Hey, Joe Maddon, could you survive three weeks with the same Cubs batting order?
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It’s common for NFL coaches to simplify offensive game plans when their teams are struggling to score touchdowns. The idea is that the less clutter in players’ minds, the more freely and successfully they’ll be able to perform the basics. When happy days arrive again, the coaches can then build up the game plan.
I was thinking of the Cubs and football and how great it would be if someone tackled Yu Darvish, hitting him so hard that he would start pitching like Max Scherzer. Wait! That’s not what I was thinking!
I was thinking of the Cubs and football and how simplicity might help what ails them at the plate. They’re having trouble scoring runs, which my analytics people tell me is “bad.’’
I’m proposing radical restraint in a day and age in which managers have their hands on everything.
I’m proposing that the Cubs go three weeks with the same batting order.
Someone please request a well-being check on manager Joe Maddon. I’m concerned that when he read the previous paragraph, oxygen stopped going to his brain.
Joe would rather spend the night in a Porta Potty than give up his ability to spin each day’s lineup like the Wheel of Fortune. It’s his baby, his essence, his reason for being. He looks at a blank lineup card and imagines Picasso sizing up an empty canvas.
Heading into a Monday night game against Miami, the Cubs had scored three runs or fewer in 10 of their previous 11 games. That stretch included a five-game winning streak in which the Cubs’ starting pitchers were almost unhittable and a five-game losing streak, the depths of which was a three-game sweep by the Cardinals. In May, they’re batting .201 as a team. For the season, they’re hitting .218 with runners in scoring position, second from last in the National League.
Some of their hitting stats look good and some don’t, but the number that looks the worst is the one that’s right down the middle — their 16-15 record as of Monday afternoon.
Time to do something about it. Time to mix it up, which is to say, time to stay put and stand pat with the order.
Maddon likes moving hitters around from game to game to keep them focused, to take advantage of pitcher-hitter matchups, to rest players and to get bench players at-bats. And Joe likes Joe.
Even when the Cubs are hitting well, he moves batters around like puzzle pieces. The frustrating part is that when a team is rolling, the puzzle already has been solved. But change has been Maddon’s friend, and his mad flipping has worked in the past. So you let him have his fun.
But when a team is struggling offensively, constant change can be the enemy. It can start to look and feel like chaos. At times likes these, simplicity is the way to go.
Maddon’s most common batting order this season has been Albert Almora Jr., Javy Baez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Jason Heyward and the pitcher. How common? He has used that lineup all of three times, in 32 games, which includes his lineup for Monday’s game. Injuries certainly have played a role in that. But most of this has to do with Joe’s lineup card wanderlust.
On Sunday, he put Contreras in the leadoff spot, despite the fact that the catcher had gone 0-for-9 in the first two games of the series, was hitting .235 for the season and hadn’t hit leadoff this year. Contreras went 1-for-6 Sunday. It was a dead heat in Chicago between head shakes and eye rolls.
I don’t know many Cubs fans who would oppose the team using Maddon’s most-common lineup over a three-week stretch. I don’t know many managers who would turn down that lineup, ever. I know one manager who is getting ill just thinking about a set lineup.
I’d love to give Cubs players truth serum and hear what they’d say about three weeks in which eight players knew where they’d be hitting and what position they’d be playing. The men who get their at-bats via utility work would hate it, but I’ll bet the regulars would love it. Three weeks at the office without worrying what team-bonding exercise the boss has cooked up for the day.
I have a very firm suspicion that Maddon won’t go for my idea. Too many lefty-righty matchups to get right, too many egos to stroke, too little affirmation. And perhaps team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer enjoy messing with the batting order as much as Joe does.
But what if Maddon does go for it? Wouldn’t that be great?
There could be some unintended consequences. Without a lineup to obsess on, Joe would tinker so much with his pitching staff that one of his relievers would ponder hiring a hit man.
That’s OK. At this point, the Cubs just need a hit, man.
Sun-Times sports columnists Rick Morrissey and Rick Telander are co-hosts of a new podcast called “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered.” Don’t miss their candid, amusing takes on everything from professional teams tanking to overzealous sports parents and more. Download and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts and Google Play, or via RSS feed.