Against Diamondbacks lefty Patrick Corbin on Monday, Cubs Manager Joe Maddon benched the $184 million Jason Heyward and the World Series legend/hero Kyle Schwarber.
And against the righty Zach Godley on Tuesday, Maddon benched the surging and energetic sophomore Willson Contreras as well as the surprisingly productive rookie Ian Happ.
The results may have been there for the Cubs in only the first of those two games, but the thought process was sound and the message was even clearer: the Cubs are 100% in win-now mode. Egos or kid gloves will not be a part of the calculus.
Around this time in each of the past two seasons, Joe Maddon has flipped the proverbial switch and began managing for the win every single night. You knew he meant it when he benched Starlin Castro back in 2015 and again last year, when Willson Contreras began stealing more and more of Miguel Montero’s starts behind the plate (among many other examples).
There’s value in gaining insight or allowing players to work through things at the big league level (even if it costs the team a win) earlier in the season, but at a certain point, things get serious. And for this Cubs manager and team, that point for this season is right now.
“You cannot be thin-skinned right now,” Maddon said via CSN Chicago before Wednesday’s 3-0 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. “So you may see us do some things a little bit differently, different patterns, possibly, just based on that thought.”
According to Patrick Mooney, you may see the Cubs continue to limit at-bats against lefties for Kyle Schwarber, have a lower tolerance for Javy Baez’s free-swinging nature, start seeing quicker hooks for starters, and even the occasional four-out save for (free-agent-to-be) closer Wade Davis. But at the same time, you don’t have to worry about it hurting the team’s morale.
“Winning groups, winning teams, teams that are together – guys that get it – are not really concerned about” not playing after a good night or getting taken out at the right time, Maddon theorizes. The team’s experiences with this sort of mentality change over the past two years will also help the transition occur smoothly.
Given that Maddon has averaged 100 wins with the Cubs over the past two seasons, won the Manager of the Year award in 2015, and coached a young Cubs team to a World Series victory in 2016, I’d say his perspective should probably be trusted. And with just a 2.5 game lead in the NL Central (second smallest first-place lead in MLB), it’s coming at just the right time.
More on Maddon’s ways, and the Cubs turning it on, here at CSN.