Maddon: 'We're too good' not to turn it around

Manager stays cool, says Cubs haven't come close to hitting their stride

May 30th, 2017

SAN DIEGO -- Every season has a different texture to it, as Cubs manager Joe Maddon is acutely aware. Thus, despite their position on Memorial Day at 25-25 and 1 1/2 games behind the Brewers in the National League Central, it's way too early to worry about the defending World Series champions.

Even a little dose of the 20-33 Padres at Petco Park on Monday couldn't provide an immediate fix. The 5-2 loss was Chicago's fourth in row on this road trip, after a three-game weekend sweep by the Dodgers in Los Angeles and a 7-2 Wrigley Field stand.

"It's more reminiscent of 2015," Maddon said. "We were only seven games over .500 at the All-Star break in '15 and had a wonderful second half of the season to get to the NL Championship Series. Last year, we broke quickly and then played .500 for two months. Hopefully, this year we can get this .500 thing out of the way and do what we normally do."

Which is win, a habit long suffering Cubs fans are certainly not accustomed to. The Cubs hadn't won the NL pennant since 1945, the World Series since 1908 and haven't been to the postseason three consecutive seasons since 1906-08.

Please excuse everybody for once again feeling like the floorboards are about to fall out from under the fan base. The Padres walked 10, hit two batters and the Cubs stranded 11. This wasn't commonplace last season, when the Cubs were third in the Majors with 808 runs scored and led all 30 teams with 103 wins.

They won the Central by 17 1/2 games with a similar cast of characters. Right now, 3 1/2 games separate all five teams.

"We've done it before and we'll do it again," said Maddon, whose club is tied for 11th with 237 runs scored. "But you have to use a velvet hammer instead of a real one or we won't get anywhere."

This is not the bad old days. The Cubs were swept by the Mets in the 2015 NLCS and went down to the final pitch of Game 7 last November to beat the Indians in the World Series. Before that, they'd only been to the postseason six times inclusive of a devastating loss to the Padres in 1984.

In his ballad, "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request," the late great folk singer Steve Goodman had this lament about Cubs baseball:

"Do they still play the blues in Chicago when baseball season rolls around? When the snow melts away, do the Cubbies still play in their ivy-covered burial ground?"

Well, yes and no. The Cubs still play in ivy-clad and highly-refurbished Wrigley, but as Goodman sang, they are no longer "the doormat of the National League."

Far from it. The Cubs have too much talent and too much staying power. They haven't come close to reaching their stride, Maddon mused.

"We haven't played our best game yet and that's the part to me that's encouraging," he said. "We're .500 and the whole division is like that. You have to take some solace in that thought."

Plus, there's the hangover from last year's success: A pressure-packed, angst-filled World Series that ended in the 10th inning at Progressive Field when Cleveland's tapped a slow grounder to third baseman for the final out.

"Of course, it's a mentally difficult scenario," Maddon said. "After all, everyone in here is a human being and you have to re-motivate yourself."

Still, with Bryant's throw to first baseman , 108 years of oppression and the Billy Goat Curse came to an end.

"Someday we'll go all the way," Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam sang.

The early morning hours of last Nov. 3 was that day.

Goodman, of course, wasn't there to see it. He died of leukemia only weeks before the Cubs were to open against the Padres in that ill-fated 1984 NLCS. Goodman was supposed to sing the national anthem before Game 1 at the old burial grounds. Jimmy Buffett was his stand in.

Maddon, more than anybody, appreciates the significance and history of it all. At 63, he's an aging rocker. Sitting behind the desk in his office before the game, he spoke about the death this past weekend of Greg Allman and seeing him play.

"I never did see the original Allman Brothers Band, though," he added.

As he worked on his pregame prep, Michael McDonald and the Doobie Brothers filled the airspace with "What a Fool Believes," an old Kenny Loggins' tune.

"Somewhere back in here long ago," McDonald sang.

For the Cubs, the long ago wasn't that long ago.

"We haven't hit to our capabilities," Maddon said. "We haven't pitched. Our defense has slowly gotten back to our capabilities. I do believe we're going to hit, we're going to pitch and we're going to get better on defense. Why? We're too young, we're too strong and we're too good.

"If we had been playing our best game and were stuck in this spot, I'd be a little bit more discouraged. We haven't even come close to playing our game yet. No two years should be exactly the same. I really believe that."