Jon Lester

Dry humping and second-guessing: Joe Maddon defends his Game 2 bullpen decisions

Dry humping and second-guessing: Joe Maddon defends his Game 2 bullpen decisions

Joe Maddon has no easy decisions.

With the way his tattered bullpen has pitched this postseason, there's a very real possibility that any guy he calls on to pitch is the "wrong" guy or the right guy in the "wrong" spot.

For everybody wanting Maddon to ride Wade Davis as a workhorse this fall — something the Cubs skipper has already done just to get to this NLCS — remember how much flak he took for overusing Aroldis Chapman a year ago at this time.

Davis also hasn't been superhuman this postseason, allowing a pair of runs (including a homer) and seven baserunners in 4.1 playoff innings, good for a 4.15 ERA and 1.62 WHIP.

So when Maddon sat in the dugout late Sunday evening watching helplessly as John Lackey served up a walk-off homer to Tormund Giantsbane Justin Turner, the "Madd Scientist" immediately found himself in the crosshairs of Cubs fans and the media.

The first question he fielded in his postgame press conference was about not using Davis and there were several follow-ups. That and the offensive futility is about all anybody wanted to talk about after the Cubs fell down 0-2 in the NLCS.

Maddon explained Davis was available only in a save situation due to workload issues — the Cubs closer was in uncharted territory Thursday night/Friday morning, throwing the most pitches (44) and innings (2.1) he's thrown since Aug. 24, 2013 when he was still working as a starter. That's a span of 1,511 days.

"Wade knew that going into the game, it was going to be with the say," Maddon said. "We caught the lead, he's in the game. So whatever the narrative was, it's really a false narrative. He was not coming into that game until we grabbed the lead. He was not going to pitch more than three outs. That's it."

How does Maddon respond to his second-guessers?

"Doesn't matter," Maddon said. "First of all, social media, the moment I start worrying about that, I really need to retire. Second of all, that was all predetermined [Sunday] night again."

Davis also has a recent history of arm troubles (he was on the disabled list twice in 2016 for a forearm issue) and also saw his workload jump in September just to help the Cubs get to the postseason. In the final month of the regular season, Davis threw 237 pitches, 42 more than he threw in any other month of 2017. The last time he topped 200 pitches in any month was May 2015.

TV cameras showed Davis throwing in the Cubs bullpen alongside Lackey at one point in the ninth inning, leading to surprise by a huge faction of the (*looks around and whispers*) social media fanbase when the game broadcast resumed after commercials and the pitching change was to bring Lackey — not Davis — into the game.

"Wade was not warming up to come in that game," Maddon said. "Wade was probably just testing his arm at that point. We had talked about it before the game — up and in. 

"For those that aren't involved in Major League Baseball and professional baseball in general, when a guy's throwing too much, it's very important to not dry hump him, as the saying goes. Get him up and put him back down and bring him back in later. So I wasn't going to do that."

(Wow, really was not expecting to hear or write the phrase "dry hump" regarding this story.)

Maddon insists health is not the problem with Davis.

"Yes [he's healthy]. Oh yeah," Maddon said. "Listen, this guy just did yeoman kind of work — I love that word — in Washington and was not prepared to go more than three outs. I don't understand why that's difficult to understand.

"And furthermore, you have to also understand it wasn't the last game of the year or the second to last game. It was about winning eight more games. All these things are factors."

Maddon has a point. This isn't a Buck Showalter case where the Baltimore Orioles manager failed to use his best reliever — Zach Britton — in a non-save situation in a winner-take-all American League wild card game because he wanted the closer to be ready for a save.

The Cubs went down in a game that was tied 1-1 with their best reliever failing to get in the game even though he hadn't pitched in the last two days. 

But Davis can't cover every inning in relief, especially when the Cubs' two starters (Jose Quintana and Jon Lester) lasted just 9.2 innings against the Dodgers, leaving the Cubs bullpen to account for the other 8+ innings somehow.

The rest of the Cubs bullpen has to step up, too, which they did before the ninth inning of Game 2.

