When the baseball boss says the team hasn’t been playing with an edge – and insists virtually all the answers are already inside the clubhouse – it doesn’t look good for the manager.
The Cubs finally winning the World Series cemented Hall of Fame status for Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon. But eight months later, the defending champs keep struggling to get above .500 and gain any sort of traction in a weak National League Central.
That adds another layer of intrigue as the Cubs desperately try to jumpstart their season, creating a fascinating clubhouse/front-office dynamic after the All-Star break and leading into the July 31 trade deadline.
So with Kyle Schwarber returning from Triple-A Iowa on Thursday, did the Cubs have a conversation about where he would hit in the lineup against the Milwaukee Brewers?
“Today, no,” Epstein said before an ugly 11-2 loss.
Maddon publicly toyed with the idea of making Schwarber the leadoff hitter again, but ultimately slotted him fifth against Brewers right-hander Zach Davies. Epstein said “I think we don’t know” if the leadoff experiment contributed to Schwarber’s offensive spiral.
“My thoughts on that are it’s impossible to know,” Epstein said. “I think it makes sense today to put him where he’s at. I think Joe made a good decision putting him in the middle of the order, down in the order a little bit.
“But there are some things you can know about baseball – and some things you can’t know – and that’s one that’s almost impossible to tell.”
Would you just as soon leave Schwarber out of the leadoff spot, at least until further notice?
“I would just as soon leave that up to Joe, which is the way it always is,” Epstein said.
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Was that part of the overall conversation before you made the decision to bring back Schwarber?
“It came up for about 10 seconds,” Epstein said, “because Joe sort of thought about the lineup tomorrow. It’s his call. I gave my input, but it’s ultimately his call.”
Epstein sounded a little annoyed during a media session that lasted 11-plus minutes, maybe because some TV guy kept jabbing him with a microphone while he sat in the home dugout.
For his part, Schwarber doesn’t think Maddon’s well-intentioned, well-thought-out idea to bat him leadoff – which initially came with the front office’s stamp of approval – contributed to his .171 average and .673 OPS.
“It doesn’t matter,” Schwarber said. “It’s not because I was hitting first or I was hitting eighth or whatever it was. It was because something wasn’t working right. I feel like I pretty much know where I am right now – and I’m looking forward to being up here and helping the team win.”