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Cubs fans had to endure their team suffering a brutal 13-inning loss at Wrigley Field in the NL Wild Card game, and some of them are still upset with the play of their team, as well as at manager Joe Maddon. They have plenty of reason to feel that way.
In sports, especially after a pivotal loss in a big game, the manager (or head coach) is often the first to be blamed — usually followed by the players, then the general manager (or team president). It’s part of the job description, and is why head coaches often make so much more money than the rest of the staff.
And it’s not crazy to fire a manager after a few winning seasons, either. The Nationals fired Dusty Baker after back-to-back 95 and 97 win seasons last year, and the Yankees parted ways with Joe Girardi, who won three division titles during his time managing in the Bronx. Not only that, Girardi’s Yankees never lost more than 78 games in a season.
As such, it’s fair to point out that Maddon’s overmanaging in big games over the past two seasons has really seemed to hinder his team from achieving its full potential. Let’s take a look at a few areas that are worthy of criticism.
The Cubs had the benefit of hosting two winner-take-all games at Wrigley Field on Monday and Tuesday — for the division title, and then the right to advance in the playoffs — yet lost both. They mustered only two runs combined in 22 innings of play, which wasn’t ideal, but his bullpen management raised eyebrows as well.
He elected to use six different pitchers in four innings of relief after pulling starter Jose Quintana — who threw only 64 pitches — on Monday. Tuesday wasn’t much different, as eight different pitchers appeared in seven innings of relief. Five of them threw only 11 pitches or less.
It’s one thing to focus on individual matchups, but Maddon takes that to another level, and his bullpen management is often called into question, with good reason.
Going to his bench too early in games:
The Cubs had only one player available to pinch hit after nine innings of play in Tuesday’s game, and they used him in the 11th inning. Victor Caratini hit a ground ball to first to end that inning, and after that, their bench was empty. On the other side of the coin, the Rockies had catcher Tony Wolters available to pinch hit, and he drove in the game-winning run with two outs in the top of the 13th inning.
Not only that, having Terrance Gore — a .063 career hitter — pinch run for Anthony Rizzo in the 3-hole proved to be a costly move as the game progressed. Gore did steal a base and eventually scored the game-tying run, but he also had two at-bats later in the contest — striking out both times. The most important one came when he led off the 13th inning, and, for some reason, was given the right to swing the bat on a 3-2 count. Scott Oberg threw a breaking ball that dropped out of the zone, and had Gore been told to stand in and not swing, the Cubs would’ve had the fastest player on their roster aboard in what ended up being the final inning of the game.
Lastly, as it relates to pinch hitting, Maddon’s puzzling decision to have Jason Heyward hit with the bases loaded in the seventh inning, instead of Kyle Schwarber, was scrutinized by many. Heyward took the first four pitches of the at-bat, then finally hacked at the one that followed — which was out of the zone — to end the inning.
Cubs infielder Addison Russell was placed on administrative leave by the league amid domestic violence allegations, and it’s unclear what his future with the team will hold.
Not only that, the Cubs’ most trusted reliever, Jesse Chavez, apparently has had enough, and he wants out. Chavez was playing out a one-year deal, and he’s set to become an unrestricted free agent this winter.
Also, for some reason, even after a brutal 2-1 loss in 13 innings of play, some of the Cubs players were discussing charity events that will take place during the offseason. That seems odd after a season-ending loss.
The Cubs team that won a World Series in 2016 was hungry, but this team looks beaten down, and, at times, unmotivated. Excessive celebrations — such as pimping a home run that wasn’t, or an epic bat toss after drawing a simple walk — shouldn’t be acceptable, especially during a disappointing 2018 campaign that resulted in an early playoff exit.
The dramatic World Series win somehow seems like it happened forever ago. This roster is loaded with talent, yet the team was lucky to advance against the Nationals in the postseason last year (which likely played a role in why former manager Dusty Baker was fired), only to get beaten handily by the Dodgers in only five games. This season, the team had two chances to advance to the National League Division Series — both at home — and they blew both.
There’s very little margin for error in baseball — one poor decision can cost a team its season — and the Cubs’ window for winning is growing smaller. The Cubs brass may want to take a long look at Maddon, specifically if he’s the right guy to lead the team going forward.