MILWAUKEE — Home openers are normally festive occasions. They’re the first close-up look at a team and a reminder that summer warmth is on the way. But if the struggling Cubs could get out of being introduced individually Monday before their Wrigley Field opener, I’ll bet they would.
With the team crawling into town after a 2-7 start, there’s a decent chance boos will escort several players as they line up for introductions down the third-base line. The usual suspects, Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood, are at risk, but so are any known associates of the bullpen.
Cubs fans have every right to let their feelings be known. Some will surely want to know if protocol can be broken so that team chairman Tom Ricketts, president Theo Epstein and whoever else is to blame for the poor start can be introduced to the crowd.
The Cubs lost 4-2 to the Brewers on Sunday, spurning the hackneyed bullpen-meltdown storyline. Variety is the spice of life. It’s a statement on where they’re at that they were almost happy afterward about a well-played game and a garden-variety loss.
What to say about these Cubs other than what the . . .?
Of course it’s early in the season, of course they had a lot of success the previous four seasons, and of course there’s a fair chance they’ll bounce back. But for now, it’s an absolute slog. As for the glorious past, it’s hard to remember all the good times when you have a tremendous leg cramp.
If there is booing Monday, let it be known that it won’t be a reflection of a fickle fan base but of a team that has played miserably too often so far.
“They can do whatever they want,’’ shortstop Javy Baez said of the fans. “They don’t control this. I don’t control them, they don’t control my game or our game. We’ve just got to keep everything out of the clubhouse and block everything negative that is coming to us right now. Go out there and have fun.’’
After beating the Brewers 14-8 Saturday, the Cubs had hoped to take care of business Sunday and bring some hope to Wrigley on Monday. But no. Kyle Hendricks lasted four innings, giving up four earned runs, which was decidedly not what manager Joe Maddon wanted out of his starter.
This time, the runs dried up for the hot-hitting Cubs. Before that, the problem had been something else. Errors. Walks. Bad pitching in general. The season is nine games old, and the team already has lost in every way known to man.
Closer Pedro Strop hasn’t been in a save situation yet. It’s hard to watch.
Even Maddon, who’d have nice things to say about flesh-eating bacteria if it came with a Cubs logo, has flashed frustration. After another bullpen blowup Saturday, he was caught on camera saying in the dugout, “I’m so tired of this sh–.’’ It’s not a side of him Chicago has seen often.
“The other side always exists,’’ he said. “I think I hide it pretty well at times.’’
The Cubs came into Sunday’s game with the second-highest bullpen ERA (9.51) in baseball. Maddon describes it as “a hard time in the bullpen.’’ I’d say that’s being incredibly kind. I’d say there’s a check-engine light on in the Hindenburg, but what do I know? Walks are killing the Cubs, whose 53 lead the majors.
“Guys get hit; that’s one thing,’’ Maddon said. “But when you set it up by walking people, that’s something entirely different. As long as you’re throwing strikes and getting hit, honestly, that’s not nearly as disturbing as walking people.’’
Jon Lester will take the mound for the Cubs in the home opener, with the mere responsibility of making everything right. He has been one of the few bright spots on the pitching staff, having picked up the victory on Opening Day against the Rangers. He could use some help, from somebody, anybody.
“It’s hard because we’re struggling, and everybody’s talking about it — the bullpen and the pitching and whatever,’’ Baez said. “This is a team. This is everybody together. We’re just trying to get out of it and move on. We’re still in the first month. There’s still five months of baseball. People are making a big deal [out of it].’’
They are, because it’s alarming. People react poorly when they are expecting something else. And those people, because they are human, take what’s happening and project it over a season. Two weeks in, and they see sand slipping through the hourglass.
“We’re going to be all right,’’ center fielder Albert Almora Jr. said.
They can start by proving it.