Maturity sets young Cubs apart

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Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jung Ho Kang, left, tags out Chicago Cubs’ Starlin Castro, right, at second base on a steal-attempt during the sixth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, May 17, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/David Banks)

By Toni Ginnetti

The Cubs remind Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle of the young teams he had with the Colorado Rockies, whom he led to the World Series in 2007.

Manager Joe Maddon had success with young Tampa Bay Rays teams, too, but it’s the maturity of the young Cubs that is different.

‘‘I just think, inherently, they’re good baseball players and good guys,’’ Maddon said Sunday. ‘‘And they have confidence. That’s them and who they are.

‘‘And I think a lot of the

freedom we give them supports that. It’s their foundation and having them not be afraid to make mistakes.’’

Having veterans who have been able to serve as mentors also has been crucial to the Cubs’ success, Maddon said.

‘‘They’ve been outstanding in both getting on them and patting them on the back,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ve watched them. They’ve been tremendous.’’

Roster woes

The Cubs have been able to get by with a short bench because left-hander Travis Wood has been available as a pinch hitter or pinch runner on days he didn’t pitch. But that changes now with him in the bullpen.

‘‘It only changes the flexibility with him,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘He was always available [on non-pitching days], but now it will be on days he’s not available to pitch in the bullpen.’’

Adding another position player will be necessary before long, but the Cubs suffered a setback there when rehabbing infielder Tommy La Stella apparently reinjured his side during a rehab game Sunday with Class AA Tennessee.

La Stella is scheduled to

return to Chicago this week to be re-evaluated.


Third baseman Kris Bryant left after the fourth inning because he wasn’t feeling well, and he wasn’t available after the game. He did extend his hitting streak to seven games with a first-inning single.

Maddon said Bryant is looking forward to the Cubs’ series Tuesday through Thursday in San Diego, where he attended college.

‘‘It’s always a little more stressful with ticket requests and friends and family,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘My advice to him is to learn to say no.’’

Defense equals winning

The Cubs have turned fewer double plays (28) and committed more errors (27) than most National League teams, ranking 12th in the league in defense.

But miscues haven’t hurt them as much as they have in the past. Only nine of the 160 runs the Cubs have allowed have been unearned. And the defense showed improvement during the six-game winning streak that ended Sunday.

‘‘When you’re winning, the mental acuity is higher,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘But I honestly believe that while we’ve made errors, we’ve made plays. It’s a tough game, and you’re going to make errors. But we’ve made plays.

‘‘I like when teams feed off defense; it’s good stuff. I don’t know that anything excites me more than good pitching and defense. You have to hit, but the pitching and defense creates the winning. I know the fans want to see offense — and I do, too — but I’ll take the pitching and defense every day.’’

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