When I wrote about the delicate balance between resting and protecting players in advance of the playoffs, while also keeping them sharp and honoring their competitiveness, the primary arrow in my quiver in defense of how well Joe Maddon has handled things so far was that, even as the Cubs rested guys, they were 7-2 in their last nine games. Hearing frustration from Jake Arrieta and Miguel Montero after Wednesday’s game was entirely understandable for a variety of reasons, but, when viewed more broadly, it’s hard to argue with a system that is resting guys *and* winning games.
When Maddon was asked about the balance of rest and competitiveness issue, and the “Spring Training attitude” stuff, he put it the same way (ESPN, CSN, Tribune): “We’re 7-2 in our last nine games, so I don’t see any kind of negative pattern right there.”
Maddon added that everyone knew in advance that there would be certain switches made during the game (Arrieta and Montero seemed perturbed after the game that Montero was removed before Arrieta’s outing was complete).
In the end, what happened is more the product of the difficult situation than of some egregious mistake by Maddon or some egregious outburst by the players. These guys want to play in games that matter, they want to compete, and they want to win. And, at the same time, they understand that the organization wants to ensure that everyone is in the best possible place come one week from today when the NLDS begins. A part of that is keeping guys sharp and competitive, but a big part is also keeping guys healthy and prepared.
Of course, last night’s tie – the result of an explicit acknowledgement by MLB that the game did not matter in the standings – could not have been more perfectly timed, from a wry, shake-your-head perspective. The result doesn’t matter, so it ends in a tie.
You can look for the Cubs to continue using pitchers on a schedule and limiting their work through the weekend, and you’ll probably also see regular position players coming out of games like they would in Spring Training. The Cubs want to win these games, but it won’t be at the expense of what the organization deems to be the best course for preparing for the playoffs.