The Cubs have made it to late July and they have managed to go through nearly 60% of a baseball season without dissolving into a Cubbish morass of ineptitude. They have hit baseballs in the right direction. They have thrown baseballs at a regulation strike zone. Most of the outfielders have managed to show up with regulation baseball gloves and not oversized novelty gloves and propeller beanies. It's a new world.
The Cubs remain in contention for one of the dozens of available wildcard playoff spots this season because of the sudden influx of young, talented Cubs. Anthony Rizzo has matured into one of the best hitters in the National League. Jake Arrieta is pitching like a legitimate ace. Kris Bryant was an instant all-star, Addison Russell has become an excellent fielder, and Starlin Castro is being the best Starlin Castro he can, which means he is swatting ineffectively at baseballs with a pool noodle. And every time one of these guys starts to falter or slump they bring up another bat. This week, it was Kyle Schwarber, a neckless stump-person who treats baseballs like they are a nameless bar hooligan in a Steven Seagal movie.
Cincinnati detectives at a crime scene where two baseballs were brutally schwarbered
Schwarber had a brief cameo as a DH-- he nominally plays catcher the way Russell Crowe is nominally the front man for 30 Odd Foot of Grunts-- but came up this week after a thumb injury to Miguel Montero. And, in a series with the Reds in which the teams played baseball nearly ceaselessly for 24 hours, Schwarber exploded. On Tuesday, he blasted a ninth-inning home run to tie the game, knocked the go-ahead dinger in the 13th, and then exploded into a supernova firing bats across the cosmos.
For the first time in years, the Cubs are fun. That is not to say they are a juggernaut. They play in the same division as the red-hot Pirates, and the St. Louis Cardinals continue to grimly march towards the division crown, replacing injured pitchers like a gritty Midwestern hydra regenerating heads so it can devour Ancient Greeks the right way.
"Seeing that Heracles was winning the struggle, Hera sent a large crab to
distract him. He crushed it under his mighty foot."
I would read a book of myths as told by a Wikipedia Editor
Even though the Cubs are headed towards almost certain Cubs disaster, summer is infinitely better with a relevant baseball team that has not yet crushed us.
BEARS FOOTBALL IS BLEAK AND HOPELESS
The Chicago Bears, on the other hand, appear to be moving towards the season with the graceful dignity of Peter Lorre from the first five minutes of Casablanca. They have installed a new GM, a new coach, a new offense, and will run a heretical 3-4 base defense. Fortunately, the hands at the wheel are steady, with the McCaskey family committed to running a professional football team in their image, which is currently confused, vacuous mustache staring.
George McCaskey's hero is Ludwig von Reuter who also has a mustache and runs things into
The greatest lightning rod for Bears criticism remains quarterback Jay Cutler. Cutler is entering his sixth year with the Bears, during which he has become as popular in Chicago as a crooked politician dumb enough to get caught. Cutler arrived with a reputation as a big-armed malcontent who was just good enough to disappoint you. This was welcome in Chicago's barren quarterback wasteland where fans cheered Rex Grossman for his mastery of the fling-it-up-to-Bernard-Berrian play, where Kyle Orton became a folk hero for managing to look competent nearly as often as he looked like he had grown a beard so he could walk into one of those dingy Chicago bars identifiable only by a faded Old Style sign and order one for him and one for his beard, and where fans cheered Rex Grossman again as he replaced Kyle Orton and this had been going on with a series of interchangeable Grossmen and Ortons since time immemorial.
Cutler had a few seasons of promise and excuses. The Bears fielded a five-man OSHA complaint as an offensive line and a squardon of interchangeable undersized punt returners at receiver. When the Bears turned their receivers into a fleet of hulking dreadnoughts and approached competence on offense, the defense turned into a performance art piece about launching oneself gracefully at the air behind a running back. Nevertheless, Cutler has failed to transcend the team's shortcomings and torpedoed the offense with infuriating interceptions. Every quarterback throws baffling interceptions from time to time; Cutler throws picks so ill-conceived that they appear almost spiteful. Bears fans have given up on him. The team gave up on him last season when they benched a healthy Cutler for Jimmy Clausen, a quarterback who had failed to look like a functioning NFL player for even a single snap in his short, miserable career and also he has a baby head.
Cutler has also committed the unforgivable sin of making a large amount of money. He signed a seven-year $126 million contract, although it is important to remember that NFL contracts deliberately obscure, misleading, and fictitious. It is not uncommon to see NFL contracts include rich parcels of land in Frisland or Poyasian bonds. Cutler's contract binds the Bears for a shorter period of time and money than indicated, but it's not negligible. It is too onerous to release Cutler and has rendered him untradeable, and new general manager Ryan Pace seems to regard his quarterback like an elderly person will regard a tribal bicep tattoo in the year 2070.
The Jay Cutler/Ryan Pace relationship reminds me of a version
of What About Bob, but instead of being charming and ingratiating,
Bob sits sullenly in the corner, texting pictures of his boat shoes
Jay Cutler also has an unpleasant reputation. In this ESPN article ranking the NFL quarterbacks (behind their insider paywall), Cutler is invoked like a chain-wielding wraith portending quarterback doom before finally revealing himself at #20 as a bunch of nameless NFL people call him a jerk. His air of hostile indifference is well-documented. It does not bother me if my team's quarterback is a churl because I don't imagine I'll ever have to interact with him, but I can understand how a guy theoretically paid a bit less than the GDP of Nauru who looks at any given moment like he might walk out of the stadium before a gleeful opposing cornerback has the chance to finish sauntering into the endzone with one of his errant passes might antagonize fans. At the very least, Cutler's mediocrity and toxic reputation means we don't have to see him attempt to act in terrible commercials. His only onscreen role seems to have been as himself in a fantasy football sitcom, which is a shameful miscasting; Jay Cutler was born to play the dismissive sheriff who doesn't believe in chupacabras until it's too late or someone credited as "guy who won't move yacht."
The Bears will, barring an unexpected miracle, be a dreadful team to follow. They are in the midst of a complete rebuild. They face a brutal schedule. Doug Buffone has passed away, leaving an entire metropolitan area of braying, nasal mustard enthusiasts bereft of anywhere to complain about Jay Cutler for hours at a time. The entire enterprise will be a joyless slog. And yet, one year one hopelessly miserable team rises out of nowhere to get obliterated by the Patriots or the Packers in the playoffs and it might as well be the Chicago Bears, sucking all around them into their black hole of mediocrity and dysfunction. It is not likely, but we just sent a probe towards Pluto, discovered a vaguely Earth-like planet 1,400 light years away, and the Chicago Cubs might sneak into the playoffs.