Joe Maddon broke into a huge smile just thinking about it.
The Cubs returned Monday to Wrigley Field in first place in the National League Central. They won six of eight series in April. Yet to some, the team’s start isn’t good enough.
“I love it,” Maddon said.
The manager did not love what happened next. After an 85-minute rain delay, Brett Anderson was pounded for seven runs in 1„ innings before Maddon yanked him.
Javier Baez hit a solo shot for his second home run of the season, but Cubs hitters did little else as the Phillies cruised to a 10-2 win. The Cubs (13-12) lost for the fourth time in five games.
Was Anderson’s meltdown the latest sign of a flawed team? Or is a little bit of turbulence no big deal?
“Every year has its own separate identity,” Maddon said. “I love where we’re at right now based on the fact we haven’t played our best baseball yet. If we had been just kicking it and in this position, I’d be a little more concerned, but we haven’t. The effort has been [there], everything has been in place. . . .
‘‘I could not be happier with the group now. ”
Go figure. For more than a century, history caused Cubs fans to brace for heartache and disappointment. Now, history (see: 2016) has some of those same fans demanding nothing short of perfection.
Last season, the Cubs charged to a 25-6 start. Not until mid-May did they lose two games in a row. Postgame dance parties became as routine as brushing your teeth before bed.
This season has featured less dancing, unless you count David Ross. The lengthy rain delay offered the Cubs plenty of time to broadcast Ross’ latest live performance on “Dancing with the Stars” on the left-field scoreboard. After the dance, the team flashed a phone number for fans to support their favorite retired catcher.
Ross is gone now, along with Dexter Fowler and Jason Hammel, among others. The core returned, albeit on short rest after a World Series that lasted into November and tributes that stretched into spring.
Still, Jason Heyward sees no signs of a championship hangover.
“A hangover to me is when you have too much fun or you enjoy something too much,” Heyward said. “I don’t think we did any of that. I think we absolutely did what we were supposed to do, took it in stride, had fun, and now we’re coming out here to compete.”
Maybe there is no hangover, but the Cubs certainly stumbled their way through the series opener Monday. Anderson allowed four runs in the first inning and three more in the second as his ERA ballooned to 6.23.
Justin Grimm gave up three more runs, including a pair of home runs, in the seventh inning.
With the game out of reach, Maddon shuffled his defense. Kyle Schwarber moved from left field to catcher in the eighth inning, marking his first appearance behind the plate this season.
Players agree with Maddon that their best baseball lies ahead.
“We’re not putting any pressure on us,” Carl Edwards Jr. said. “We’re just having fun.”
However, if you’re looking for an exact repeat of the magic of 2016, keep looking. A once-in-a-lifetime season cannot happen twice.
“Nah, you’ll never be able to repeat that,” Edwards Jr. said. “I mean, we could go and win it again this year, but it won’t be the same as when we won it last year.”
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