CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- Ahead of the Cubs' regular-season home finale against the Cardinals on Sunday afternoon, Chicago manager Joe Maddon refused to acknowledge in his morning media session that his final game at Wrigley Field with the organization could be looming.
Gathered again later after the Cubs' 3-2 loss -- their fifth straight by one run, including a four-game sweep at the hands of the NL Central-leading Cardinals -- Maddon again pushed away from any line of questioning about himself. He instead turned his attention to the six games that await in the final week of the regular season.
The bleak nature of the Cubs' situation has put the future front and center in the conversation. The Cubs were officially eliminated from NL Central contention Sunday and now trail the Brewers by four games for the second NL wild-card spot. Barring a miracle, they'll miss the playoffs for the first time under Maddon and for the first time since 2014.
Maddon's contract is set to expire at season's end. It remains unknown whether Cubs brass wants him back. Beyond that, the 65-year-old Maddon will likely explore opportunities elsewhere across the game, as it's expected that as many as seven managerial jobs could be opening. There's already an attractive vacancy in San Diego, as a Padres team with a strong young core fired manager Andy Green on Saturday.
Managerial jobs also could open with the Phillies, Mets, Angels and elsewhere, sources indicated.
Amid that backdrop, Maddon was asked if he would allow himself some time Sunday to reflect on the Wrigley Field experience and the Cubs fans as his tenure in Chicago potentially winds down.
"Honestly, I do that every single day," Maddon said pregame. "Honestly, I don't expect that or anticipate it. I haven't really thought that. I always expect a good result. Honestly, I will be focusing on the game today. But when walking to Wrigley -- and I have talked about this since I have been here -- you are always are enthralled and impressed that you have a chance to work here."
While Maddon is genuine in his appreciation of the Cubs organization, fans and Wrigley Field, he still wasn't thrilled about not receiving a contract extension after leading the club to four straight playoff appearances, which was a franchise record.
Included in his body of work is the World Series championship in 2016 and three trips to the NL Championship Series. That's what the front office had in mind when it signed him to a five-year, $25-million deal in November 2014.
Of course, circumstances change. The Cubs have a maxed-out payroll now and have received little help from their minor league system recently. Perhaps it's Maddon who wants to explore a change.
"Go look at his resume," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said of Maddon. "You see what he has done here. Yes, you give Theo (Epstein) and Mr. (Tom) Ricketts a lot of credit. We expect to win here. He has created that atmosphere. On every 25-man roster, nobody is going to agree with the manager all of the time. We keep it in here as a group, but Joe has put us in this consistent environment every day for five years."
There have been few cracks in the Cubs' clubhouse under Maddon's watch. They've always carried respect for one another, Maddon and the coaching staff -- amid the highest of highs and the adversity they've encountered.
"What you do is create relationships," Maddon said. "Within that, you become openly honest with someone else without any pushback. Good or bad, I want to show up the same way every day. I think I have always done that, and the players respect that. The players need that. They do not need to see hot or cold or reaction to a bad moment. It's no different than your kids. Your kids do not want to see that out of mom or dad either. It is sometimes more important learning what you shouldn't do. All these things are factors. Right now, me and this group could not be tighter."
The Cubs have long maintained that they'll sit down with Maddon at season's end to sort out a course of action. The Cubs' regular-season finale is next Sunday. Maddon's future could be known a couple days after that. And he may already have his plan in motion.
"Joe has done such an unbelievable job since day one when he stepped in here," right-hander Kyle Hendricks said. "He has done so much for this group by creating this environment. He created this winning culture here and brought these guys together. He stuck with me personally through some tough times. As a team, we have had our ups and downs, but he has been the one constant. He brings the same demeanor and positive attitude to the park every day."
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.