Discover more from Pointless Exercise
The Cubs would not have won without Joe Maddon
Ignore the dopes who act like he wasn't a great manager
The Angels, who are in second place in the AL West and 1.5 games out of the bonus wild card spot have fired Hall of Fame manager Joe Maddon. They didn’t send their GM to stand on his porch to give him the bad news like the Cubs did when Jed Hoyer had to go tell Rick Renteria, “It’s not you, it’s us,” in 2014.
When the Cubs did that, they were acknowledging that a great manager had unexpectedly come available and it was time to bring the rebuild to a close and start winning. So they hired Joe, and all he did was win.
In his five years with the Cubs he won 97, 103, 92, 95 and 84 games. Since 1908 the Cubs have won six playoff series and Joe won five of them. They have been to the NLCS five times, and three of those were with Joe. They won one World Series and well, you know who won that.
When he showed up in 2015 he took over a mostly young team with a few savvy veterans. They were expected to finish third in the NL Central, and they did. But nobody expected they’d finish third with 97 wins.
They were a fun team for most of the year. All of it was shiny and new. Kris Bryant had just come up from being service time manipulated in Iowa, Anthony Rizzo was establishing himself at first base, Jon Lester had swaggered into town to prove that you don’t need to be able to throw to any base but home to be successful, and Jake Arrieta was having a nice, promising season.
They were 51-44 on July 25 when their fluky decades long streak of not getting no-hit was ended by Cole Hamels. They lost the next day, too.
We’d seen this movie before. A plucky Cubs team exceeds expectations for a while, then something bad happens and the ass falls out of everything.
Except this time the Cubs didn’t fold. Bryant walked-off the Rockies to end a three game losing streak and the Cubs went a very un-Cublike 45-19 to roar through the rest of the season and nearly right up the asses of the 100 win Cardinals and the 98 win Pirates.
What was their secret? Well, first, they were pretty good. That helps. But they also had a manager who didn’t subscribe to any of the fatalist bullshit that had weighed the franchise down since the 50s.
phased fazed Joe, and as a result, not much phased fazed his Cubs. He loved to talk (still does) and he’d hold court for long media sessions before and after every game, and because he said actually stuff when he talked—funny, interesting stuff, the media had to cover him for fear of missing something, and that left his team time and space (even in the pre-2016 still cramped home clubhouse) to get ready for games, or just go home when they were over.
If he did nothing else (and he did a lot) the most important thing he might have done was convince Theo Epstein to stop trying to trade Javy Baez and just let Joe worry about him. Joe loved everything he saw in the way Javy played the game. “Let Javy be Javy.”
And it didn’t hurt that down the stretch Arrieta had turned into the greatest pitcher in baseball history. From June 21 to the end of the season, Jake went 16-1 with an 0.86 ERA and allowed a laughable 76 hits in 147 innings. The only game he lost was the game the Cubs got no-hit in.
The Cubs were perfectly set up to take down Pissburgh in the Wild Card game because Jake was on the mound, and he became the first pitcher in postseason history to throw a shutout with more than 10 strikeouts and no walks.
The Cubs would get the Cardinals next. It was an exciting, confusing, terrifying time. Beat the Cardinals and we’d have something to shove in the Best Fans In Baseball’s sad little faces for eternity. Lose to them, and well, we didn’t want to think about that.
And the Cubs lost the opener, and would now need to win three of four to take the series.
They didn’t need four.
And who dealt the death blow in game four (I know the Cardinals tied it later and then the Cubs took it back, but go with me here, I’m rolling).
It was Javy being Javy.
Joe wasn’t just a great manager (he was), he was the perfect guy at the perfect time. Those playoffs were full of pressure. We’d seen more veteran Cubs teams wilt under the omnipresent smother that comes from the weight of all of those previous Cubs teams who shit the bed and laid in it.
The Cubs ran into a pitching buzzsaw in the NLCS and got swept by the Mets. The World Series dream would have to wait another year. But for once we actually thought that just might happen.
