LOS ANGELES – Chasing away negativity is a prerequisite of taking over a Cubs team in any era. But arguably no one has been better at it than Joe Maddon.
You know all of the antics like themed wardrobe of road trips, magic or a petting zoo. Yet it’s the subtle ways that the manager deals with common problems that plague a team that have helped the North Siders reach back-to-back National League Championship Series.
Despite a National League Division Series win over the Giants just a week ago, the Cubs have one major problem as they continue their road toward a World Championship: The lineup is hitting a little light.
Of the nine players on the Cubs’ roster with nine-or-more at-bats in the postseason, only three have an average over .300. The other six are batting .182 or lower with two players not even cracking the .100 mark. When those two hitters are Anthony Rizzo (.043) and Addison Russell (.045), that’s a cause for concern.
Yet Maddon isn’t panicking, as expected.
“I think, is due to the fact that we’ve seen Bumgarner, Samardzija, Matty Mo, and Cueto, I mean, that’s not bad. And then we saw Kershaw last night. said Maddon defending his hitters, who collectively are batting .193 for the postseason. “There’s a lot of Cy Young candidates among that group. So we haven’t hit to our capabilities. However, we won a series against a really good October-tested team, and now we’re 1-1 against a very good team coming back here. So you try to balance it out.
“However, we won a series against a really good October-tested team, and now we’re 1-1 against a very good team coming back here. So you try to balance it out.”
Meanwhile his hitters try to figure it out as the series shifts to Los Angeles for Game 3, 4 and 5 this week. Rizzo’s slump is the most baffling considering his strong season to date. The MVP candidate batted .292 for the regular season with 32 home runs and 109 RBIs but this postseason has just one hit in 23 plate appearances.
Included in that are three walks but he’s also struck out six times and has reached base just once so far in the NLCS, yet Rizzo is intentionally trying not to press as the slump continues.
“I don’t think it’s fair to everyone if I try to get six-or-seven hits at one time. I’ve done that before in my career and it doesn’t work,” said Rizzo. “You just go about the process and keep grinding and keep battling.”
This might be a little different for Russell who is only in his second year in the majors and his first major action in the playoffs. Last season he was injured in the NLDS and didn’t play in the NLCS so 2016 has provided the first major playing time on this stage.
During a session in the batting cage on Monday at Dodger Stadium, according to Russell, Maddon watched his mechanics and told him to make sure he ‘finishes his swing.’ Other than that, no major wholesale changes for the shortstop who hit 21 homers and drove in 95 RBIs this season.
“Just try not to do too much,” said Russell, who is 1-for-22 in the series. “Whenever you’ve seen success over the whole course of the year and then you hit a road block here, whenever it comes crunch time, you tend to press a little bit more. But my approach is stay relaxed and stay within myself.”
Maddon would have it no other way – and if you are looking for wholesale changes on Tuesday you might be disappointed.
“There’s only so much you can possibly do when it comes to manipulating your lineup. I mean, these are the guys that got you,” said Maddon. “These your guys. We’ve got a bunch of All-Stars out there.”
It would be nice if they would start looking a little more like it at the plate as the series continues.