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Maddening finish puts Maddon and some Cubs players on the firing line

Joe Maddon

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

As the Boston Red Sox just proved, Major League Baseball can be unforgiving, void of sentimentality, conditioned not to offer any benefit of the doubt, even to those who have earned it.

Not even a year after the Red Sox won 108 games in the regular season on their way to a fourth World Series championship since 2004, team management fired Dave Dombrowski, its estimable team president.

So we ask you: What chance does Joe Maddon have of surviving the precipitous collapse of the Chicago Cubs, just three years after he orchestrated their first world championship since 1908?

Yes, the Cubs are at it again in 2019. You’ll recall last year’s descent when they blew a five-game division lead in September, lost a playoff with the Milwaukee Brewers to blow the NL Central and then watched the Colorado Rockies beat them in the Wild Card game.

This season, the Cubs enjoyed a 3 ½-game lead in the division over the St. Louis Cardinals on Aug. 9. And now it’s going to take a major miracle for them to even be a Wild Card after losing six straight. They are four games behind the Brewers for the second spot behind the Washington Nationals.

If they don’t make the playoffs, it will be for the first time since 2014. Considering the majority of Cubs history, that doesn’t seem like a big deal. Don’t try telling that to Theo Epstein.

There will be many managerial changes after the season. The Padres got things started over the weekend by dumping Andy Green. Ned Yost announced Monday he’s retiring after another 100-loss season in Kansas City.

Maddon is as good as gone. None of his folksy banter can save him. His esoteric references now fall on deaf ears. In 22 years, he will be greeted with thunderous applause when the Cubs celebrate the 25th anniversary of their title. But for now, the door will soon be slammed in his face.

Why? The Cubs have been a .500 team since May 31 (51-51) and that shouldn’t be the case with the abundant talent in their lineup – Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras among others.

Those shortcomings reared up again over the weekend when the Cardinals slapped them silly at Wrigley Field. The Cubs started the series three games out of first place. They ended it seven.

The Cubs hadn’t lost a four-game series to the hated Cardinals (30-11 since the All-Star break) in Chicago since 1921. Old news. The Birds wiped out them out, eliminating them from contention for the division title.

It seems the blood-letting might not stop with Maddon. There is enough blame to spread around the diamond, even though a rash of injuries has hobbled them.

There seems to be a thirst for change and the Chicago media is convinced the Cubs will listen to all offers that may result in breaking up the nucleus.

Theo Epstein

(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

For one, the Cubs have the highest payroll in the National League, even higher than the Dodgers, who toss out million-dollar deals like Dodger Dogs. There is a luxury tax to pay and there is nothing coming back in return this time.

“It is what it is.” Maddon said after the Cubs’ 3-2 loss Sunday. “You don’t cry. You don’t sulk. You come back and play the next game. I have no issues with our ballclub. They played hard.”

It’s impossible to think Maddon doesn’t know what’s coming. When he asked for a contract extension last season, Epstein, a Yale man, acted like he was from Harvard. A cold stare. And if you’ve listened recently to Epstein in the media, it’s clear he’s pissed off about what has happened.

“I’ve had a blast this year,’’ Maddon told reporters. “I’m not just saying that. I had a great time since I’ve arrived.’’

There are those who believe the post-mortem is premature. After all, the Cubs report to Pittsburgh this week and if there is one team that’s really folded the tent in September its the pitiful Pirates. Say goodbye to Clint Hurdle, too.

Hey, the Cubs can get hot. The Brewers can run cold at home against the Reds and then at Colorado. It could happen. But it likely will not.

After the season, the Cubs will have a number of their players become free agents – Nicholas Castellanos, Cole Hamels, Steve Cishek and Pedro Strop, among others.

Would Epstein really consider trading Bryant and Addison Russell? Could someone pry Anthony Rizzo away with the promise of starting pitching?

“We all feel it individually,” Ben Zobrist told the Chicago Tribune. “I’m sure fans feel it. We’re human beings and we have to do our best to think positive going into today, knowing no matter what the end result ends up being, the character of this team is not determined by the final result.”

Perhaps, Ben. But only Epstein’s point of view matters. And he’s not buying it.