Home schooled: Cubs try to learn new digs, ‘right approach’ in 8-5 opening loss
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Manager Joe Maddon called it “awkward,” referring to the Cubs’ cross-country odyssey out of spring training that took them to four cities for 11 games and a rainout, covering more than 3,600 miles of travel.
And then they got home to three inches of snow, a home-opener postponement and a new, wider, weirder dugout that redefined “awkward.”
“There’s a couple of little things we’re going to talk about,” Maddon said of the deeper, two-tiered dugout with two rows of benches and a railing over the heads of most players and staff standing up. “There are different design things about it that we might be able to alter to make it a little more functional.”
Although the weather improved dramatically from Monday, the Cubs’ ability to move baserunners did not. And when starter Tyler Chatwood struggled for much of his five innings of work, it added up to an 8-5 loss to the Pirates in the Wrigley Field opener.
“We haven’t played our best, to be honest,” catcher Willson Contreras said of the Cubs’ 5-5 start. “Especially offensively. With men on second and third or less than two outs, we haven’t had the right approach in those kind of situations.”
This from the player who singled twice and doubled to right-center. Then, again, Contreras never budged after that leadoff double in the fourth off Ivan Nova as Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell followed with strikeouts, and Jason Heyward popped to shallow center.
The Cubs trailed 5-2 at that point. Francisco Cervelli’s two-out, three-run homer off Mike Montgomery in the seventh made it 8-2 and started fans toward the exits.
The fourth didn’t cost the Cubs the game. But it was an example of a young lineup’s biggest weakness in the early going.
“We’ve got to learn to just move the baseball,” said Maddon, who emphasized the Cubs aren’t the only team in baseball struggling with that in the age of launch angles and extreme bullpen velocity.
In the meantime, another potential advantage with the new, relocated dugout is how much closer it is to third base — and in particular third-base coach Brian Butterfield, whose position on the field is now almost directly in front of Maddon at the dugout steps.
“Poor Butter,” Maddon said. “You think he’s real close, but he’s always doing one of these [looking behind, left and right, for signs]. I apologized for that.”
They discovered Tuesday it just might be easier to chat.
“I’m going to go verbal, I think,” Maddon said. “Either that, or just throw sunflower seeds at him.”
From the end of the first until the Cubs loaded the bases with two out in the eighth, Maddon and Butterfield had plenty of time to chat or work on their seed throwing.
Only Javy Baez crossed Butterfield’s path in that span, briefly, when running out two solo homers.
“The first 10 games we haven’t done our job, our best job,” Contreras said. “The pitchers have been really good, especially the bullpen. But it’s our fault when we lose a game by two or three runs, because we’re not getting on base at the right time or just going out there without the right approach.”