Still, Maddon couldn't resist getting one more defensive shot in before putting the matter to bed:

"I really hope you all understand that social media doesn't count at all," he said. "Twitter doesn't count at all. And really, as sportswriters, you should do a better job than relying on Twitter to write a story, quite frankly."

Well then.

Cubs-Dodgers Game 2 prediction: Baby steps for Cubs offense

Cubs-Dodgers Game 2 prediction: Baby steps for Cubs offense

Everything seemed awfully rosy in the first few innings for the Cubs Saturday night.

They were having good at-bats off Clayton Kershaw - including a two-run homer from Albert Almora Jr. - and Jose Quintana was dealing.

But everything changed quickly and all the Cubs' postseason issues reared their ugly head: too many walks, bullpen unreliability, punchless offense.

The Cubs didn't have a baserunner the last 2/3 of the game and had absolutely no answer for the Dodgers bullpen.

But the offense will break out at some point. Theo Epstein was sure of that and there's no reason not to think the same. 

The Cubs had baseball's best offense in the second half of the season, averaging 5.7 runs per game while posting a .273/.352/.459 slash line with an .811 OPS. 

The Cubs hitters are simply too good to keep having results this poor. They scored nine runs in Game 5 of the NLDS, but most of those without a hit thanks to a slew of Washington errors. 

In the other five games of the postseason, the Cubs have just 10 runs, averaging two runs a game.

Bullpen issues aside, that is not a good recipe for success.

The Cubs offense struggled through the first few games of the postseason last fall before eventually breaking out at Dodger Stadium in L.A. They clearly are hoping that is in the cards once again Sunday evening.

Here's the lineup they'll roll with as they face Rich Hill:

1. Jon Jay - LF
2. Kris Bryant - 3B
3. Anthony Rizzo - 1B
4. Willson Contreras - C
5. Albert Almora Jr. - CF
6. Addison Russell - SS
7. Jason Heyward - RF
8. Javy Baez - 2B
9. Jon Lester - P

The Cubs need more from every offensive player, but they especially need to see their big boppers step up. Bryant, Rizzo and Contreras have been awfully quiet the last few games.

Prediction

Cubs 4, Dodgers 2

This isn't the breakout game for the Cubs offense, but they had so many good at-bats early in Saturday's game, I bet they get back to that point and cash in a bit more in Game 2.

Baby steps. Then the offense really finds its groove again later this week at Wrigley Field.

Cubs NLCS rotation makes sense, even if it looks weird

Cubs NLCS rotation makes sense, even if it looks weird

The Cubs announced the rest of their rotation for the National League Championship Series during the first couple innings of Game 1 Saturday evening.

While Jose Quintana was dueling against Clayton Kershaw at Dodger Stadium, the Cubs announced Kyle Hendricks would pitch Game 3 and Jake Arrieta will go in Game 4 of the NLCS back at Wrigley Field Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.

So the NLCS will line up like this:

Game 1: Quintana vs. Kershaw
Game 2: Jon Lester vs. Rich Hill
Game 3: Kyle Hendricks vs. Yu Darvish
Game 4: Jake Arrieta vs. Alex Wood

The Cubs' decision is a bit curious given Arrieta's turn should come after Lester. Hendricks started Game 5 and battled through four innings against the Washington Nationals.

Arrieta also lasted just four innings in his start Wednesday in Game 4 of the NLDS and he looked just a bit off after missing much of the last month with a hamstring issue. 

The move to bump Hendricks over Arrieta makes sense given teams are always trying to find ways to get their best pitchers on the mound as often as possible. It's just foreign to see the only Cy Young Award winner on the staff as the No. 4 starter.

But Tuesday will represent regular rest for Hendricks while Arrieta gets an extra day to give him more time to get back to the guy who went 7-2 with a 1.69 ERA in 11 starts in July and August.

Lester and Quintana are not on regular rest, however, as both pitched in relief in Games 4 and 5 Wednesday and Thursday. Lester tossed 55 pitches out of the bullpen Wednesday but then had Game 5 off to...sit back and relax.

A special bonus of the rotation is Cubs fans are guaranteed to see at least one more Arrieta start at Wrigley Field before he hits free agency this winter.