Joe Maddon Talks Lineups, Possibility of Schwarber Returning to Leadoff

Joe Maddon joined 670 The Score’s Spiegel & Parkins Show for his weekly Tuesday afternoon appearance to talk about The Billy Goat Tavern. Seriously, that was the topic. Okay, the initial conversation was just a response to a quick ad for one of the station’s sponsors, but it was vintage Maddon randomness.

From there, talk turned predictably to the lineup and how the Cubs manager goes about putting it together. Last night’s order saw Albert Almora Jr. in center while hot-hitting Ian Happ began the game on the bench. Does Happ need to be in there every day at this point?

“Well of course, but you don’t want to burn him out,” Maddon said. “We anticipate playing deeply into the year, and Ian has not done that before. Albert’s playing great and he hasn’t had that opportunity so we need to get him out there. For me to expect Albert to play well without playing him, that’s a bad assumption.”

Maddon was then asked about the roster and whether it’s actually too balanced.

“I’m doing what I want to do today,” the skipper admitted. “But we have a roster right now that you want to play guys more often but there’s not enough room.”

He went on to describe just how difficult it was to construct a lineup to combat a guy like Johnny Cueto, trying to figure out which hitters would fare best against him. In fact, Maddon said that he had agonized over it since last night and had just turned in today’s lineup card. He then defended himself after the hosts played comments from Kevin Millar about maintaining continuity in the lineup.

“You don’t tinker, normally, with the meat part of it,” Maddon said. “It’s primarily with guys in the latter part of the lineup that you’re moving them around.”

We’ve seen several little tweaks here and there, but there’s one that’s grabbed headlines and incited more water cooler talk and Facebook commenting than all the others combined. After spending all but one game this season in the leadoff spot, Kyle Schwarber was moved down in favor of Ben Zobrist, who has collected 11 bases in two games at the top of the order. So is this a permanent deal?

“Right now [Zobrist] looks really good,” Maddon answered. “The big part about Zo is he’s able to work an at-bat. I don’t worry about stuff like [specific timeframes]. Right now he’s filling that role really well. I’ve had Zo protecting Rizzo, but now Ian looks very capable of doing that.”

Asked if he could see himself moving Schwarber back up, Maddon responded as I’d expected.

“Yeah, I’d totally agree with [Schwarber batting leadoff again]. Coming out of Spring Training, that’s what made the most sense. But for right now, I think Zo looks like the right guy.”

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s three times he used “Right now” in the space of a couple sentences. Though Maddon often seems like a zany dude, he’s very measured in what he says and using that particular phrase repeatedly was a way to both qualify his decisions in the present and set up possible changes moving forward.

Nothing crazy, no earth-shattering insights, but it’s always nice to get Maddon’s thoughts on how he goes about setting his lineup each day. It’s particularly refreshing to hear the admission that, yes, it is hard to do. While Ian Happ may have made decisions on the 25-man roster easy, he’s certainly not alleviated any pressure to field the best eight players behind that day’s starter.

While I’d love to have the massive wine catalog and a fleet of cars that includes a 700-horsepower Dodge Charger Hellcat, I do not envy Joe Maddon having to find equitable playing time for his roster. Or having to deal with Matt Spiegel for 15 minutes every week.

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