Just Sayin’: The Cubs were plenty good enough to get destroyed by the Nationals, too
The NLCS was an absurd mismatch, with the Nats making their opponents look like feckless, slapdash, in-over-their-heads pretenders. If this could happen to the Cardinals, what does it say about how far the Cubs are from their next World Series?
Cardinals manager Mike Shildt is so outwardly unremarkable, so everyman, so John Q. Public that he could walk up to just about any concession stand in the big leagues, order a hot dog and a cold one and go completely unrecognized.
And that’s in uniform.
Somehow, though, Shildt looked like an even blander, more colorless version of himself as he assessed his team’s chances after three games of the National League Championship Series.
“Hard to win a game if you can’t get a lead,” he said.
Cue the Debbie Downer music.
The NLCS was an absurd mismatch, with three Nationals starting pitchers — first Anibal Sanchez, then Max Scherzer, then Stephen Strasburg — making the NL Central champs look like a bunch of feckless, slapdash, in-over-their-heads pretenders.
And this is a Cardinals team that was 20 games over .500 after the All-Star break, that embarrassed the Cubs in a crucial four-game September sweep at Wrigley Field, that unloaded on the Braves for 10 runs in the first inning of a decisive Game 5 in the divisional round.
If this could happen to the Cardinals — to a team that was, to borrow a phrase from Cubs president Theo Epstein, greater than the sum of its parts — then what does it say about how far the Cubs are from their next World Series?
The Nats are trying to win their city’s first World Series in 95 years. It only feels like that long since the Cubs’ 2016 coronation.
During his postmortem with the media a couple of weeks back, Epstein repeatedly emphasized the “sum of its parts” way of looking at a team. The big takeaway: Joe Maddon lost his job because undisciplined offense plus sloppy defense plus unreliable pitching didn’t equal the 1927 Yankees.
OK, that’s not fair. Let’s just say the talented Cubs didn’t add up to anything special. In the end, they were easily outclassed by the Cardinals — let alone the Nationals, the mighty Astros and Yankees and others.
We should be clear about just how far these Cubs are from the top. Perhaps the clearest way to say it is that they’re equally close to the bottom. They finished eighth in the NL — seven teams above, seven teams below.
Will David Ross — or whoever else becomes the Cubs’ next manager — whip out a magic calculator and find a way to make Javy Baez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo, Yu Darvish and the players surrounding them add up to a whole new ballgame in 2020?
I can’t be the only one who has watched this NLCS and gotten the impression that the Cubs are even further from the World Series than it seemed even as the Cardinals were putting the finishing touches on the aforementioned sweep at Wrigley.
And if the deeply flawed 2019 Cubs somehow had finagled their way into the postseason, we can all agree on this: The inevitable pummeling would’ve been hard to watch.
Paging Gabe Kapler.
Why are you here again?
On the surface, it’s beyond strange that the Cubs would take the time to interview Kapler, fresh off a two-year flameout in Philadelphia, for the manager’s job.
But at least we’ve all heard of the guy. That’s more than many could’ve said about Astros bench coach Joe Espada before the Cubs interviewed him on Monday.
Epstein’s thoroughness is impressive, though. He isn’t merely hiring a manager. He’s working toward an organizational renovation. Improvements in scouting, player development and culture at the minor-league and big-league levels are all parts of his latest vision.
If Epstein can apply a pearl of wisdom from each candidate to the process, good on him.
• The list of Heisman Trophy candidates is down to five: Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields.
And by down to five I mean almost literally. Sports betting sites are taking all other players off the board.
It sure is hard for anyone other than a QB to win it, isn’t it? As a voter, though, I have no real problem with that. Put it this way: At the college level, the gap between one of the guys listed above and a run-of-the-mill starting QB is far greater than the gap between Aaron Rodgers and Mitch Trubisky.
• Speaking of the Bears: the frustration of watching Trubisky’s slow development vs. the disappointment of losing Kyle Long and Akiem Hicks to the injured-reserve list.
• A big announcement from the universities of Illinois and Nebraska that they’ll open the 2021 football season with a game at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Which reminds me of one of my favorite limericks:
There was a league called the Big Ten,
That failed to send its best to Dublin.
The Big Ten did deploy,
To Lose Forty-Four to Eleven.