Epstein proud of Chicago Cubs players after month of growth

There will be no Maydays sent up for the Cubs or by the Cubs as this May Day dawns.

In fact, team president Theo Epstein expressed satisfaction over the March/April the Chicago Cubs experienced, even if there were some bumps along the way.

"The biggest thing I like is how many guys seem to be really growing and getting better and as a team, too," Epstein said before Monday night's series opener against the Colorado Rockies at Wrigley Field. "I said the other day, too, when we were close to .500, I said I'd rather have the record we had but with the growth and certain guys facing some difficult stretches and coming out of it and making adjustments that I think will serve them well for the rest of the season.

"I'd rather have that experience than maybe we'd run into some homers or had a better record but without the growth that we've experienced. I'm proud of what our guys have done in April and how it sets us up going forward."

After beginning the season with Ian Happ as the leadoff man, Albert Almora Jr. playing here and there and Javier Baez hitting eighth, the Cubs have adjusted on the fly and have taken off. They entered Monday 15-10 after hovering around .500 most of April.

Almora and Baez have been the 1-2 hitters in the lineup most of the time since April 19, when the Cubs finished up a rain-shortened series with the Cardinals.

Epstein cited that series as kind of an epiphany. He also cited the work of new hitting coach Chili Davis, who replaced the fired John Mallee. Manager Joe Maddon noted differences in approaches several times during this homestand.

"Chili came in with kind of a mandate of getting guys to consider using the whole field a little bit more, working on situational hitting, two-strike approach, working on line drives through the gap instead of an all-or-nothing approach that sometimes we can fall victim to at times the way the whole league does," Epstein said.

"In that regard, it's been a really nice first month as a team. You can see that last game of the last homestand against St. Louis, we kind of turned the corner. If you remember, there was a rainout that day before, and guys were wearing out the cage with Chili and (assistant hitting coach Andy Haines) and those other guys.

"I think that was the day we had a big increase in buy-in (to) team-wide offensive approach that we were going to use the whole field. Since then, we've got to lead the league in opposite-field hits."

Maddon also weighed in Monday. He noted the good play of youngsters Almora and Baez and cautioned that slow-starting Anthony Rizzo would put up his usual numbers, based on the almost uncanny consistency of his recent career.

"I thought the first month of the season kind of gives you an indicator of what's going on with the group," he said. "I thought this in the minor leagues: The first two weeks the adrenaline guys play. And then after that, the players play. In the beginning part of the season, you're going to see some outliers. You're going to see some unusual stuff just based purely on adrenaline.

"We're talking about Rizzo as an example. Rizzo's a real player. He's not playing off adrenaline now. Here's a guy that right now is hitting .1-something. You know what that's going to look like. The real player's going to play.

"If we're in this good a position right now while he's really not doing his Rizzo thing, boy, do I have confidence in that moment. You can point out what you'd like regarding the adrenaline side of the game. I don't want to be disparaging. But I'm just going to point out what I think is the players side of the game."

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