Cubs

Joe Maddon managing tree influences National League East race, Cubs’ October?

Gabe Kapler hadn’t managed a big-league game until this year with the Phillies. But his managing career might have started in 2009 and ’10, when he was a bench player for the Rays and their still-fresh manager at the time, Joe Maddon.

“He’s as influential as anybody I’ve been around in baseball,” said Kapler, who paid close attention to Maddon’s maneuvers and often picked his brain those final two seasons of his playing career. “He made a huge impact on my career.”

Kapler survived a rocky first week to the season and now has the Phillies in striking distance of the top of the National League East, chasing another first-year manager from the Maddon tree, Dave Martinez with the Nationals.

“I still follow Joe, and we talk occasionally, and he’s given me some really important advice,” said Kapler, whose persistent optimism might cause even the Cubs’ manager to blush. “The most important way he’s influenced my style is that he told me to embrace being different — that it’s not going to be helpful to try to be like other managers because you’re not like other managers. His example was that he’s not like other managers, too. And that he was OK with that. . . . It just sort of gives you the confidence that you don’t have to walk the same path as everybody else to be effective.”

Kapler

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Nobody would accuse Kapler of being unoriginal after seeing his first two months managing. He’s called for some extreme defensive shifts and made some early, head-scratching pitching moves, including a muffed call to the bullpen the first week when he needed a reliever who hadn’t warmed up.

Maddon and longtime bench coach Dave Martinez last season.

Former Cub Jake Arrieta was impressed from the start with his new manager, and not just because they share a lot of the same fitness and nutrition disciplines.

“He’s super upbeat and positive, just very engaged,” Arrieta said. “His leadership has been impressive.”

As much as Kapler has been influenced by Maddon, he has yet to involve zoo animals in his managing.

“Not because I don’t think it’s a good way of influencing people,” he said. “Just because I haven’t had time to go to the zoo or go to the pet store. I don’t know what the right move is there.”