Every morning, Joe Maddon tries to block out 20 minutes for meditation, making the room as dark as possible, laying down in bed with a pillow on top of his face and focusing on slowing things down.
Zen doesn’t come easily for Cubs managers. But Maddon has too many outside interests to be consumed by this up-and-down start, sitting down with Charlie Rose last week in New York and showing a “Dateline” crew around his blue-collar hometown in Pennsylvania.
Maddon has perspective at the age of 63, the job security from a long-term contract that will pay him $6 million this season and the World Series ring that should silence any second-guessers.
So what if the Cubs haven’t run away from the rest of the National League Central?
“I’m enjoying it in a perverse way,” Maddon said. “Of course, I’d rather we be 10 games up, but I’m good with what’s going on right now, because it is challenging, and every year presents differently.”
Then Maddon should take sick pleasure in this: After Wednesday afternoon’s 3-2 loss to the San Diego Padres, the Cubs won’t play again at Wrigley Field until the Fourth of July.
This 11-game road trip through Miami, Washington and Cincinnati could be a playoff preview (Dusty Baker’s Nationals), a revealing window into how aggressive Theo Epstein’s front office should be at the trade deadline or more of the same with a 36-35 team.
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“Right now, there’s been a lot of micro stuff, injury-wise, going on,” Maddon said, “nothing horrible, but guys being banged up a little bit. And then you’re trying to situate a lot of youth, giving them more opportunity to play.
“Ian Happ is just showing up. (Albert) Almora is still trying to create his everyday chops here in the big leagues. (Kyle) Schwarber’s been struggling. A lot of youth that you’re trying to get really involved.”
In a game where a strained right foreman forced Miguel Diaz to leave in the third inning, the Cubs generated all their offense with one swing — Happ’s two-run homer into the right-center field bleachers. Otherwise, what can be an all-or-nothing lineup went 1-for-27 against a 29-44 Padres team.
The day after Mike Montgomery shut down the Padres through six scoreless innings, Eddie Butler couldn’t get one out in the fifth, another bad sign for a rotation that doesn’t know when Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks (right hand tendinitis) will be able to come off the disabled list.
All this day-to-day stress might finally break a strong bullpen, with reliable veteran Koji Uehara forcing in the go-ahead run with a two-out, bases-loaded walk in the eighth inning.
What do you see when you close your eyes and think about the Cubs? The group that made history last year or the team that can be hard to watch this season?
“It’s a different method this year, there’s no doubt about it,” Maddon said. “I think primarily — I’ve talked about it from the beginning — it’s the inexperience of a lot of the players that I’m aware of and how it plays on a daily basis. The youthful mistake will show up, and you have to teach through it and eventually hope that it would go away.
“It is challenging, but I am kind of enjoying it.”