'American Legion Week' has Cubs rested, rockin'

CHICAGO -- At the front of the Chicago Cubs' clubhouse in Wrigley Field there is a board which is primarily used to lay out a pregame schedule for the players. Everything usually is spelled out in specific detail:

Be dressed by this time, be on the field at this time, and so on.

Following the Cubs’ 9-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Sunday to complete sweep of the four-game series, the message for Monday simply read: “Use your own discretion. Game time 1:05.”

Welcome to the Cubs’ “American Legion Week,” manager Joe Maddon's way of getting his players extra rest during the dog days of August by forbidding them from showing up for work as early as they usually do.

As Maddon explained it, he wants to take the players back to the time they played American Legion baseball, when they would show up an hour or two before the game and just play.

“This is the time of the year that you really have to fight through,” he said. “I’m talking post-All-Star break into August because this is the time when you’re a little bit fatigued. That’s why we’re doing the American Legion Week. If you’re able to maintain at this particular point, here comes September and I promise you our guys will be charged up every day. September provides its own energy.”

The brand of baseball the Cubs played Sunday certainly looked like the American Legion version. With Kris Bryant leading the way by hitting two home runs, the Cubs slugged five homers off Atlanta starter Matt Wisler (5-4), who probably wished he was on the American Legion level on Sunday.

“It was a good day to hit and I think we took advantage of it,” Bryant said.

With the wind blowing out at Wrigley Field, the Cubs have hit a total of eight homers in the past two games.

“I’ve never seen a ballpark where the wind affects the game so much,” Bryant said. “Today was one of those good days, but there are plenty of bad days as well.”

Actually, the Cubs aren’t having many bad days of late. They are 16-4 in August -- a month when the contenders usually are separated from the pretenders -- and show up at the ballpark feeling as if they can’t lose.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Bryant said. “When our hitting’s not there, our pitching is picking us up. When our pitching’s not there, the hitters are picking them up. I think everything is just clicking right now and we’re playing good baseball.”

The Cubs had both the hitting and pitching working Sunday. Besides Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Dexter Fowler and Miguel Montero homered and starter Jason Hammel (7-5) rebounded from a subpar effort his last time out and two short outings before that by allowing just two runs on six hits in 6 1/3 innings.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Hammel said. “Obviously, it’s a lot easier to pitch with a lot of run support. It was the first time I’ve felt like me in a while.”

The right-hander was more eager to talk about the team, though, especially the fact that the Cubs now have swept four four-game series this season. (They also swept the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants at home and the Milwaukee Brewers on the road.)

“That’s pretty special,” Hammel said. “We’ve got something good going.”

American Legion Week, which began Wednesday, has been a rousing success as well. Besides having the players show up later, the Cubs haven’t taken batting practice on the field since Tuesday.

“Everybody has their own routine and you go about it a certain way,” Bryant said. “I agree with Joe that batting practice is overrated. I think some of us try to go out there and hit a homer every time. Sometimes that can be counterproductive. I think each hitter in here has a really good routine and we’ve all been sticking to it.”

To Maddon’s way of thinking, the Cubs have a lot of baseball left to play in September and October and he wants them fresh.

“I don’t want to overplay it, but with that, I think you can be fresher,” he said. “I think that’s part of what tires people out, is you get here too soon and you do too much before the game. That’s the part that adds up in the negative way for me.”

Addison subtracted: Shortstop Addison Russell left Sunday’s win after the fifth inning with tightness in his groin.

“He had a little bit of an issue with his leg, a little bit of tightness in his groin, so I got him out of there,” Maddon said.

Maddon said Russell’s availability for Monday’s game against the Cleveland Indians is unclear and he could be held out.