MESA, Ariz. -- It was the spring training equivalent of turning over a table. Manager Joe Maddon collected his team on the practice field Wednesday morning, reminded them that winning games comes from playing fundamentally sound baseball, and then proceeded to run a relay drill to drive home his point.
Then he came over to speak to the media. He didn’t hold back about his team’s 0-6-1 Cactus League record.
“We’re not good at fundamentals in the game,” Maddon bluntly stated. “We have not done the little things right that permit you to win. The wins will happen if we get the fundamentals. The wins will never happen if you don’t get the fundamentals.”
This came one day after the Chicago Cubs looked like a little league team in the field against the Cleveland Indians, losing 10-6. Of course, Maddon isn’t worried about how many games his team wins or loses in March, but how the Cubs are losing them is frustrating him. All sorts of mental mistakes on the base paths, and on defense, have plagued them. Maddon thinks he knows why.
“It’s guys being more concerned about survival as opposed to doing the right thing,” he stated. “If we’re going to change the culture here, they have to understand when you show up at the ballpark every day, it’s not about survival. It’s about winning.”
Maddon is referencing the fact that he has a young team working on their third manager in as many years. He likens it to an offense or defense in football dealing with a new coordinator each year. It takes some getting used to. And they’re trying to impress their manager instead of playing smart baseball. That’s what he means by "survival."
“I’m a patient guy,” Maddon said. “I have to have even more patience knowing they’re hearing another message again. Not easy. We assume too much. When a guy gets to the big leagues we think because he’s in the big leagues we don’t have to cover this (minutiae).
“The part that I cannot cope (with) standing in the dugout is when you’re not a good fundamental team. That bothers me. And that can change. Experience or not.”
Can Maddon be any clearer? And he does believe the cliché that things carry over. Bad fundamentals in March lead to bad ones in April, and that’s when tables in the clubhouse get turned over for real.
“Physical mistakes are fine,” Maddon continued. “The mental mistakes will kill you. Physical mistakes are part of this game. Mental mistakes have no part in this game.”
Maddon rightly believes there are mental mistakes disguised as physical ones. Like when pitcher Edwin Jackson threw wild to second base on an easy comebacker in a game this week against the San Diego Padres. Proper mental preparation leads to less physical errors. The players understand. This isn’t anything new.
“Come April 5 we need to play perfect baseball,” Anthony Rizzo said. “We lose playing perfect baseball, OK. We lose playing sloppy, like we have in the past, that’s not OK.”
More than likely this will all disappear in short order. The only drawback is the Cubs are stuck in neutral right now as they clean up their game. Maddon has admitted they can’t “try some things” because they’ve been behind and scrambling to get out of messy innings. There’s plenty of time for it to come together. It just needs to start.
“I really want to push on that the next couple of weeks,” Maddon said. “I’m hoping to see improvement in the 10 days and then have a window there where we can really fine tune things (before the season).
“You can’t create magic. You don’t deserve magic until you play the game properly. You don’t deserve it coming your way.
"The biggest things are the little things.”
Nothing could be more true.