It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Wow, was Charles Dickens writing about the French Revolution or the Cubs recently-concluded series with the Dodgers? Because in splitting the 4-game set, the Cubs managed to look like two entirely different teams. They won games started by Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke and then lost to Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton. Or was it Mike Bolsinger and Carlos Frias? Whatever.
Wednesday’s contest had one of those “you can’t win ’em all” vibes, but Thursday seemed really winnable. Frias is a guy with a 4-plus ERA and a WHIP north of 1.50 and both Adrian Gonzalez and Pederson were absent from the lineup with Jon Lester on the mound. The Cubs would recover the game they had just dropped and would head to St. Louis at 9 games over. It was the best of times.
But then Starlin Castro was a late scratch due to the birth of his second child, a move that shifted the lineup around a little bit. A Lester start naturally means a slightly weaker lineup because David Ross has to carry the lefty’s clubs, but Castro being gone meant that Jon Herrera had to make a spot start as well. And Dexter Fowler’s turned ankle necessitated another start in center for chronic game-ender Chris Denorfia.
Like what you’re seeing so far? Ah, but there’s more! Mike Baxter got the start in right to round out the slapdash lineup and make those tuning in late wonder whether they were getting a rain delay theater replay of a game from 2012. At least Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant were holding things down at the corner and the top of the order, so all was not lost. Well, sorta.
In a move that triggered a not-insignificant freak-out from Cubs fans, Bryant came out of the game in the 3rd inning and was replaced at the hot corner by Herrera. But wait, he had been at 2nd. Yeah, so Chris Coghlan moved from left to fill the void when the diminutive Venezuelan shifted across the infield. It was the worst of times.
Fears were allayed in due time when it was announced that Bryant had left due to “flu-like symptoms,” the same amorphous diagnosis that had laid him low in a previous day game. My guess was that he may have had a little intestinal distress, which is too bad because the Cubs really could have used the runs on Thursday.
Many others speculated that Bryant’s flu may have been of the brown-bottle variety, which would be really disappointing. I’m not saying I begrudge the young man a little partying, just that I don’t want a guy on my team who can’t play through a hangover. This sport was built on the backs of men who overcame splitting headaches and just swung at the one in the middle.
Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle would roll over in their graves at the thought. Talk of a ballplayer who can’t handle his liquor would drive Mark Grace crazy. And it would probably have to since, you know, Gracie can’t drive himself. Oh, burn!
So whether it was legitimate or self-inflicted, Kris Bryant was removed before he could soil himself. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Jon Lester, who was a hot mess on the bump in the early going. He walked four Dodgers in the first 2 innings and proceeded to allow an equal number of hits and runs. And to top it off, he started jawing with home plate umpire Andy Fletcher to the point that Fletcher approached the mound and actually had to be calmed down by David Ross. If they ever make a movie about the incident, it’ll be called Fletch Livid.
Lester settled down after the 2nd inning, but the damage was done and the Cubs went on to lose 4-0. Truth be told though, it felt a lot more demoralizing than that. Sure, one could point to the fact that four regular starters were missing and that all should be back before too long. But the Cubs’ lack of capable depth was exposed in a big way.
Again, there aren’t going to be many games in which you’ve got to start Herrera, Ross, and Baxter in addition to relying on several innings from Matt Szczur and then asking Cogs to play in the infield. It was weird baseball to be sure, but the lack of confidence in the bench as a unit was telling. If there’s a silver lining here though, it’s that this was just one game and that the Cubs should be back to relatively full strength here soon.
So someone get Bryant some Pepto Bismol and keep him out of the bars in downtown St. Louis — not that that’s typically a problem for the general population — so he can hold down the fort on Friday. I’ll be there with my kids and I promised them a Bryant foul ball so if he doesn’t deliver it’ll make me look like the worst dad on Earth. Okay, not really, but it would be a buzzkill to head directly into the mouth of hell only to be faced with a depleted lineup.
By the time the season has ended, this game will be little more than a blip on the radar but it sure felt significant at the time. Think about this though: even a sweep at the hands of the Redbirds would mean that the worst the Cubs could be is 3 games over at the start of July (1 game with the Mets on June 30th). Raise your hand if you would have been disappointed in March had I told you the Cubs would have a winning record in July. Go on, don’t be shy. No one? Huh, okay.
This team has some flaws, but nothing they can’t address with a couple moves and maybe a band-aid promotion or two here and there. Certainly nothing to panic about…yet. When they take two of three from those hacks to the south this weekend, it’ll be back to sunshine and rainbows. For a few days anyway.
Such is the life of the fan of a team that is actually good. You probably forgot what that was like; I know I did. It’s not always fun when you expect to win, but at least the winning comes frequently enough to mollify the barely-concealed angst of the noisiest authorities among us.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll be able to provide a more superlative degree of comparison.