Is Joe Maddon a candidate to win Manager of the Year?

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon has faced more challenges this season than any of his four in Chicago.

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon has faced more challenges this season than any of his four in Chicago. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 7/31/2018 6:10 AM

Winning the Manager of the Year award probably isn't high on Joe Maddon's list of goals.

The Cubs skipper has done that three times, with the Cubs in 2015 and with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008 and 2011.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Winning the World Series for the second time in three years is higher on Maddon's to-do list.

But Maddon could be in line for Manager of the Year honors as well as a contract extension -- next year is the final season of his five year deal -- if he can guide the Cubs into the postseason for the fourth straight year.

The reason is that Maddon has faced more challenges this season than any of his four in Chicago.

The 2015 club was young and good, but few predicted it would go all the way to the National League championship series. The 2016 world-championship club got out of the gate quickly, stumbled a bit near midseason and roared to a big finish. Last year, Maddon had to deal with the "World Series hangover," but that club rallied from 2 games under .500 at the all-star break to reach another NLCS.

This year, Maddon has had to manage hard.

The starting rotation has been a huge disappointment due to the long-term injury to prized free agent Yu Darvish, the poor performance of Tyler Chatwood and the inconsistency of Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana.

Third baseman Kris Bryant is on the disabled list for the second time this season as he deals with a shoulder issue. When healthy, Bryant is the team's best player.

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First baseman Anthony Rizzo has heated up lately, but he spent most of the first half struggling at the plate.

Even if the Cubs make the postseason, Manager of the Year voters tend to like skippers of surprise teams, so Gabe Kapler (Phillies) or Brian Snitker (Braves) will likely finish ahead of Maddon in the voting.

The key thing to watch will be whether team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer act early in the off-season or right before spring training to extend Maddon's deal. If they don't, questions will arise about their desire to keep Maddon beyond 2019. And that's the case for any lame-duck manager.

At age 37, Ben Zobrist is having another solid season with the Cubs, posting a season line of .304/.391/.438 with 7 homers, 40 RBI and an offensive wins above replacement (oWAR) of 1.7.
At age 37, Ben Zobrist is having another solid season with the Cubs, posting a season line of .304/.391/.438 with 7 homers, 40 RBI and an offensive wins above replacement (oWAR) of 1.7. - Associated Press
Don't forget about Zobrist:

With all the much-justified talk about the value the Cubs have gotten from pitcher Jon Lester, infielder-outfielder Ben Zobrist has brought plenty of value, too.

If Lester is the best free-agent signing in Cubs history, Zobrist isn't far behind.

The Cubs raised a few eyebrows when they signed the then-34-year-old Zobrist to a four-year, $56 million deal in December of 2015. Zobrist, however, has delivered, with his crowning moment coming when he was named MVP of the 2016 World Series.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Now 37, he has a season line of .304/.391/.438 with 7 homers, 40 RBI and an offensive wins above replacement (oWAR) of 1.7. In Sunday's 5-2 victory at St. Louis, Zobrist was 4-for-5 with a homer.

Just as Lester brought professionalism and leadership into the clubhouse, so has Zobrist. He gets down to business as soon as he walks in and continues working into the postgame.

"I feel like I should be doing that regardless, and I tried to do that earlier in my career, whether I felt like anybody was watching or not," Zobrist said. "Just try to be as prepared as I can be. I feel like I have to do that, to be honest, too, because if I don't, the game just gets to you really quickly.

"I think you just have to try to stay ahead of it. It's relentless. It's going to keep coming, and sometimes you're going to get run over by it. If I can stay a little bit ahead of it at times, that's what I'm trying to do in those moments."

Chicago Cubs rookie David Bote, here blasting a two-run home run against the Diamondbacks, made two great plays at third base in Sunday night's win against the Cardinals.
Chicago Cubs rookie David Bote, here blasting a two-run home run against the Diamondbacks, made two great plays at third base in Sunday night's win against the Cardinals. - Associated Press
Bote looks like he belongs:

Rookie David Bote is making his case to stay on the big-league roster, even when Bryant returns from the DL.

Bote made two more sparkling plays at third base Sunday night. At the plate in 23 games over five stints with the Cubs this year, he has a line of .327/.422/.519 with 4 doubles, 2 homers and 11 RBI.

An 18th-round draft choice of the Cubs in 2012, Bote spent six years in the minor leagues before breaking through last year at Class AA Tennessee, where he went .272/.353/.438 with 14 homers and 59 RBI.

Bote looked the part of a big-leaguer in spring training, carrying himself with confidence but not cockiness.

If Bote does have to go back to Class AAA Iowa, he'll be up by Sept. 1, and he could force the Cubs to keep put him on the postseason roster, if the Cubs make the playoffs.

Twitter: @BruceMiles2112

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