Joe Maddon’s bottom-line reaction to all the trade-deadline madness can be summed up like this: Who cares?
For all the hype surrounding this season, the Cubs still spend most of their time inside a bubble, with Maddon’s players not feeling the weight of franchise history while Theo Epstein’s front office ruthlessly executes The Plan.
The Cubs didn’t make any impulse buys during their final hours of shopping before Monday afternoon’s non-waiver deadline, simply adding a right-handed relief specialist (Joe Smith) to the team with baseball’s best record.
“I’m more concerned about us as opposed to what everybody else is doing,” Maddon said. “I truly believe if we continue to do what we are doing and play our standard of baseball, it really doesn’t matter what anybody else does.”
Not when Kyle Hendricks dissects the Miami Marlins during a 5-0 complete-game victory at Wrigley Field, throws 123 pitches the night after the bullpen absorbed nine innings and gets a question about Cy Young Award consideration during his postgame news conference.
“That was the first one,” said Hendricks (10-7, 2.22 ERA). “At the end of the day, that’s just an accolade. We got a long way to go – two months left – and our sights are on a lot more than individual honors on this team. I got my sights set higher for this team.”
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Still, Maddon didn’t dismiss the idea with his No. 5 starter in name only, watching Hendricks go 6-1 since June 19 and post the best ERA (1.04) in the majors during that time: “Right now, he’s one of the best pitchers in the National League. Period. No question.”
Of course, the Cubs (64-41) would have taken another starting pitcher to pair with Hendricks near the top of the 2018 rotation, or a left-handed hitter to help replace Kyle Schwarber’s middle-of-the-order presence in October.
But the St. Louis Cardinals still haven’t really counterpunched after John Lackey and Jason Heyward switched sides in the 124-year rivalry with the Cubs. The Pittsburgh Pirates are facing their 2016 underachievement and small-market reality by selling off Francisco Liriano and Mark Melancon (to the Washington Nationals in response to the Cubs getting superstar closer Aroldis Chapman).
The arms race in the NL West continued with the San Francisco Giants (Matt Moore, Will Smith, Eduardo Nunez) and Los Angeles Dodgers (Rich Hill, Josh Reddick) stockpiling players. The New York Mets hope Jay Bruce can rescue their lineup and become this year’s Yoenis Cespedes.
But the Cubs will be tough to beat when they play like this, getting another clutch hit from Addison Russell with a two-out, two-run single in the first inning, forcing Marlins lefty Adam Conley to throw 97 pitches in four innings and leaning on MVP candidate Anthony Rizzo (3-for-3 with a walk, hit by pitch and two runs scored).
The defense also backed up Hendricks, with Heyward and Javier Baez making two great throws to nail Derek Dietrich trying to stretch a double into a triple on a ball hit into the right-center field gap. And rookie catcher Willson Contreras throwing out Dee Gordon trying to steal second base. And Kris Bryant starting a double play on pinch-hitter Ichiro Suzuki’s line drive to third base, leaving the Japanese legend stuck on 2,998 hits.
“I’m very confident that we’ll pitch and play defense at the level that we’re at,” Maddon said. “If we’re able to continue to do that and really grow the hitters, I’m not going to say I’m not worried about anybody else. My point is I’m not worried about what anybody else does. We have to be more concerned about what we do.”