Friday, June 2, 2017


The Chicago Cubs, the Reigning Champions of Baseball, have returned this season and they are floundering.  They are under .500, in third place in baseball's most putrid division. They have just dropped six in a row; the last time that happened was in 2012 when they were literally trying to lose as many baseball games as possible so they could draft Kris Bryant, and their roster consisted of a bunch of Spinal Tap drummers.  That was the year they sent a possibly fictional baseball player to the All-Star game who then vanished from the face of the Earth like a reverse Roy Hobbs.

A new controversial theory suggest that Bryan LaHair eventually, over 
the course of millenia, evolved into modern birds

The Let Cooler Heads Prevail people are blogging away about their BABIPs and Regressions to the Mean, and the Cubs' placement in a division full of teams that appear to have just learned about baseball through Wikipedia entries illustrated solely with blurry pictures of Matt Stairs.  Yes, the Cubs will play more than 100 more games and have plenty of time to right the ship.  And yes, after last year's long-awaited championship ended a century-long drought, the Cubs could move to St. Louis, form a splinter group of ultra-Cardinalism that preaches a more stringent, boring, and righter way to play baseball, and slather themselves in ketchup while denouncing all of the weird condiment, sausage, and pizza preferences that have somehow become sacrosanct markers of civic identity and I wouldn't care for like five years.  The Cubs are shitty right now and it's time to strike while the iron is hot.

The Cubs destroyed the world last year and seemed to have enough young superstars, prospects, and briefcases full of Ricketts money that is currently being used to terraform the entirety of Lakeview into Wrigley Field to remain a juggernaut for years.  The Cubs would, by all accounts, continue to rampage through the NL Central and threaten in the playoffs.  Instead, the Cubs have stumbled and instead of having to write about how the Despised Cub Men are bludgeoning the National League with their Run Differential and Joe Maddon is now managing entire series as a new kooky character he invented called Vance Goatwright, we can settle into the comforting routine writing about how the Cubs are beefing it in the field, stranding enough players on the bases to require the mobilization of a baserunner helicopter rescue service, and altogether playing a flailing, inelegant, moron baseball that can only be described by years honed watching the Cubs try to play baseball.

The Cubs' main problem all season has been the starting pitching.  Their collection of Vintage Pitchers have begun to show their age.  John Lackey now exists only as a gleaming-toothed grimace tracing the path of a ball into the bleachers.  Kyle Hendricks accidentally erased the program on his graphing calculator that allowed him to strike guys out with 86 mile-per-hour fastballs.  Brett Anderson is on the Disabled List with standing on the mound emitting an unearthly howl as his skull exploded all over "Cowboy" Joe West.  Jake Arrieta's chest is swallowing up his arms and legs.  I read somewhere that this Jon Lester guy can't even throw to first.

Highly scientific diagram of the past two seasons of Arrieta pitching

The Cubs are balancing out their shaky pitching by swinging bats made of ashed cigarettes.  The most visible example of this is the struggling Kyle Schwarber but that might be because he is large enough to be visible from space.  Schwarber, who beefed his way into fans' hearts by waddling around and damaging Wrigley Field signage with his towering ding shots has been one of the worst hitters in baseball this season.  A man who made a miraculous recovery from a catastrophic knee injury to become a World Series hero against some of the best pitchers in baseball after a couple days of live pitching is now flailing against anonymous innings-eaters on tanking teams and relievers recently discharged from the Kevin Gregg Institute of Goggled Belly-Itching.  Schwarber is also a contributor to the Cubs' regression from a world-historical baseball defense to something resembling ordinary by doing things like belly-flopping so hard during a pouring game that the umpires immediately called for the tarp and a large piece of Schwarber-shaped turf.

Schwarber is not the only Cub struggling, though.  Only Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, and part-timers Miguel Montero and Jon Jay have a wRC+ over 100.  Addison Russell is hitting barely better than Schwarber, but still at least playing stellar defense.  The problem has been exacerbated by a road trip where the Cubs refused to knock in baserunners-- thousands of years from now, they will find the silhouettes of runners trapped forever in scoring position in Southern California.
Cubs advanced analytics tell us it is impossible to score from third 
base because of Zeno's Paradox

The sample sizes are small.  The division is bad.  The Cubs preceded their 0-6 slump with a 7-2 homestand, and they returned to Wrigley Field with a chance to get right back into it with a series against the Cardinals.  

But I'm going to take it in and savor it, this rare patch of Cubs Panic.  Last year, they came out of the gate as the best team in baseball, made it to the World Series, and won it in a game that exorcised all of the Cubs demons by essentially running through a truncated greatest hits compilation of choking before finally holding on in rain-delayed extra innings. Before last year, every hiccup was a stumble in a race against the destruction of another season in a losing streak so endless that the televised footage of their playoff games featured a large number of cemeteries.  They were a doomsday cult. Now, the Cubs are a mere underperforming baseball team.  This losing streak has been irritating and frustrating, and completely lacking in the existential despair that has accompanied every Cubs downturn in any year that they've actually been supposed to be good, but after a lifetime of pessimism and reflexive baseball doom-mongering, it's been strange to watch the Cubs flounder around, briefly worry, and then reach for the nearest piece of licensed championship memorabilia and go back to watching baseball like an approximation of a normal person.

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