LOS ANGELES – Situations like the one taking place right now in the National League Championship Series are the ones that Joe Maddon was made for.
He’s not a conventional manager. Maddon combines an eclectic mix of sabermetrics, zen and decades of experience to produce results on the field like few have done so quickly in Cubs history.
Good things happen? Great. Bad things happen? No worries, there is always a solution. This is the Maddon Cubs’ fans have gotten to know since he bought everyone a beer and a shot at his introductory news conference in November of 2014.
Now is the time where Maddon will earn the money that Theo gave him that day.
His Cubs team is down 2-1 in the NLCS to the Dodgers and their offense is, frankly, bad. In the last two games they’ve been shutout for 18 innings , a franchise playoff record. Two consecutive shutouts is also a playoff first and consist of 40 percent of the Cubs shutouts in October since 1903.
For the entire postseason the Cubs are hitting .185 and against the Dodgers that average dips to .161. The Dodgers’ last two starters – Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill – have each allowed just hits in going seven and six innings, respectively.
So what do you know Joe?
“It’s more of a mental trend than a physical trend,” said Maddon when asked about not letting the struggles spiral out of control. “You have to be able to push back mentally as much as anything right now. Because when it comes down to work, you don’t need any more batting practice or video study or data information.
“You just have to mentally hang in there and keep pushing back until you get it.”
Some Cubs better hurry to do so. Anthony Rizzo showed some sign of progress yesterday with a walk and a broken bat hit but still is hitting 2-for-26 in the playoffs. Addison Russell didn’t show much progress in his two at-bats that dropped him to 1-for-24 in the postseason and was pulled for a pinch-hitter in Game 3.
They are hardly alone as only three players on the team have an average over .200 in these playoffs. One of those guys is Kris Bryant – hitting .357 in the postseason – and he’s the one trying to calm the building angst on the outside.
“There is no panic here,” said Bryant not once but twice after a 6-0 loss in Game 3. “It’s just one of those times where we got beat today. They had good at-bats and we’ll come out and get them tomorrow.”
When he was asked if the hitting woes were a cause for concern, Bryant shook his head and emphatically said “No.”
As he mostly does, Maddon would tell them to do the same. Yes, he has got a catch phrase for some of the biggest adversity his very successful team has faced in 2016.
“It’s about putting this one in the wastebasket, come back and play tomorrow,” was Maddon’s message before Wednesday’s Game 4. “I’ve preached that all season long. We have a very good pitcher pitching tomorrow, so today. We’re able to win that game tomorrow, and the narrative’s going to change entirely. So I can’t get so dramatic about it.”
Forgive Cubs’ fans if they might be feeling that way.