting the ball on the floor, hanging out, now not strolling and now not getting on base. We went from precisely the place you need to be in the first part to precisely the place you don’t need to be.
“We nonetheless haven’t in point of fact put our finger on it.”
It was once most probably an anomaly, Epstein stated, however he added an ominous caution: “If not, then we’re not who we think we are, and we’ll have to make sweeping changes. We’ll find that out this season.”
Epstein underscored that urgency in November by means of pronouncing that he would now not speak about a freelance extension for Manager Joe Maddon — a minimum of now not for now.
“I’ve always believed if you do your job, things take care of themselves; I’ve always worked from that premise,” stated Maddon, the former Tampa Bay supervisor who earns $6 million in line with yr on a deal that expires after this season. “I’ve labored on one-year offers in the minor leagues, and my first care for the Rays had a two-year possibility, so I’ve been there prior to.
“I’m in point of fact now not involved, and slightly frankly, I believe in reality lovely just right about it. It’s an fascinating scenario to be in, however I in point of fact look forward to being right here for a very long time. I do know from the outdoor in I’m going to get a large number of those questions, however the best possible method I will resolution it is only like what I’m speaking about — proudly owning it now, staying centered in the provide nerve-racking. That’s the best possible method to care for any scenario.”
There has been greater than standard to care for off the box this low season for the Cubs. Shortstop Addison Russell was once given a 40-game suspension for home violence overdue ultimate season, with 28 video games nonetheless to be served. In February, the information outlet Splinter revealed a cache of racist emails despatched and won by means of Joe Ricketts, the billionaire patriarch of the circle of relatives that owns the Cubs, that curious about concern of Muslims and contained conspiracy theories about former President Barack Obama.
Epstein gave a long condemnation of Ricketts’ emails at the get started of spring coaching, and Russell opened camp by means of announcing he was once “not proud of the person he was” and apologizing to his ex-wife, Melisa.
“I want to own my actions,” Russell stated ultimate month. “I want to be accountable for the hurt that I put Melisa through and the pain that she went through. That’s what I want to own.”
Maddon, who combines new-age aura with a deep background in scouting and training, has taken that verb — “own” — and made it the newest in a sequence of annual slogans he makes use of to information the gamers.
The motto, formally, is “own it now.” You see it all over the place at spring coaching, from the gamers’ T-shirts to the Wi-Fi password for the complicated. Maddon stated he heard the broadcaster Tony Romo use “own it” to describe his means to calling the Super Bowl.
“I’m sitting around one day and I’m trying to come up with my thoughts, and I wrote down ‘own, now and won,’ and they’re all generated from the same letters,” Maddon stated. “The phrase is pretty prominent in general these days, ‘to own it.’”
Part of Maddon’s activity this season, he stated, is to “coach the coaches even more,” referring to a bunch that features a new bench trainer (Mark Loretta), new pitching trainer (Tommy Hottovy) and two new hitting coaches (Anthony Iapoce and Terrmel Sledge).
Iapoce, who labored with Schwarber, Kris Bryant and others as a Cubs minor league trainer, was once maximum lately a trainer for 3 seasons with the Texas Rangers. In every of the ones years, the Rangers hit extra house runs than the Cubs, who led the N.L. in batting reasonable and hits ultimate season however had their fewest homers since 2014, after they completed in ultimate position.
“There’s a lot of studs in this room that have had plenty of good years before,” stated Bryant, a former most dear participant who hit simply 13 homers in 102 video games as he handled a shoulder damage ultimate season. “We know the talent we have here: a lot of All-Stars, a lot of World Series champions, guys who have been around for a long time.”
One of the ones gamers, the left-hander Cole Hamels, thrived after arriving in a industry from Texas ultimate July. Hamels had a 2.36 E.R.A. in 12 begins, a greater Cubs debut than his former Rangers teammate Yu Darvish, who made simply 8 begins, with a four.95 E.R.A., as a result of elbow and triceps accidents.
“He’s lightning in a bottle, because when he is on, hitters are not putting the ball in play,” Hamels stated of Darvish. “He’s got that swing-and-miss stuff, and if you’re able to do that, especially in the National League, you’re getting through seven, eight innings, right on to the closer.”
Darvish, who signed a six-year, $126 million contract prior to ultimate season, believes he can pitch like that once more — or possibly even higher. After two sharp innings in opposition to the Chicago White Sox on Sunday, Darvish declared, “I’m the best right now in my career.”
“Because I’m throwing 97, my slider was really good and my split was good, too,” Darvish, 32, stated. “That’s the best stuff in my life.”
Maybe that was once conventional spring coaching hyperbole. But after one among the least-satisfying 95-win seasons in main league historical past, the Cubs may just use somewhat optimism. They would possibly as neatly personal it now.