CHICAGO -- There are days when a manager must begin weighing the next few games and not only the final few innings at hand. That particular type of contest arrived on Friday afternoon, when things went awry in a hurry for the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
As Anibal Sanchez carved up the Cubs' lineup and the Nationals' lineup continued its recent dominance of opposing pitchers, Chicago manager Joe Maddon began searching for ways to salvage something from a wreck of a game. The 9-3 defeat was deflating and a rare drubbing at home, but Maddon checked a few boxes before the final pitch was thrown.
"Stuff like that happens," Maddon said. "You've just got to move it forward."
The Cubs are in the thick of what has been an unrelenting and exhausting division race with the Cardinals and Brewers in the National League Central. Chicago and St. Louis have been moving in and out of first place, pushing the other into the NL Wild Card fray in the process. That creates a situation where Maddon must lean on his best arms and regulars without many built-in days off.
So, while every win is vital right now, Maddon has also been looking for moments to give his stars a breather and some relievers work. Given how strong Sanchez was pitching on Friday -- the veteran righty held the Cubs to one hit over 8 1/3 innings -- it was a chance for the Cubs to address a few items with the long view in mind.
"Their pitcher did not look like he was going to succumb to anything today," Maddon said.
The first step was attempting to apply a tourniquet to an abbreviated outing from Cubs lefty Jon Lester. The veteran piled up 95 pitches over 4 1/3 innings and was nicked up repeatedly by a stream of singles (eight of his nine hits allowed). After consecutive one-out singles by Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto in the fifth, Maddon pulled the plug.
Prior to the game, Maddon noted that he needed to get Pedro Strop in a game soon, and the right-hander was the first reliever to jog in from the bullpen. It was not pretty -- Strop hit a batter, fired a run-scoring wild pitch and allowed a two-run double in two-thirds of an inning -- but the struggling setup man got some work in.
"It wasn't detrimental in that regard," Maddon said of getting those arms some innings.
The next goal for Maddon once the game was out of hand was getting some of his heavily used position players off the field.
Javier Baez, who has a .146/.182/.220 slash line in his past 12 games, was replaced in the sixth inning at shortstop by Addison Russell. Maddon noted that it was helpful to get Russell, who is the main backup at short again after a recent stint at Triple-A, some innings at the position. Jason Heyward was pulled from center in the seventh and Kris Bryant was lifted from third base in the ninth.
First baseman Anthony Rizzo leads the Cubs this year in innings played (1,073 2/3), with Baez (1,054 2/3), Bryant (1,033) and Heyward (989 2/3) next on that list.
"That should be beneficial, hopefully," Maddon said of getting that group out of the game. "I wanted [Baez] out of there and Jason, the same way. Jason, playing center field, there's a lot of running around out there and he gives you full effort all the time, too. So, those are the two I wanted out of there."
The loss was only the fourth in the past 20 games at home for the Cubs, who averaged more than six runs per game over their last nine at Wrigley. On the season, Chicago is 44-20 at home -- a showing that has helped the North Siders at or near the top of the Central.
That made what took place on Friday a rarity for this year's Cubs.
After these types of losses, Maddon has often said the team needs to just flush it out of its mind and shift its focus to the next matchup. The manager said this loss was "already gone" for him by the time he exited the dugout. Given the in-game maneuvering, it was clear that Maddon was already turning his attention to the coming days.
There is value in that approach -- not that the players have any interest in silver linings.
Lester, specifically, took the loss personally.
"Joe's always said, 'You win hard, you lose hard,'" Lester said. "Losing, for me, is even harder than that. It's my job to do better and I'm not. I let a five-game winning streak basically go down the wayside because I didn't throw the ball very well. It's frustrating."