MORRISSEY: Watching the up-and-down Cubs is exhausting
The next chapter in the story is the part where the Cubs, emboldened by a two-week menu of feeble resistance, morph back into the tough-talking team that swashbuckled through the underwhelming Orioles, Braves and White Sox after the All-Star break.
I’d suggest a pirate dress-up day for the players so they can get into the spirit of things, but I’m probably late to the party. Here’s guessing that loosey-goosey manager Joe Maddon already is pricing black eyepatches.
I don’t know how you people do it. I’m talking to Cubs fans. The ups and downs of this season, the absence of anything firm to grab onto, the teases, the constant assurances of prosperity right around the corner, and the results that argue otherwise. It looks exhausting.
The team that offered fun at every turn in 2016 isn’t completely devoid of joy this year, but delivery of the stuff has been spotty.
A hangover after winning the World Series is understandable. What the Cubs did last season wiped out all the bad memories of all those previous bad seasons. It gave them a pass going forward in this city for, what, years? Decades? So it seems ridiculous to be hard on them after last year’s momentous accomplishment.
But right now, an opportunity could be slipping away, and for no good reason. The Cubs still have more talent than most teams in baseball. Their starting pitching has found life. Their front office has gotten them help to make a second-half push. And still, mediocrity comes creeping back like crabgrass.
The Cubs continue to talk about a long winning streak that will finally show everyone that the 2016 champions are back. They had that nice stretch after the All-Star break, winning 11 of 13 games, including two of three against the not-yet-resurgent Cardinals, and suddenly they were strutting again. Everything was different now, they said. The real Cubs had pulled into town. Not long after came the good teams, the Diamondbacks and the Nationals. Six games later, the Cubs crawled out of Wrigley Field with only two victories. Then they lost two of three to the lowly Giants, a last-place team.
When they bounced back and won two of three against the Diamondbacks in Arizona over the weekend, they whined about the umpiring in the one loss. They also found time to let everyone know they weren’t happy about the news that they’ll have to play a game the Thursday after next season’s All-Star Game, taking away an opportunity for more consecutive days of rest. The Cubs talking about next year is a time-honored tradition, but this was absurd.
The whole thing is hard to understand — the mindset, the results, the season. Do you recall Maddon or his players getting as angry at themselves during this frustrating season as they were at umpire Mark Wegner the other day? I don’t, either.
They’re not acting like World Series champions, not carrying themselves with the bearing of a defending champion. They want all that comes with having those championship rings, but they’re not doing their part to give themselves the best chance to repeat. Ben Zobrist isn’t. Kris Bryant isn’t, at least with runners in scoring position. Pick a player, and you probably won’t be wrong.
So now they’re about to fill up on the Reds, the Blue Jays, the Reds again and the Phillies. It’s not until the Cubs arrive in Pittsburgh on Aug. 28 for a three-game series that they’ll face a team that isn’t in last place in its division. And the mighty Pirates are all of 58-60.
The Cubs have been talking about banding together and somehow making up for the loss of catcher Willson Contreras, who is out four to six weeks with a hamstring injury. If the loss of Contreras sinks the team’s playoff hopes, then it wasn’t much of a team. This is a player no one was counting on to be a star. It’s to his credit that he became one. But if the Cubs can’t recover from his absence, that doesn’t say much for them.
If they hang on and win the division, the knowing looks say, watch out. No one would want to face such a dangerous team, a team that knows how to win in the playoffs. That’s become the mantra of this season.
Maybe that’s exactly how this will play out and the Cubs will have the last laugh on all of the people who trudged, weary and somber, through this season. But that won’t make this experience any more fulfilling.
Why is life so hard for such a talented team? No one has come up with a satisfying answer yet. And, no, “baseball is hard” doesn’t cut it.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.