Given his team’s busy schedule in the days leading up to the All-Star break, Cubs manager Joe Maddon pondered when the time was right to gather his players for his annual mid-season meeting.
Maddon determined Thursday was the day.
So before the Cubs’ 11-2 loss to the first-place Brewers that dropped Maddon’s team to 42-43 and a season-high 4 ½ games behind the Brewers in the National League Central, Maddon called his second team meeting of the year.
His message was multilayered and yet simplistic.
“I just wanted to remind them that we’re kind of in good shape right now,” Maddon said before Friday’s game against the Pirates at Wrigley Field.” We’ve had a tough first half, maybe we haven’t all played up to our capabilities yet, but we’re still in really good shape. Now, it’s really time to sharpen our focus.”
Maddon acknowledges delivering those words before a lopsided loss could easily be characterized as ironic. But in a first season when the offense has been lacking and the Cubs starting pitching hasn’t come close to its 2016 form, Maddon hasn’t lost sight of his team’s ability to keep its head above water.
He acknowledged Friday that losing Dexter Fowler at the top of the lineup has been costly and that offensively, the Cubs haven’t gotten what they expected from Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell. And with Kyle Hendricks out of the starting rotation, finding and maintaining a rhythm has proven challenging.
But in the weeks before baseball’s trade deadline, Maddon – like Cubs President Theo Epstein said Thursday – believes that the Cubs have the talent in place to turn things around. Epstein said while if the Cubs can make a move that will improve the roster, they will. But he insists there is not a player that the Cubs could bring in from the outside that would “spur” them to play at the level of a club that averaged 100 victories in each of the last two seasons.
“I’m not concerned or interested about the trade market right now,” Maddon said. “I believe the answers are in our room. We’ve just got to get that out of our guys.”
During Thursday’s meeting, Maddon preached chemistry and sticking together while also stressing the need for his players to be more aware of what’s happening in the moment. He said the timing of the meeting was important and provides his team to digest the message during next week’s All-Star break.
While panic may be setting in from the outside, Maddon’s players are convinced a turnaround is coming. Despite trailing the Brewers by 4 ½ games and 6 ½ games off the lead for the National League wild card, the Cubs believe better times are aware.
Third baseman Kris Bryant said before Friday’s game that the Cubs have underachieved over the season’s first 85 games. Like his manager and team president, Bryant believes in the talent that is in the Cubs clubhouse to make a dramatic turn in the season’s second half.
Regardless of outside opinion, Bryant insists there is no panic setting in on a team that according to Bryant, has a huge target on its back. As evidence that the Cubs are capable of turning things around, Bryant points to the 3-1 deficit the Cubs faced in the World Series before they reeled off three straight wins against the Cleveland Indians to capture the Cubs’ first world championship in 108 years.
“That is more impressive that coming back from – I don’t know how many games we’re down (right now), four?,” Bryant said before being corrected of the 4 1/2 game deficit. “I think what we did in the World Series is more impressive. We can do it. That’s what makes me so confident.”
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