What’s it going to take for you to feel really good about your team again, Cubs fans? I’m not talking about warm-all-over good. I’m talking about we’re-the-best good. Good enough to put the strut back in your step, the one you had all the way to last season’s World Series parade.
The Cubs getting to 10 games over .500? Fifteen?
Beating quality opponents?
Hitting better than .245 as a team?
Or does your Cubs belief level depend on whether the team acquires another reliever, especially after that nine-run, eighth-inning embarrassment against the Cardinals on Friday?
Some of you are already there, confidence-wise. Some of you believe the Cubs turned a corner after the All-Star break by winning six consecutive games. I would just point out — gently, of course! — that the Orioles and the Braves, the victims in that streak, aren’t exactly juggernauts. Nor are the Cardinals, who lost the last two games of a three-game series with the Cubs over the weekend.
But you in your eternal optimism see a dominant Cubs team that had been bored or distracted and finally is ready to rid itself of the pretenders silly enough to think they ever had a chance. And if the struggling, rebuilding White Sox are up next on the schedule, who are you to say it’s not a gift from a loving God who also happens to love the Cubs? Isn’t heaven directionally the ultimate North Side?
Maybe the Cubs’ acquisition of pitcher Jose Quintana from the Sox sealed it for you. Maybe his 12-strikeout debut last week left you pondering different routes for this year’s parade. And getting pitcher Kyle Hendricks back from the disabled list Monday figures to put even more of a bounce in your step.
But I don’t think you true believers are the majority at this point. The loud minority is more like it.
I’m guessing that many more Cubs fans want proof. You still have trust issues, thanks to that confounding first half, when the team with arguably the most talent in baseball rode a roller coaster to a 43-45 record. You see a team feeding on lesser opponents and think: “I need something more substantial in my diet. More meat, fewer sprouts.’’
For some of you, a final dispatchment of the pesky Brewers in a three-game series at the end of July will be enough proof that the Cubs are back for good. For those who see the National League Central as the sickly child in the major-league family, that might not be sufficient.
However you feel, there’s a decent chance you’ve learned not to take your cue from manager Joe Maddon, the kind of person who tells you that everything is spectacular, even as the tornado picks up you and your house. He’s not the Boy Who Cried Wolf. He’s the Boy Who Cried Wonderful.
I have a suggestion that might help all Cubs fans, from true believers to those with doubts: Circle Aug. 4-6 on your calendar. That’s when the Washington Nationals come to Wrigley Field for three afternoon games. The Nationals are 21 games over .500. That series might help answer any doubts you have — or reinforce your complete faith in this club.
The Cubs haven’t been good against good teams. They’re 13-21 against teams with winning records, including 2-2 against the Nationals. If they want to do a decent imitation of the team that won 103 games last year, they need to prove they can beat quality opponents. If they want to collect back-to-back World Series, which would seem to be the goal, they need to show up against the better teams. That would answer some of the issues on the agenda of the Doubting Thomas Club.
If winning is contagious, if beating lesser opponents makes it easier to beat quality teams down the road, then, sure, what has happened since the All-Star break is a very good thing. The Cubs are remembering how imposing they can be. It’s not their fault if they’re filling up on empty calories. The schedule is the schedule. And after an up-and-down first half in which they lost to some of those mediocre teams, beggars can’t be choosers. So four games against the Sox starting Monday? What, are the Cubs supposed to send that meal back to the kitchen?
No. But until they start beating the better teams, it means there will be questions. The idea that the Cubs can flip a switch when the postseason arrives is more a matter of faith than fact. The benefit of the doubt seeped out when the Cubs played so inconsistently in the first half.
It’s why we’re asking the same question we’ve been asking for weeks: What’s it going to take for you to feel really good about your team again, Cubs fans?
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.