No time to panic for Cubs, but it is time to (try to) forget 2016
The Cubs were featured Sunday on ‘‘60 Minutes.’’ Sixty minutes — how quaint, how fleeting.
By the time the Cubs and Yankees had finished playing an 18-inning game that night, 365 minutes had elapsed. That would be a lot of Lesley Stahl. It was way too much baseball and way, way, way too many strikeouts.
The CBS show ran its ode to the 2016 World Series champions, giving deserving nods to president Theo Epstein, manager Joe Maddon and the boys. That season seemed like a long time ago. Then again, so did Saturday by the time the game Sunday was over.
And maybe that’s the lesson — the very long lesson — of the 5-4 loss. The 2016 season is finally, officially history. The Yankees’ three-game sweep at Wrigley Field is a reminder that this season isn’t going to be one of those high-end boat cruises along the Danube. There are good teams out there, and they don’t care that the Cubs are the defending champions. Or if they do care, it’s only because the Cubs are in the way of what they want.
It’s time to stop celebrating. Wait, what? The Cubs hadn’t won a World Series in 108 years, and now you’re telling us to forget about it? No, I’m telling you that it’s time to get down to business and that luxuriating in a bubble bath of 2016 memories isn’t going to accomplish much.
It’s always risky to rely on championship muscle memory. What happened one season doesn’t always carry over to the next. That’s why all the talk of a Cubs dynasty is just talk until it happens — until the Cubs go out and make it happen.
The 1984 Tigers were supposed to be the beginning of a dynasty, then they weren’t, finishing 84-77 the next season.
The 1985 Bears were supposed to be the beginning of a dynasty until they collapsed under the weight of injuries and endorsement opportunities.
The Cubs don’t need a wakeup call. They’re big boys. As a group, they don’t strike me as a bunch of guys reveling in their celebrity. But they’re certainly not playing up to the standards they set last season.
The pitching, which hardly experienced a glitch last season, has been shaky. The starters’ well-documented difficulties in the first inning continued Sunday, with Jon Lester giving up a run at the start of the game. Kyle Hendricks (3.51 ERA), Jake Arrieta (4.63) and John Lackey (5.14) have looked mortal.
I don’t sense that many people are panicking about the Cubs’ 16-15 start. But if you are, it’s worth remembering that they did go through a long stretch last season when they didn’t look like championship material. They went 16-12 in June and 12-14 in July — and ended up winning 103 games.
That might soothe the savage beast, but it doesn’t change what’s going on early this season. The Cubs were striking out a lot even before they whiffed a jaw-dropping 26 times Sunday. They’ve struck out the sixth-most times (283) in the majors. Strikeouts aren’t supposed to matter as much anymore, but when you don’t put the bat on the ball that many times, it deprives the ball of the opportunity to bounce in funny ways.
Maddon must have been cranky by the time the game ended at 1:15 a.m. Monday. He actually criticized something about the Cubs.
‘‘I know they’re good, [the Yankees’] pitchers, but we have to do better than that at the plate,’’ he said.
It will be interesting to see how Maddon proceeds if the early-season trend becomes entrenched. Will he continue to be Joe Cool, saying everything is fine, his right hand calmly on the tiller? Or will he decide this team needs some pointed advice? My guess is that he won’t change, that even if the ship is going down, he’ll say, ‘‘What a lovely day for a swim!’’
But that’s painting a dark picture, and it’s too early for that. The guys who aren’t hitting as well as they’re capable of — Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Ben Zobrist and Anthony Rizzo — eventually will. Right?
Nobody wants to be the guy preaching doom and gloom about a championship team playing .500 ball a little more than a month into the season. It’s true that seasons can be lost in April and May, but it’s not as though anyone is running away with the National League Central right now.
We very well might see the Cubs and Yankees in the World Series in October. But one of those teams is going to have to pick up its game if it wants to get there. Can you guess which one?
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.