Maddon sees changes in opponents

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Cubs' Jason Heyward celebrates with Javier Baez at home plate after scoring on a Tommy La Stella double during the seventh inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday in Chicago.

    Cubs' Jason Heyward celebrates with Javier Baez at home plate after scoring on a Tommy La Stella double during the seventh inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday in Chicago. Associated Press

 
By Evan F. Moore
Daily Herald correspondent
Updated 4/16/2017 8:56 PM

Before Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cubs manager Joe Maddon talked about his team's chances of defending their World Series title, while so many teams have improved since last season.

"I've been looking at that," Maddon said. "I was looking at that last year, just playing against Milwaukee at the end of the year, and playing against Cincinnati and what they were going through and knowing that they had some nice stuff coming along.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Cincinnati has some really live athletic bodies there, I thought. Same with Milwaukee. This team here, Pittsburgh. Again, as they pitch, they're going to win, because they have a really nice team on the field."

Even though the Cubs skipper has taken notice in the improvement of the Reds and Pirates, who swept a three-game series this weekend, he says that he can never count out the things teams are using to knock the Cubs off their championship pedestal.

"Of course, St. Louis is St. Louis. I do believe almost everybody ... The Diamondbacks are going to have a better year than they had last year just based on health," Maddon said. "One of the hardest things to do on a daily basis is to win a Major League Baseball game. It really is. I don't care who you're playing or where you're playing, it's very difficult to do. Now when the talent level, and the way the game is trending right now, it's getting more back to real baseball. It's not just trying to swing as hard as you can and hit a home run."

He also said teams are counting on athleticism to prevent runs.

"Athleticism is really starting to show up," he said. "It's not just big strong guys trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark. That's my perception of what I'm seeing right now. I think it's happening a lot in this league and in our division too. It's going to be very interesting."

Maddon said he believes the pitching and metrics will be things that teams will continue to lean heavily on.

"They want defenders that can catch the ball," he said. "It's becoming more in vogue now to get the run prevention as opposed to just trying to generate runs. You're getting that clump of the same mindedness and that's what I'm talking about the heartbeat. Players, people, skillsets. That's what's going to make the difference in these games."

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