What's happened to the once-invincible Chicago Cubs?

MLB columnist
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Oh, Chicago, you didn’t think this would be easy, did you? Did you?

That there wouldn’t be 60 or 70 or more nights when the other guys are better? Or luckier? Or healthier? Or not as terrible? That there wouldn’t be hinky bounces and back-up sliders and stale beer and a $184-million .657 OPS in the two-hole and .500-ish ball for seven weeks?

Really. Seven weeks.

Well, here’s your gentle reminder the disabled list was invented for a reason, and so were emotional frailties to go along with those structural frailties, and so were wind-blown home runs and other neck-shots whose spreadsheet column header reads, “I don’t know, man, stuff just happens.”

Here’s also your gentle reminder about bullpens, their fundamental volatility and, in this case, an ERA that was 2.72 in April, 3.80 in May, 3.96 in June and you don’t wanna know in July. OK, it’s about 5 1/2. And then about replicating career years, so Jason Heyward is for the moment out of the two-hole, as he’s helpless even against right-handers, and Jake Arrieta has hit a funky patch, and Ben Zobrist has hit .220 for a month, and other uncomfortable details, all of which happen.

Maybe, Chicago, you think you had this season coming, all blue skies and W flags. You’d have a reasonable argument. And if it works out, just promise you’ll spare us the now-we-can-die-in-peace epitaphs, because you won’t, and the rest of us will find it tiresome.

Anyway, a little perspective: know that in the past 20 years there’ve been only 20 teams to win as many as 100 games, and of those 20 teams only two – the 1998 and 2009 Yankees – won the World Series, too, which is to say it’s hard to win 100 games and way, way harder to win the World Series, and one has little to do with the other.

If your Cubs play exactly .500 ball the rest of the summer — and they won’t, but if they do — it won’t feel good, but they’ll win 87 games. Even at that worst-case slog for the Cubs, the Cardinals would have to win at a much better pace than they have for three months. It’s possible, but they’ve had a .500-ish seven weeks, too.

That’s it for the perspective.

The Cubs have played beneath themselves for just long enough to wonder if they’re the 27-25 Cubs or the 25-6 Cubs, which is maybe a little too real to dwell on. Let’s just say they’re the 52-31 Cubs, which, in Chicago, should feel like blue skies and W flags and a massive lead in the NL Central. It’s as easy as it’s going to get.

The sting of four losses to the Mets in New York (following the sting of four losses to the Mets in October) lingered only because it looked so much like more of the same, only more thorough. And it was nothing the Reds couldn’t soothe for a day, anyway.

On the bright side, only three more games against the Mets. Until, maybe, you know …

A WEEK BEHIND:

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

We, as a society, love Jose Altuve plenty. He’ll be an All-Star for the fourth time in five years. He laughs and we absolutely have to laugh with him. On a newspaper page filled with tiny letters and numbers, we search out his letters and numbers almost every morning, and we shake our heads at another couple hits and maybe a home run and think, “How can this be?” Then we check to see who’ll he be doing that against tonight. Yes, we love us some Jose Altuve.

But do we love him enough?

He just had a couple weeks in which he batted .404 and hit two home runs and scored 12 runs and stole four bases and had two more four-hit games and, just for curiosity’s sake, had two oh-for-four games in which he saw a total of 19 pitches. He was oh-for-four Sunday on a Rougned-ian seven pitches.

He is aggressive and he is ridiculously talented and he plays to the size of the game and he has a helluva time doing it and he is everybody’s favorite teammate, or should be.

He is, at 26, having his best season in a career that’s already seen a batting title and two, 200 plus-hit seasons and two stolen base titles and a Gold Glove and a pivotal role in turning the Astros from a 111-loss team into what they are today.

Now go love him some more.

A WEEK AHEAD:

The Mets are digging themselves again after a spotty month and a half, this a result of burying the Cubs over four days in Flushing, and a little less talk about bone spurs, and some life from an offense that was atrocious in May and worse in June.

They’re probably not going to catch the Nationals, who hit better, defend better and pitch about as well. But, they could. If the Mets are to have another summer like the last one, then what better time to start than a four-game series at Citi Field against the Nats that empties into the All-Star break?

The matchups:

Thursday: Lucas Giolito vs. Bartolo Colon

Friday: Stephen Strasburg vs. Noah Syndergaard

Saturday: Max Scherzer vs. Matt Harvey

Sunday: Gio Gonzalez vs. Steven Matz

SAW IT COMING:

Indians outfielder Abraham Almonte returned from his 80-game PED suspension this week, bringing depth to a unit that lost Marlon Byrd to the same circumstances and Michael Brantley to lingering shoulder issues. Almonte did his time after testing for Boldenone, an anabolic steroid preferred by farm animals. This is not the sort of stuff that lingers on a conveyor belt in the factory that might also make your protein powder.

Almonte, a 27-year-old who grew up in Santo Domingo, explained his situation to Cleveland reporters thusly: “We tried to figure it out in spring training. In the DR it would be too hard to find out. I can say we think it’s this and then we look up and maybe it’s not.

“We have an idea maybe how it happened because we found out what they use that for. What kind of people use that and where they put it. We might have an idea where it came from, but we’re not sure.”

Onward.

DIDN’T SEE IT COMING:

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Prior to being traded to the Cubs late last August, Fernando Rodney’s ERA as a Mariner was 5.68. His strikeouts were down, his walks were up. At 38, and even after 14 taut appearances for the Cubs, Rodney might fairly have been considered very near the end of his career, which explains how the $2 million contract from the Padres was the best he could get.

A good changeup lives for as long as a decent fastball does, however, and Rodney’s fastball is still running at 95-plus, which makes his changeup elite long as he’s throwing strikes with one or both.

He served the Padres’ purpose, turning what few late-inning leads they had into wins and then, in the trade with the Marlins, turning into a 20-year-old – Chris Paddack — who throws 95 mph.

Rodney has the eighth inning in the short term. A.J. Ramos, who has the ninth, has blown one save opportunity. And the Marlins, whose real second-half needs will be a starting pitcher and a return to form from Giancarlo Stanton (and a successful return from Dee Gordon), get a little more dangerous, his uneven start with the Marlins notwithstanding. Probably.

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