Here’s where the dopes start to make their argument. The 2016 Cubs were really fucking good. There’s no denying that. They could pitch, nobody played better defense and they wore you down in very un-Cublike fashion when they were at the plate. You had to throw strikes and lots of them to beat them and very few teams did. They were 25-6 before we could take our first breath. And they won 103 games and were the prohibitive favorite to win the whole fucking thing.
And we all knew that was bad. It’s one thing to be the fun, out of nowhere phenomenon like they were in 2015, the pressure was really going to be on now.
And Joe was just Joe. Do you know how hard it is to just be the same guy when the stakes get raised? And do you know how important it is for your still young team to show up for work and see that the guy in charge is not just telling you “it’s just another ballgame” but he’s acting like it?
They won the first two games of the NLDS against the Giants who had shown up expecting to win their fourth World Series in seven seasons (it was an even numbered year after all), including game two when Kyle Hendricks, the NL’s ERA leader, got smoked by a line drive and had to leave the game.
Then they lost game three in extra innings and were down 5-2 going into the top of the ninth in game four. Lose this one and face a one game loser goes home game at Wrigley against Johnny Cueto who had nearly matched Lester zero for zero in a 1-0 game one Cubs win? Gulp.
We were all feeling the pressure at home on our couches. And what did the Joe Maddon Cubs do? They mounted the biggest final inning comeback in postseason history, scoring four runs off of five Giants relievers. And one of the key moments in that sequence was when Joe suckered another Hall of Fame manager, Bruce Bochy, into bringing in a lefty (Will Smith) to face Chris Coghlan, only Joe never had any intention of letting Coghlan hit. Smith came in, Coghlan sat down, Willson Contreras came up instead and singled to drive in two and tie the game. Javy was Javy two batters later and drove in the go ahead run.
The Giants dynasty was done and the Cubs were going back to the NLCS.
This time they got the Dodgers and after an insane game one where the Cubs won 8-4 on Miguel Montero’s grand slam, the Cubs stopped hitting.
They got shut out in game two and game three and holy shit, it was going to be the Mets all over again.
Until it wasn’t. Rizzo was lost at the plate, so was Addison Russell. And then Tony stole Matt Szczur’s bat and Russell stole his undies and that pair drove in five runs in a 10-2 win. The Cubs scored eight more in game five and came home with two shots to win the pennant at Wrigley, and when had that ever gone wrong before?
Three early runs (given the Cubs awful history of blowing 3-0 leads in huge games the fourth run via a Conteras homer and was very welcome) and Kyle Hendricks were all the Cubs needed. We hardly had time for any angst to set in. The Cubs took us on a pleasure cruise to the pennant. They had come back from the edge in two straight series. Our Cubs never did that. They always walked up to it and then stumbled right over it. They’d need to do it again, on the biggest stage they’d ever play on.
In the World Series against the then-Indians the Cubs split on the road (fine) and then lost the first two at home (oh no, here it comes). And down 1-0 in the fourth in game five and this is bad, this is bad, this is bad, and then Bryant homered, the Cubs added two more and they never trailed in the rest of the World Series. The Cubs, the team that always chokes, erased a 3-1 deficit and won the World Fucking Series.
But to a lot of smooth brained idiots they won in spite of Joe.
That’s always been bullshit, and I just listed many, many, reasons why. Joe kept the ship between the rocks over and over and over again. The old Cubs would have lost to the Giants, they sure as hell would have gone down 4-1 to the Dodgers and there’s no way they’d have ever gotten the series back to Cleveland much less won it.
They kept getting knocked down, and to our confused delight they kept getting back up.
But let’s look at game seven for a minute and all of Joe’s unforgivable errors that the team somehow overcame to win.
The first one is that he took Hendricks out too soon. The game six NLCS hero was up 5-1 in the fifth inning of this game and Joe brought Lester in out of the bullpen to replace him and poof suddenly the lead was down to 5-3 and why oh why would Joe do that? He’d told Joe Buck and John Smoltz that he’d only bring Lester in to a “clean inning” meaning with nobody on base, but he came in with two on, and why not just Hendricks pitch out of it?
