Five Thoughts: Plantar fasciitis on Maddon’s brain?

Joe Maddon’s the smartest man in Major League Baseball.

Just ask him.

Better yet, let’s revisit all of his many smart moves that contributed so much toward the climactic ninth inning of the Cubs’ 6-5 … uh, loss to the Pirates on this even-beyond-that magical Wednesday night at PNC Park.

First, clinging to a one-run lead entering the ninth for an immensely struggling team — now losers of four in a row, with near-daily threats from Theo Epstein of a shakeup — Maddon handed the ball to Craig Kimbrel, a renowned closer but one who’s still trying to get comfortable after sitting out half the season as a free agent. Since Epstein ponied up $43 million over three years to get him last month, Kimbrel’s been rocked in all three appearances.

Mistake?

Eh, there’s a reason he was acquired. This one’s minor.

The rest weren’t.

Willson Contreras, the Cubs’ superlative catcher, started in right field for the first time in the majors. And his bullet throw home in the eighth cut down Melky Cabrera and what would have been a tying run. But that doesn’t mean Contreras needed to be out there in the ninth.

That’s how Jung Ho Kang’s popup toward the right field line turned into a Texas League double inside the chalk:

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Additionally, look at how far the Cubs’ coaches had Contreras shaded toward right-center for Kang. Because a shift was going to matter more in that situation than the catcher having to cover addition ground.

Even so, Contreras did get there and didn’t catch it. The ball clanged off the thumb of a glove he wasn’t used to wearing.

Where was Jason Heyward, maybe the National League’s best defender at the position?

According to Maddon after the game, neither Heyward nor his likely backup, the versatile Kris Bryant, were available because of mishaps here in the long game Tuesday night. I was told by a source in the Chicago organization after the game that Heyward, specifically, was “banged-up.”

We’ll see how serious it was, but one inning in a pinch probably wouldn’t have set a “banged-up” Heyward and/or Bryant back.

It gets way worse.

Runners are at second and third. No outs. Adam Frazier comes up. As Josh Bell would observe later, “He’d been barreling everything,” and that was understatement for a guy off to a 10-for-13 July. Plus, he’s a lefty getting to face the righty Kimbrel.

Maybe put him on or pitch around him?

Nope. Maddon explained that he feared Corey Dickerson and Starling Marte, the next two in line, as much as Frazier and, moreover, that he didn’t want Kimbrel to feel forced to throw strikes with bases loaded.

Fair enough, but how about pulling the infield up to take away the easy tying run?

Nope to that, too:

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Good Lord, what was that?

With a meeting on the mound, infielders included, Maddon instructed the infield to remain at regular depth and play for the out at first unless the ball were stung. He was willing to concede the tie, he’d say, because he had ample bullpen depth at hand.

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Clint Hurdle addresses Chris Archer after the fifth. – MATT SUNDAY / DKPS
Pirates vs. Cubs, PNC Park, July 3, 2019 – MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

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