They weren’t supposed to be this good this soon, but don’t tell that to the Chicago Cubs or their manager Joe Maddon. After seven years, the Cubs are back in the postseason, which is right where Maddon expected them to be when he signed on with the team. Even Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts is rumored to have had faith that this year’s team would go far.
When the Ricketts family took ownership of the Cubs, one of the three goals they set was to win a World Series. It took some time for them to put together the right ingredients, and fans were asked to be patient. First it was Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations, who asked for patience while he ripped the team apart and then built it back up. Many fans turned away from the team because they were tired of seeing so many losses.
But this year has been different. Joe Maddon fell into their laps, Jake Arrieta, who last year took a number of no-hit games into late innings, stepped up and finally got that no hitter and flirted with perfection until late in a recent game. Rookie Kris Bryant has been destroying all kinds of Cubs records and is most certainly bound for the Rookie of the Year Award. Starlin Castro struggled, was benched and when he came back showed fans what he was made of. Anthony Rizzo, supposedly the face of the franchise, has been stellar at first base and at the plate, finishing the regular season with 101 RBIs.
These guys have responded to Maddon in a way that no other recent Cubs team has responded to a manager. Maddon is unconventional. On a recent night, Bryant ended up playing four different positions. Those keeping score had a hard time keeping up.
Bryant isn’t the only one breaking records. Rizzo has joined an elite group of players who have been hit by a pitch 30 times and have 30 home runs. Arrieta, the best Cubs pitcher in almost 100 years has been the best pitcher in baseball since the All-Star break. Bryant has broken all kinds of rookie records and is most likely to be named National League Rookie of the Year.
Maddon, who deserves the National League Manager of the Year award, is a master at his art. He doesn’t believe that batting practice should be mandatory. He makes sure the players balance work and play. They work hard and they party hard, even celebrating clinching a playoff berth on Wrigley Field turf after a loss to the Pirates because they had to wait for help to get in when they did. Maddon has brought zoo animals from the Columbus Zoo to the ballpark, even taking a flamingo to a press conference with him. And he has made his point about days off when he put a pool, beach chair and bucket of beer at Pedro Strop’s locker, giving him a beach day. There is even a disco ball in the clubhouse and parties after all home wins. He had a pajama party on a plane ride home from the west coast. And the players have responded in ways no fans thought possible this year.
It has been a true team effort, with Arrieta at the top of the list. But as pointed out this morning on BleedCubbieBlue, everyone on the team has contributed in some way all season. Records were set and broken. They finished the season with an eight-game winning streak and a record of 97-65, the best season the team has had since their last postseason appearance in 2008.
Now it’s on to Pittsburgh for the Wild Card game. The Cubs have played well there, and hopes are high with Arrieta on the mound. It’s do or die on Wednesday night. Cub fans will be well represented.