Also sprach Theo

When a team leads the majors in just about every significant offensive category during the first half of the season but ends up scoring one or no runs in nearly a quarter of their games (including the post-season), something has gone wrong. And it isn't talent.

It's urgency. It's hustle. It's the will to win. Cubs president Theo Epstein seems to have figured that out. He says that going forward, less emphasis has to be placed on the talent of Cub players and more on production.

I've long maintained that Joe Maddon's "musical lineups" prevent players from getting into grooves and staying there. When you never know what position you'll be playing from day to day, where you'll be in the batting order, or whether you'll be playing at all, it has to affect your game. Theo acknowledges that in fact there's some frustration in the clubhouse with Joe Maddon's quirky personnel policies. He says that Joe will be back in 2019 and dismissed reports of friction between the front office and the manager while admitting that they haven't always seen eye to eye.

I date my career as a Cub fan from 1957, the first year I really paid attention to baseball, even though the Cubs are part of my DNA. My father remembered the 1908  world championship and Hall of Fame Cub catcher and manager Gabby Hartnett was a distant cousin of ours. I earned my spurs growing up as a Cub fan on Chicago's South Side and endured three seasons living in the suburbs of St. Louis, the home of our greatest rival (and I'm glad to say that the Cubs finished ahead of the Cardinals two of those three seasons). I lived through the years of mediocrity, the heartbreak of the 1969 collapse, the unexpected success and then the shattering post-season failure of the 1984 division champions, and the 1989 loss to what was simply a better team in the NLCS.  My heart broke again in 2003 when I made the mistake of actually believing that we were going to hold on, beat the Marlins, and go to the World Series. And then came the 2007 and 2008 Cub juggernauts that won division championships going away and then suddenly forgot how to score runs in a manner depressingly similar to what just happened in 2018.

Some of those defeats (1989 comes to mind) were easier to take than others, But having the Ricketts family and Theo Epstein running things makes a world of difference at times like this. Theo understands the problem. You know that he's going to do whatever is necessary to fix it. And you also know that the Ricketts family will provide the resources necessary to do it.

Joe Maddon's laid-back "Try Not to Suck" approach (that was actually the team's unofficial motto during the 2016 world championship season) is the quintessence of the way one is supposed to handle today's ballplayers. Discipline and even a stress on fundamentals are out of fashion. Yet as Theo acknowledged in his post-season statement, the problem with the 2018 Cubs was a lack of urgency. When you win the first two games of a series, sometimes it's easy to let up a bit in the rubber game. When you have a somewhat comfortable lead in the standings, it's quite easy to let up just a little and let a game or two slip through your fingers. But if the Cubs had won even one more game this season, they would be division champions for the third year in a row and hosting the NLDS, guaranteed home-field advantage right up to the World Series, if they could get there.

Instead, they're watching tonight's games at home, a wild card team that didn't even make the NLDS. They're upset about that. Good. They should be. I would be even more upset than I am if they were not. And the fact of the matter is that they're spectators rather than participants because they lacked discipline.

Somehow they have to get the fire back in their bellies- and Theo understands the problem. Joe Maddon may or may not become more of a disciplinarian. He may or may not (my money's on "not") start playing something like a consistent lineup with a consistent and rational batting order. But Theo has served notice that from here on out the Cubs will be assessing personnel less on talent and potential than on performance. Perhaps, as Jon Lester suggests, the humiliation of first losing the division championship and then being knocked out of the playoffs on successive days while scoring only one run in each game will motivate these guys. But if it doesn't, Theo has made it clear that they aren't going to be around long no matter how much potential they have. And I have not the slightest doubt that whether Bryce Harper or Manny Machado or any other high-profile free agents are added to the roster before Spring Training, this will be a team with a different and far more aggressive, tenacious approach to the 2019 season than it had in 2018.

It will also have a healthy starting pitching staff and whatever personnel changes Theo and Jed Hoyer think necessary to bring the Cubs their second world championship in four years. And that's why this loss is even easier to take than the one in 1989.

We'll be back. And when we are, look out.


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