CINCINNATI – After Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price dropped 77 F-bombs on reporters during an epic rant that went viral last year, Joe Maddon explained his dealing-with-the-media philosophy by saying: “At the end of the day, we’re not trying to conceal weaponry being sold to Iran.”
Maddon’s had a clear understanding of how the Cubs want to align their playoff rotation for about a week now, but the manager who will thoughtfully answer just about any misinformed or off-the-wall question doesn’t want to reveal those plans yet.
“We have an idea of what we want to do,” Maddon said Friday at Great American Ball Park. “But we haven’t had that final conversation with Theo (Epstein) and Jed (Hoyer) and everybody else (in the front office) and all of our coaches.
“What I like to do under these circumstances is talk to the players first before they have to read about it in the newspaper.”
Do the pitchers already know?
“They’re not stupid,” Maddon said.
That type of scenario sparked Price’s meltdown last April, when it looked like one of Maddon’s former players – they worked together in 1985 and 1986 in Midland, Texas, at a Double-A affiliate for the California Angels – could get fired midseason. Price survived 98 losses, and even with the team heading toward another last-place finish this season, the Reds announced a one-year contract extension with a club option for 2018 before Friday’s game against the Cubs.
Where the manager’s hot seat used to be the dominant storyline around this team at this time of year, the Cubs have now lined up Jon Lester (19-4, 2.28 ERA) and Kyle Hendricks (16-8, 1.99 ERA) for Games 161and 162 this weekend, giving them two leading Cy Young Award candidates for the front of their playoff rotation.
Maddon indicated the opponent – whoever emerges from the three-team battle among the New York Mets, San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals and wins the National League wild-card game – won’t change how the Cubs set their pitching matchups.
In theory, the Cubs can also rearrange Jake Arrieta (18-8, 3.10 ERA) and John Lackey (11-8, 3.35 ERA) in a different order for Games 3 and 4, but it sounds like the brass has already made that decision, whatever it is.
“You could if you wanted to, but I don’t anticipate that,” Maddon said. “Again, I want to make sure before we make that announcement.”
However it shakes out, Arrieta and Lackey will have to wait almost two full weeks from their last regular-season start until their first playoff action on Oct. 10-11, on the road, in a best-of-five series where anything can happen.
“That’s always been the major complaint I’ve heard,” Maddon said. “It’s just up to us to handle it properly. Now, of course, it may be difficult or rusty or whatever you want to call it. I don’t know. And then again, the rest might just do somebody really good. It just depends on the individual. These are the kind of things that are kind of outside of your control.
“You do your best in order to meet the challenge. That’s it. And you don’t make excuses. You don’t cry about it. You just do it, because, in advance, you know this is how it is set up.
“Otherwise, there’s nothing you can do about it, man.”
The Cubs have first-division problems, avoiding the major arm injuries that decimated the Mets. The Giants would have to burn a Madison Bumgarner start in the one-game playoff. The Cardinals are in this precarious position because their rotation has been so inconsistent.
“We are where we are because of our starters,” Arrieta said. “Our offense has been, obviously, spectacular, (but) we’ve all pitched really well throughout the year. I think we’re in a situation where we should be able to enjoy that for a little while.
“We’ll be ready for the first round.”
Tyler Saladino has reached the point where it’s significantly easier for him to find comfortable positions for his herniated disc.
The White Sox infielder joked on Friday that his dugout seat was cozy enough that he might just idle for a few days. But before he returned home earlier this week and received an epidural, the second-year player experienced several days of excruciating pain.
Saladino — who won’t play again this season — said he received the shot on Monday and it has helped immensely with a problem he has experienced occasionally this season, this instance being the most painful.
“It was kind of crippling for a little bit,” Saladino said. “Those first few days, I really was out of commission. I kind of was just trying to find a comfortable spot and stay there. Standing up, it would catch. It was pretty painful. That’s how I know it was a little bit more. That’s why I went and got that shot to try to let the medicine get there right away. It has been working and helping a lot.”
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Saladino’s stay in Chicago is open-ended until he feels good enough to fly back to San Diego for the offseason. He’s set for another doctor appointment soon and is optimistic based on this week’s improvement. Saladino, who is hitting .282/.315/.409 with eight home runs and 38 RBIs, hasn’t played since Sept. 21. He injured himself two days later in Cleveland before the Sept. 23 contest and hasn’t been right since.
The injury has provided a disappointing end to an enjoyable season in which Saladino showed improvement at the plate (his OPS is up 122 points from 2015).
“It was a lot of fun to be out there with the guys,” Saladino said. “The whole season was a roller coaster for everybody around here. The whole approach we’ve had all year of grinding every game was its own. They’re still doing a really good job right now. Kind of stinks to not, I don’t care, as long as I can play and even pinch run I would be stoked to be with the guys. But at this point, the back thing, you have to take care of it.”