MESA, Ariz. – There he was, doing what he usually does, just two games into the contests that don’t count.
“Did it surprise you? No,” said Joe Maddon when asked about the latest incredible play by Javier Baez.
Against the Rangers at Sloan Park, the Cubs’ second baseman raced from his position all the way to the outfield behind first base on a hit by the Rangers’ Nomar Mazara. He picked up the ball, spun around, and threw to Anthony Rizzo for the out.
Textbook Javi, Cubs fans would say. But seeing this so early certainly piqued the interest of Maddon.
“But to do it that early is something a little bit more surprising but then again, that’s the kind of tone you’re looking to have set – that defensive tone, that energy tone,” said Maddon. “That enthusiasm. Everybody comes running in the dugout, everybody’s, like, going nuts, because that’s almost like hitting a grand slam.”
Maybe that play was representative of what the manager has seen out of his 2018 Cubs’ team, now once removed as World Series champions. Gone were the pomp and circumstance of what comes with a coronation 108 years in the making, one that led to a figurative hangover that lasted for half a season.
Sure, it’s early, but already Maddon has a buzzword for his group two weeks into Spring Training in Mesa.
“It’s a refreshed everything. It’s a refreshed approach,” said Maddon, emphazising ‘refresh’ in his interview with reporters Sunday. “It’s a learning experience from last year. No we don’t want to get off to the same kind of start and it’s going to require us to be in a good place.”
“We’re at a good place mentally, we’re playing with that enthusiasm necessary. We capable of that defense on any given day, if we come out with the right kind of attitude – we are. Physically refreshed and mentally refreshed. I think we can do that.”
Perhaps this would allow for a start similar to 2016, when the team won 25 or their first 31 games en route to a 103-win regular season and the eventual championship. At that same mark in 2017, the Cubs were 16-15 and spent most of the summer rallying from the poor start. It wasn’t until August 12th when the finally got back in first place and eventually rode that to another Central Division championship.
That team was burdened by the accomplishments of the year before. Maddon doesn’t see that being the case again.
“Last year we were trapped a little bit, coming off the last year, not necessarily feeling all that. We are now,” said Maddon. “The guys are getting off the right kinda start.”