CHICAGO -- Joe Maddon on Friday pushed back on any notion the Cubs are playing uninspired baseball, but the manager admitted they might be playing tight.
The Cubs begin a 10-game homestand tied for the second wild card position in the National League and coming off yet another losing road trip (3-5), as their record dropped to 31-44 away from Wrigley Field on the season.
"I can see why that would be said, but I don't think it's true," Maddon said Friday morning. "I want us to loosen up and play baseball.
"My biggest concern is that I think we're playing tight."
Though Maddon often talks about September baseball bringing an energy of its own, he wasn't seeing it as much in San Diego, where the team just split a four-game series. He even compared the midweek atmosphere in the less-than-full Petco Park to that of a theater.
Instead of team meetings to combat the "uptight" notion, Maddon is handling it more one-on-one.
"I've been infiltrating the group in my own ways," he said. "I've seen it before, in other places."
Maddon's boss, team president Theo Epstein, first used the word "uninspired" on his weekly appearance on the team's flagship radio outlet but understood where Maddon was coming from when he spoke of the team being uptight.
"Because they care," Epstein said. "The guys are really frustrated. They look around at the other names and how they feel about themselves and the refrain I here is, 'We have so much talent. How come we're not winning?'"
Both Maddon and Epstein deflected talk of the manager's expiring contract, instead focusing on the task at hand: securing a fifth consecutive playoff appearance. But both know that Maddon's future hangs in the balance.
"The whole year was going to be speculation," Maddon said. "I'm fine with it. I have no issues with it whatsoever. It's a natural part of the landscape."
Epstein added: "He's done a great job of not letting his contract be a distraction."
One thing all parties agree on is leaving first baseman Anthony Rizzo at the top of the batting order. Cubs leadoff hitters have been abysmal at getting on base this season. It's now Rizzo's job by default. It also means when Ben Zobrist starts, he'll hit in the middle of the order just as he did in 2016, the year the Cubs won the World Series.
"I don't want to keep moving Anthony around," Maddon said. "Let's see how it plays."
Rizzo has a career .410 on-base percentage in 48 starts batting leadoff, including in Thursday's win over the Padres. He was asked if he was all-in on batting first.
"I'm all-in on winning," Rizzo said.