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Joe Maddon says the 2017 Cubs are going to be “authentic”

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Cubs manager Joe Maddon likes the cosmic, big picture stuff. He comes up with themes and slogans for entire seasons or parts of seasons. Thinks about larger and broader motivational things and talks about them far more than he talks about the Xs and Os of baseball.

Last year, for example, he talked about expectations and “embracing the target” that others set for the Cubs, which runs contrary to how most people in baseball talk about external expectations. This year he’s talking up something else. From ESPN Chicago:

Coming up with a new slogan for a new challenge has been an offseason goal for the Cubs’ third-year manager. “Authenticity” is the foundation of his message.
“It’s a great word to bring an entire message from,” Maddon said. “Get in front of the group that first day in spring training. Just think of that word: ‘authentic’ and ‘authenticity’ and the positives that can be derived from that.”

I’m not sure how the concept of “authenticity” translates to baseball motivation and preparation. It seems like a key part of being an elite athlete is believing a lot of impossible things as a means of psyching yourself up to do things most people can’t do. And people smarter than me have talked a lot about how transparency and authenticity can, in some contexts, hinder leadership.

But I suppose figuring out how to navigate such philosophical minefields is why they pay Joe Maddon the big bucks.

James Paxton will “nerd out big-time” to stay healthy next year

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To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.

So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”

When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.

Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.