After three straight trips to NLCS, how can a June series interest the Cubs?
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What does it all mean?
Why, yes, I am going through an existential crisis, but that has nothing to do with my question. Baseball does. Specifically, a baseball season. It stretches from late March to the end of September. It’s 162 games looooooooooong.
The Dodgers came to town Monday, and you know what that means. That’s just it: I don’t know what it means.
I know the Cubs lost to the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series last season. Got beaten badly, in fact. Probably had their cars stolen and sold for parts, too. And I know the Cubs are good again this season, the Dodgers are good again this season and both teams quite possibly will be good right into the playoffs.
But I also know it’s the middle of June, and a three-game series in the middle of June, by definition, means as much as one bug hitting a windshield on a summer drive.
I’m sure there are times when a player or manager, with hindsight in his favor, can look back on a game or a series and say: ‘‘There. Right there. That’s where everything changed for us.’’
But Monday, the thermometer was shaking off 100-degree temperatures, heavy rain was on the way and this game and this series seemed to mean no more than any other game or series. Which is to say, not a whole lot.
Has the heat finally gotten to me?
Or, after three consecutive trips to the NLCS for the Cubs, do I have a bad case of regular-season boredom?
First baseman Anthony Rizzo saw a mob of media types around his locker Monday and immediately asked whether somebody had been traded. No, it was bigger than that. The Dodgers were in town. He didn’t seem to get the significance of the intergalactic battle that was about to take place.
‘‘We met the last two years in the NLCS, but it’s 2018,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s not 2016. It’s not 2017. It’s 2018. They’re trying to win their division. We’re trying to win our division.’’
I think this is how most players look at a season. But surely there are times when they view one series as more important than others. That’s human nature, isn’t it? Or, for sanity sake, must they look at a season as one enormous entity?
‘‘It depends what part of the season it is,’’ left-hander Jon Lester said. ‘‘I feel like right now, you’re just kind of grinding to get to the All-Star break. Once you get past the All-Star break, then really every series is kind of important.
‘‘It’s always fun to play the Dodgers. . . . But as far as a big series and it meaning a lot, I think that’s the media [making it into something more].’’
What can I say? Baseball brings out the crazy in us.
The truth is right there in front of us. It’s a massive schedule that absolutely begs us to keep things in perspective. But we can’t. Why can’t Kris Bryant hit anymore? When will Yu Darvish stop being a bust? Media and fans want answers. Immediately. Unfortunately, baseball doesn’t do anything immediately, other than charge your credit card.
In the past, I’ve written that one team or another’s upcoming series was a big series. I’m guessing I’ll write it again. But right now, on this night, I’m having a crisis of hype.
It’s hard to figure out when it’s really time to pay attention and to care. If you really care in June, how much more can you care in September, when it might matter more? Seems like a lot of wasted energy. Better to order another beer. Better for a fan to save his or her vengefulness for October, when the Cubs might get a chance to make the Dodgers pay for what they did in the 2017 NLCS.
‘‘After you gain a lot of experience playing baseball, going through a postseason, playing in big series — define to me what a big series is,’’ Rizzo said. ‘‘Is Milwaukee a big series? Is playing in St. Louis a big series — ‘Sunday Night Baseball’? It’s just baseball. I think the more experience you have, the more you’re able to just go out and say, ‘It’s just another game.’ ’’
It’s baseball. It’s a cliché, a shield, a cop-out that players often use. And it’s also true. Baseball is slow. It takes time. It demands patience. It doesn’t lend itself to neat explanations. It’s a 162-game schedule that has ups and downs, hot streaks and slumps. A team that stunk it up in April can be a contender in September.
It’s baseball. Whatever that means. I’ll think I’ll have that beer now.
Sun-Times sports columnists Rick Morrissey and Rick Telander are co-hosts of a new podcast called “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered.” Don’t miss their candid, amusing takes on everything from professional teams tanking to overzealous sports parents and more. Download and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts and Google Play, or via RSS feed.