Madrigal's learning curve at third among Cubs' key takeaways

Taillon still getting a feel for his stuff, while Ríos gets first hit (HR) with team

April 9th, 2023

CHICAGO -- The Cubs hope the types of defensive missteps that took place on Sunday afternoon will prove to be an anomaly for their roster. It is a group built on pitching and run prevention, but there will undoubtedly be games that still go awry.

"We have to play a little bit cleaner," Cubs manager David Ross said after his team's 8-2 loss to the Rangers at Wrigley Field. 

was quick to point out that the North Siders secured the series win, having picked up victories in the first two tilts of this three-game Interleague set with Texas. Here were three key elements from the series finale at the Friendly Confines.

1. Madrigal's costly decision
has looked solid so far in his transition to third base, but there are still aspects of handling the position that he is learning. He was given another lesson on the fly in the second inning.

With runners on second and third, Texas' Bubba Thompson hit a sharp grounder up the line, where Madrigal gloved the ball with a dive. At the same time, Jonah Heim dove back to third, leading Madrigal to lunge after him in an effort to make a quick-thinking tag.

"I thought it was a good effort," Ross said. "If he tags him there, it feels like a great play."

Madrigal whiffed on the tag and -- without checking on Thompson's pace up the first-base line -- shuffled to his feet and uncorked a throw across the diamond. Per Statcast, Thompson was in the top one percent in sprint speed in 2022. Madrigal never really had a shot at an out.

"I had a thought that -- the ball, it was bang-bang -- maybe I have him at first," Madrigal said. "But that's one of the best runners in the league right now. I've just got to know, just put it in my back pocket."

The throw was wild, a run scored on the play and it helped the Rangers roll to a four-run outburst in the inning.

2. Taillon's mixed results
The misplay by Madrigal was one in a handful of miscues for the Cubs. Right fielder came up short on a diving attempt in the second, giving Marcus Semien a two-run double. In the fourth, Texas tacked on a run after a fielding error by first baseman .

It made evaluating the start by right-hander  more challenging.

"He threw the ball really well," Madrigal said. "We had some plays behind him that -- we'll pick him up next time. I thought overall, he looked good."

Taillon was charged with five runs (three earned) in five innings, ending with seven strikeouts and one walk. The big righty has a 6.00 ERA through his first two outings (nine total innings) and has admittedly been working through some mechanical issues.

"I just felt a little robotic. Not quite as aggressive," Taillon said. "And it's weird. I feel like whenever I make the same pitches to the same areas when I'm really aggressive, with a ton of intent behind it, I feel like I just get better results.

"When you're being a little timid, I feel like the results, for whatever reason in this game, just don't always add up. It's like the hitters can feel when you're being a little timid or something. I was trying to feel my way into the game. And that's never a good place to be."

3. Ríos collects his first Cubs hit
Ríos offers the Cubs elite left-handed power off the bench, but his inflated career strikeout rate means Ross will find opportunistic moments to deploy the slugger. The manager will weigh situations, platoon splits and the pitch characteristics of the opposing arms.

"We're just going to set him up," Ross explained, "and try to give him the at-bats when we feel like those things match up. That's part of being a role player, you're going to get some days where you might sit for a couple."

As an example, Ríos entered Sunday with a career .606 slugging percentage off fastballs (all types) in the Majors overall, and an .808 slugging percentage on fastballs in the upper-third of the strike zone, per Statcast.

Ríos got the nod as the Cubs' designated hitter on Sunday against Rangers righty Jon Gray. The slugger answered with a solo homer on a heater in the second, marking Ríos' first hit of the season with the Cubs to end an 0-for-5 start. He added a walk in the sixth.

"It was a good one to get out of the way, for sure," Ríos said. "But I like a win."