After Pirates take series, Cubs' Maddon again faces lineup questions
Once, twice or three times every season, Cubs manager Joe Maddon has to explain his lineup configurations.
Usually, questions arise when a player has a good game -- see Albert Almora Jr., who went 3-for-5 Wednesday -- but sits the next day.
Almora did not play in Thursday's 6-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field. He spent time before the game sipping a bottle of Pedialyte for a bad stomach.
Maddon put Ian Happ and Kyle Schwarber into the lineup, and those two players have taken some fan and media heat for going cold.
Neither was at fault for Thursday's loss. Happ went 2-for-4 with a double, and Schwarber had a single, a double and a homer on a day that started warm with a friendly breeze blowing out but changed to chilly with the wind howling in.
Somehow, the Pirates excelled in both conditions, outhomering the Cubs 4-1 to take two of three games in the series.
"Wow," said Maddon, whose team fell back to .500 at 6-6. "Like in the snap of the fingers, it went from balmy to 'embalmy,' I guess. It got cold very quickly. You could see the wind came on in. But you could see it didn't impact the ball. It still carried, it seemed. I was really surprised by that."
Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks (0-1) gave up a solo homer to Gregory Polanco in the first and another to Adam Frazier in the fifth for the lone 2 runs he allowed up in 6 innings.
Polanco hit a solo homer off Justin Wilson in the seventh, and Francisco Cervelli touched Wilson for a 3-run homer later in the inning.
The lone Cubs homer came from Kyle Schwarber, in the fifth, as he lined one to right after the wind had changed.
As for the lineup, Maddon is a firm believer in matchups and the notion that past performance, no matter how recent, is no guarantee of future success.
I think it's on the Einstein painting about, 'We use the same lineup today because yesterday's lineup won,'" Maddon said, referring to one of the inspirational paintings he unveiled during spring training. "(Almora) did really well (Wednesday) because of some really good matchups for him, and there are others coming up. And furthermore, he was ill. And I really prefer that he feels good. I was worried about pulling muscles. You get dehydrated. So they were pumping him full of electrolytes just trying to get him back beyond that. I talked to him in my office before the game. I said come back and see me at 6 o'clock, because it was about 4:30. He said he was good to go. Oh, my God, he looked like Gumby or something.
"I think it's wise to stick with the plan. If you go willy-nilly all the time, in this game if you just want to deal with the emotional success on a daily basis, I think you're going to go wrong a lot."
Maddon is in his fourth season as Cubs manager, and everyone paying attention knows his lineups change from day to day. In fact, the "set lineup" that some long for wistfully is a thing of the past all around the game.
So Almora, Schwarber, Happ and Ben Zobrist all have come to expect that they will start on some days and not on others.
"You just got to go out there and give it your best when your name's in that lineup," Schwarber said. "When it's not in the lineup, you've got to be in there still mentally locked in because your name's going to get called on the bench in some way. With the way Skip runs the bench, there's always going to be guys getting in there -- substituted, double switched or pinch hit, whatever it is. So you're always staying locked in. You can always impact the game.
"If you're not starting, you can come in and make a great defensive play, or you could make a great pinch-hit at-bat. Just go from there."