It would be rash to say this isn’t the Cubs’ year, even if every fiber of your being is looking at the Cubs and the year and responding in the negative.
They’re leading their division. They’re the defending World Series champions. There’s still a lot of talent on the roster.
But it would be much more surprising if they repeated as champs than if they didn’t make the playoffs.
At no point this season has there been the feeling the Cubs are what they should be. And there’s nothing yet that suggests they’ll get there. Being swept by the Brewers over the weekend only added to the seasonlong sense that the compass is off a degree or 10.
There’s always something wrong. The culprits change from week to week or month to month and vary in size and importance, but it’s always something.
If the hitting is good, the starting pitching isn’t.
If the starting pitching is strong, nobody can hit with runners in scoring position.
If the hitters are knocking in runs, the bullpen is struggling.
If the bullpen is doing its job, the manager out-thinks himself.
If the manager uses his wits to pull out a victory, somebody heads to the disabled list.
These are your 2017 Cubs. They might win their division, but they’re killing you along the way.
And yet they’re leading the Cardinals by two games and the Brewers by 2½. Being in first place in the National League Central would seem to trump everything. But, again, there’s this hard-to-shake feeling that a reckoning is coming for all the inconsistency.
They should be better than this. They’re not. The division is weak. The Cardinals and Brewers aren’t nearly as talented as the Cubs, yet they’re all in a ball that’s rolling toward October. The Cardinals come to Wrigley Field on Friday for a three-game showdown.
You say that series finally will bring out the real Cubs? Well, the theme of every month this season has been ‘‘Just Wait Until.’’ Just wait until Kyle Schwarber starts hitting. Just wait until the All-Star break and the team is rested. Just wait until the next long homestand. Just wait until the soft part of the schedule gets here. Just wait until Kyle Hendricks comes back.
Just wait until the Cardinals come to town.
The entire season has been spent waiting for the Cubs to
come out and play. The Cubs of last season. The Cubs who could put together a string of good games against good teams. That hasn’t happened.
Sometime after the All-Star break, they started distancing themselves from the importance of the regular season. They started saying that the only thing that matters is making the postseason and that it doesn’t matter how a team gets there. The implication was that the real Cubs would re-emerge when the games really mattered.
Just wait until the playoffs.
It’s why manager Joe Maddon, unsolicited, started talking last month about the possibility of facing the Dodgers in the postseason. It was a dangerous gambit, going all in on a Cubs team that hadn’t been on the verge of breaking out.
Earlier in the season, someone asked third baseman Kris Bryant what gave him confidence the Cubs had it in them to turn things around. He pointed to Game 7 of the World Series, when they battled back in the late innings. They already had proved they could, he said, and they did it on the biggest stage.
The Cubs got what they wanted last season, fulfilling their own dreams and the dreams of a fan base that had lived in the desert for more than a century. The Indians didn’t get what they so desperately wanted in 2016, but they extended their winning streak to 19 games with a victory Monday against the Tigers. That might be the best example of what hunger can do for a sports team.
No one can say with certainty the Cubs have lost their desire. Maddon runs a loose ship and makes very few demands on his players, but he did that last season, too. Whatever messages he has tried to get through this season haven’t sunk in. Players still are swinging for the fences rather than trying to get on base. No one seems too concerned about anything.
There are still times when Maddon thinks that he’s Bob Dylan and that everyone else has the originality of a tribute band. That works when you’re winning. It doesn’t work so well when you’re struggling to separate yourself in a mediocre division.
His players can elevate him to genius status again if they start winning games regularly. That they haven’t so far seems to say they won’t. It’s almost mid-September, after all. You’d think something would have happened by now.
Oh, right. I forgot.
Just wait until this weekend.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.