Maddon deserving of being at the helm

Joe Maddon seems to be earning his money.

The 2015 Cubs were always going to go as far as the rookies could propel them. It was to be Maddon's job to shepherd those kids through the highs and lows of their first big league season all while depending on their production to power a reasonable veteran core.

But, while Kyle Schwarber stays hot, Kris Bryant bounces back from a June where he hit .168/.270/.368, and Addison Russell finds his home at short stop, there have been issues with the veterans.

The most obvious is the benching of three-time all-star, incumbent short stop Starlin Castro. Castro - whose personality isn't all that well-known to reporters or fans - could have taken his benching much differently. Certainly it's a credit to him that he's willing to toe the "anything for the team" line for the time being, but it's also a nod to Maddon.

First, credit Maddon for having the chutzpah to move a kid with fewer than 100 major league games over to short stop on a contender. Then, hand it to him for being able to communicate to Castro - a guy with more hits than Pete Rose had at the same age - that he's riding pine.

I get it. That's what the Cubs pay him for. But they paid Rick Renteria and Dale Sveum to do the same job. Something tells me that wouldn't have gone so smoothly.

The Castro situation isn't the only veteran issue on a team now on pace to win 90+ games.

Jason Hammel hasn't been the same since his hamstring tweak on July 8. In his first 103.2 innings, Hammel boasted a 2.86 ERA while keeping his K/9 rate at 9.12. He didn't walk anyone in that stretch, either. Just 18 free passes.

In five starts since, his ERA is at 4.18. Worse, he's averaging less than five innings per start.

Maddon has pulled Hammel earlier in games, even those in which he's going well. Hammel hasn't liked that. It's a source of tension Maddon says he doesn't mind - an edge he apparently doesn't mind having on his team.

Those are veteran problems. Just like the level of success the Cubs are enjoying this season, they weren't expected this soon.

There could be another, potentially more troublesome, issue lurking. In the end, it's a good problem to have, but nonetheless daunting.

Fairly soon Maddon and the rest of the Cubs front office will need to set the pitching rotation for a playoff run. In benching Castro, the Cubs' manager has already proven he'll make players set egos aside en route to winning baseball games. That call was made easier by Castro's glaring lack of production, however.

Deciding whether the nod goes to Jon Lester or Jake Arrieta in a one-game playoff won't have that benefit.

The necessary caution for handing the ball to Lester in a win-or-go-home game against a run-happy team like the Pirates has already been dutifully handled this week by the Herald's Matt Speigel. Suffice it to say, season-long averages can be thrown to the wayside in that type of playoff game.

The way Maddon has handled these "veteran issues" should give fans - and more importantly the players themselves - confidence in the man at the helm.

• Connor McKnight can be heard regularly on WGN 720-AM and is a cohost of The Beat, the station's sports talk show on the weekends. Follow him on Twitter @McKnight_WGN

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