Ican’t be the only one who watched the bench-clearing kerfuffle Saturday betweenthe Cubs and Reds and feared for Javy Baez — and not only because the rocket-armed reliever who’d just struck him out and jawed at him, Amir Garrett, stands 6-5 and 230 pounds.
It also was plainly obvious that if a fight happened on the field in Cincinnati, Baez — in a 2-for-22 slump with 10 strikeouts in his last five games — was bound to swing and miss.
The same was true of all the Cubs in that moment. It was a 5-4 defeat in 11 incredibly frustrating innings in which the reputed World Series contenders were an almost unimaginable 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position. A brawl was the last thing the Cubs needed. In damage mode, they clearly were not.
Then again, these were the same Cubs who had knocked the Reds around 8-1 on Friday, would tear them apart 10-0 in the second game of the doubleheader Saturday and would win 6-1 on Sunday, when Baez went 3-for-4 with a home run. That version of the Cubs is scary and not to be trifled with.
It’s all kind of confusing.
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At essentially the quarter pole of the season, who are these Cubs? Are they the hard-hitting crew that leads the National League with nine games of at least 10 runs? Or are they the soft-chinned group that nine times has been held to zero or one run?
Is their talent-laden lineup really as good as its NL-leading 5.4 runs per game and .340 on-base percentage? Or is it as bad as its .229 average with runners in scoring position — 12th in the league — and its sub-.200 average in what Major League Baseball deems late-inning, close-game situations?
The Cubs are all of the above, of course — a 25-19 squad, tied for second in the NL Central, that rocks when times are good and rolls over when they aren’t.
After the series finale Sunday at Great American Ball Park, the Cubs’ record was only two games better than at the same time a year ago, when the defending World Series champs were on their way to a dispiriting 43-45 mark at the All-Star break. The common thread has been streakiness, which is nothing like the runaway train we saw in the second half of 2015 and all of 2016.
‘‘We’ve been riding that roller coaster,’’ left-hander Jon Lester said. ‘‘That’s part of [baseball]. Some seasons are going to be the kiddie rides, and some are going to be the Six Flags — the not-so-fun ones.’’
Can we talk about the White Sox, too? Yes, we have to. Even after their victory Sunday, they are 13-30 — otherwise known as the worst record in baseball. The quarter pole? Please. They’ve barely gotten out of the starting gate. It’s too easy to call theirs an expert exercise in tanking. That’s more credit than they deserve.
Let’s not even bother getting into any Sox statistics because they’re that abysmal. Check that: They’re unspeakable and mortifying.
‘‘We were playing good ball in [spring training in] Arizona,’’ general manager Rick Hahn said. ‘‘It was a crisp form of baseball and it was a high-energy form of baseball and it was a fundamentally sound form of baseball. We haven’t, for whatever reason, been able to carry it over on an every-day basis over the course of the season.
‘‘We know on a given night that we might be outmanned and that we might get beat. We’re prepared for that. We were very honest with ourselves about where we’re at in this [rebuilding] cycle. It’s the nights where we seem to beat ourselves that are more disappointing and a little bit more difficult to stomach.’’
At least the Sox are rocking-and-rolling-over toward the sort of ignominy that gets rewarded by a high draft pick. Yes, 2015 first-round pick Carson Fulmer just was sent packing for Class AAA Charlotte for pitching like an out-of-his-depth minor-leaguer, but the future still looks enticing. Prospects Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech, Luis Robert and others still hold great promise.
It makes me wonder whose season has been more gratifying to the fans. Is it better to watch the Sox plummet like one of those amusement-park rides where your G-force rises out of your mouth and mockingly pats you on the head or to watch the Cubs careen up, down and sideways without building any lasting momentum?
‘‘I’ll stay in the kiddie end with the Dumbo and — what is it? — there’s a Goofy one at Disney World that I rode this offseason, which was not bad,’’ Lester said.
I’m not sure that has anything whatsoever to do with my question, but you don’t fail to find room for a quote with ‘‘Dumbo’’ and ‘‘Goofy’’ in it.
Here’s what else one probably shouldn’t do: make too much out of only 40-some games. At least, that’s what the nudniks who accuse me of relying on ‘‘small sample sizes’’ tell me. Perhaps the die hasn’t been cast yet and the next quarter-season will reshape how the Sox and Cubs are viewed.
Otherwise, we’re looking at more of the worst team in baseball and the most maddeningly inconsistent team in baseball. There sure isn’t much amusement to be found in that.