Anthony Rendon

Joe Maddon passionately opposes MLB's wacky rule: 'Something needs to be changed'

Joe Maddon passionately opposes MLB's wacky rule: 'Something needs to be changed'

Joe Maddon and the Cubs vs. Major League Baseball added another chapter Friday evening during the Cubs' 3-2 victory over the Nationals.

For the third straight homestand, the Cubs had a serious issue with the umpires that spilled over from the field to the postgame reaction.

First, it was Javy Baez getting thrown out and Maddon sticking up for his MVP candidate against the Cardinals last month. Then it was Anthony Rizzo getting in the face of umpire Angel Hernandez at a terrible strike call to end the series against the Padres last weekend.

This time, it's Maddon going after the league for what he and the Cubs feel is a silly rule.

In the bottom of the seventh inning of a 2-2 ballgame Friday, Willson Contreras came up to the plate with Kyle Schwarber at first base. Contreras bunted and Washington third baseman Anthony Rendon came charging in, only to throw the ball into right field.

Schwarber motored around to third base, Contreras moved up to second and the Cubs looked to be in the midst of a serious threat to take the lead with nobody out.

Only that wasn't the end result.

Contreras was ruled out of the baseline because he ran into the field of play, so he was out, Schwarber had to go back to first base and the Cubs suddenly felt confused, robbed and triggered.

Maddon came storming out of the third-base dugout, arguing that there's no way Contreras should've been called for that.

The rule states a baserunner cannot go inside the field of play down the first base line, and instead have to stick to foul territory (hence the little white line on the right side of the foul line approaching first to indicate a lane for the runner). Maddon felt that given Rendon's throw was so far off the line, it should not have mattered where Contreras was running.

In his dispute, Maddon was ejected, but he got his money's worth by sprinting down to first base, mimicking the stretch of a first baseman and creating quite the commotion.

"I got upset, but I did Respect 90," Maddon joked after the game. "I know what the rule is, but there's gotta be some interpretation of it where the defense gets rewarded and the offense gets penalized. That's my problem with the whole thing."

The Cubs wound up scoring the winning run in that inning anyways as Ian Happ and Addison Russell followed Contreras with singles and Rizzo walked to force home a run.

"That could've changed the outcome of the whole game," Maddon said. "We fought through it. But for me, you make that much of an errant throw and you get rewarded for it? There's something wrong with that method. Something needs to be changed. Something needs to be spoken about.

"And I'm not the first guy that's walked down this path. I know that. But that was obviously a horrific call and I wanted him to know that at some point, I think you have to exercise judgment. Just like umpires have to exercise judgment on whether a guy is throwing at somebody intentionally or not. 

"There's that part of the game that needs to be dealt with tactfully and rightfully. So regardless of if he's inside the line or not, that throw was so far off, it had nothing to do with the baserunner, to me. If the throw was in fair territory, then go ahead, make the call. When it's egregiously a bad throw that far in foul territory, play the game."

Home plate umpire and crew chief Bill Miller also reacted to the play after the game.

"In this situation, [Contreras] interfered with the first baseman's ability to catch the ball because he was running inside fair territory," Miller said. "He was not running in the lane. 

"Just because he's out of the lane does not mean he's out. It does not mean it's automatic interference. If he's running outside [the lane], he has to interfere with the first baseman's ability to catch the ball. ... It doesn't have anything to do with the throw."

Maddon, however, felt differently about what turned out to be a huge moment in the game between two teams in the heat of a pennant race.

"We go from second and third with no out to now one out with a runner at first base — that's gotta be looked into somehow," Maddon said. "There's gotta be some method there that you permit somehow lattitude with the umpires to exercise baseball judgment."

The value of a unicorn like Tommy La Stella

value_of_tommy_la_stella_slide.jpg
AP

The value of a unicorn like Tommy La Stella

A Cubs player turned to his right, saw Tommy La Stella sitting in a chair in the Miller Park visiting locker room, smiled and said:

"Dude, you're the best pinch-hitter ever."

La Stella laughed it off and resumed watching The Masters. 

"Best Pinch-Hitter Ever" may not rival "Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All-Time" in terms of importance to a Cubs team with World Series expectations, but La Stella's role has always been under the radar.

The 29-year-old utility man has only tallied 353 at-bats over his four seasons in a Cubs uniform, but he's been a mercenary of sorts for manager Joe Maddon, who can deploy La Stella at the most opportune times in a game.

