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Relaxed Maddon says pressure off in NLDS

Cubs manager points to road success against Cards

ST. LOUIS -- Joe Maddon sat behind a table at Busch Stadium on Thursday afternoon, about 12 hours after the Cubs got into their hotel following a Wild Card celebration in Pittsburgh. He was asked if he sensed any sort of hangover from his club, whether it was real or ... 

"It wasn't imagined, man," Maddon quipped.

A day after managing his team to a 4-0 win over the Pirates at PNC Park, Maddon was at his easygoing best as the Cubs and Cardinals prepared for Game 1 of the National League Division Series, live Friday at 5:30 p.m. CT on TBS.

:: NLDS: Cubs vs. Cardinals -- Tune-in info ::

And why wouldn't Maddon relax a little? The Cubs aren't about to kick up their feet after one postseason victory, but they've won nine straight games -- including, the way their manager sees it, possibly the most stressful one they'll play all October.

"We played Game 7 already. Think about it," Maddon said. "That's the most intense game you're going to play all year. ... I mean, we'll do well in less than five or less than seven games, but to play a one-and-go-home game, we've done it and we've come out on top.

"We know we can do things like that. So when you get that out of the way early, I think that actually helps you."

In typical Maddon fashion, he didn't anticipate making any changes heading into the Cubs' best-of-five series against the Cardinals. No speeches, no team meetings, no mandatory batting practice.

"Just play the game, Maddon said.

NLDS: Cubs-Cardinals position by position

It's still a personally significant game for Maddon, too. The Hazleton, Pa., native became a Cardinals fan at a young age. His father took him to a Yankees game and told him he could have any baseball cap he wanted.

The young Maddon picked a Cardinals cap because he liked the logo, started following St. Louis and carried that fandom throughout the rest of his life.

Well, most of his life, anyway.

"When you're a Cub, though, you can't necessarily be a Cardinals fan. But I have a lot of respect for the organization, always have," he said. "The whole group wreaks of tremendous tradition. I'm a big Branch Rickey guy. But right now I'm a Cub, and hopefully will be a Cub for a long time."

There is another, more serious element at play for Maddon and the Cubs over the next few days. Since his time managing the Rays in the ultra-competitive American League East, Maddon has emphasized the importance of beating better teams in developing a winning culture.

This year, the Cubs won 12 of 20 games against the NL Central-rival Pirates, but lost 11 of 19 to the Cardinals. In other words, there's no time for a hangover -- real or imagined -- on Friday night.

"It's really important that you know that you can beat somebody that's really good in their ballpark, and especially a team like St. Louis or a team like Pittsburgh. You've got to be able to know that," Maddon said. "Until you actually know that, it's very difficult to get it done. You're going to be intimidated. You're going to expect something bad to happen.

"So the fact that we actually played pretty good in Pittsburgh all year, we played better in St. Louis, it matters. Not a little bit. A lot."

Adam Berry is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry.
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