Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon is known for having his finger on the pulse of his players. That hasn’t been completely true this week though. In fact, Maddon has actually drawn criticism from within for resting regulars and using “spring training” like lineups after the team clinched the NL Central division and wrapped up home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs.
In particular, ace Jake Arrieta and catcher Miguel Montero weren’t thrilled with the lineups and some in-game changes that directly impacted them during Wednesday’s 8-4 loss in Pittsburgh. A game in which Arrieta struggled mightily, we should point out.
“It felt like a spring training game from the get-go,” Arrieta said following the game. “I wasn’t crisp. I didn’t have much working.”
Most notably, Arrieta didn’t seem pleased that Montero, who started at catcher, was pulled after four innings, forcing him to get on the same page with another catcher mid-start. Montero echoed Arrieta’s frustration, pointing out that everyone’s concentration was a little off.
“It felt like spring training. I do believe that.” Montero said of Wednesday’s game. “That’s not a good feeling for a pitcher or a player to go into a game knowing you’re going to play four innings or five innings or whatever it is, because this game is still important for all of the players.”
Maddon’s thinking is pretty easy to grasp. He’s hoping to keep his players sharp, while also allowing some time to rest and perhaps heal up nagging injuries. It can be a delicate balance, particularly when players are used to playing every day or have usual routines that might be thrown off. That’s why Arrieta, Montero and perhaps others aren’t on the same page with Maddon. But Maddon himself isn’t backing down.
“My answer to that is we’re 7-2 in our last nine games,” Maddon said Thursday, before the Cubs and Pirates tied in the series finale. “I don’t see any kind of real negative pattern right there.”
“I’ve utilized the words spring training on several occasions just to indicate the [context] regarding getting guys in and out of the game, not from the perspective of not trying to win,” Maddon said. “They all knew what was going to happen before that game began last night. There were no surprises. And there’s been no surprises.
“There’s really not a whole lot of credence to all of that as far as I’m concerned because we’ve been playing well.”
Clearly, there’s a disconnect in philosophies here. The team may still be winning, but it’s clear some players simply aren’t comfortable coasting into the NLDS. It’s difficult to say who’s right and who’s wrong, if anyone truly is. But we wouldn’t expect it to be a lingering issue.
Well, unless the Cubs do the unexpected and completely fall apart.
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