Cubs Made the Right Call on Ross
Having the last four days off from Cubs baseball has given me a lot to think about. With the Cardinals series being postponed due to COVID-19 concerns within the Cardinals clubhouse, I have had a lot of free time to watch some other teams around the league such as the Tampa Bay Rays, Arizona Diamondbacks, and most notably the Los Angeles Angels. Watching the Angels reminded me of the days Joe Maddon was our manager, and it made me realize that the Cubs made the right call turning to David Ross when they did.
“We’re both going to move on. The Cubs are going to flourish. Hopefully I get a chance to do this somewhere else. But there’s no tears shed. It’s a good moment for everybody, and we’re both excited about our futures.” These are the words Maddon told 670 The Score, following the conclusion of the 2019 season, after the Cubs finished in 3rd place in the NL Central with a record of 84-78, marking the only season Chicago did not win at least 90 games or more under Maddon. Many fans will recall the frustration and outcries over the former skipper’s constant lineup changes and bullpen usage that were under constant fire following the World Series championship season in 2016. The Cubs managed to fall further behind the “contenders” every year after winning it all. In 2017 they fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS, their third straight trip to the championship series, and in 2018 they were eliminated in the Wild Card game by the visiting Colorado Rockies at Wrigley Field. Finally, in 2019 the Cubs missed the playoffs altogether, marking the only season Maddon did not take the Cubs to the postseason.
Whenever a manager change is made, the clubhouse is going to go through environmental changes. Some of these changes aren’t always negative, and sometimes it causes guys to go through some deep reflections. This past spring training, Javier Baez spoke of his own reflection on the team’s work ethic last season in an interview. Brendan Miller of cubsinsider.com wrote of this interview where Baez said, “It wasn’t something bad, but we had a lot of optional things. Not mandatory. Everyone kind of sat back on that, including me. I wasn’t really going out there and preparing for the game. I was getting ready during the game, which is not good.” Fans will remember that this was quite obvious when tuning into games regularly the last few seasons. If the Cubs were going to be contenders once again in 2020, they were going to need a culture that promoted the “little things,” that would help them get going early and often daily.
Enter: David Ross. The Cubs had multiple connections they made this past offseason for who would be brought in to replace Joe Maddon and attempt to get the Cubs back to the postseason. Options included internal routes such as bench coach Mark Loretta and first-base coach Will Venable while other outside options included former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler, Houston Astros bench coach Joe Espada, and former Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Theo Epstein ultimately decided on bringing Ross back to the Cubs dugout, but noted that the 2016 season was not the determining factor. Epstein told Jesse Rogers of ESPN, “David’s connection to the organization and his relationships with his former teammates could be assets initially, but they were not factors in our decision nor will they be critical to his long-term success in the role. He earned the job on the merits, and he will move the team forward in a new direction.” Theo hit the ball out of the park on this one, as the Cubs are off to their best start since 1969, when the team got off to an 11-1 start.
Since 1901, the Cubs have won at least 10 of their first 12 games four times:
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) August 6, 2020
One thing worthwhile that I have noticed so far into this season, both as an avid Cubs fan and baseball analyst, is that David Ross shows flashes of Joe Maddon in his managerial tactics, but the two are very different as well. The examples come via the Cubs lineup. Ross has not been afraid to use “far out” ideas to fill the Cubs need at the leadoff spot, which has been an issue since Dexter Fowler departed for St. Louis following the World Series season. In Spring Training, Ross named Kris Bryant his everyday leadoff man, and has given other guys such as Anthony Rizzo, Ian Happ, and David Bote chances in the role as well. This is something Maddon very well would have done, and had done for the Cubs after using Rizzo in the role effectively quite a bit over the last two seasons. Speaking of the lineup, for three years, Joe Maddon deployed/platooned/experimented/etc. with throwing various players in center field for Chicago. Fans never knew whether they would see Happ in center or Albert Almora Jr., and there was never a clear indication from Maddon whose job it really was. For three years the outfield worked this way. Just yesterday however, Ross proclaimed that Ian Happ is the man in center for this Chicago team. He told Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, “Right now, the job is Ian Happ’s. Right now, it’s hard to take Ian Happ out of the lineup. This guy is swinging very well. His right-handed at-bats have gotten tremendously better. He’s been a staple.” Credit where it is due, Happ did struggle much of 2019, which would end up forcing Maddon’s hand, but he had decent seasons in 2017 and 2018.
Ross told ESPN when he was hired, “A lot has been made, and rightfully so, of my connection to the 2016 World Series team, and the notion that I’ll now be managing players I once counted on as teammates. Having those relationships going into this will be a bonus, no doubt about it. But those guys know I’ll be the first to hold them accountable, the first to demand their best daily effort and the first to let them know about it if they give anything but their best.” There is no doubt about it; Joe Maddon was the manager the Chicago Cubs needed in 2016 to finally win it all after 108 long and painful years. There is even less doubt however, from this quote from Rossy, that he is the man for the job to manage this 2020 Cubs team.
The Cubs (10-3) will next take on, coincidentally, the Cleveland Indians (10-7) tomorrow night (8/11) at 7:10pm EST.