By Chris Emma—
CHICAGO (CBS) – The excruciating roller coaster ride that is postseason baseball is something to behold, with a palpable buzz throughout a ballpark. Those lucky enough to be there hang with every pitch, each potentially a defining moment.
Wrigley Field had none of that in in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Thursday, when the Cubs were crushed 11-1 by the new kings of the senior circuit, the Dodgers. Ace left-hander Clayton Kershaw was spotted a run before he could take the mound and had a 7-0 lead by the third inning, with the biggest blow being a Kike’ Hernández grand slam, his second of three homers on the night.
The ballpark went from subdued to stunned in that back-breaking third inning, gradually emptying for good in 2017.
“Wait til next year” has different meaning these days in Wrigleyville. No longer is it made a mockery as the Cubs are likely still on the front of of their run of World Series contention. Anthony Rizzo is 28, while Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ are all 25 or younger.
“I looked at the birth certificates of the players playing positions tonight,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I loved it. Heads up. We’re going to keep getting better.”
But next year’s Cubs need some changes, because this year’s group was badly exposed by the much better Dodgers. The Cubs pinned a 43-45 first half on the fatigue of last fall and conceded to being worn down this postseason, but there were fundamental flaws exposed by the end of this unfulfilling run.
A trade could be coming this offseason as president of baseball operations Theo Epstein looks to ensure a different result in 2018. The Cubs have a surplus of young position players and some glaring needs, starting in the rotation.
Jake Arrieta is likely to get a major contract somewhere other than Chicago, and John Lackey’s time in a Cubs uniform is expected to be over, seemingly by retirement. That leaves two voids in the rotation. Mike Montgomery may fill one, but Epstein may be looking to the trade market for another top-line starter. That’s where 23-year-olds in Happ or Almora could offer a strong return and be sold to the highest bidder.
For Epstein, the phone calls should start with an 813 area code to Tampa with the hopes of landing Rays ace Chris Archer, who’s a 29-yearold two-time All-Star good for 200 quality innings each season.
The Cubs also must identify a lead-off man for their lineup. Dexter Fowler was sorely missed atop the batting order in 2017. For all the talented hitters in their linep, the Cubs’ most effective lead-off man this season was Rizzo, whose presence is needed in the heart of the order.
There aren’t prime options available on the free-agent market, so perhaps the Cubs could get creative with a trade. Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich, 25, should lead that wish list. He has a career .369 on-base percentage and is controllable through 2022. Meanwhile, the Marlins are looking to unload salary under new management and start fresh.
What was clear throughout the postseason is that the Cubs need to make major changes in their bullpen, which doesn’t compare to what the Dodgers, Indians, Yankees and many more boast.
Closer Wade Davis and left-hander Brian Duensing proved to be the most reliable bullpen arms in October, but Maddon was left throwing darts blindly at the wall in crucial situations. The Cubs must invest in the bullpen to come back stronger next season.
As the party raged on in the visiting clubhouse, Maddon gathered his team around in the spacious home quarters and spoke one final time and brought closure to the season.
“I wanted them to know, listen, three consecutive years when there’s only one other game up on the scoreboard when you’re playing right now, I hope that’s not lost on anybody,” Maddon said. “That’s not easy to do.”
Then Maddon walked through Wrigley Field and by the smell of champagne overpowering the first-base concourse.
His 2017 Cubs were finished. He knows they need to be better in 2018.
“Our guys are so good at addressing needs in the offseason,” he said. “I really believe that’ll be fulfilled.”
Maddon was also ejected in Game 1 of the NLCS for arguing after umpires awarded the Dodgers a run on a play at the plate when they concluded Cubs catcher Willson Contreras had blocked the path of the runner without possessing the ball.
CBSChicago.com senior columnist (CBS) Whether it was his intention or not, Cubs manager Joe Maddon has made himself the focus of this National League Championship Series, which moves its stage to Chicago on Tuesday night with the Dodgers leading 2-0 and the Cubs hitters flailing ineffectively. Maddon got himself tossed from the first episode by taking a quixotic stand against a new baseball rule, and he has taken a pounding from critics across the baseball spectrum for his in-game decisions, specifically the questionable bullpen usage and ensuing explanations that have done little to help us understand his reasoning. It was all cute and quirky when he seemed to fall upward in last year’s World Series, the fact of the championship insulating him from harsher attention for some head-scratchers that have since even been pointed out by his own bosses, but now he’s the story. His attempt to push back Monday was misdirected at social media, saying” “Twitter doesn’t count at all. And really, as sportswriters you should do a better job than relying on Twitter to write a story, frankly.” Nobody seems quite sure what that even meant, considering that it has all been debated immediately and reasonably in real time by everyone from the most mainstream of media to anyone who happens to be watching or listening. It’s about what Maddon does and why he does it, not the method of communication. When every national and local postgame show makes the managerial calls the centerpiece of discussion immediately upon the game ending, the messenger isn’t the issue. And it may not matter if the Dodgers prove this much better in the series as they did over 162 games. Any manager can only work at the margins, giving better percentage chances at the periphery despite the degree to which every call is magnified in the postseason. Regardless, baseball often has a way of normalizing itself at time like this, as we saw in the Bronx on Monday when the Yankees came back to life with an 8-1 win that featured a pair of three-run homers in cutting the Astros’ series lead to 2-1. It was exactly the kind of thing Maddon and the Cubs need now at Wrigley Field, a massive pile of runs that overwhelms a rising chorus of doubt and recrimination. Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s “Bernstein and Goff Show” in afternoon drive. You can follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein and read more of his columns here.
“That was all predetermined last night,” Maddon said Monday, a day after the Cubs lost 4-1 in Los Angeles. “Again, Wade was not warming up to come into the game. Wade was probably just testing his arm at that point. We had talked about it before the game. Up and in, for those who aren’t involved in baseball or professional baseball in general, when a guy has thrown too much, it’s very important not to dry hump him, as the saying goes. Get him up, then put him back down and then bring him back in later. So I wasn’t going to do that. Wade knew that going into the game. It was going to be with a save. If we caught the lead, he’s in the game.
“So whatever the narrative is, it’s really a false narrative. He was not coming into that game until we grabbed the lead. He was not going to pitch more than three outs. That’s it.”Maddon also took issue with a reporter when informed that there was great criticism of his decision on social media, saying, “The moment I start worrying about that, I really need to retire.”
“Listen, this guy just do yeomen kind of work — I love that word — in Washington and was not prepared to go more than three outs,” Maddon said of Davis. “I don’t understand why that’s difficult to understand. And furthermore, you have to also understand that it wasn’t the last game of the year or the second-to-last game of the year. It was about winning eight more games. All these things are factors. I really hope you all understand that social media doesn’t count at all. Twitter doesn’t count at all. And really, as sportswriters, you should do a better job than relying on Twitter to write a story, quite frankly.”The Cubs trail 2-0 in the NLCS. Game 3 is at Wrigley Field on Tuesday at 8 p.m. Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks opposes Dodgers right-hander Yu Darvish.