“Manager of the Year,” one player sarcastically said to another in the hallway as they passed a group of reporters walking into Joe Maddon’s office for a postgame press conference.

The Cubs had just beaten the Milwaukee Brewers in an intense 10-inning game at Miller Park, where it already felt like the playoffs in late September, the defending World Series champs closing in on a second straight division title and a third consecutive playoff appearance, something this franchise had not done since Wrigley Field opened more than a century ago.

Minutes after that throwaway line, cranky pitcher John Lackey gave a “Ya think?” answer to a question about wanting to throw more innings. It’s not easy herding millionaires with huge egos and their own agendas. But that scene in the visiting clubhouse – while the Cubs were operating at their highest level all season – reinforced the idea that something had been a little off with this team.

So while Dusty Baker has more to lose — no contract for next season, no World Series ring as a manager — Maddon’s decisions will be magnified in a best-of-five National League Division Series where the Washington Nationals might have more on-paper talent in every phase of the game.

It begins Friday night at Nationals Park, where the Cubs nearly self-destructed in late June, chatty backup catcher Miguel Montero talking his way off the team and the never-ending victory tour making a second White House stop within six months.

Do you think Kyle Hendricks will be allowed to pitch deeper into Game 1?

“I’m not Joe Maddon,” said Jon Lester, who didn’t get the clean situation everyone expected when he replaced Hendricks with two outs in the fifth inning of last year’s World Series Game 7. “I don’t make those decisions. As a pitcher, I’m sure he wants to throw nine every time, just like the rest of us do.