Maddon, Hoyer confident Cubs will break out

Maddon, Hoyer confident Cubs will break out

ST. LOUIS -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon doesn't circle dates on the baseball calendar to gauge how well his teams are doing. He doesn't need a calendar to know the defending World Series champs haven't played their best baseball yet.

"I don't go by dates on the calendar or holidays," Maddon said Friday. "I never quite understood that. Mother's Day, Memorial Day, Easter Sunday, Fourth of July, Trade Deadline -- all this different stuff, they're all fabricated moments. I want to see us play our brand of baseball more consistently, and if we do, all that stuff will take care of itself."

The Cubs entered a three-game series against their rivals, the Cardinals, at .500. Maddon did some homework. On May 11, 2015, they were one game over .500 at 16-15. At the halfway point of the 2015 season, the Cubs were 46-38. There's time.

"I never bought into the whole Memorial Day thing," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Friday. "I don't believe in a specific milepost. I do think this year, because of what happened last year, we have to be more patient evaluating. We know we have a good group, we know we can be successful. We also had a difficult schedule. We have to keep that in mind and not make those decisions quite as early."

Hoyer also doesn't see the Cubs resting on their laurels. Sure, they won the franchise's first championship in 108 years. That makes them hungry to do it again.

"I feel there's no diagnostic test for why we're a .500 team right now," Hoyer said. "It's not like you can say we're missing this or lacking that. Ultimately, we're a .500 team and we've actually scrambled for some wins to get to that point. We probably haven't played as well as that record. I don't think it's complacency. These guys are really competitive. We've had so many deficits. I feel like the whole year, we've played from behind."

It does seem that way. The Cubs have had to deal with deficits of three or more runs in 17 of their games. They also have given up 39 earned runs in the first inning of their 34 games, which means they're often behind at the start of the game. Hitters may be pressing to make up for that and starting pitchers can't go as deep.

"The nature of our early games has made this whole season feel like we're scrambling out of the woods every night," Hoyer said. "Last year, I thought the hallmark of what we did really well was a clean, efficient game, where we led from start to finish. We'd go up 4-1, get into the back part of the bullpen, and not even use the good part of our bullpen to win. This year, it feels like the opposite, it feels like we're constantly fighting from behind."

One of the biggest surprises -- and disappointments -- is that the Cubs defense hasn't been as solid.

"Last year, it was borderline spectacular," Hoyer said. "This year, we've made a lot of mistakes and we haven't made the big defensive plays. I don't have an explanation for that."

Hoyer doesn't see a complacent team, either.

"In some ways, I can't imagine this group, given what they went through last year, given how much they care about each other, I don't think they're taking anything for granted," he said. "We know it's all there. We just have to put it together."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.