By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Holding on to a precarious two-game lead in the NL Central entering play Monday night, the Cubs have been downright disappointing for long stretches of 2017.
Nothing pointed out the dysfunction more than losing two out of three games to the lowly Philadelphia Phillies over the weekend. Yet with all that said, could this be the best managing job Joe Maddon has ever done?
“You look at his career, and Joe has a great track record of his team playing great down the stretch,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “Everyone knows the season is a grind. He has shown both here and in Tampa Bay that his teams play well at the end.”
Normally a lead in a mediocre division this late in the season would be embraced as a real opportunity to play meaningful baseball in October. With the Cubs’ up-and-down campaign, however, many remain unsure of what to make of their chances getting into the postseason and then advancing.
Injuries predicted by and projected accurately by Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and Hoyer have certainly impacted the record that stood at 69-60 entering Monday. More importantly, less-than-stellar seasons by some key players on the 25-man roster have been the main contributor to an average season on the field. It’s worth noting that Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras are the only players who have equaled or surpassed the numbers they brought to the table in 2016.
On the pitching side, injuries have put four of the five original members of the rotation on the disabled list at one time or another. The overall record of the five rotation members who broke camp is 38-31. Brett Anderson was released after getting injured and failing to meet expectations.
Maddon prefers to use the entirety of his 25-man roster at least on a semi-regular basis to keep players sharp and paying attention. This luxury hasn’t been there all the time this season. Maddon has used players to try and win games that were more difficult to leverage this season than in 2016.
“I like for them to know when they are in there,” Maddon said. “They are able to do other things and change their routine when they have this knowledge. We send the lineup through text message. The guys seem to dig on that. It is a different method for them just waking up in the morning when you know you’re playing or not.”
Maddon admitted post All -Star break he no longer had time for a pure player-development plan. Maddon put into action his time-to-win plan. The Cubs were 5.5 games behind the Brewers at the break jumped on the back of their starting rotation from July 14 on. They surged to a 12-2 second-half start and have been alone or tied in first place since July 26.
Is it possible Maddon is doing a better job of running the ball club now, even if the win-and-loss results have not been met?
“He seems to always be aware of the vibe of the team,” outfielder Jason Heyward said of Maddon. “Joe has a great instinct when it comes to getting people in and out of the lineup. The communication is always what you want. We are told when we are in or out of the lineup in advance.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.