As far as resume builders go, being swept at home probably isn’t going to be listed among a team’s significant accomplishments. Nor is being under .500 over a 95-game stretch, which is where the Cubs find themselves after dropping three in a row to the Nationals. That’s understandably hard to believe when you consider that they’re still eight games over at 69-61, but it’s true.
After going 2-7 to open the season, the Cubs put together a 20-6 run that brought them to 22-13 and made the brutal start a distant memory. Since then, however, the utter mediocrity they’ve displayed on the field is reflected perfectly by their 47-48 record. The two earlier samples could be chalked up to flukes, but it’s kind of hard to dismiss a trash can overflowing with more than three months’ worth of games.
It’s even more impossible to avoid the reality that the Cubs are now 2.5 games behind the Cardinals in the Central while holding only a 1.5 game advantage on the Phillies for the second Wild Card spot. They’re going to need to put together another spurt, and soon, because treading water isn’t going to get it done.
Joe Maddon said recently that wins and losses won’t determine his future in Chicago and that he planned to stick around for “a couple more years at least,” which led to an overblown report that the front office was pissed with him. Maddon was of course just responding to questions from reporters spawned by a piece in The Athletic that pinned the manager’s future on his road record, and he wasn’t wrong.
While a disappointing finish certainly isn’t going to give Maddon leverage in extension talks, the whole thing really does come down to how the team is responding to his leadership. And maybe how his bosses are responding to that response. Therein lies the real problem, since these repeated bouts of listlessness seem to have grown more pronounced in the three seasons since the Cubs hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy.
Make no mistake, this isn’t all on Maddon by any stretch. No amount of bad bullpen decisions or refusal to own mistakes can make up for injuries, poor performance, and free agency whiffs, but there are times when fans get the sense that the Cubs are sleep walking. If the men pulling the strings in the front office get that same sense, the record is indeed irrelevant.
The players, on the other hand, may have a different opinion.
“Go look at his resume,” Anthony Rizzo recently told 670 The Score. “If you don’t believe it has been because things he does, you can look at everything he has done from the time he got here and completing our whole rebuild. I give Theo and Mr. Ricketts a lot of credit. You put the right person in place, that is what has happened here.
“We have turned this franchise into a place where being in first place on August 24 is nothing we are happy about. That is why Joe Maddon is the right guy for the job.”
If that sounds familiar, you’ve probably been reading our Facebook comments. Or maybe you’ve just been party to the popular notion that Maddon’s history with the team is all that matters when it comes to the future. But isn’t that the same brand of nostalgia that, while at least based on more credible foundation, Cubs fans used to blame for the organization’s failure to achieve any kind of lasting success?
That isn’t to say definitively that Maddon needs to be shown the door when his contract expires at the end of the season, but that’s exactly what I believe will happen. I mean, it’s not as though a major-market team parting ways with a manager named Joe is unprecedented. Hey, can anyone tell me how the Yankees are doing? That’s perhaps a little misleading because it seems like I’m again advocating for Maddon’s departure.
When you get down to it, what all I’m advocating is an objective appraisal of this Cubs team’s disappointing performance from top to bottom. Because, let’s face it, this simply isn’t a championship team and no single change will turn it into one. A new voice in the clubhouse isn’t necessarily a good thing in and of itself, nor is maintaining the status quo just because of the historic success achieved at an earlier point.
Regardless of who’s making out the lineup card, the Cubs playing sub-.500 baseball over an extended period is unacceptable and must be addressed in a meaningful way.