The Theo-blessed strategy that night was to use three pitchers. Go from Hendricks to Lester to Aroldis Chapman. The rest of the bullpen had been shaky or were dealing with injuries (especially Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop). So just eliminate the need for them.
I’m sure in Joe and Theo’s mind, Hendricks would go six, Lester would go two and Aroldis wraps it all up and everybody flies home with a trophy.
But, in the third inning with the Cubs only up 1-0 the Indians threatened. Corey Kluber was pitching for the Indians that night and the Cubs were very worried that if they fell behind they’d never catch up. Kluber came into the game with a 4-1 record that postseason with an 0.89 ERA and was 2-0 in the World Series with a 0.00 ERA against the Cubs.
So when Coco Crisp doubled, Robert Perez bunted him to to third and Carlos Santana knocked him in, Lester started stirring in the bullpen way head of schedule. The reasoning was sound. You can lose this World Series right here.
Jason Kipnis hit a double play ball to Russell that would have sat Jonny down without him throwing a pitch, but Javy committed an error and they only got the runner at second. Now Francisco Lindor was up and Lester started throwing.
Hendricks got out of it by retiring Lindor and Mike Napoli and the Cubs took the lead right back on RBI by Russell and Contreras to go up 3-1. And things are good (with Lester still throwing) until the fifth with even more Cubs runs putting him up 5-1.
That’s when a bad call forced Joe’s hand. Hendricks strikes out Santana on a 3-2 pitch to end the inning, but home plate ump Sam Holbrook calls it ball four.
Kipnis, a lefty is up and Lester’s more than ready. It’s use him or lose him time for Joe and he goes to Lester. And it works. Kipnis hits a ball three feet in front of the plate, but not only did Lester come in, so did David Ross, and Ross fields the swinging bunt and throws the ball into the stands.
Runners at second and third, two outs with Lindor up. And Lester bounces one that hits Ross in the facemask and he’s old and falls down and gets confused and both runs score. Whoops.
Lester strikes out Lindor to end the inning. Ross atones (I mean, does he really?) by homering off of Andrew Miller and the Cubs are up 6-3 and Lester starts cruising.
He breezes through the sixth and seventh allowing just a single to former Cub Brandon Guyer.
Hey, he’s going to get to the ninth just like Theo and Joe had planned.
Until, with two outs in the eighth Jose Ramirez singles. Joe can bring Aroldis in now with a cushion for a four out save, or let Lester try to finish the eighth (on TWO days rest) and Guyer, the only guy who had hit Lester to that point (other than Kipnis’ “single”) could make things really messy for Aroldis if he gets on.
So Joe goes to Chapman. The guy Theo traded for, for this exact situation.
And now we flash back to the comeback against the Giants. After the four run rally, Chapman came in with Ross catching. Normally Ross didn’t catch him, because Ross had trouble handling him, especially his slider. Ross just stopped calling it. Think I’m kidding? Against the Giants in the bottom of the ninth Chapman struck out the side on 13 pitches, 12 of them 100 MPH or faster and all of them fastballs.
Ross didn’t catch Aroldis again until World Series game seven. What does Ross call? Chapman throws 21 pitches in the eighth inning. He allows a single to Guyer and the ludicrous homer to Rajai Davis and a single to Coco Crisp before striking out Yan Gomes (the biggest contribution Yan is likely to ever make to the Cubs). All 21 pitches are fastballs. It’s mind-numbingly dumb. It’s the only pitch Guyer could handle and the only pitch Davis could homer on because it supplied all of the power. He just dropped the bat on it. Just mix in a FEW sliders.
Now the game’s tied and the World Series might have been saved by Ross walking to lead off the ninth. Joe pinch ran Coghlan for him which meant Miggy would come in to catch. Heyward hits a grounder to second (big shock) and the Indians forced Coghlan at second. Yan tries to help the Cubs again because Heyward tries to steal second and Yan bounces the throw into center and Heyward ends up on third. To show I will criticize Joe for this game, what he did next was dumb. He had Javy try to safety squeeze in Heyward on a full count. It would have worked because the Indians were not in position to stop it, but Javy bunted foul and struck out. Let Javy be Javy. Dexter Fowler grounds out and we go to the bottom still tied.
