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Cardinals 9, Cubs 0: Hail and farewell, Joe Maddon

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This isn’t the way we would have liked to see your tenure end, Joe. All the best going forward.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

This is going to be the most untraditional game recap you have likely ever read on this site.

Seriously, you don’t really need me to review the carnage of the Cubs’ 9-0 loss to the Cardinals, do you? This was a completely predictable result given the spring training split squad style lineup and the pitching staff also resembling something you’d see a Cubs squad send out to Goodyear in March because the regular rotation guys didn’t want the 45-mile bus ride.

The Cubs had just three hits on the afternoon: First, a single that Willson Contreras tried to stretch into a double and was thrown out, though replays showed he might have been safe. The Cubs, trailing just 2-0 at the time, didn’t even bother to challenge. Second, an infield hit by Robel Garcia. It was so dull that Jim Deshaies asked Len Kasper, “Was that a nubber or a squibber?” Third, a one-out single by Victor Caratini in the eighth.

It’s almost as if the guys had both feet out the door of Busch Stadium and were ready to get on the flight back to Chicago before the game even started. The Cardinals clinched the N.L. Central title against the Cubs, in a way payback for the Cubs’ clinching of the division crown two years ago at Busch Stadium.

Hey, Ben Zobrist got to pitch (as well as play shortstop) and posted a scoreless inning, ending with a strikeout of Yadier Molina. That was fun, and a possible indication that Ben’s going to retire. Here, it’s worth breaking up this wall of text for this video!

Thanks for everything, Ben. If this is it for you — best of luck to you for your life after baseball.

I’m sorry that Joe Maddon didn’t get to leave his remarkable five-year Cubs tenure with a postseason run, or even a win in his last game. He surely deserved it. This also isn’t the place where I’m going to write my appreciation for Joe. That’ll come tomorrow, when I’ve had a little time to think about all the great things that have happened over the last five years.

The Cubs finish 84-78, their worst record since 2014, seven games out of first place and six (possibly five, pending the Brewers/Rockies game, which has gone into extra innings) out of second, and there are many reasons for the decline this season. It’s not my intention to delve into those here; there will be plenty of time for that over the next days and weeks. What I will say now is that there were quite a few games this season that could have gone the other way, and this team shouldn’t be all that far from returning to the 95-win level we were accustomed to over the four years prior to 2019. The front office has work to do, and so will the new manager, whoever it winds up being.

When the Cubs convene in Mesa next February, and then take the field for the spring opener February 22 and season opener March 26, there will likely be some World Series favorites gone from this team. This is the natural order of things in baseball. You can’t simply stand pat with guys from one year to the next. They age, the game changes. Theo Epstein’s Red Sox broke their World Series drought in 2004. Three years later, they won it all again — and only five players were on both WS rosters: David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Mike Timlin and Jason Varitek.

And so we will see changes, perhaps many of them, before the Cubs can put together a team that can hoist a trophy again. It could happen as soon as 2020. There’s talent on this team and the ability to bring in more. Now it’s up to the guys in the executive suite to make it happen.

In the meantime, we’ll still talk baseball here during the postseason. There will be game threads for every postseason game, beginning with the N.L. Wild Card game Tuesday at 7 p.m. CT between the Nationals and Brewers in Washington. (Some postseason threads here might cover multiple games due to overlap.)

Of course, we’ll also cover trades and trade rumors and free-agent signings and all the Cubs offseason news here, and I’ll have plenty of Cubs history posts for you all winter.

And as has been my custom here for many years, I will conclude this final game recap of 2019 with the first part of Bart Giamatti’s “The Green Fields of the Mind.”

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.