SAN DIEGO – They’re trying not to suck. Really, really trying. They practice their hitting and stretch before games and listen to their coaches and cut out the gluten and get a full night’s sleep, all so not to suck. Got the T-shirts and everything.
And well …
“I can’t control if Eric’s sitting on his couch and doesn’t play baseball and is mad at our team,” Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “I just can’t control that.”
I guessed at the spelling of Eric. Could’ve been with a K. The point being, Eric with a C is a made-up guy who lives in Chicago and got drunk on 25-6 before getting really drunk on 28-29, but first endured four or five decades of sitting on his couch being so mad at their team he went to only, like, 50 games a year. In a Don Kessinger shirsey. And, fact is, Anthony Rizzo loves Eric with a C and his friends and the guys who fill his row in the bleachers, because part of this thing the 2016 Cubs are trying to do is win a town for real, not for being harmless go-getters whose only sin was believing they could be the ones.
All those other guys? They tried not to suck too and that only got the Cubs to here, 108 years later, seven games up with 74 to play, losers of five of their past six and nine of their past 11 and 15 of their past 21 and, oh god, somebody get Eric a paper bag.
The Cubs can’t yak this up, no way, if only because they are better than the Cardinals and the Pirates, and that’s really the only measure that counts here. They will get healthy – Dexter Fowler and Clayton Richard will return soon, and they will pitch – Jake Arrieta’s ERA is 8.27 in his past three starts, Jon Lester’s is 27.00 over two starts, and Jason Heyward has to get back to being at least an average player, right? Nobody wants to hear about this, as it is the life of the ballplayer, but the Cubs played 24 games in 24 days leading to the break, had a day off before that, and had played on 19 consecutive days leading to it. That’s a lot of baseball even for a group that does baseball for a living, not that that’s a reason to lose so many of them.
Still, said Lester, “We needed a break.”
It’s probably best they get a few days away, a few days when it’s OK to suck a little, and to forget that the 12½-game lead over the Cardinals is seven, that the 15-game lead over the Pirates is half that, that a few laughs in San Diego could go a long way. In spite of so much average baseball over the past couple months, six Cubs are here, one the injured Fowler. The National League’s starting infield has Rizzo at first base, Ben Zobrist at second, Addison Russell at shortstop and Kris Bryant at third.
That’s a good half of baseball. Fifty-three wins is a good half of baseball. And if you know the rhythms of the game, of the season within the game, then you know this is part of it. Too many Cubs go a little flat at the same time, too many legs go a little heavy at the same time, and too many hand-shy fans get thinking about it at the same time, Wrigleyville gets sideways. The world is different there, like the Back Bay had been some dozen years ago, a bit like Cleveland is today, so two-month wobbles become harbingers of the same ol’ same ol’, because it’s emotionally safer to get out in front of these things.
Joe Maddon was busy reminding folks his 2008 Tampa Bay Rays lost seven consecutive games into the All-Star break, which some folks in St. Petersburg probably even noticed, and three months later were in the World Series. They all lose games. Lots of them. Just, maybe, not quite so many in the middle of the greatest season in baseball history if, say, that’s where one’s head was on, say, May 10.
“Just baseball, you know?” Lester said. “It’s baseball. We play 162 games for a reason. It’s such a rollercoaster ride. Right now we’re making it too big of a rollercoaster. We’re making it a little more difficult on ourselves.
“We’ll get back to it. We’re too good of a staff and too good of a defense to keep going this way. … In Chicago, you’re going to hear about it. But I played in Boston for eight years. This is pretty mild compared to what I experienced in the past.”
And the Red Sox had won by the time he got there.
So, they’ll drink plenty of fluids, get their flu shots, lovingly oil their gloves, steer clear of The Cubby Bear the night before a day game, and then try, try, try not to suck. They’re doing all they can – for the city, for the team, for themselves.
And mostly for Eric. With a C.