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Series Preview: Can Bruce Bochy’s twilight eclipse Joe Maddon’s?

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The Giants aren’t as talented as the Cubs, but they have much more gravitas.

Chicago Cubs v. Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Years from now, we’ll look back at Joe Maddon’s career and say he had a great one. Hall of Fame-worthy, though?

Right now, he’s 42nd on the all-time managerial wins list with 1,234. He’ll definitely add to that total over these next three games against the Giants, but even a clean sweep would put him about 14 wins shy of matching Clint Hurdle, who has the benefit of having managed for one more season than Maddon (17 years vs. 16).

Joe Maddon is 65 years old and in the final year of his deal with the Cubs. Last spring, he proclaimed that he wants to manage five more years. Will any team want to hire him? He has a solid resume, one that’s going to put him in Billy Martin / Whitey Herzog territory after this season. But his act, such as it is, feels a little tired —

— and the sharks have started to circle his legacy.

Ignoring the ageism of “Joe Maddon is 65 years old”, even his openness to new ideas — he embraced what the Rays were trying to do and became sort of the face of the analytics revolution in terms of the baseball lifers who “turned” — would seem to be something that has become passe in the new corporate structure of a baseball team. They have algorithms for the field decisions now. In the clubhouse, teams just need a younger guy who can relate to the new players and manage the stresses of constant roster churn. At this point, Maddon almost feels like legacy software on the verge of retirement as the organization updates its primary OS.

So, when he looks across the diamond this week, he’ll see Bruce Bochy getting out while the getting’s good and with a lot of nice-sounding numbers on his Hall of Fame resume: 25 years, 2,000 wins (most likely), three world championships. Maybe the sole measure of a manager’s career shouldn’t be “the Hall of Fame”, but it’s hard not to think about that part, especially where these two are concerned.

Bruce Bochy doesn’t have the reputation as a manager who’s led teams that have come up short. That might not be a totally justified reputation, but three rings can do a lot to alter the narrative. Meanwhile, Joe Maddon is in, perhaps, year three of a cultural malaise that has stagnated a championship organization. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer setup a team to bust a 100+-year old curse and after handing the keys to Maddon, it’s been a string of disappointments and excuses.

On the other hand, the 2019 Cubs have the fourth-best home record in baseball (41-19) and they’re just a half game out of first place in the NL Central, despite scoring just the sixth-most runs in the NL (14th in MLB) and putting up a 35-34 record since June 1st.

The Giants flipped a 22-34 start into a 41-28 runs since June 1st, have a terrible home record, and are 14th in the National League in runs scored on the season. Why do people dismiss the Giants’ turn around but excuse the Cubs’ two and a half month slump? For starters, the Cubs have two 4-win position players, the Giants have zero. Bruce Bochy might be viewed by outsiders as the reason for the Giants’ turnaround — a steady hand guiding a chaotic mess of roster churn and decayed veteran superstars — while Maddon gets knocked for leading a team of underachievers.

The spotlight will be on the Cubs trying to bust out of their funk and seize the NL Central, with maybe a few minutes before tonight’s game dedicated to honoring Bruce Bochy’s career. After that, you better believe Joe Maddon will try to get that spotlight back on him.

The Cubs will probably roll over the Giants in this series, which is why you’re seeing a distinct lack of analysis here. The Giants are 3-12 at Wrigley Field since 2015. The Giants are starting their three worst pitchers when it comes to home runs allowed, so, this can only be a “Bruce Bochy is better than Joe Maddon” post.

One area where Joe Maddon will always top Bruce Bochy: that career winning percentage. Unless he takes over the Orioles, Tigers, or Marlins next year, he’s going to wind up with a final career W-L total above .500. The Giants will need to go 27-10 or better the rest of the way to secure such a mark for Bruce Bochy.

The Cubs are just one of many tough, clearly better teams the Giants will face down the stretch. It’s not an unfamiliar position for Bruce Bochy, though, and maybe his team will do what it has often done over the years: surprise us a little bit. But, uh, not this week, because the Cubs are great at home.

Pitcher to watch

Derek Holland has allowed just two earned runs since being traded to the Cubs and becoming an ace reliever. Both of those earned runs came off of home runs. One of those home runs was a grand slam. It was this one:

I expect him to get his revenge by mowing down one of the Brandons, so the only thing to watch out for are his pre-game comments about the organization.

Hitter to watch

I thought Javier Baez had a better career line against the Giants, but it’s just .213/.242/.461, albeit with six home runs. Still, in 26 career games, he’s failed to reach base in just six of those games, and at Wrigley Field this season, he’s batting .325/.354/.632 (.986) with 15 home runs, 4 triples, and 18 doubles in 243 plate appearances. BUT! He also has a .395 BAbip and a 65/11 K/BB. Keeping him off base or limiting his damage won’t guarantee a series win, but it might give the Giants a shot at winning one of these.

Prediction

Home runs will be hit, the Cubs’ bullpen might bend enough to give us false hope, but the Giants will win just one of these games. Maybe.