HOUSTON -- Even Major League managers need to prep for the regular season. After letting first-base coach Brandon Hyde run Spring Training camp and bench coach Dave Martinez put together the lineups, Joe Maddon got his iPad and cup of coffee Thursday to write his first lineup for 2017.The Cubs
HOUSTON -- Even Major League managers need to prep for the regular season. After letting first-base coach Brandon Hyde run Spring Training camp and bench coach Dave Martinez put together the lineups, Joe Maddon got his iPad and cup of coffee Thursday to write his first lineup for 2017.
The Cubs are trying to maintain an even keel approach to the season after winning the franchise's first World Series championship since 1908. As far as they're concerned, it's business as usual.
"From the outside looking in, it's different," Maddon said about being the defending champs. "From the inside looking out, I don't anticipate a different feeling. Spring Training, it was great, very crowded, people were outstanding, the fans complimentary. I didn't focus a whole lot personally [on the attention] and I don't think our guys did. I think our guys are ready to turn the page. We'd like to do it again."
The Cubs officially begin defense of the title Sunday night when they face their rivals, the Cardinals, at Busch Stadium. On April 10 at Wrigley Field, they'll raise the banners, and on April 12, the Cubs will get their rings.
Before they do that, they had Thursday's exhibition against the Astros and one more Friday, giving the players a tuneup in a Major League setting, which Maddon likes. Let the players get used to that upper deck, he said. It's also a treat for the Minor Leaguers added to the roster for the two games.
"These guys don't care if it's an exhibition game or not," Maddon said of the extras. "Getting a chance to play in this park is great."
There will be no preseason pep talk from Maddon, either. He addresses the players three times: Once in Spring Training, once right before the second half begins, and finally, before the playoffs start.
"When it comes to Opening Day, I want them to walk in that door and they're playing another game," Maddon said. "There's enough stuff going on. ... We have to go home and it's going to be loud and it's going to be crazy and pandemonium. I've always talked about trying to play the same game on March 15, April 15, July 15. The less I can intrude on their day and try to fill them with all this wisdom, which is not going to matter one bit when that first pitch is thrown, not a bit. It's not a football game where you want to build them up into a lather before they go out there. I want them to have their normal routines."
• Ian Happ, ranked No. 2 on MLBPipeline.com's list of top 30 Cubs prospects, had quite a spring, leading the Cactus League with 20 RBIs. He was third in total bases (45) and fourth in hits (23).
"It's hard to have a better spring than he did, but again, it's Spring Training," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "You don't want to evaluate too much. I do think from a scouting standpoint, the ball is definitely coming off his bat better now than it has at any point previous."
Happ battled a sports hernia his sophomore year of college and mononucleosis his junior year.
"There might be more in there, more pop in there," Epstein said. "He put on some good muscle in the offseason. The ball is just jumping off his bat from both sides of the plate. He's taking good, aggressive swings. He's going to go have a Minor League season in which I'm sure he'll have a lot of ups and downs, but we expect him to make the adjustments building off a great spring.
"He couldn't have been more impressive -- not only with the bat, but the way he handled himself in the clubhouse," Epstein said of the Cubs' 2015 first-round Draft pick. "He won over a lot of his teammates, the coaching staff and the manager. He'll be at [Triple-A] Iowa playing mostly second base, but he'll see time at the outfield spots as well and then eventually we'll introduce him to the corner infield."
• Lefty Rob Zastryzny will see time both as a starter and a reliever at Iowa, Epstein said.
"The goal with him is to follow the same pattern as last year, so get locked in by making some starts and extended outings and hopefully be in a good position when we need him to carry it right up to the big leagues like he did last year," Epstein said.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.