Commentary: Roll with the changes
Bryant can lead his team to the playoffs (Jeff Curry - USA Today Sports)

Commentary: Roll with the changes

by - Columnist -

With very little seeming to go the Cubs way lately, unconventional and unpopular moves by Joe Maddon shouldn’t surprise any of you. I, for one, have always supported Maddon for his ability and willingness to think outside the box, and as the injuries and hitting slumps continue to amass, it would seem as though Maddon has little choice but to remain creative if the cubs are going to win.

Personally, I thought Jesse Chavez was a shoe-in to become the Cubs’ interim reliever in the absence of Pedro Strop, but Maddon chose Jorge’ De La Rosa (of all people) to close it out for Chicago in Friday’s opener against the Reds. Even if one was to exclude Jesse Chavez with his six career saves (four in 2018), candidates like Justin Wilson, Steve Cishek and Randy Rosario seemed far more likely than De La Rosa, as, in his 15 professional seasons, De La Rosa had never saved a game before last night. Whether the choice was calculated or based on desperation due to a lack of options, it was a bold choice, to say the least.

They say that necessity is the mother of all invention, and right now, it would seem that reinventing the Cubs’ offense is what seems the most necessary.

A couple of months ago, Victor Caratini earned his spot as the Cubs’ backup catcher and first-baseman, replacing the veteran catcher, Chris Gimenez. To have predicted that Caratini would emerge down the final stretch to become the favored catcher over Willson Contreras (barring an injury) would have sounded ludicrous, but that’s exactly how things are shaping up.

Nobody, including me, would dare say that Caratini outshines Contreras as a backstop, but as the Cubs’ bats, and more specifically Contreras’ offense, continue to struggle, having Caratini’s bat in the lineup only makes sense. Caratini has batted .364 over the last week, .333 over the last fourteen days, and .300 for the last month, as compared to Contreras’ .143/.125/.167 respectively, over the same three-time frames. Caratini will be filling in for Anthony Rizzo at first base this afternoon.

In Kris Bryant’s absence, it was David Bote’s turn to shine, and shine he did. Prior to Bryant’s return from the DL, I predicted that Maddon would play him more as an outfielder than a third-baseman, primarily to give Bote more time at third. While Bote has had only three starts on the hot corner since KB returned, Bryant has only had three as well, with Baez suddenly emerging as the likely third baseman.

While Addison Russell’s return on September first was hailed by some to be the start of some great resurgence, Russell’s continued batting slump has resulted in limited starts at shortstop. In the 13 games since his return, Russell has started just seven times, managing a slashing line of only .160/.192/.160 over the past two weeks.

The acquisition of Daniel Murphy has undoubtedly solved some issues while creating others. Despite his lackluster defense and a more than noticeable recent hitting slump, Murphy is probably the one guy who’s only a hit away from being back on top of his game. At least for the time being, starting Murph at second base will always come at the cost of either benching Russell or sliding Bryant to the outfield, but I really think that’s the chance the Cubs will have to take as they pursue another pennant and post-season run.

The Cubs’ offense seems to be missing next to nothing offensively with Russell receiving limited plate appearances, but with Bryant hitting .289 since his return, not finding a spot for him would be foolish. In the continued absence of Jason Heyward, and now with Kyle Schwarber being listed as day-to-day, alternating Bryant between left and right field makes far more sense than worrying about him starting at third, especially when you consider the depth of the Cubs’ infield.

For all the griping about Joe Maddon, his lineups, batting orders, and game decisions, one thing remains clear: like it or not, Maddon appears to know what he’s doing.

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