Joe Maddon is approaching his 100th game managing the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
But that doesn’t mean he’s stopped being surprised by the curve balls the century-old ballpark keeps throwing on a daily basis.
A day after it appeared summer had officially arrived, with temperatures around 80 degrees on the North Side, the mercury dropped like a rock and the wind was howling in. The Cubs and Nationals combined for six home runs in Friday’s summer-like atmosphere. Saturday, at least before the start of the game, appeared a day for the pitchers.
“Driving here was difficult, driving up Clark toward the ballpark into the wind, real firm. It’s beautiful, going from yesterday to today, and you’re expecting an entirely different kind of a game,” Maddon said. “It’s like no other place. There’s no other ballpark I’ve been involved with anywhere that can change so dramatically from day to day. But that’s what it is, and it’s a beautiful thing.”
The hot weather and outward-blowing wind were the talk of the day on Friday. Cubs hitters — who have knocked around opposing pitchers this season regardless of the conditions — were happy to finally have a day to hit with the wind blowing out. John Lackey felt fortunate he made it through seven innings with just one home run allowed. Max Scherzer wasn’t so lucky, the Nationals’ ace serving up four homers to the Cubs.
You’d think Maddon would be used to the abrupt 180s Wrigley can present, but this is a guy who managed his first game at the Friendly Confines just two summers ago, when the Rays visited for an Interleague series.
“When I came here with the Rays a couple years ago, I had no idea it was like that, none. I had no clue,” Maddon said. “I just thought it was a small ballpark and the ball flew out easily, and then first game I was astonished by how difficult (it was to hit when the wind is blowing in) because some balls were really well hit and just barely got to the warning track.”
The Cubs talked about that very occurrence Friday. Part of praising Friday’s conditions involved reflective lamenting that well-hit balls earlier this season weren’t resulting in the extra-base hits they should have. And it looked like there might be more of that talk following Saturday’s contest.
But part of the Cubs’ offensive success despite adverse hitting conditions has been by design. Theo Epstein’s front office brought in free agents Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward to improve the team’s contact hitting. Hitting a ton of home runs is great — and the Cubs’ lineup is stocked with power bats like Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and, prior to his season-ending injury, Kyle Schwarber — but the Cubs looked to improve their contact hitting this offseason and that kind of thing helps when the wind is screaming in at Wrigley Field.
“What happened this year is we’ve been more contact-oriented, which I think you need here,” Maddon said. “You can still puncture the wind once in a while, but you’ve got to be able to move the baseball and force the defense to play and execute. I think we’ve done that. That’s part of what we got done in spring training. I’ve seen a lot of that coming out of camp. That would be something you want to continue moving forward because it’s definitely a different thought process with the game in progress.”