Let’s give Joe Maddon due credit and assume there are a million and one things he knows about baseball that we regular schmoes wouldn’t understand.
Such as — hey, here’s one — how it’s even possibly true that, despite seemingly being in survival mode for months, the Cubs are having as much fun playing the game as they did a year ago. Their manager did manage to keep a straight face as he maintained as much before the series opener Monday against the Pirates at Wrigley Field.
‘‘Every day,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘On the plane, in the dugout before the game, in the dugout during the game, even when we get behind — it’s all good. It’s all the same.’’
Are you really saying it’s so, Joe?
The 2016 Cubs rocketed out of the starting blocks and built such a hilariously insurmountable division lead, they could’ve exclusively moonwalked on the basepaths — no running! — for all of September and still coasted into the playoffs. The 2017 Cubs were underwater at the All-Star break and have reverted, since making their move out of the break with a 14-3 surge, to being a one-step-forward, one-step-back dud of a team.
Look, I’m not sure these Cubs would know fun if it kissed them on the mouth. But maybe going to Cincinnati to face the worst team in the division, then to Philadelphia to face the worst team in all of baseball and returning home with as many defeats as victories to show for it is more fun than I realize.
The Cubs still haven’t managed to separate themselves from the rest of the weaker-than-weak National League Central, but the calendar waits for no one. September is all but here.
‘‘I love it,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘It’s so much fun. That’s why we do this.’’
As he said this, Maddon’s countenance was a bit less chipper than usual. He probably was just tired. Frankly, he looked like a guy who just got back from a crappy road trip to Cincy and Philly.
Yet Maddon, always Mr. Positive, pointed to a number of promising developments that should brighten the mood of everyone in Cubdom at least a little. Jon Lester is getting close to returning to the starting rotation. Shortstop Addison Russell’s return from injury is an any-day-now deal. Catcher Willson Contreras is healing as well as could be expected, and who can wait to see that guy back in the lineup?
When you close your eyes and put all the pieces of what was supposed to be a great team back together, it does get kind of fun to imagine how the Cubs’ fortunes might turn in the weeks to come.
Which reminds me: You know who won two of three games at Dodger Stadium during the weekend? Our humble, perhaps a tad simple, friends to the north — the Brewers. If they can knock around the greatest team since sliced bread, boy, the Cubs sure can, too.
And here’s another thought: The Cubs are trying to win a division for what would be only the seventh time in franchise history. We probably should be setting up for a party rather than complaining about the manner in which the guests of honor are arriving.
Parties are — what’s that word? — fun. Then again, I was at a party Saturday when a guy asked me how many runs the Cubs had put on the lowly Phillies. Seventeen, I told him.
‘‘Seventeen?’’ he repeated. ‘‘You know what that means: They won’t hit tomorrow.’’
And the Cubs didn’t. They scored three times in the first inning in a letdown of a loss Sunday, then their bats went to sleep. It was an ugly end to an ugly road trip — in an ugly month and an ugly season — and merely the latest time this season the Cubs have looked ready to break out, only to peter out.
Got a pretty strong hunch it won’t be the last time, but — sheesh — now I’m not being any fun at all.
Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.