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Cubs

Cubs analysis: Theo Epstein gives no clarity regarding Joe Maddon's status

Cubs president Theo Epstein (right) and manager Joe Maddon watch as Addison Russell answers questions during a news conference after a spring training workout Feb. 15 in Mesa, Ariz. Maddon is in the final year of a five-year contract.
Cubs president Theo Epstein (right) and manager Joe Maddon watch as Addison Russell answers questions during a news conference after a spring training workout Feb. 15 in Mesa, Ariz. Maddon is in the final year of a five-year contract.

Strange things have been known to happen when the Cubs play the White Sox on the South Side.

There was Michael Barrett’s punch to the jaw of A.J. Pierzynski and dugout dust-ups involving Carlos Zambrano and Derrek Lee and with Lou Piniella and Milton Bradley.

Who knows what it will be this weekend when the two teams square off at Guaranteed Rate Field in an odd Saturday-Sunday series, preceded by a Friday off-day for both teams.

The Cubs salvaged the final game of a four-game series at Pittsburgh and limped home tied for first place in the National League Central entering Friday. The team’s 46-42 record is nothing special, but there were 31/2 games separating the entire five-team NL Central on Friday.

One thing that would be nice to see would be team president Theo Epstein bringing his radio A-game and holding court with the assembled media.

During a 20-plus-minute interview Wednesday with the team’s flagship radio station, Epstein said that “if this stretch of bad play continues, then certainly … a ton of change is in order.”

What Epstein has carefully talked around – and nobody can talk carefully around any subject like Epstein can – is the status of manager Joe Maddon, who is in the final season of his five-year contract.

“I’d rather lump us in collectively,” Epstein told WSCR 670-AM during the interview.

Firing Maddon would seem to be a last resort for Epstein. And firing a manager with Maddon’s stature and track record in the game would be risky business for Epstein.

Let’s remember, too, that Maddon has the support of the players in the clubhouse.

If Epstein were to fire Maddon, it then would be Epstein under the microscope.

To be fair, Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and Maddon all contributed mightily to the Cubs winning the 2016 World Series, and we’ll not pick apart here trades Epstein made to win that Series, even if it meant players he traded are starring now for other teams. That’s the price of winning sometimes.

But if Epstein were to fire Maddon, it would be fair to point out that:

• It was Epstein, not Maddon, who left the Cubs high and dry without a proven closer to start this season after Brandon Morrow underwent an elbow cleanup last fall.

• It was Epstein, not Maddon, who has not provided the team a bona fide leadoff hitter since Dexter Fowler left via free agency after helping the Cubs win the World Series.

• It was Epstein, not Maddon, who traded away infielder Tommy La Stella and signed Daniel Descalso this past offseason. La Stella made the American League All-Star team (he won’t play because of injury), while Descalso has contributed little to the Cubs.

• And it was Epstein, not Maddon, who sat out the main events in free agency until he finally signed closer Craig Kimbrel on June 7.

With the Cubs, the narrative seems to change daily, as if they play 162 seasons each year and not 162 games.

There are plenty of seasons, er, games, left for the Cubs to turn it around. A sweep of the Sox and getting out of the chute after the All-Star break by taking advantage of a nine-game homestand certainly would have people looking at things in a different light after the Cubs have gone 17-24 since their high-water mark of 11 games over .500 at 29-18.

Of course, if Epstein really wants to be bold and give us local reporters some big news, he’ll announce that he has given Maddon a contract extension before Saturday’s game.

Now that would be one to add to the “strange things” list of Cubs events on the South Side.

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