When Anthony Rizzo caught a throw from Kris Bryant and tapped his foot on Progressive Field’s first base on November 2, 2016, one thing was for certain: Joe Maddon would never have to buy another drink in the Chicago area.
Perhaps every member of that historic Cubs squad, enders of the century-plus championship drought, was deserving of immunity in Windy City limits. But a new curse indirectly began from the old one’s end: that of expectations. One-hundred eight years of disappointment were instantly erased, and suddenly Cub and New York Yankees fans were hard to tell apart.
Chicago has been to the playoffs in each of the ensuing seasons since the title, but find themselves fighting for their postseason lives in the final stages of the 2019 campaign. They’re currently up a single game on divisional rivals from Milwaukee entering Wednesday’s action. Naturally, fingers have been pointed at Maddon, the head man in charge of it all.
Perhaps instead of Maddon, blame should instead turn to the names he’s in charge of penciling into the lineup. The Cubs’ relative collapse has been somewhat sped up by veterans not performing to their expectations. Outfielder Kyle Schwarber is batting a mere .235. Three starters, including the pricy Jose Quintana and Jon Lester, have ERAs near 4.00 So, naturally, Maddon needs to rally the troops prior to the postseason.
Another unsung culprit, however, could well also be the fans that fill the Friendly Confines on a nightly basis.
Maddon is doing as much as he can in what could be the final days of the Chicago heyday. It could well come to pass that this is among the final runs the championship Cubs are able to roll out on. Several familiar faces and key contributors are up for free agency in 2020, including the aforementioned Rizzo.
The next few weeks are even more crucial for Maddon. An original five-year deal is set to expire at the end of the season. If any franchise should be grateful for what he’s done — a median of 97 wins since he took over in 2015 — it’s the Cubs.
Yet, plenty of the fanbase consider Maddon a lame duck, an experience not helped by some creative difference between and upper management.
Yet, he’s been the one familiar face, the one consistent in this exciting, rarely prosperous era of Cubs baseball. Pointing the finger at Maddon is simply fans and management getting a bit of a big head, not used to constant contention.
Instant gratification isn’t exclusive to Chicago. Ex-Boston general manager Dave Dombrowski found that out the yard, bid farewell less than a year after winning the World Series. Maddon doesn’t deserve to be the next victim of that.
Sure, he’s not perfect. An over-reliance on reliever Steve Cishek hasn’t worked out, including a bases-loaded walk on Tuesday against San Diego…but Maddon doesn’t deserve to be the next victim.
It’ll be interesting to see what the Cubs can do, especially with other contenders breathing down their neck. Expectations are exciting, they’re supposed to be fun. Firings take away such a concept.