By Dan Bernstein —
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) Whether it was his intention or not, Cubs manager Joe Maddon has made himself the focus of this National League Championship Series, which moves its stage to Chicago on Tuesday night with the Dodgers leading 2-0 and the Cubs hitters flailing ineffectively.
Maddon got himself tossed from the first episode by taking a quixotic stand against a new baseball rule, and he has taken a pounding from critics across the baseball spectrum for his in-game decisions, specifically the questionable bullpen usage and ensuing explanations that have done little to help us understand his reasoning.
It was all cute and quirky when he seemed to fall upward in last year’s World Series, the fact of the championship insulating him from harsher attention for some head-scratchers that have since even been pointed out by his own bosses, but now he’s the story. His attempt to push back Monday was misdirected at social media, saying” “Twitter doesn’t count at all. And really, as sportswriters you should do a better job than relying on Twitter to write a story, frankly.”
Nobody seems quite sure what that even meant, considering that it has all been debated immediately and reasonably in real time by everyone from the most mainstream of media to anyone who happens to be watching or listening. It’s about what Maddon does and why he does it, not the method of communication. When every national and local postgame show makes the managerial calls the centerpiece of discussion immediately upon the game ending, the messenger isn’t the issue.
And it may not matter if the Dodgers prove this much better in the series as they did over 162 games. Any manager can only work at the margins, giving better percentage chances at the periphery despite the degree to which every call is magnified in the postseason.
Regardless, baseball often has a way of normalizing itself at time like this, as we saw in the Bronx on Monday when the Yankees came back to life with an 8-1 win that featured a pair of three-run homers in cutting the Astros’ series lead to 2-1.
It was exactly the kind of thing Maddon and the Cubs need now at Wrigley Field, a massive pile of runs that overwhelms a rising chorus of doubt and recrimination.