By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Cubs manager Joe Maddon isn’t one to get to the ballpark early. He believes that sitting around in your underwear and looking at your iPad at 3:30 in the afternoon is best suited for your living room and not the park.
That illustration is given as context for what occurred Monday and to let you know Maddon had a lot on his mind. He called a 3:45 p.m. meeting with the Cubs hitters in the team’s batting cage. The Cubs haven’t been having great at-bats or productive innings often during September, when they’ve averaged 3.7 runs a game as opposes to the 4.9 for the season. So Maddon had a meeting of the minds.
How serious was Maddon? He rarely has mandatory batting practice, but Monday was one of those days.
“It was a good one,” one Cubs players said of Maddon’s message. “It wasn’t exactly Knute Rockne-like, but he got his points across.”
Of course, Rockne was the legendary Notre Dame football coach who always had an inspirational, fiery speech ready. In the case of Maddon, his anger is always redirected to positive reinforcement and constructively sage information. Nonetheless, you could tell by his tone Monday that this meeting wasn’t about having the group over for high tea at Tiffany’s.
“I wanted our guys to understand, we have a unique opportunity over the next two weeks,” Maddon said of his Cubs, who’ve clinched the NL Central. “The biggest thing we have left to do is clinch the best record. That would ensure home field (for the NL playoffs). We also want to secure 100 wins at some point.
“Beyond that, it’s unusual to have two weeks of baseball left in September (with already having earned a postseason berth). So let’s work on some stuff. We can work on things that we want to accomplish individually or as a group. I told them this in not unlike a spring training situation.”
Maddon has the luxury and challenge of prodding on his charges to win and hone their skills with little left to win until Oct. 7, when the Cubs open play in the NLDS.
“We need to go out there to do everything we can to win this game, but while we are doing that, let’s work on some things we know we need to get better at,” Maddon said. “We can do that between now and when the playoffs begin.”
The Cubs are hoping to do better adjusting their swings with two strikes and hitting situationally with runners on base.
“I wanted to tell them that the four days between the end of the season and the first playoff game is a long time,” Maddon said. “So we have to get our minds right over the next few weeks to really be prepared properly for that first game. I wanted it to start today. This wasn’t an ‘I am upset or we hadn’t done anything’ type meeting. No — lets’ work on the stuff we want to get better at. That was the purpose of the meeting.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.