You’ve got to give Joe Maddon credit. He refused to let Bryce Harper beat him this past weekend, and in the end, the Cubs swept a four-game series against the Nationals.
Granted, Harper reached base 15 times in the series, including 13 times via walks, but that’s fine. The Cubs went 4-0.
That’s all that matters.
“Joe Maddon, I think (if) he gets his mind set on something, he’s going to do it,” three-time All-Star and MLB Network analyst Sean Casey said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “His mindset was, ‘If we lose, we’re not going to let Bryce Harper beat us.’ I think the big thing there is it shows a lot of respect to Bryce Harper first off, and then it also showed that Ryan Zimmerman right now is just scuffling a little bit. I think (with) how hot (Daniel) Murphy is, if he was behind Harper right now, it might have been a little different. But Zim’s scuffling a little bit right now, and (the Cubs) chose in different situations to unintentionally walk (Harper) and then to intentionally walk him and pitch to Zimmerman – and it worked out for them.”
Murphy is hitting .398 with five homers, 20 RBIs and a .441 OBP this season. He is on pace to set career-highs in just about every category. Zimmerman, meanwhile, is hitting just .227 with one home run.
Perhaps it’s time to move Murphy up from fifth to fourth in the order? Granted, that would give the Nationals lefty/lefty at Nos. 3 and 4, but wouldn’t that be more effective, especially given how teams are pitching around Harper?
Dusty Baker says no.
“That’s his lineup,” Casey said. “That’s where he feels like he’s best with the left, right, left. Having Zimmerman there, having the track record – you know Zimmerman’s going to get hot at some point. I just feel like right now, with teams pitching around Bryce Harper, especially when he had six walks the other day in Chicago, I think at some point you (move) Murphy because Murphy is hot right now and Harper’s not getting pitched to. Maybe this is the time for maybe a stretch here where you do put Murphy behind him and you’re letting Zimmerman get hot and then you get back to the (normal) order.”
Harper continued his walking ways Monday, drawing two free passes in a 5-4 win over Detroit. Unfortunately, he was ejected in the ninth inning, this after arguing balls and strikes from the dugout with home-plate umpire Brian Knight. Moments later, Clint Robinson hit a walk-off homer. Harper took part in the celebration and appeared to mouth some expletives toward Knight in the process.
“Listen, I love the way he plays the game,” Casey said. “I feel like he’s the Aroldis Chapman (of hitters). He’s must-see TV. When he comes to bat, you never know what’s going to happen. He plays with a passion, plays with his hair on fire. The bottom line is, in sports sometimes, your emotions get the best of you. . . . I bet you a bunch of guys were yelling from the dug out, and Harper got singled out and got tossed. But I don’t know. I think we’re making a big deal out of it, that he came out and said a couple words. Obviously his fire was still up there at that time, but it’s part of the game, it’s going to happen, and I think we just all move on.”
As for the Cubs (24-6), well, they’ve been just about unstoppable. They lead the majors in wins and run differential (+102) and have been even better on the road (13-3) than they have been at home (11-3).
What is this team’s weakness?
“Wow, I don’t think there is a weakness,” Casey said. “I think adding (John) Lackey just gives them that legit three-headed monster with Lackey, (Jake) Arrieta and (Jon) Lester. The pen is solid. The lineup, top to bottom, is just a lot of tough outs. I think (Ben) Zobrist was a great sign. He’s a guy who’s just going to grind through at-bats. (Anthony) Rizzo has just stepped up with every RBI opportunity he can. I just think top to bottom it’s a special lineup. To look at a guy like (Javier) Baez that comes off the bench is pretty impressive.”
The Cubs and Nationals, perhaps the two best teams in baseball, don’t meet again until mid-June. They play a three-game series June 13-15 in Washington D.C.