Chicago Cubs: Mental skills will be imperative in 2019

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

When Chicago Cubs mental skills coach Ken Ravizza passed away on July 2 of last year, the organization lost more than just a mentor and a teacher. They had lost part of their identity.

Ken Ravizza–who had known Joe Maddon since the 1980s–was one of the most influential thinkers in the game of baseball, and his impact on the Chicago Cubs (where he had coached from 2015 until his passing) was tangible.

From Jason Heyward‘s rain delay speech in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series to a 2017 season where the Cubs responded to a 43-45 record at the All-Star Break by going 49-25 in the second half, Ravizza’s lessons of confronting and conquering adversity seemed to define an organization that made three straight NLCS appearances.

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The Cubs were in the midst of what would be a six-game win streak when Ravizza died and would still finish the first half strong, taking over first place in the division.

But as we know all too well, Chicago’s offense floundered in the second half. There is a particular word that defines what the Cubs lacked down the stretch: toughness.

Kris Bryant looked uncomfortable and overwhelmed by a shoulder injury that would come to define his shortcomings. Willson Contreras struggled to even hit the ball out of the infield.

Albert Almora and Ian Happ had trouble platooning in the outfield, and Carl Edwards Jr. could not even sniff the strike zone at the end of the season. There seemed to be no resolve, only unmitigated frustration.

This year? The tone is entirely different. Sure, a number of the guys on the roster–including Almora–have talked about mechanical adjustments.

However, it is the motivational factor that has been more transparent than ever.

Bryant has already made it abundantly clear that he is on a mission in 2019.  Edwards is using a modified delivery similar to that of Kenley Jansen and Clayton Kershaw.

Contreras has been rocking a shirt that says “Don’t believe me just watch:”

For the first time, Yu Darvish is talking to reporters without an interpreter, and sounding pretty darn good doing so! Speaking of players who suffered disappointing (and injury-filled) 2018s, have we mentioned that Darvish is brimming with confidence:

This is the same Yu Darvish who was practically secretive about his rehabilitation last year. Quite a stark contrast.

The bottom line is that Ravizza may be gone, but his approach to the mental side of the game clearly has an impact on how some of Chicago’s most critical players are carrying themselves heading into the regular season.

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They may not have made the necessary reflections and adjustments in the moment, but now the 2019 Cubs are hungrier than ever. And that hunger is as important as any kind of change in pitching delivery or swing alteration.