This Cubs team is so bad right now…
Okay, let’s try that again.
This Cubs team is so bad right now…
How bad are they?
They’re so bad, they got no-hit by a schmuck who had allowed 14 earned runs over 6.1 innings over his two previous starts. They’re so bad, their best mop-up pitching option is their backup catcher. And the Cubs are so bad, I had to turn off the game in favor of shame-watching Pixels with my son (which, perhaps because of the vomit-inducing series with the Phillies, I didn’t actually loathe).
I suppose this is just another example of the chickens coming home to roost and laying all of their eggs in one basket, though not the one that spans Wrigley’s outfield wall.
@Schumouse Just awful. But that's what happens when you put all your eggs in a suspect basket.
— Nick Vlahos (@VlahosNick) July 26, 2015
Great minds, amirite. I mean, this is what the front office gets for fielding a rotation that included two free agent signings, two trade acquisitions, and TBD 5/6 spot. And then you throw in a lineup stocked with two draftees, three trades, two international free agents, and a guy picked up on a minor-league deal. So suspect they might as well be Verbal Kint, Dean Keaton, Michael McManus, Fred Fenster, and Todd Hockney.
Getting swept at home has a tendency to get folks a little riled though, so I understand the misplaced aggression and finger-pointing taking place across Cubdom. And while extending one’s middle finger to the sky in response to such an ignominious trio of performances this weekend is completely valid, I take issue with those who would try to take control of the bus in order to drive it over hitting coach John Mallee.
Yes, it is very easy to connect two dots when you see “hitting instructor” and “struggling offense,” but this isn’t Occam’s Razor. Handing Mallee a pink slip would be the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions, but it’s also an incredibly lazy conclusion that essentially says you’d simply prefer not to pay heed to any of the other myriad issues this Cubs team has. Chief among those issues is youth and inexperience.
In an effort to illustrate Mallee’s job, I offer up the following conversation that occurred between me and my son in the car this afternoon as I was helping him learn to read his watch.
Daddy, what time is it?
Where is the little hand?
Between the one and the two.
And where is the big hand?
On the seven.
Well, the hour is the little hand, and it’s the number that hand passed most recently. What is it between?
One and two.
So what is the hour?
What numbers is the small hand between, buddy?
One and two.
Okay, so if the small hand is between one and two and the hour is the one it is already past, what is the hour?
Argh! Bro! (I really do call him Bro)
No let’s adapt that to what I imagine Mallee’s conversations with most of the lineup to be like on a semi-regular basis.
Coach, can you help you to be a better hitter?
Sure, do you know what a pitcher’s count is?
Between 0-2 and 1-2.
And what is he likely to throw you in those counts?
Maybe a slider low and away.
Okay, so if you’re down in the count and you see that slider, you know what to do.
Okay, remember, if you see that slider low and away, you need to go ahead and lay off.
All the curse words.
Yes, I know that what I just wrote is a gross simplification of the interaction between hitting instructor and player, but my goal here was to illustrate the chasm that exists between practice and execution. Bear in mind that these are grown men who have decades of accumulated knowledge when it comes to striking a ball with a club; Mallee’s job isn’t to go up to these guys and dispense unsolicited info or to break them down and tell them how much they suck.
As a hitting instructor, he needs to know the tendencies of the guys on his team, along with those of the pitchers they’ll be facing during a given game or series. He needs to be a source of information and a wealth of knowledge, but he isn’t a Little League parent yelling from the bleachers to get your elbow up and keep your eye on the ball. And, given the split-second reaction time required to choose whether or not to swing, his coaching isn’t going to guide anyone’s bat on that slider.
Now, if you’re thinking that the coach should be able to help with pitch recognition and so forth, you’re absolutely right. But sometimes, even knowing what is coming can’t help a bit. You ever play Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out back in the day? Well I did. A lot. The code to get to Tyson is still within range of immediate recall: 007-373-5963. I once made it all the way through the game and to the title fight with Kid Dynamite without once being punched or having to go to Round 2.
But put me in the ring with the man who lent his name to the game and I fell apart. And I knew what was coming too; he’d wink before throwing the haymakers that would send Little Mac sprawling to the canvas. If you could only make it out of the first 90 seconds, the punches only took half your power. Trouble is, I was so keyed up and jumpy when fighting the champ that I’d swing too early despite knowing what to look for.
Beyond the obvious incongruities with this analogy, the Cubs are no different. The best coach for them at this point is experience and the only way to get better is to keep playing. Fire Mallee and replace him with any other hitting coach on Earth and you’ll have the same team. Actually, the offense might even get worse. The record of late belies the fact that the offense has actually been better.
As of the conclusion of their 4-2 loss to the Braves on July 17th, the Cubs had scored 2 or fewer runs in 23 of 45 games and in 14 of 20. They had scored 4 or more runs only five times in 13 games in the month of July. In the 9 games since, they have scored 2 or fewer runs twice and have tallied 4 or more six times. I mean, sure, it’s not much of a task to clear a bar even Chris Bosio could jump over with ease, but you’ve got to start somewhere.
So the next time you decide to run that “Fire John Mallee” flag up the pole, do me a favor and use the aforementioned razor to sever the ropes holding it up, not to mention the thin logical thread holding your narrative standard together. It is, after all, a pretty offensive banner, so much so that I’ve already asked Bubba Watson to remove its likeness from the roof of the General Mallee. That’s the car he bought after it starred in The Dukes of Hazardous Thinking.
I know that a series like this has really put us in the doldrums, particularly as we were feeling good while navigating under the force of trade winds. But let’s at least try to keep from chucking some ensign overboard because we want to set some sort of example. Besides, after having a 50-year-old no-hit streak snapped in the midst of being swept by the worst team in baseball, there’s nowhere to go but up. Right?