I don’t recall Joe Maddon ever telling fans to knock it off with all the applause during a Cubs’ hot streak. A Google search did not come up with instances of the manager telling people to tamp down their enthusiasm. There were plenty of examples of him toasting everyone in sight after winning two out of three in June or July.
But in so many words, Maddon is telling fans to chill out about the Cubs’ early struggles this season.
Everything about his relaxed-fit approach to life suggests that you’d be silly to worry about the team’s 7-8 record. You’re concerned about Tyler Chatwood’s combined 14 walks in three starts? A waste of time, Maddon says, because Chatwood is too good for that to continue. You’re concerned about leadoff hitter Ian Happ’s .204 average? He’ll start hitting tomorrow, if not the day after that, Maddon says.
Nothing to see here!
He’s the skipper with the eternal skip in his step, and the message in everything he says, especially during tough times, is, “Don’t be anything other than cool.’’
And of course Joe Cool is right. It is early. It is too early to panic. And you’re going to look like an idiot when the Cubs revert to their default setting of winning. Nobody wants to be called a Nervous Nellie. I wouldn’t think anyone would want to be called Nellie, period, but that’s just me.
Still, the Cubs are 7-8 and … what are we supposed to do with that? Ignore it? Pretend it never happened? They lost 5-3 to the Cardinals on Tuesday night. Wednesday’s game against St. Louis was postponed because of the threat of inclement weather.
It’s not simply a disappointing stretch of uneven baseball. The struggles have to be put in the context of the Cubs’ high expectations for the start of the season.
During spring training, they saw a soft early schedule and rubbed their hands in anticipation. They remembered last season’s blah first two months. They saw a chance to reestablish the dominance they had shown with a 25-6 start to the 2016 season, which ended in a World Series title.
Remember all the players talking about the different vibe in spring training compared with last season, when post-title fatigue seemed to weigh the club down?
In that context, perhaps fans’ frustrations are a bit more understandable. Yes, 15 games is a small sample size, but the Cubs were the ones who envisioned a hot start.
It’s not the end of the world for a very talented team, but it is a missed opportunity, especially with the schedule about to get more difficult. The Cubs started poorly last season yet still made it to the National League Championship Series. But it wasn’t unreasonable to expect more this time around.
It’s always fun to revisit Maddon’s quotes. They’re so colorful, so earnest and so premeditated that sometimes you take them for granted. One of my favorites came several days after the Cubs had lost an 18-inning game to the Yankees last season. In explaining his team’s 17-17 record, Maddon jumped on that marathon slog as if it were the last bottle of wine at Binny’s.
“Sleep deprivation has a lot to do with it,” he said. “Right from the beginning of the year our schedule has been awkward. No one has had a chance to settle in.”
It still puts a smile on my face. Sleep deprivation? You don’t develop that kind of excuse-making. You’re born with it.
Former Cubs manager Lou Piniella once warned fans not to get too “giggly’’ during a stretch of winning baseball by his club. You’ll never hear Maddon tell anyone to ease up on the fun-mobile gas pedal. But right now, he is suggesting that fans hit the brakes on being worried about the current state of affairs.
There are no extenuating circumstances that explain the Cubs’ rocky start. The weather has been rotten, but it has been rotten for their opponents too. And everybody in baseball is going through it. People have kept score more on a weather map this season than a scorecard. The irony in Maddon’s rant Saturday about the ridiculousness of playing a game in brutal weather was that the Cubs’ wild, 14-10 victory over Atlanta that day was a product of those very conditions. They scored nine runs in the eighth inning because the frozen Braves were graciously throwing the ball all over the field.
There isn’t cause for concern for the Cubs, not yet, but there is cause for eye rolls and head shakes. They should be playing better, but they aren’t. That’s the short story of the season so far.
Don’t forget to keep your zeal in check the next time the Cubs go on a winning streak. Maddon’s the one preaching emotional moderation now. Fair’s fair.
Legendary Sun-Times sports columnists Rick Morrissey and Rick Telander are co-hosts of a new podcast called “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered.” Don’t miss their gritty, no-holds-barred takes on everything from professional teams tanking to overzealous sports parents and more. Download and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts and Google Play, or via RSS feed.