Trying to somehow stop Joey Votto, Joe Maddon reached into his bag of tricks on Monday night, shifting the Cubs into a four-outfielder alignment that became the viral moment during a 15-5 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field.
Maddon counted four other left-handed sluggers who got that look when he managed the Tampa Bay Rays and developed his reputation as a mad scientist: Jim Thome, David Ortiz, Travis Hafner and Josh Hamilton.
The Cubs don’t game plan for the same personnel – or work around the same small-market challenges – that Maddon faced in the American League East. The Cubs actually aren’t a shift-heavy team – and have seen their defense noticeably slip from the historic level during last year’s championship run.
But as Maddon said: “Votto right now is ungodly, so whatever you do, you’re taking chances anyhow.”
With a five-run lead and one out and nobody on in the fifth inning, third baseman Kris Bryant moved out to left-center field, in between Kyle Schwarber and Jon Jay with Gold Glove defender Jason Heyward in right. Votto smashed Jose Quintana’s 3-1, 92-mph fastball down the first-base line and into the right-field corner for a stand-up double.
This is an idea rooted in the 2002 World Series, when Maddon worked on Mike Scioscia’s coaching staff and the Anaheim Angels outlasted Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants.
“Nobody did crazy shifts at that time,” Maddon said. “Going to the Rays, they had all the charts, so it didn’t make any sense to cover the other side against those guys. They never hit the ball on the ground over there. They put balls in the gaps.
“It’s almost like Tony Gwynn when he was good – actually moving when the ball was pitched, to try to be in the right spot or distract him. We did it in that situation for a reason. We didn’t do it with (Mike) Montgomery for another reason. We’ll continue to throw it out there when we think it’s the right thing to do.”
Votto is in the middle of a $251.5 million megadeal guaranteed through 2023 and the iconic first baseman for a 49-70 team who leads the majors with a 1.050 OPS. But what an example for a rebuild: Votto has reached base at least twice in 19 straight games (club record) and gotten on base 61 percent of the time during that streak (52-of-85 plate appearances).
“Joey’s an unbelievable hitter and does a lot of damage,” Jay said. “I think he's the perfect guy to do that against.”