Thursday night's Cubs loss to the Cardinals was kind of a microcosm for the season. From the Cubs' perspective, here's how the season has felt for fans: Fall behind, come back, fall behind, get your hopes up with an amazing comeback and then get punched in the gut.
One of the most interesting things about St. Louis' extra-innings win on Thursday was that Anthony Rizzo started, just three days after news broke he'd need to be in a walking boot for 5-7 days. After the game, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he didn't even know he'd have his first baseman until the last minute:
Maddon wasn’t aware of Rizzo’s availability until Theo and trainers informed him after pregame media session, then watched him perform pregame work to everyone’s satisfaction— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) September 20, 2019
It might be a really small thing, but this strikes me as relevant. Why wasn't Maddon in the loop with Cubs president Theo Epstein and the rest of the front office? Why wasn't he in the loop with one of his best players? It's odd, no?
Couple that with Fox Sports field reporter Ken Rosenthal saying during Thursday night's national broadcast that he got the sense in the clubhouse that the Cubs could use a new voice and then take note that the Cubs never gave Maddon a contract extension past this season. The proverbial writing is on the wall here. Assuming the Cubs don't make a deep playoff run -- and does that look likely right now? -- Maddon could be done.
Now, let's be clear about some things on the positive end.
- I'm not sure there's another human being on this planet who would have been a better fit to manage the Cubs in 2015 and 2016. What he did with the very talented group Epstein gave him was exceptional. They were always loose and never really looked like the pressure of 108 years mattered. I saw it first hand in three different playoff series in those years. They dealt with injury adversity and came back from a 3-1 World Series deficit to snap the drought.
- The Cubs have never had a run close to what they've currently had. They went to three straight NLCS and had never previously been to two in a row. They made the playoffs five straight years and had never previously made the postseason more than three straight times and that was 1906-1908. They won the World Series for the first time since 1908.
- Maddon is objectively the second-best manager in franchise history after Frank Chance, but if you factor in how much more difficult managing is these days with relief pitchers and specialists in addition to dealing with the whole 1908 thing, I think you could argue he's the best Cubs manager ever. I would make that argument.
- The injuries this season in addition to so many bullpen meltdowns have definitely made Maddon's job tougher.
Is that enough? The Cubs should forever love and be indebted to Maddon.
That being said, I think there's something to what Rosenthal said Thursday night and we can't neglect the seeming lack of communication with the front office when Maddon is a lame duck. There seems to be something amiss and it's probably time -- again, unless there's a miraculous run -- to move on for both parties.
Now, some people rightfully believe you shouldn't suggest firing someone unless you have a replacement in mind. Might I suggest David Ross? He was a model leader in the Cubs' clubhouse in 2015-16 and was long praised for how well he called games behind the plate. Catchers generally make good managers and we've seen guys like Aaron Boone move from the broadcast booth to the dugout and do a great job without any other managing experience. I don't know that Ross would be good, but I have little reason to believe he'd be bad, either. He knows the personnel and the clubhouse already loves him. Look at Anthony Rizzo choke up here at the World Series celebration:
Yes, I honestly do think Ross would be a good fit here and that it's time to move on from Maddon.
Every single manager gets questioned on things like bullpen management (Craig Kimbrel in the biggest spot of the season Thursday night after being hurt for several weeks?) and lineup construction (sticking with Jason Heyward for far too long in the leadoff spot and leading off Albert Almora ever?) and it's probably overdone, if we're all being honest. With Maddon this year, though, the spotlight on the questionable moves just keeps getting bigger and there haven't been many games where I thought to myself, "man, Maddon did a great job."
Where he won the team over with things like magicians, themed road trips and petting zoos in the first two years, that stuff has all seemed to have run its course by now. The cutesy stuff worked when it was a team on the rise. Once it was a champion and established power, the gimmicks became played out and the Cubs were left with a guy was almost blew the World Series by running his closer into the ground.
Maddon is the best Cubs manager ever and his stint in Chicago should get him into the Hall of Fame, but he has his flaws and they've shown up far too often these past few seasons.
No one ever goes into a marriage wanting divorce, but in many instances, the time comes when both sides realize a divorce is best for everyone. That time is nigh in Wrigleyville with Epstein and Maddon -- again, barring something of a storybook finish in 2019.