He appeared in all but one of the Cubs' first 10 contests in 2018, though had just one start. Still, he's gone 3-for-8 in a pinch-hitting capacity, smacking two doubles with a pair of RBI. 

Those numbers would be even higher if not for a Milwaukee official scorer who ruled La Stella's hard-hit grounder an error Sunday, though La Stella's aforementioned teammate clearly disagreed.

Last year, La Stella posted a ridiculous .290/.488/.419 slash line (.908 OPS) as a pinch-hitter, going 9-for-31 with four doubles, seven RBI and 10 walks against only five strikeouts.

"He knows what he's doing," Maddon said. "He knows how to do it. He doesn't try to force anything. He's not trying to appease me or anybody else with his preparation. He just prepares, which I love.

"He's a different cat. He's a very valuable commodity in today's game, in the National League, especially because of his pinch-hitting abilities. I anticipate and believe he will remain this way for several years to come."

Once upon a time, Maddon said La Stella may be the best pure hitter on the Cubs roster, using that as rationale for why the infielder was hitting fifth in the 2015 wild-card playoff in Pittsburgh.

Then there's the uber-popular "3 a.m." nickname that's taken on a life of its own after a comment Maddon made in spring training a few years ago, saying La Stella could wake up at 3 a.m. and hit line drives all over the field.

And there was the hilarious prank war between La Stella and Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer in spring training, showing there were absolutely no hard feelings after the August 2016 incident where La Stella left the organization and nearly quit baseball.

While the rest of baseball is focused on launch angles and strikeouts are coming in record numbers, La Stella has stayed true to who he is as a hitter, sticking with a throwback style that makes him something of a unicorn in today's game.

He struck out only 18 times in 73 games last year, ranking as the 17th-toughest hitter to strike out in the game.

Among players with at least 150 plate appearances in 2017, La Stella was one of just seven MLB hitters who had more walks than strikeouts, joining the ranks of NL MVP candidates Anthony Rizzo, Joey Votto and Anthony Rendon, among others.

"He has such an old-school swing," Maddon said. "He's tension-free, he's flat through the zone, he doesn't try to lift anything, he's got a good eye, he'll work a count.

"He's unique in a lot of ways, meaning that he's not into the launch angles, not trying to power the ball. He's into using the whole field. He's got a really great base and he doesn't overthink it, that's for sure.

"He doesn't swing too often. He's not out there taking extra BP. He doesn't overanalyze himself. For me, a lot of old school tenants about the way he hits and I think we all appreciate that."

NLDS Game 2 another reminder that baseball is really heckin' weird

cubs_nats_baseball_is_really_weird_slide.jpg
USA TODAY

NLDS Game 2 another reminder that baseball is really heckin' weird

The first few innings of the Cubs-Nationals NLDS Game 2 showdown served as another reminder of just how freakin' weird the game of baseball is.

In the first inning, Jon Lester got two quick outs before Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon drove a line shot down the right field line, just over the fence.

The crazy thing about it: Rendon hit the ball 96.4 mph, a solid line drive, but based on the launch angle, similarly-struck balls are hits only 33 percent of the time, according to Statcast. That's all HITS, not just homers.

Willson Contreras promptly answered to lead off the top of the next inning, crushing Gio Gonzalez's pitch into the left-field bleachers. Contreras' drive was clocked at 105.5 mph off the bat, but he hit it so high, similar balls are only hits 27 percent of the time.

Yet in the first inning, Albert Almora Jr. led the game off with a lineout to Bryce Harper in right field, a ball that has a hit probability of 66 percent.

So you got two balls that are outs more than 2/3 of the time leaving the yard. And a ball that is a HIT 2/3 of the time winds up an out.

Another interesting note: Rendon's homer was the 10th first-inning longball of the MLB playoffs already this October, in only the ninth game. Last fall, there were 35 postseason games played and only 7 first-inning homers:

The Cubs only had two of those first-inning homers, but they both came in the final two games of the fall: Kris Bryant homered in Game 6 of the World Series and everybody remembers that Dexter Fowler shot to lead off that epic Game 7.

NBC Sports Chicago's Chris Kamka is a legendary chronicler of the oddities of baseball and found another head-scratching stat following the Cubs' 3-0 victory in Game 1 Friday night.

The last three times a pitcher had at least 10 strikeouts and 3 or fewer hits in a postseason game all faced the Cubs...and the Cubs went 3-0 in those games: