The avid Cubs fan is already fully aware of the rumors that have been swirling the last couple of weeks regarding Joe Maddon’s job status as the Chicago Cubs’ manager. While this may come as a surprise considering the Cubs are currently in first place in the ultra-competitive NL Central, I believe it would be the right decision moving forward.
It’s not that I don’t believe Joe Maddon is a good manager, it’s because the Cubs simply do not respond to his style of managing anymore and sometimes a change of scenery needs to happen. Joe Maddon has had great success in Chicago and should go down as one of their best managers ever. He has the highest winning percentage of any manager in Cubs history and has led the team to four consecutive seasons of 90+ wins. Having said this, there’s no denying that the product on the field has gotten worse ever since the Cubs won the World Series in 2016. With virtually the same roster since then, how can any Cubs fan be okay with this regression?
Yes, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer made questionable signings in the 2017 offseason with Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood. However, pitching has not been the issue this season. Over the last 50 games, the main issue appears to be the complete lack of mental focus this team displays on a daily basis. This is evident in two categories: fielding and base running errors. The Cubs are second in the National League, behind only the New York Mets, for the most errors on the season at 65. This is 13 more than the NL average and makes no sense given the individual defensive capabilities of each player on this roster. Also, the Cubs lead the entire MLB in outs on the basepaths at 37, 11 more than the MLB average (source: baseball-reference.com). These mental errors are the reason the Cubs lose so many close games and prove that players tend to sleepwalk through games. I understand that these are professional ballplayers and they should take it upon themselves to come ready to play, but this has been a consistent problem dating back to the beginning of last season and it has to be addressed right now. Joe Maddon deserves a lot of blame for this, as it is the manager’s responsibility to get his team ready to play.
The roster does not respond to Maddon’s managing style like they used to. Maddon is known to be a ‘players first’ type of manager who rarely ever calls his players out and always takes their side. This attitude worked in 2015 and 2016 when the roster was a bunch of young players hungry to prove themselves and win. It generated one of the best cultures in baseball. But after a couple of All-Star seasons by multiple players and a World Series title, an element of complacency has hit the locker room. And with complacency comes pervasive laziness throughout the clubhouse. The Cubs play with absolutely zero fire on the field and it’s completely unacceptable given how tight the NL Central race is and the talent on this roster.
Although I believe most of the internal issues are a result of Joe Maddon’s managing style, some of it is attributed to not having both Jake Arrieta and David Ross on the roster like they did in 2015 and 2016. Both of those guys were always running at 150% and would outwardly call out players for appearing uninterested in games. Plus, Arrieta is among one of the biggest physical specimens in baseball. I wouldn’t necessarily say his teammates were afraid of him, but he was considered to be an authoritative voice in the locker room. His loss has played a major factor in the lack of leadership in the clubhouse. Jason Heyward, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo are good leaders but are simply not the type of personalities to get on guys. The language barrier also hinders Javier Baez and Willson Contreras from being that type of voice. The Cubs need a manager that exhibits the fiery, Jake Arrieta type personality, and Joe Girardi perfectly fits that mold. He’s all business and does not tolerate laziness under any circumstance. He is not afraid to bench players for not running out plays or get on them for playing flat. On the contrary, Joe Maddon never does that, and at times seems to be more interested in proving his intellect to the media than trying to get the most out of his players. There have been multiple instances of inexcusable mental errors on the basepaths and in the field this season, but Maddon has done nothing about it. At some point, there needs to be a level of accountability, and it’s not happening right now with Joe Maddon at the helm.
Rationalizing that Joe Maddon should be retained as the Cubs manager simply because of how successful he has been in the past makes zero sense. It is not relevant to this season and is not indicative of how the rest of the season will play out. The fact of the matter is that the Cubs have regressed since 2016, and something needs to be done to fix that. Do fans really think the Twins, Astros, Dodgers, and Yankees care at all how good the Cubs have been the past four seasons? No, they do not. Those four teams continue to separate themselves from the rest of baseball, while the Cubs continue to not play up to the roster’s potential. I mean, the lineup has three All-Stars, arguably an All-Star snub in Anthony Rizzo, and a player in Jason Heyward who is tearing it up and finally worth that expensive contract. If you told me that at the beginning of the season, I’d say the Cubs would have at least a 5 or 6 game lead in the division. But right now, “the sum is less than the parts” when it comes to the Cubs, meaning they are not performing to the level the aggregate individual talent would suggest. It’s the manager’s job to know his players and push the right buttons in order to maximize the team’s ability, and Joe Maddon is not doing that.
I understand that it is a hard sell to fire a manager who is currently sitting at first place in the division, especially with how good the NL Central is top to bottom. However, winning the NL Central and getting run off the field in the NLCS by the Dodgers is not the goal. And with how the Cubs have looked recently, that is their ceiling right now. This team has the talent to win another World Series, but something needs to change internally for the roster to reach that potential. You would think that choking the division away last year and losing the Wild Card game at Wrigley Field would have been enough of a wake-up call, but it hasn’t been. After the last 51 games have played out, in which the Cubs are 22-29, there is no way that Theo and Jed are going to sit on their hands the next month and use the “wait and see” approach as the deadline nears. With how disgruntled Theo sounded in his interview last week, it feels like a big change is about to happen. Something must be done to provide a shakeup to this team internally, as they are in danger of dropping the division for the second consecutive year right in the middle of their World Series window.
Featured Image: NY Post