The Cubs are 4-15 since June 21. I know the team is on a profound losing streak and went in search of numbers on several baseball websites yesterday afternoon. But I didn’t learn how bad it looks for the moment from cubs.com, this site or any other Chicago Cubs bible. No, I gleaned the information from my father’s childhood friend and fellow long-suffering fan, Bill.
Although Bill relocated to Florida years ago, his baseball loyalties remain steadfast. In times of great joy and celebration, his Facebook wall is a must-stop. The pure, unself-conscious elation (such as when the Cubbies beat the Cardinals in the 2015 NLDS) adds a garnish to my own. And because my father and I (by necessity) have no relationship, a voyeuristic gander at Bill’s euphoria is an indirect connection to dad – the original Cubs diehard of my consciousness.
When the going gets tough in Wrigleyville Nation, a peek at Bill’s status updates is also insightful. Born in the mid-1950s, he’s survived a lot of team calamity. And as any good Freudian would tell us, every reaction is informed by prior experience. Thus, this is what I read after last night’s 8-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates:
“Shades of ’69? This is WAY more than a slump. This is disturbing. Hitters aren’t hitting. Pitchers – relievers AND starters – are getting shelled like they’re throwing batting practice. Fielders are booting and throwing the ball all over the yard. Forget about this team setting historical records…Still excited about the season and their playoff chances. But a ‘lock’ to win the division? Fuggetaboutit.”
This self-defensive crouch is understandable. I share many of Bill’s concerns. I was at the July 4 home game against the Reds, a rare recent victory for the Cubs. I bore firsthand witness to Kris Bryant’s bizarre turn in left field. The two-time All-Star and 2015 Rookie of the Year repeatedly struggled to communicate with center field. Half-jokingly I said to my partner Bob at the time, “No dance party room for him.” For all the current reasons Bill mentions, and the PTSD that is the legacy of any survivor of the Tribune era, it’s logical to wonder if this rough streak is the beginning of the end.
But it isn’t. This is not 1969. Let’s everybody just calm down, take a restorative breath and review the latest statistics from the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds Report. Factoring in the Cubs recent slide, the likelihood of a division win remains 95.6%. A playoff appearance of any kind carries a 98.5% confidence rate. With the All-Star break imminent, I like those odds. We all should.
Headlines such as this one from ESPN certainly aren’t boosting the morale of Wrigleyville Nation members: Jake Arrieta Loses Again as the Bottom Keeps Getting Deeper for Cubs. Yet it’s important to remember that the 30 year-old Cy Young Award Winner has always been a late bloomer. He’s the second half Colossus, an assertion borne out by Arrieta’s 2015 lowest post-All Star Game ERA in baseball history. I’m going to go ahead and give him the benefit of the doubt.
The Cubs rich farm system is a gift that keeps on giving. Key players such as Dexter Fowler are about to return from injury. And Joe Maddon has taken the team back in time (in all the right ways) by encouraging position diversity, leaving the Manager with plenty of lineup options. In late June, three different relief pitchers played left field in a single game. Cubs win. Enough said.
Nope. This is not 1969. The Cubs are a bit ragged and need a break. On that we might all agree. But don’t give up just yet, Bill. The second half is our new jam.
Becky Sarwate is the current President of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association, founded in 1885. She’s also a part-time freelance writer, award-winning columnist and blogger who lives in the Ravenswood neighborhood of Chicago with her partner Bob and their beloved pup, Jude. Her collected works are published athttp://www.beckysarwate.com