Cubs reshift focus to 'sense of today'

Maddon, Epstein expect club to find winning routine

April 8th, 2019

CHICAGO -- The Cubs are hoping that their return to Wrigley Field will allow the team to hit a mental reset button after a tough season-opening road trip. The team is also trying to reset the messaging that was stressed throughout Spring Training and may have led to players feeling too much pressure out of the chute.

Over the offseason and during the spring, playing with a "sense of urgency" was the buzz phrase both from the front office, manager Joe Maddon and the players. It was a response to the way last season ended for the Cubs, who wanted to make sure the daily focus was heightened over the course of a long season.

Maddon now has a slightly different version of the same idea for his players.

"I just want the sense of today. I don't need the word 'urgency,'" Maddon said prior to Monday's home opener against the Pirates. "I want us to get better one week at a time. That's all I want. Semantics, you've got to be careful with semantics, man. Because you don't know how everybody's going to interpret them. I want them to really process today -- period. It's not about this whole week. It's not about the next two weeks, whatever. It's about today."

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein added that he felt the "urgency" storyline took on a life of its own as the team got off to a 2-7 start.

"That storyline is completely over inside the clubhouse," Epstein said. "I know, until we start winning, it's going to be perpetuated outside, but our guys are professionals. They're preparing hard each day. They're showing up focused and ready to win the day. We just haven't played well yet. So, semantics or not, what words we use to describe it, that does not have legs inside the clubhouse. I think it's something that they feel like they've accomplished.

"We just have to show up and build it into our routine every day, which it is. There have been a few small tweaks with the way we get ready every day. Taking a little bit more batting practice, for example. But that storyline has long since passed. It was kind of over the first day of Spring Training. It was an offseason thing. We set the tone and the guys have taken it and run with it. I'm looking forward to adding some wins to it."

Ricketts talks resources
The Cubs entered this season with a franchise-record $210 million payroll, but the club had little financial flexibility to add to its roster over the winter. Given the extent of the bullpen issues out of the gate, the lack of spending to address that area of need has come under scrutiny. Free-agent closer Craig Kimbrel, for example, is still sitting on the open market.

Prior to Monday's home opener, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts made the radio rounds to discuss a number of topics, including the budget.

"There's always a little bit of flex in every year's budget," Ricketts said on 670 AM. "But typically we don't think about that until you get toward the middle of the season. I don't know about Craig Kimbrel. That may just be a bigger ticket than what we can swing, but listen, it's about performance. We've got the resources. We've allocated those resources to the people we think are going to give us the best chance to win the division. And now we have to let them go out there and do their jobs."

Epstein echoed that sentiment in his gathering with reporters prior to Monday's game.

"I've been pretty clear on the fact that it's not a resource issue," Epstein said. "The Ricketts, from the time we've been here, have given us more than enough money to win, and we have won. We'll get those questions a lot more when we're having a tough start than we will once we get into the rhythm of the season and we're winning. I understand the question, but take a look at our payroll. It's not a resource issue. We have more than enough to win, and we have won, and I think we will win."

Worth noting
• Maddon said he typically does not reach out too much to players who have been sent back to the Minor Leagues, allowing them a chance to focus on their work. That said, the manager plans on connecting at some point with Ian Happ and Carl Edwards Jr. during their time at Triple-A Iowa.

"I may check in with those two guys," Maddon said. "I will. It's up to them to perform well. Then it's up to having a need here. So they can both add a lot to us as they do get back in the flow up here, but in the meantime, they've just got to go play. You don't ever set timelines in situations like that."

• Epstein noted that closer Brandon Morrow (10-day injured list) has gone through a series of bullpen sessions with no lingering issues with his right elbow. The right-hander remains on target to return by late April or early May, but the Cubs have been careful not to establish a firm timetable. Morrow will need to complete a rehab assignment before rejoining Chicago's bullpen.

• Epstein said that righty Tony Barnette (10-day injured list, right shoulder) and lefty Xavier Cedeno (10-day injured list, left wrist) are getting closer to Minor League rehab assignments.