Three days after saying he felt good about David Phelps and that Derek Holland was the Cubs’ best option to face Christian Yelich, Cubs manager Joe Maddon told 670 The Score that he’s in “playoff mode” when it comes to bullpen moves. Because, you know, that wasn’t the case prior to dropping three straight in Milwaukee.
“You have to be less tolerant on the mound,” Maddon shared during his weekly appearance with Laurence Holmes.
To be fair, Maddon’s statement doesn’t actually represent a departure from his recent decision-making. In fact, one could easily argue that he was highly intolerant of both Phelps and Holland, allowing them a combined total of five pitches before bringing Rowan Wick into the game. It’s just too bad those brief appearances resulted in a game-tying homer and a four-pitch walk.
Not exactly the kind of performance you expect for a team that long ago reached Big-Boy Time, but I’m just some schmuck with a really ridiculous concept about bullpens and bullpen management. Maddon sets up his relievers before the game even starts, looking at matchups and setting up how best to navigate potentially choppy late-inning waters, so any criticism is rooted in results bias.
Or, you know, some of it’s actually confirmation bias that follows tearing one’s hair out at the prospect of Holland pitching in high-leverage situations. Pretty much the same thing, though, so whatevs. In all seriousness, there absolutely is a point at which a manager is limited in what he can do, which leads to soft-pedaling the outcome in order to avoid throwing his pitchers under the bus.
It’s also possible the manager just doesn’t want to admit a mistake.
Part of the issue with the bullpen trouble has been normally reliable starters getting beat around early and forcing Maddon to turn to his relievers earlier than he’d prefer. Jon Lester has been in the middle of those moves a little too frequently this season, often because he’s being too passive out there.
“I’d like to see him be a little more primal in his approach,” Maddon said. “Get ahead and then go to work.”
So in talking about being less tolerant on the mound, the manager could be referring to his pitchers’ individual approaches as much as he is his own. That’s actually kind of cool when you think about it, telling your pitchers not to tolerate walks or hits or bad calls from the ump. Wait, no, that last part got Lester in trouble when faced the Brewers.
No matter how you describe it, the simple fact of the matter is that the Cubs have to be better over the next 19 games. They have to pitch better, hit better, field better, and make better decisions. It’s incumbent upon players and manager alike to tighten things up and stop creating massive doors of opportunity for opponents to walk through.
Because if that keeps happening, you can bet the organization’s tolerance will likewise run out.