What the Cubs need to do this week

Robert Townsend’s “The Hollywood Shuffle” is one of my favorite movies from the 1980s. It wasn’t a big blockbuster film, but one that was pieced together a little bit at a time. There’s a film noir part of the film where Townsend plays a character named Sam Ace, in an obvious reference to Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade. And Sam Ace gives me a way to think about the upcoming Cubs series against the Mets in New York.

Sam Ace walks into a gym at some point and beats up one of the characters present. Ace’s bravado then gets the better of him, and he asks if anybody else wants a piece of him. It turns out that plenty of the gym’s patrons do, and Townsend/Ace sees that he has a problem on his hands. Before facing the crowd of would-be combatants, though, he returns to his vanquished foe and tries to have one more go with him, instead. It’s funny, though, because that’s the one guy that Sam Ace can actually beat up.

We’re now three months into the season, and the Chicago Cubs–for all of the talent they’ve brought into the fold during the offseason–have proven that they can routimely beat just two teams they’ve played: the Cincinnati Reds (who they’re 7-2 against this season) and the New York Mets. In fact, the four-game sweep of the Mets in Wrigley back in May has provided the entirety of the Cubs’ margin above the .500 point on the season.

I will not sat that being over .500 isn’t a good thing at this point in the season. The three lost seasons that preceded this one were over, from a competitive standpoint, before the 4th of July. So baseball games matter again at Clark and Addison, and I’ll take that as improvement. But still, the Cubs are riding a season-high five-game losing streak, and the distance between them and the Cardinals got a whole lot wider over the past weekend.

The Cubs won’t get another shot at the Mets this season once their three-game series in New York wraps up on Thursday afternoon. You have to play the games one at a time, of course, but a sweep of the Mets is the best chance to bury the disappointment of last weekend and try to build up some steam before the all-star break.

The Cardinals will need to stumble pretty badly over the final three months of the season to let anyone back into the division race. But the Cubs can’t do anything about the way the Cardinals will play. All they can do is take care of their business on the field, beginning with these three games in New York. Winning two out of three–”Meatloafing” them, as Joe Maddon has termed it–won’t do very much toward catching up to St. Louis. The time for half-measures has passed, as last weekend’s series in St. Louis has made very clear.

Some Cubs fans–and perhaps even most, for all I know–will be content to join the battle with Pittsburgh and San Francisco for the two wild-card berths. But the real prize,and the one that Anthony Rizzo all but guaranteed to us back in spring training, is the division title. That ensures more than just the one-and-done scenario that both wild card winners will have to confront.

My sights as a fan are set on the Cardinals, and not the Pirates. It sounds crazy at this point in time, but if I want the Cubs to be buyers and not sellers at the trade deadline this year. I don’t want to see a large chunk of the starting rotation sent way in trades again this year. But more than anything else, I want to see some fire from this team, some life if that’s the best word for it. And beating up on whoever you can is the first step toward doing this. This means you, New York.