Leadership was the theme of Joe Maddon’s pregame conversation Saturday, one day after the Cubs rebounded from their first losing “streak” of the season.
Leadership has come from all sorts of places. David Ross, 39, has emerged as a key piece on and off the field during his last season before retirement. Addison Russell, 22, continues to impress Maddon with his preparation and workout regimen.
Maddon said leaders aren’t just the players who bat .330 or hit 30 home runs or win 20 games. They’re the players who listen to teammates and put someone else first on a daily basis.
“Leadership is taken,” Maddon said. “You can’t give leadership. Guys have to take it. It just happens. You can’t anoint a leader.”
The Cubs also provide plenty of leadership through their approach, hustle and execution. All three were on display during their 8-2 victory against the Pirates on Saturday at Wrigley Field.
For example, Jason Heyward beat out an infield single to open the fourth inning, and Kris Bryant rallied from an 0-2 count to draw a walk. Those little moments set the stage for Anthony Rizzo’s three-run blast to right field that gave the Cubs a 3-2 lead they never relinquished.
Russell, who had received Maddon’s praise before the game, padded the lead with a two-run homer in the sixth.
“I was in there this morning watching Addison get ready for today’s game,” Maddon said. “Wow. That was 10:15, and all the stuff he was doing in there to play a full game of baseball today. I was really impressed with his routine at 10 o’clock in the morning for a 1:20 game. He’s 22, and he gets it already.”
Russell picked up pieces of his pregame routine from other players, and his dedication rubs off on others.
“Everyone has an individual gameplan,” Russell said. “Being so young, I try to grab and pick and talk to guys a little bit about how they prepare for the game. I incorporate it into my routine.”
And then there’s Jake Arrieta, a textbook case of a player who, as Maddon said, “leads by example.”
Arrieta, who has more no-hitters (two) than losses (one) in his last 28 starts, became the first Cubs pitcher to start 7-0 since Carlos Silva in 2010.
He gave up two runs and three hits in the fourth inning and posted zeroes in the other seven innings he pitched. Arrieta also struck out 11, a season high.
“I knew I had my work cut out for me and needed to tighten it up,” Arrieta said of the fourth inning. “I had to do some things a little better and was able to after that point.”
Arrieta has allowed three runs or fewer in 28 consecutive starts, the longest streak in the majors since 1893. His last 18 decisions have been wins, and the Cubs have won 21 consecutive games he has started.
At 27-8, the Cubs are off to the best start through 35 games since the 1984 Tigers went 30-5.
Strong starts are great, but good leadership will make for a strong finish, too.
“If you come to this group now and have not had a good work ethic or a questionable work ethic,” Maddon said, “I promise you it’s going to get pushed in the right direction quickly.”
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