At the conclusion of Memorial Day weekend 2017, the Cubs sit a game and a half behind the first place Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central Division. A 10–walk holiday gift from the San Diego Padres pitching staff went shamefully unreceived. Never forget…
As a longtime Major League Baseball fan approaching 40 years of age, a part of my brain continues struggling to accept that the Brewers are in fact, a National League team. The change occurred in 1998. However 19 years has not, apparently, been long enough to prevent a ripple of surprise every time a Cubs/Brewers matchup is billed as a division series, rather than interleague play. My partner Bob, if he feels particularly energetic, sometimes interrupts one of these reawakenings to patiently reiterate that interleague play is no longer a special event and has for years, occurred throughout the season. What can I say? I’m forever imprinted by the baseball landscape of the 1990s. That makes it hard to process Milwaukee as a threat equal to our long feared and loathed St. Louis rivals.
But I digress. Anything to take the edge off the reality that the 2016 World Series Champions are a .500 team. Last week was a trying one for the Cubbies and members of Wrigleyville Nation. A road sweep by the Los Angeles Dodgers and a disastrous Monday start to the San Diego series. I believe All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo bespoke the surprise and frustration of many fans in a post-game interview exchange transcribed by Comcast Sports Network (CSN):
“Rizzo couldn’t believe it – ‘Did we walk 10 times?’ – when a reporter mentioned another part of the box score. ‘That’s a formula that usually shoots out more than two runs.’”
Indeed, Tony. Indeed. Rizzo continued his extended foray into understatement by concluding, “It’s not all peachy right now…We got urgency. We’re grinding. We got a lot of guys that grind and will continue to – no matter what. We’ll keep playing hard…that’s really all you can do.”
Nothing seems to be working the way it should for the Cubs. The starting pitching rotation has struggled to bring down a combined 4.58 ERA. After high hopes and much praise for the unconventional genius of the move, Kyle Schwarber has done nothing in the leadoff hitting position, and has been haphazard at best in the field. Addison Russell remains a defensive phenom – with a bat as cold as ice.
And take our bullpen – please.
Sad but true. As Sports Illustrated writer Jay Jaffe noted earlier this month, The Cubs are Struggling More than the Average Defending Champ. While some might argue that 2016 took the steam out of the pressure cooker, others (me) counter that a taste of success is a poor anesthetic for mediocrity. Last year’s team is largely intact. We know and love these guys and want them to continue succeeding. Selfishly I ask, when has a single moment in the sun removed a thirst for more?
Yet there’s a reason that no World Series winner has repeated the feat back-to-back since the 2000 Yankees. It’s damned hard to do. The baseball gods are sometimes whimsical, sometimes cruel and often capricious. That logic aside, it hurts to watch everything just not work for the team all at once. As Jaffe observed, “The 2016 Cubs overcame 40-game stretches as bad as 18–22, and 20-game stretches as awful as 5–15, so it isn’t out of the question that this year’s model rebounds, but right now, a whole lot of things are going wrong.”
That’s reality. So is the fact that the Cubbies have a chance to redeem themselves against the Padres this evening. There’s more than half of the 2017 season left to play. And as the Brewers stubbornly defy this writer’s 1990s-era baseball conventions by remaining in the NLCD, the teams will meet on the field nearly a dozen more times before playoffs commence.
It’s been a tough slog so far this season. But if “Grandpa” David Ross and his perennially protruding catcher’s behind can end an unlikely 2017 Dancing With the Stars run in second place, anything remains possible.