By Bruce Levine —
CHICAGO (CBS) — The postgame message on the video board inside the Cubs’ clubhouse had an ominous alert after a 3-1 loss to the Brewers on Sunday at Wrigley Field.
Come Tuesday, relievers are to throw at 3:30, pitchers are to hit at 3:45 and the full squad hits at 4. Why is this ominous? Because the Cubs rarely have mandatory hitting.
Optional batting practice is a core tenet of manager Joe Maddon’s philosophy. He believes players trying to hit baseballs out of the park three hours before game time is a vast exercise in futility, but the usual approach is being tweaked as the Cubs have hit an offensive rut. Chicago scored just three runs in being swept by Milwaukee in a three-game weekend series at Wrigley Field and only 16 in its past eight games.
So with the Cubs’ lead in the NL Central trimmed to two games over the Brewers and Cardinals, could a team meeting be on tap too?
“Yeah, I think it might carry a little weight,” right-hander Kyle Hendricks said Sunday. “This group of guys knows what needs to be done. We have been through it. I don’t think anything needs to be said. If it happens, it may help a little bit. We are all on the same page. We know what needs to be done. We just got to win ball games.”
Eight of the Cubs’ 16 runs in their past eight games came in one contest, leaving them with an average of 1.1 in the others seven contests. The Cubs are fourth in the National League in runs scored (707), but they’ve had a handful of high-scoring games in the second half that have padded those statistics.
For stretches at other times, their offense has been concerning, as it is now. Maddon has tried different combinations of players off of the bench to get any type of hitting flow going.
“If you look at baseball, it happens to every team at some point,” Maddon said. “It is contagious to hit as it is contagious not to hit. You have to work your way through it. We are going to start hitting again. They have pitched well against us. We scored on them early in the season. Since then, it has really tightened up.”
Will panic set in? That’s doubtful. Maddon despises the concept of team meeting as a motivator during hard times. He usually holds three planned meetings per season — in spring training, prior to the second half of the season and prior to the playoffs.
“I have never been in a meeting that is worth anything in regard to what you are going to do to get better,” Maddon said. “They just need to see me do what I always do. It is more one-on-one for me as opposed to group.”
Maddon added he’s not opposes to the Cubs players having their own meetings. So is it time for that event?
“I feel like we want to make sure everyone on the team is on the same page,” outfielder Jason Heyward said. “This has been fun all year. We are nowhere where we have not been before (protecting small division leads). There is no set time when we feel we have to talk. We are always checking in and making sure that everybody is on the same page.”
So who are the leaders who would decide when it’s time to get a message across?
“It has been different people,” Heyward said. “(Jon) Lester has done one. (John) Lackey has done one. (Jon) Jay has as well. I did one. In general, it is about everybody speaking up. If you got something to say, speak on it. Get it off of your mind to the group. That is who manages it. Again, I feel we have done a great job of that to get to this point here. We are going to continue to have fun and grind it out. We will be pushing to go forward. It will not be easy. It never is.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.