MILWAUKEE — The reeling Cubs took the field Tuesday with star shortstop Javy Baez joined by Eric Sogard at third base, Sergio Alcantara at second and Patrick Wisdom at first. There’s a word for an infield like that, and it’s: “Who?”
What kind of team are the Cubs when Anthony Rizzo is out with a bad back, Kris Bryant is out with a sore side, Willson Contreras is catching with a painful glove hand, the Injured List Hotel is already overbooked and losses are multiplying like cups in a beer snake?
Not a good one, that’s for sure.
But are they a bad one? Is the writing already on the wall? Are they weathering a storm, or are they a motley crew of hopelessness?
It’s too soon for such questions, manager David Ross would argue. The season reaches merely its numerical midpoint — Game No. 81 — on Wednesday against the division-leading Brewers.
“We’ve played the tougher part of our schedule [or] are in the back end of that right now,” Ross said. “So I think, you know, in theory, the second half is a little bit easier. I take it with a grain of salt. Record is what it is.
“Are we playing good baseball? Do we feel we’ve got a chance to do real damage on a nightly basis? I think we’re in a lot of baseball games. I think we know where our strengths and weaknesses are, and we’re trying to improve all those things. We’re only at the halfway point.”
I’m more inclined to push the panic button, although perhaps I should know better. In 2015, the Cubs were only 44-37 after 81 games but went 53-28 from there. In 2017, the Cubs were 40-41 after 81 games and 52-29 the rest of the way.
Halfway through, the 2017 team was an absolute mess. Bryant had just been helped off the field with a sprained ankle, joining Kyle Hendricks, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist on the injured list. Kyle Schwarber was at Triple-A Iowa after a demotion. Miguel Montero had been shipped out. Addison Russell had allegations of domestic violence swirling around him. Then-team president Theo Epstein questioned the team’s edge. There were whispers that manager Joe Maddon wasn’t doing enough to get his team locked in.
When Jon Lester gave up 10 runs in the first inning against the Pirates in Game 81, I was convinced the 2017 Cubs were going nowhere. And that team still had all its foundational pieces in the starting rotation, primarily Lester and Jake Arrieta — who is not to be confused with the Arrieta who will take the ball in Game 81 here on Wednesday.
Ross says these Cubs are good at “resetting” no matter what comes their way. Maybe a second-half reset is all they really need. It’s a better strategy than panicking, I’ll give the man that.
Meanwhile, how serious is MLB about this sticky-stuff business? So serious that umpires checked Sogard’s glove Monday after the infielder came in to get the final out of the Brewers’ 10-run eighth inning. Talk about overly officious foolishness.
On the other hand, it probably wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for somebody to check Sogard’s bat for traces of big-league hitting ability.
• In a wonderful development, White Sox center fielder Luis Robert has been medically cleared to “increase his level of baseball activities” at the team’s complex in Arizona. Just shy of two months with the dazzling Robert in the lineup would beat the heck out of zero months with him in the lineup.
Now, if only the Sox can get Yermin Mercedes — hitting below .200 since April — to increase his level of baseball activities.
• Who’s tougher than Sox first baseman Jose Abreu? Two days after being hit in the knee with a fastball, Abreu was in Tuesday night’s lineup against the Twins. But first he had to pass a test from head trainer James Kruk and manager Tony La Russa.
“It really came down to [whether] he could run without limping,” La Russa said.
Let’s face it — the big fella can’t really run, limp or no limp. It only adds to his charm.