But now, Miggy is in the game catching Aroldis, and the Indians had the heart of their order coming up Santana/Kipnis/Lindor. One run and the Cubs lose the World Series. But, with a gassed Chapman actually mixing in a second pitch, they went down 1-2-3, even if Kipnis did hit a harmless foul flyball that freaked some Cubs fans out who thought it was a homer. It would only have been about 150 feet short if it were fair.
Then I guess it rained? I’m not sure, I kind of blacked out, but when the game resumed the Cubs scored twice, including a much needed insurance run driven in by Montero.
Carl’s Jr. got the first two outs then as we all stood in our homes waiting for the moment of our lifetimes he…walked Guyer. Then, as we all stood in our homes waiting for the moment of our lifetimes he…gave up an RBI single to Rajai Davis. Joe had seen enough and in came Mike Montgomery. Montgomery was positively crapping his pants and told Montero that he wasn’t sure he could throw a strike. Montero wasn’t in the mood, he just turned and started walking to the plate and said, “We’ll figure it out.” And, of course, they did.
So, let’s sum this up. The things Joe gets most criticized for, taking Hendricks out too soon, bringing Lester in with a runner on and then going to Chapman in the eighth would have worked out fine without…
Lester ends the fifth right away if Ross doesn’t throw the ball into the seats. Nobody scores on the “wild pitch” if Ross keeps it in front of him, only one run scores if he doesn’t fall down, disoriented after it hits his mask. And Montero proved that Chapman could get the Indians good hitters out by mixing in his slider, but Ross had him pump fastball after fastball to crap players like Guyer and Rajai. He did hit a solo homer. So he drove in one run, which couldn’t quite offset the five he let in.
Joe was somehow made out to be the goat of the biggest win in franchise history. If they’d lost, my hope is that they would have still carried Ross off the field, and thrown him in a dumpster.
Somehow, his sabotage worked. He’s the Cubs manager now, while Joe is getting ready to go golfing this morning.
Like I said before, Joe was the perfect manager at the perfect time for the Cubs. Why Theo and Jed were so quick to get rid of him isn’t that much of a mystery. Joe’s open to analytics, but they wanted a manager who would unquestionably follow whatever gameplan the nerds came up with. Joe’s not going to go that far. They made up some crap about how the reason the Cubs didn’t go back to another World Series was because Joe wouldn’t get on the players enough. We know the real reason is that they never bothered to replace Dexter Fowler or Ben Zobrist, and Jason Heyward’s demise into a very high paid, very unproductive player from the moment he signed in 2016 meant he had no reason to opt out after the 2018 season like they’d planned, and that further cut into their depth because the Garbage Family That Owns The Cubs™ had their championship and saw no need to fulfill the payroll commitments they’d made to Theo. But sure, it was all Joe’s fault.
But, maybe the joke’s really on Ross. Joe made a lot of money from the Cubs and Angels and is now being paid to not work, while Ross has to watch his own terrible team play every day.
If Marquee were smart (hah, imagine that impossibility) they’d call up a pair of Joes with Cubs connections who were put out of work the last few days. Joe Maddon and Joe Girardi, even in part-time roles would breathe an air of competence and fun into their programming that doesn’t exist currently.
I’m sure Maddon’s not too interested in doing anything for a while, and I get that. Regardless, we’ll see him in a few years in Cooperstown. He’s in a pretty select class of guys who who pennants with the Cubs (Al Spaulding, Cap Anson, Frank Chance, Fred Mitchell ((not that Fred Mitchell)), Joe McCarthy, Charlie Grimm and Gabby Hartnett.
In 147 seasons it’s just Chance and Maddon who have won World Series with the Cubs.
Speaking of Hall of Fame managers, every one of the managers the Cubs beat in the 2016 postseason, Bochy, Dave Roberts and Terry Francona will join Joe there some day. He beat them all, and in one way or another the Cubs came back in every series. They all had the Cubs beat, until they didn’t.
But sure…keep telling yourself they somehow won in spite of him.
Enjoy being dumb.