Joe Maddon explains bullpen decisions after another late meltdown by Cubs


The Cubs may be currently embarking on an "Easy Rider" themed road trip, but it certainly has not been an easy ride for Joe Maddon lately.

The Cubs bullpen melted down again Sunday, sending the team out to the West Coast after a 2-4 homestand against NL contenders in the Diamondbacks and Nationals.

Carl Edwards Jr. had a particularly rough stay at Wrigley, allowing six runs while recording only five outs over three appearances.

The biggest blow came Sunday afternoon when Edwards entered with the Cubs up one, Bryce Harper on first and one out. Edwards proceeded to give up a double to Ryan Zimmerman, intentionally walked Daniel Murphy and hit Anthony Rendon to force home a run.

Matt Wieters then stepped to the plate and deposited Edwards' offering into the bushes in center field and just like that, the Cubs were staring up at an 8-4 deficit.

"CJ right there, I liked him on those two guys," Maddon said. "We just gotta get him back to being normal because he's a really big part of our success.

"...We had another bad eighth inning, which we gotta get away from that. Even though we did not play well prior to that, we still did have the lead, we had the right guys on the mound and it just did not play out."

Maddon spent a lot of time this weekend talking about his bullpen arms, particularly Edwards. Managing his relievers takes up most of his daily focus, Maddon has said before and Sunday was part of the reason why with closer Wade Davis down after throwing 30 pitches in a rocky save Saturday.

Hector Rondon would've been the Cubs closer Sunday had the game gotten to that point.

Maddon wants his relievers to get better at throwing strikes and getting ahead in the count.

On the six-game homestand, Cubs relievers walked 12 batters in 19.1 innings. They also gave up 14 runs (12 earned) in that span, good for a 5.59 ERA.

Maddon believes Edwards is trying too hard to guide the baseball right now instead of letting it go. The dynamic 25-year-old reliever came into the day allowing only 3.9 hits per nine innings. Opponents were hitting .132 off him, the lowest mark off any big-league reliever with at least 40 innings.

But Edwards has also walked 30 batters in 44.2 innings this season.

"It looks like he's kinda battling himself a little bit," said Sunday's starter Jon Lester. "This game is all built around confidence. He may be doubting himself a little bit right now. Nobody in that clubhouse is doubting him in that role or anything else. Obviously, our manager and our team is right behind him, otherwise we wouldn't keep running him out there.

"He's the guy in the right situation and he'll get back to being himself. It's just a matter of pitching. Especially as a reliever, it kinda gets magnified, because you come in in dirty innings and wheels can start spinning a little bit and it can speed up on you. You can rush through some pitches.

"When he got the bases cleared, it was just kinda like back to old CJ. Just a matter of getting him out there, getting him pitching and getting that confidence back."

Maddon's goal Sunday was to use Edwards in a high-leverage spot and try to get that confidence built back up. Ideally, Mike Montgomery would've gotten Harper out, then Edwards comes in just for Zimmerman, gets him out and the Cubs head to the ninth with the lead intact.

When Harper reached, Maddon still envisioned a good scenario for Edwards, hoping the right-hander would get Zimmerman to roll over on one for a double play, allowing Edwards to walk off the mound feeling good about himself.

Of course, it didn't play out that way.

As for any other guys in that spot, Maddon was keeping Rondon back to close and Koji Uehara was up in the bullpen, but he's struggled to find consistency this season and Maddon also was protecting against the possibility of extra innings with a limited relief corps.

The end result is a pair of series losses to rival contenders, Maddon talking for six minutes about his bullpen decisions and the Cubs searching for answers.

"We can play with anybody, we just gotta finish it off," Maddon said. "We're still like the second ranked bullpen in the National League. We're still really good and our guys nailed it in the first half.

"For whatever reason, in the second half, our starters have come on and the bullpen guys have taken a little bit of a hit. But I like the names. They're not too tired - I think they're in good shape - we have really good matchups, we've added Justin Wilson to the mix. I like it.

"It's just one of those unfortunate moments today, but I wanna keep their confidence going. Like I said with a guy like CJ, get him in, get him out with some success and then eventually get back to who they are."

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