It’s been a while since the Cubs were in the thick of a playoff race, so please pardon reporters covering the team, Joe Maddon, if scoreboard-watching and the effect of September call-ups are topics of interest.
The Cubs manager fielded questions about how late-season regularities will work now that the North Side is embroiled in the chase for a National League wild-card spot.
First up, the pending September call-ups. An annual thing, recently those call-ups have served as an opportunity for the Cubs to get a look at the next big prospect, the guy who would be part of the team’s future. With most of those guys — Javier Baez is a notable exception — now part of the team’s present, September call-ups could serve a different purpose as the Cubs try and run down a slot in the postseason.
“You don’t want to bring too many guys up normally. When you get in the position that we’re getting into right now, a couple things have to be factored in,” Maddon said before Friday’s win over the Braves. “Speed has to be factored in, that’s one thing, bullpen has to be factored in, catching has to be factored in to make sure that you’re covered in all these areas. So you may get a little bit heavy at times based on the fact that you’re in the hunt, and you want to be covered.”
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Resting players will be of the utmost importance down the stretch. And Maddon’s started doing it already. Kris Bryant came out of the game Thursday, sparking injury panic, but the All-Star third baseman was just getting a few innings off. The platoon of Chris Coghlan and Starlin Castro at second base has allowed Maddon to get all his middle infielders, including Addison Russell, off their feet for several-inning chunks.
A lot of these guys have yet to play a full big league season yet, let alone the at least one additional game that comes with a wild-card spot. The Cubs, obviously, are hoping their season goes more games than 163.
“The other point that I’m very much about is that if it’s a bad game to get your regular people off their feet, you’re covered to get guys off their feet,” Maddon said. “Even in a good game, where it’s a blowout in a good way, to get your regular guys off their feet and get somebody else out there to get that break that they need.”
Then there’s that other aspect of the playoff race: the teams you’re racing.
Maddon stuck with the take-care-of-your-own-business cliche — a cliche that makes complete sense, by the way — but he couldn’t help but admit that he’s got his eye on the scores of games from around the NL. How can he avoid it? That giant hand-operated scoreboard in center field is pretty hard to miss from the third-base dugout.
“Because the board is right in your face, I kind of like that. Just look up,” Maddon said before Saturday’s game. “I don’t stare. I’m not anxious about it at all. But I’m definitely checking in once in a while.
“It’s there. But my mantra has always been you win and don’t worry about what everybody else is doing.”
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Of course, taking care of their own business is the easiest way to get to the playoffs, and that seemingly worn-out answer is a pretty reasonable one. That’s what the Cubs are focused on. And with the confidence they’re playing with, it’s a good attitude to have.
Take it from someone who’s been in this position before. Jason Motte was a member of the St. Louis Cardinals during their playoff chases in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2014. He won a World Series ring in 2011, pitching in 12 postseason games — including five World Series games — after the Cardinals held off the Braves and Giants to win the wild-card race.
“I feel that the mindset in this clubhouse right now is very similar to the mindset that was in St. Louis. It’s the mindset of we have a good team and we can win these ballgames,” Motte said Saturday. “You go up there, you’ve got to battle every at-bat, you’ve got to battle every pitch. And that’s what guys are doing. The attitude in this clubhouse is great. Even after those two losses to Detroit (on Tuesday and Wednesday), it stunk, but it was like — even after the first one — ‘OK, let’s go out there and get them tomorrow.’”