It’s a wonderful thing that the Cubs are relevant again

SHARE It’s a wonderful thing that the Cubs are relevant again

That wasn’t so bad, was it?

Just five seasons of the Cubs being terrible, irrelevant, full of blarney and blather.

Heck, their badness kind of corresponded with the economic recession. So as your house dipped underwater, your stocks went south and your job all but vanished, you had the Cubs as your companions in misery!

But now, in all seriousness, after rebuilding and restocking, the Cubs are a real baseball team again. (Even if you’re not solvent yet.)

The Cubs have gaps and needs, but who doesn’t? But it’s not like they’re throwing a farm team out there to see which lovelorn fans will show up, even though it’s late September, raining, school has started and the ‘‘Beloveds’’ are 36 games out of first place in their division (see 2012).

No, it would seem those days are gone. As the Cubs started a stretch Friday of playing six games in the next two weeks against the National League Central-leading Cardinals, the rivalry has some meaning again.

The Cardinals are the alpha organization in the majors this season — their 49-24 record is the best in the game — and they are good season after season without having to become horrendous in between World Series charges.

The Cubs haven’t figured that part out yet. In fact, using ‘‘Cubs’’ and ‘‘World Series’’ in the same sentence sounds grammatically incorrect.

But Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer were able to hold a giant clothespin over fans’ noses until they finally built to a point where young players such as Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Addison Russell allow folks to smell promise in the air.

Moreover, first-rate Joe Maddon is now the manager, and he has brought an element of dignity back to the Cubs, a quality that was missing when, say, poor tatted-up Dale Sveum was handed a team of Class AAA kids and rejects as the Cubs were finishing 61-101 in 2012.

Let’s ponder Sveum’s pitching staff. Jeff Samardzija, Matt Garza and Paul Maholm were OK. But among them, Travis Wood, Chris Volstad, Justin Germano, Brooks Raley, Chris Rusin and Jason Berken went a combined 14-43, with four of them having ERAs well above 6.00.

We won’t get into some of the ‘‘hitters’’ who came to the plate that season. Nor will we delve into detail regarding any of the seasons back to 2010 — all five — in which the Cubs finished fifth in the NL Central. Except we will say this: They should have closed down and hung a sign in front of Wrigley Field that read, ‘‘Under Construction—See Ya in a Few!’’ With a smiley face at the end, of course.

At 39-33, the Cubs are now well above .500, competitive with anybody. It’s a little worrisome that $155 million pitcher Jon Lester is only 4-6 with a 4.03 ERA and has pitched five innings or fewer in three of his last five starts. That’s not big-boy territory.

But there is a sliver lining to Lester’s signing, no matter what. As Epstein has said, there always will be misses with big free-agent signings. But if you don’t try, you’ll never get anywhere.

The Cubs are loaded with young middle infielders — it’s hard to believe three-time All-Star Starlin Castro, 25, is in his sixth season — and, as Epstein has said, ‘‘I’d much rather have those positions than lots of first basemen and third basemen.’’

And even there he’s got two dandies in Rizzo and Bryant. Epstein has said he could see Bryant moving to left field, so Javy Baez or some other youngster could move to third. So far, though, with Baez in the minors and injured, everything’s stable.

And maybe that’s an amazing word to use about these Cubs.

Think about it: We’re no longer raging about the state of Wrigley Field or grumbling about the zoning for the hotel or triangle park. And we’re not even gabbing about the JumboTron, the signage or — God help us all — the rooftops.

In fact, the Cubs have taken my quarter-century suggestion and simpy are buying all those vistas across Waveland and Sheffield and planting their royal-blue flag.

For too long, it has been a blue ‘‘L.’’ Now it’s at least a red ‘‘Maybe.’’

On Saturday, July 4, the Cubs will have the first postgame fireworks show in the history of Wrigley Field. (Hold your ears, locals.) And the next day, Sunday, is — hold on, now — Anthony Rizzo Life-Size Fabric Growth Chart Day, with the first 5,000 kids getting, I don’t know, something to grow on, I guess.

It’s time to start.

Grow, Cubs, grow.

Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.

Email: rtelander@suntimes.com

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