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Cubs: Unpacking the Season-ending Wild Card Loss

After suffering an abrupt exit from their franchise-record fourth consecutive postseason appearance, the Cubs will begin their offseason on Wednesday.

“Sometimes you need to get your d*** knocked in the dirt in order to appreciate where you’re at. You know what? Maybe we needed that. Maybe we needed to get knocked down a peg or two to realize nothing’s going to be given to us.”

No truer words than that of Cubs’ veteran southpaw, Jon Lester after the Cubs season ended prematurely in the early hours of Wednesday morning after a 2-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies in the National League Wild Card contest.

It took the Rockies 13 innings, four hours and 55 minutes to dispatch the Cubs from the postseason before the divisional round for the first time since 2014 when they missed the Postseason all-together, and there’s plenty to discuss this morning, so let’s begin unpacking last night’s wonky loss to Colorado.

Joe Maddon

First and foremost, I rarely advocate for someone losing their job, nor do I think Maddon will be getting fired this offseason.

That being said, Theo Epstein would be insane to extend him beyond the 2019 campaign. Joe Maddon is a master-motivator of young and talented ballplayers. Joe Maddon is also a one-trick pony, whose players outgrow his shtick. It happened in Tampa Bay, and we’re now seeing his costume party magic expire in Chicago.

From a tactical standpoint, Maddon leaves much to be desired, and his deficiencies were on display in full force over the last 48 hours.

On Monday, Maddon pulled Jose Quintana in a 1-1 ballgame, turning their N.L. Central hopes over to a shaky bullpen. Quintana was cruising, and hadn’t even crossed the 70-pitch threshold at that point. Wouldn’t you know it, the Brewers capitalized on the early hook, and pulled ahead for good and won the division, forcing the Cubs into last night’s Wild Card scenario.

You’ll remember that even in 2016, Maddon’s inability to effectively manage his pitching staff nearly cost the Cubs their only World Series in the last 100-plus years.

Nothing has changed but the faces in the bullpen. Which, have gotten better since then, but not good enough to outperform their skipper’s shortcomings.

Last night, Maddon pulled a dominant Jon Lester. Their ace, their best playoff arm, who had rung up nine Rockies through six innings of work after overcoming a lead off walk to Charlie Blackmon in the top of the first inning.

Why? To supplement a struggling offense that had zero answers for Rockies’ lefty Kyle Freeland.

Pinch-hitter Ian Happ walked, which Lester could have just as easily done. And even after David Dahl (more on him shortly) botched a fly ball in right field in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Cubs squandered their first crack at tying the Rockies when they hit into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.

Still trailing, Maddon stuck the bullpen with the remaining nine outs.

Maddon was only lucky that the Rockies offensive struggles were as prevalent as the Cubs on this evening, diverting any potential criticism of the move.

Next tactical blunder, Daniel Murphy.

Daniel Murphy posted a dismal .476 OPS against lefties this season, and took some of the worst swings I’ve ever seen against Brewers’ left-hander Josh Hader on Monday afternoon.

So when facing a left-hander who will probably finish in the top-five in Cy Young voting in the N.L. — in the most important game of the season — Maddon opted to start Murphy at second base, putting Ben Zobrist in right field, leaving both Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward on the bench.

Of course, Murphy was on par wit his season-long splits, going 0-4 on the evening.

The list of tactical gaffes by Maddon during his tenure in Chicago could consume my entire day, so we’ll consider this a point made, and move on.

At the end of the day, Maddon will enter 2019 as a lame-duck manager with an expiring contract, and rightfully so at this point.

Cubs Offensive Woes

Any way you slice it up, the Cubs early exit is on the offense. A group viewed as the strength of the organization for years, faltered at the worst time possible. A pair of runs across the 22 most important innings of the season is all the talented young core could scrape up.

Not gonna do it folks. Even if they would have taken one of a few gifts the Rockies presented them on Tuesday evening, the Brewers bullpen would have feasted on that type of offensive inadequacy in the NLDS.

One.

That’s how many fly ball outs the Cubs managed on Tuesday night. One fly ball out, compared to 15 of the converse variety.

Even Javier Baez, who put up career- numbers in 2018, and served as the catalyst for this club, notched only two RBI from September 23 onward, with one coming in the bottom of the eighth inning last night.

Who falls on the sword for the Cubs 48-hour fall from contender to pretender? Joe Maddon, or the offense? Flip a coin at this point, either way, Chili Davis is likely going to be the public fall guy in the coming days.

Probably justifiably so. I mean, it’s hard to believe that Davis’ exit from Boston had nothing to do with Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts possessing two of the three highest spikes in OPS from 2017 to 2018.

Nerd Nation

Tuesday night’s meeting between the Rockies and the Cubs came with an alternate broadcast from ESPN on ESPN2.

The broadcast featured Jason Benetti, Mike Petriello, and Eduardo Perez calling the game with an analytical concentration, armed with an array of analytical friendly graphics and stat presentations.

The verdict? Take my money, take it now.

I would pay to have broadcasts done in that format in the future, and quite frankly, that style broadcast could become a regular offering in the very near future given the direction of the game of baseball. I’m here for it, give me more.

David Dahl

David Dahl went 0-6, and in at least three of his six at-bats, the Rockies right-fielder served up an easy ground ball to the right side while hacking at the first pitch he saw.

Aside from looking absolutely lost at the plate on Tuesday night, Dahl did his best to help the Cubs tie the ballgame when he botched a pop fly off the bat of Kris Bryant in the home half of the sixth inning.

The “hit,” as it was curiously scored, gave the Cubs runners at first and second base with one out and Anthony Rizzo at the plate. Kyle Freeland bailed Dahl out with an inning-ending double play.

A rough day at the office would be putting Dahl’s day in the nicest terms possible.

Serving it up on a Platter

In the end, I really can’t believe the Cubs found a way to lose this ballgame. Between the Rockies offensive struggles, base-running blunders, atrocious outfield play, and Adam Ottavino‘s rocky appearance (no pun intended), the Rockies tried to serve this one up to the Cubs on a platter, and the Cubs never quite made it to the kitchen table for dinner.

Glass Half-full

As quickly as their 2018 campaign unraveled, is as quickly as the Cubs have to move on from a forgettable 48 hours.

No longer are the Cubs the surprise story of baseball. Nowadays, they’re the team with a target on their back, being closely hunted by the up-and-coming Brewers, among others.

No time to sulk, only time to capitalize on the remaining years in their championship window. The good news is, they have a ton going for them. A championship-caliber core, an influx of cash to spend, and a superstar laden free-agent class to reload for their 2019 season.

And if they needed a proverbial kick in the ass for good measure, they just got it. On to 2019, Cubs fans.

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