Orioles Preview - Page 51 - The Cubs

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- Page 51
The Cubs

Associated Press


After four consecutive playoff appearances and the 2016 World Series title, the Cubs are way past playing for Joe Maddon’s future.


They also know what’s going on.


Maddon is entering the final year of his contract after the team declined to offer an extension to its 65-year-old manager. While president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has said he thinks the relationship will continue past this season, the situation with Maddon hovers over the Cubs as they try to bounce back from last year’s disappointing finish.


“I love Joe. He’s created a culture here that can’t be beat anywhere in the league,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “I’m obviously biased. I think Joe, when he talks, everyone listens.”


Maddon took a more hands-on approach during spring training after the Cubs blew a five-game lead in the NL Central and were eliminated by the Rockies in the NL wildcard game. He joined new hitting coach Anthony Iapoce for extensive work with the team on situational hitting, looking to help an offense that was plagued by inconsistency.


The Cubs hit an NL-best .258 last season and scored 761 runs, fourth in the league. But they also managed one run or none in a whopping 39 games.


The remedy for the Cubs’ offensive issues might be on the roster, or at least they hope so after they didn’t make any major moves.


Kris Bryant is healthy again after he was hampered by left shoulder inflammation. Ian Happ stumbled in his second major-league season, and Willson Contreras is looking to return to form after he hit just 10 homers and struck out 121 times in 138 games.


“A lot of times as a player you try too hard,” Contreras said. “You fail and you step up. Last year was a learning year for me, my second full season in the big leagues.”


In need of relief: The bullpen has potential, but health is a major concern. Closer Brandon Morrow will miss the start of the season while he recovers from elbow surgery. Pedro Strop has been hampered by hamstring trouble, and Tony Barnette and Xavier Cedeno are dealing with injuries. Steve Cishek, Carl Edwards Jr. and new comer Brad Brach could get plenty of work until reinforcements arrive. Cishek, 32, had a 2.18 ERA in a career-high 80 appearances in his first year with the Cubs. Brach had 12 saves and a 3.59 ERA in 69 games last season with the Orioles and Braves.


New faces: The Cubs are hoping Daniel Descalso can provide some additional veteran leadership after he agreed to a two-year, $5 million contract in December. The utility infielder hit .238with a career-best 13 homers and 57 RBIs in 138 games with the Diamondbacks last season.


Looking good: Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana form what could be baseball’s deepest rotation. Lester went 18-6 last year with a 3.32 ERA. Darvish missed most of his first season with Chicago because of injuries but looked much better this spring. Hamels provided a big lift after he was acquired in a July trade with the Rangers, and Hendricks and Quintana are consistent.


Javy time: Javier Baez is coming off a breakout season, becoming one of baseball’s biggest stars. The slugger hit .290 with 34 homers and an NL-high 111 RBIs while playing his usual stellar defense all around the infield.


Photo: Theo Epstein, left, has not offered a contract extension to manager Joe Maddon yet.