It’s fun to watch Joe Maddon manage. We hadn’t seen it much through 19 games, maybe one game in Arizona. And then last night, in the bottom of the fifth, with a man on second and third and one out, Joe Maddon pinch hit for pitcher Kyle Hendricks, who had only given up one run in five innings. Next thing you know, the Cubs took a 2-1 lead. The Cubs added two more runs in the seventh to take a 4-1 lead over Milwaukee, and then held on to win 4-3 with Hector Rondon getting the save.
It seems as though Maddon manages the game as if it was the seventh game of the World Series, but it’s not like that at all. What Maddon does is he seizes the moment, he senses that the game is at a critical juncture and he just makes his move. This year, he really hasn’t had to do that. The starting pitching pretty much shuts down the opposition and the Cubs been winning by average of almost four runs a game. With a +69 run differential (123-54), you just let the players play.
It’s always easy to sit back and second-guess the manager. It doesn’t require much thought or analysis. Still, Maddon made all the right moves last night, even bringing in Pedro Strop, even if Strop did not have his best outing, Strop’s track record this year put himself in that position.
Last year, sometime around the middle of June, Maddon began to manage like this. Before that time, he let the players play, he got to know them and to find out who could do what. The most notable times were when he pulled a starter early. The best examples were when Maddon yanked Jason Hammel early several times in June and July. Last year, Hammel was somewhat at odds with Maddon’s style. This year, it is quite different. Last week, in a rout, Hammel was pulled early and he and Maddon had a great chat in the dugout. Of course, the Cubs were winning, but some pitchers don’t want to come out of the game, even when winning.
In the press conference last night after the game, Maddon praised Kyle Hendricks for understanding the moment. And I think when you look at what Maddon does, it is just that – he manages in the moment. Maddon’s use of Adam Warren to go two innings saved the bullpen and allowed the manager to mix and match in the eighth with Travis Wood.
Maddon’s prescience to insert Javy Baez late in the game proved to be prophetic with Baez’s defense and slide on the stolen base, and Bryant’s ability to play the outfield (which I love – he’s a great athlete not just a third baseman) gives Maddon a lot of flexibility late in games.
I think as this year goes on, Maddon will pretty much let his players play most nights. With this offense producing like it is and the pitching shutting other teams down, he doesn’t need to do anything but fill out the lineup card. However, there will be times when Maddon will seize the day, and it will be unmistakable when he does, to put the Cubs in a position to win. And like last night, it will be a beautiful thing.