Joe Maddon and the 2017 Cubs — lost in the shadows as the show goes on
MIAMI — National League manager Joe Maddon sat on an All-Star dais Monday at Marlins Park, joined by the opposing manager and both of the game’s starting pitchers, and planted his Cubs flag firmly in the ground.
“I’m really looking forward to our second half,” he said. “I have a strong belief system in our guys, I really do. I’m not just saying that. It’s not lip service.”
Um, OK. But it’s really not all that relevant, either. Not here at this gathering of the best and brightest of the 2017 season, a group that includes precisely no one, outside of Maddon and his coaching staff, who had a hand in the Cubs’ World Series run last fall.
Maddon typically commands a news conference as well as anybody, but he — like the 2017 Cubs — was an afterthought compared with those starting pitchers. The Nationals’ Max Scherzer is the owner of the lowest ERA in baseball. The Red Sox’ Chris Sale (remember him?) is the owner of the most strikeouts in baseball. And then there’s Maddon, manager of the most disappointing team in baseball.
Look, this isn’t about ripping the only man alive to lead a Cubs team to the blessed mountaintop. It’s just that the show goes on whether or not the 2017 Cubs are any good, which it appears through 88 games — that’s a lot — that they aren’t.
The show is now about the 61-29 Dodgers — better than last year’s Cubs? — and the 60-29 Astros, and the combined 11 players representing baseball’s two best teams. It’s about the steady rise of Bryce Harper, Scherzer and the Nationals. It’s about superstars-in-the-making such as the Yankees’ Aaron Judge and the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger.
Perhaps in the weeks and months to come, the Cubs will steal back some of their cultural currency. Maddon continues to offer, at every opportunity, his opinion that good times are right around the bend. It certainly becomes harder all the time to believe him.
Maddon was asked about having only his closer, first-year Cub Wade Davis, with him. He turned the question into an opportunity to give thanks to his players, which was a nice thing to do.
“Yesterday was an awkward moment for me, accepting my [All-Star] jersey in front of our entire team at Wrigley Field,” he said. “I’m only standing here because of our players — really good players.”
Sure, they’re good. Or, in some cases, were good. It’s hard to know which side of the line certain Cubs — Jake Arrieta, John Lackey, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Ben Zobrist — are on. Regardless, is there a single Cub who was robbed of a 2017 All-Star spot, who really, truly should’ve been here, whose presence is sorely missed?
In a word: No.
We could do more to make this All-Star affair about Maddon if we wanted to. For example, he’s batting a left-handed home-run hitter, the Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon, in the leadoff spot Tuesday. Insert Schwarber joke here, right? Except Blackmon leads off for the Rockies all the time, and does it very well.
The Maddon charisma is always dialed up, and it was again for those paying attention. He said he “dug on” putting Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton in the No. 2 hole. He described the task of managing the NL squad in terms of “choreography.” When mentioning Harper, he slyly reminded the assembled baseball media that Harper and Kris Bryant are from “the great state of Nevada.”
Really? Who knew? As the famous Harper hashtag put it: Back-to-back one day?
Making the lineup was difficult, Maddon said.
“I don’t know how well I did or how poorly I did,” he said. “It was just such great names. If you had this chance to do this exercise on a daily basis, it would be rather fun.”
He kind of was supposed to have that chance with the Cubs, wasn’t he? That didn’t pan out. Yet the show goes on.
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