On Tuesday, Major League Baseball announced Joe Maddon as the National League Manager of the Year.
Maddon has been one of baseball’s best managers for several years. He previously won Manager of the Year in 2008, when he led the Tampa Bay Rays to their first World Series appearance, and again in 2011 with the Rays.
After parting with Tampa Bay in the offseason Maddon joined the Cubs. Although the move was highly lauded throughout the baseball community, the Cubs not expected to go far this season.
The Cubs had a plethora of young talent, but also had to face the strong veteran lineups and top quality pitching staffs of the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates. The thought around the league was that the Cubs would not be mature and refined enough to overcome the in division threats that the Cardinals and Pirates provided.
Maddon is known as a player’s manager. Whether he is defending a player against an umpire or throwing pajama parties on team road trips, Joe Maddon knows how to support his players.
This aspect of Maddon’s managerial style makes him the ideal coach for a maturing team such as the Cubs. The young guys can mature in a loose , relaxed environment where they have the freedom to grow. Players faced very little pressure to instantly produce.
Under Maddon’s style, the team flourished in the second half of the season. Jake Arrieta demolished opposing lineups with a 0.75 era and a 113/23 strikeout to walk ratio. Following a rough start to the season and a position change from shortstop to second base, Starlin Castro led the team post-break with a .295 batting average and provided solid defense at a position the Cubs had struggled with all year.
Maddon’s decision to place so much trust in a player that had fallen from once being one of the brightest prospects in baseball shows why he is so beloved among his players.
In the playoffs, the Cubs played both of their division rivals. They defeated the Pirates in Pittsburgh in the Wild Card Playoff, before lighting up St. Louis to return to the NLCS for the first time since the Cubs infamously lost to the Florida Marlins in 2003. Chicago was abuzz with hope.
In the end, Chicago came up short against the New York Mets.
Despite attempts to shuffle the lineup, including having the pitcher bat 8th in the final two games of the series, the Cubs were unable to muster the same offensive force against the Mets’ starters that they had against St. Louis. Their starting pitchers just couldn’t keep with the Mets’ four aces.
Under Maddon’s leadership, the Cubs went farther than anyone expected. Their young players now have playoff experience, which will only make them more lethal next season, as they continue to refine their talents and reach their potential. None of this would have been possible without the trust and cunning of Maddon.
In a league where coaching is said to be a dying art, Joe Maddon in a Mozart among painters. Maddon truly was the Manager of the Year.