Chicago Cubs' Epstein, Maddon see even better things ahead
Mentioning the words "Cubs" and "playoffs" in the same sentence has not been common practice for several years.
But the Cubs returned home for a short four-game homestand Monday holding down the second wild-card spot in the National League.
Naturally, reporters wanted to ask manager Joe Maddon and team president Theo Epstein if they were happy with where their surprising team was 67 games into the season before the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field.
"As long as you're saying we're a playoff team, I guess, yes," Maddon said. "You'd still like to be in even a little bit better shape. We're close to being in a little bit better shape.
"We've been working through some things. I think one of the main differences recently is the bullpen has kind of settled in a little bit. Of course, some of the young players are starting to get their feet on the ground -- Addison (Russell), KB (Kris Bryant), etc. The starters keep getting better."
The Cubs returned from their American League road trip with an overall record of 37-30.
"I don't think you're ever happy where you are at the moment," Epstein said. "Otherwise you would just go home or wish the season was over. We're trying to improve. We're trying to gain more consistency, but of course we're thrilled with the character of the team, the identity of the team. All the guys care about each other. They play hard every night.
"The results for the most part have been good. We have one of the most exciting groups of young players to come along in a long time. It's fun to be around. It's exciting.
"But I don't think anyone in that clubhouse is satisfied. That doesn't mean you can't be proud of the team and have an awful lot of fun being around them."
This is the fourth year of the baseball regime headed by Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer. It figures to be the first with this group where the Cubs are buyers between now and the July 31 trading deadline and not sellers, as they were from 2012-14.
"You can't take any opportunity to win for granted," Epstein said. "You have to seize the moment, but at the same time, we're cognizant of the fact that one of the primary reasons we have a team that's in contention now is because a healthy organization has been built. So you want to maintain that."
Epstein said the Cubs would have the financial wherewithal to add players, if needed, through trades. The Cubs also are closer to getting some injured players back, such as reliever Neil Ramirez and outfielder Jorge Soler.
On top of that, Maddon says the young players on the team will continue improving as the season goes on.
"I think all of our guys have not reached that point or been at that level yet this year, as good as they can be," he said. "I think there's room in 2015 to get better. And I like that.
"I don't think anybody's plateaued by any means. So I think there's a lot to look forward to. What I really like is just how we're playing. We're just playing hard and well and pretty smart. We've made some mistakes. I expect that. But I've seen a lot of good defense."